Count the Warriors among those looking to nab David Lee

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david_lee.jpgThe jury’s still out on exactly what kind of salary David Lee can command this off-season. Yet with Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson topping out on their earning potential, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see some team give Lee a max deal. Hooray for the Summer of 2010, where basketball paupers become princes (ahoy, Darko) and the middle class is elevated completely.

Lee has met with the Wolves, drawn interest from the Raptors, and been linked to just about every team with cap space (except the Knicks), and now the Warriors want to be a part of the fun and games. According to Marcus Thompson of Inside the Warriors, Golden State has their sights set on Lee and are looking to acquire him via sign-and-trade. Such a trade would practically necessitate Monta Ellis going to New York, which could actually be interesting for all parties involved.

The Knicks apparently have Amar’e Stoudemire locked down, but Mike D’Antoni desperately needs a point guard to run his offense. D’Antoni’s style is even more dependent on PGs than most, and as we’ve seen over the last few seasons, guys like Sergio Rodriguez and Chris Duhon just won’t cut it. Ellis would not only provide a stylistic fit (he’s been running and gunning with the Dubs his entire career), but also a far more talented alternative at the 1.

However, if New York was to take on Ellis’ salary, that would likely preclude them from signing another free agent. Monta and Amar’e would be an upgrade over last season’s Knicks in both talent and entertainment value, but is that really the future New Yorkers have been waiting for? Two talented but moody scorers, each a defensive liability in their own way?

Lee’s potential place on the Warriors would be a bit more complicated. Golden State has all kinds of bigs at the moment, and adding David to the rotation doesn’t make the picture any less muddled. Someone would clearly have to go. Ekpe Udoh, Andris Biedrins, Dan Gadzuric, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Ronny Turiaf, and Vladimir Radmanovic will all be vying for minutes at the 4 or 5, which doesn’t exactly leave room for Lee as a plug-and-play candidate.

However, such a move would be particularly notable for two reasons. The first is that it would demonstrate the Warriors’ faith in Stephen Curry as the team’s point guard. The second is that in Lee and Ellis, the Knicks and Warriors would be swapping two players who played in uptempo systems with very different results.

If given the keys to Mike D’Antoni’s offense, Monta Ellis could easily average 25+ points per game again next season. However, the problem with Ellis has rarely been the volume of his production, but rather its cost. Monta has been anything but efficient in his last two seasons with the Warriors, and while the team’s pace and the sheer number of scoring opportunities have still produced an impressive stat line overall, it’s a bit misleading.

If you look past Ellis’ per game numbers, his statistical resume starts to all apart. His PER last season was 16.7, which puts him somewhere between an average NBA player and a lower-tier star. He took 22 attempts per game to get to 25.5 points, which is fine but unspectacular. He turned the ball over quite a bit (which would be expected of a point guard, except that he didn’t generate all that many assists to balance them), didn’t get to the free throw line as much as he should have, and didn’t contribute much at all defensively. Ellis is good — and since his rookie season, that’s never been in doubt — but why isn’t he good enough to take advantage of an offensive system like that of the Warriors?

David Lee provides a very different case study in the effects of pace. Though is usage was high (though notably not as high as Ellis’) and the offense was fast, Lee actually remained a remarkably efficient player. His PER was an All-Star worthy 22.2, and Lee trumps Ellis in just about every significant per-possession metric. Some of those are inherent to their positional differences; obviously Lee is going to be the superior rebounder and shoot at a higher percentage, it’s just the a perk of being 6’9” rather than 6’3”.

Yet David also kept pace in the areas that were supposed to be weaknesses. His assist rate (per Basketball-Reference, “an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor,”) is actually pretty competitive with Ellis’, and his effective field goal percentage, a measure which is created to benefit outside shooters, blows Monta’s out of the water. Lee may not be a perfect player (his defense leaves plenty to be desired), but he’s shown himself to be a far more efficient offensive machine than Ellis.

Maybe it’s simply a Golden State parasite that’s made Ellis into a shot-eating machine, but there’s only one way to know for sure. Ellis and Lee need to swap places to eliminate as much noise as possible in their statical profiles. I can’t say the trade would radically change either the Knicks or the Warriors outlook for the better, but if neither franchise is going to make a serious playoff run in the near future, wouldn’t it be prudent to use them as a giant Petri dish?

Timberwolves Zach LaVine knows how to finish alley-oop (VIDEO)

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The Dunk Contest is not going to be the same this year without Zach LaVine.

The man has the hops to get up and knows how to finish — Tuesday night he took a not-very-good alley-oop pass from Nemanja Bjelica and turned it into an awesome throwdown. LaVine finished the night with 18 points.

However, Kawhi Leonard dropped 34 and sparked the comeback as the Spurs won the game, 122-114.

Three Things We Learned: Chris Paul’s bad luck trouble for Clippers

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA Tuesday while trying to decide which animal in Australia is most likely to kill you….

1) Chris Paul is out six weeks, and the Clippers are about to slide into tough playoff spot. It’s not fair to call Chris Paul “injury prone” — trying to fight through a screen his thumb got caught in the shorts of Russell Westbrook, which led to a torn ligament in his thumb which will require surgery. That is the definition of “fluke injury.” So was the play where he broke his hand in the playoff series against Portland last year (trying to defend a layup by Gerald Henderson). CP3 is much more in a Lemony Snicket place: A series of unfortunate events.

However, the Clippers are going to pay the price for Paul’s latest injury — they are going to slide down the standings in the 6-8 weeks he is out (until early March). Especially with Blake Griffin still out for a week or two (knee surgery). The Clippers lose CP3 as they enter the toughest part of their schedule: After being home to the Timberwolves Thursday, the Clippers have 10-of-11 on the road, heavily against teams over .500, plus Paul will miss three games against the Warriors.

As you read this the Clippers are the four seed in the West, but they are just four games up on being the seven seed — which would mean a long road through San Antonio to get out of the first round of the playoffs (climb back up to the six seed and they could get Houston in the first round). It’s hard to imagine the Clippers holding on to home court in the first round even with Paul back for the last month of the season. Healthy and playing like they did the first month of the season (remember that?), the Clippers might beat the Spurs/Rockets in the first round, but it would be a brutal series. The good news for Los Angeles is the Clippers are not going to slide all the way out of the playoffs — they have an 11-game cushion over the nine seed. They will not fall that far.

2) It’s James Harden’s turn: his triple-double not enough to get Rockets win. The Rockets were one of the best teams in the NBA against teams below .500, starting the season 21-1 against them. Then, in the past week, they have come out flat and dropped two against lesser squads. The first was last week against Minnesota — at least that’s a team loaded with young talent that can put together a good game.

However, Tuesday’s loss to Miami was ugly. Granted, the Heat have not rolled over and have played hard through tough times (especially against good teams, they have seven wins against teams over .500 this season). And they do have Hassan Whiteside (14 points and 15 rebounds Tuesday). Still, this is a game the Rockets need to win. Especially since they got center Clint Capela back in the lineup (but they were missing Ryan Anderson and it showed, their spacing on offense was poor).

Instead, the Rockets wasted an impressive triple-double from James Harden. 40 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a loss to the Heat 109-103.



3) Kawhi Leonard is quietly having a not so quiet season.
Kawhi Leonard is having an MVP-level season… well, most seasons he’d be in the mix, this year Russell Westbrook and James Harden are running away from the pack. But Leonard is right in the middle of the next tier of that award race — with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and everyone else vying for votes (MVP voters choose five, who gets those last three slots will be interesting). Leonard is averaging 24.8 points per game, shooting 41 percent from three, pulling down 5.7 rebounds a game, plus playing lock-down defense to lead a Spurs team that is 32-9 this season. It’s just that he’s not out there trumpeting his own case for the award. That’s not his style.

You could see it Tuesday night, when Leonard dropped 34 points to spark a come-from-behind Spurs win against the Timberwolves. Don’t sleep on Leonard and the Spurs, this is a dangerous team.

Kawhi Leonard’s 34 points rally Spurs past Timberwolves, 122-114 (VIDEO)

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) Kawhi Leonard had 34 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a strong start by the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 122-114 victory Tuesday night.

Leonard’s fourth straight 30-point game helped him become the first San Antonio player to score 950 points in the first half of a season since Tim Duncan in 2003.

Coming off a career-high 38 on Saturday against Phoenix in Mexico City, Leonard was 12 for 17 from the field.

LaMarcus Aldridge added 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting, spoiling Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau’s 59th birthday.

San Antonio had difficulty with Minnesota’s explosive starting lineup. Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points and 16 rebounds, and Ricky Rubio added 21 points and 14 assists. Zach LaVine scored 18, Gorgui Dieng had 17 and Andrew Wiggins 10.

Minnesota’s 41 points in the second were a season high for any period and the most points in a quarter by a San Antonio opponent this season.

The Spurs were more active in the second half, holding the Timberwolves to 43 points.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: LaVine has 29 points, nine rebounds and three assists in two games since returning from a two-game absence caused by a bruised left hip. . Minnesota is 4-22 when allowing 100-plus points. . The Timberwolves’ last win against San Antonio was April 8, 2014, a 110-91 victory at home. . Minnesota’s previous high for a quarter was 39 points in the first against Orlando on Nov. 9. Its previous high for the second period was 35 in that same game against the Magic. . The Timberwolves are 5-15 on the road.

Spurs: Leonard has scored in double figures in 73 straight games, the seventh-longest active streak in the NBA behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Isaiah Thomas, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins. . Parker collected his 6,500th career assist, joining James as the only two active players with 6,500 assists and 18,000 points. John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton and Oscar Robertson are the only other players to reach those milestones. . San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was assessed his fourth technical foul of the season with 3:41 left in the first quarter for berating Michael Smith over a non-call. After Aldridge appeared to be shoved from behind on an attempted offensive rebound, Popovich walked the sideline screaming and shadowing Smith and had to be restrained near midcourt by Spurs assistant Ettore Messina. . The previous high for free throws attempted by an opponent was 38 by Sacramento on Oct. 27.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

Spurs: Host the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.

In salary cap move, Atlanta trades Mo Williams to Denver

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 31: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after hitting a three point shot during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at Quicken Loans Arena on March 31, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Nets 107-87. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Mo Williams
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Mo Williams decided before the season he was done — he walked away from basketball and left the Cavaliers without a reliable backup point guard. LeBron James is still complaining about not having one.

But just because he wasn’t playing didn’t lead the Cavaliers to shed his salary. That was dead money that could be useful in a trade — such as landing Kyle Korver. The Hawks landed Mo Williams in that deal (along with Mike Dunleavy Jr. and a pick).

Now the Hawks have moved Williams on to Denver in a salary cap move for both teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Hawks worked out Gary Neal recently and saw the veteran as a shooter who could help them fill the hole left by Kover.

This is simply a salary cap trade. It’s not changing anyone’s rotation.