Samhan adapts, impresses in his second Summer League game

Leave a comment

Thumbnail image for Omar Samhan.jpg

Everyone knows Omar Samhan was an extremely productive college player. At 6-11′, 265 pounds, Samhan was able to simply overwhelm most of his college opponents by using his size, strength, and    extremely advanced package of skills. 
Samhan’s college numbers are impressive; he averaged 21.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game during his senior season at St. Mary’s, led all college players in PER, and burst into the national consciousness when he scored 61 points in the first two rounds of last year’s NCAA Tournament. 
Despite Samhan’s production at the college level, there have always been doubts about his athleticism, conditioning, and ability to produce in the NBA. Thanks to those concerns and a disappointing performance in St. Mary’s final NCAA tournament game, Samhan went undrafted this year.
The Dallas Mavericks assigned Samhan to their summer league roster this year, and Samhan knows he only has a couple games to prove himself if he wants to be playing in the NBA instead of Europe next season. 
Samhan’s first summer league game didn’t go so well. Samhan admitted after the game that his nerves affected him, and he never was able to get into the flow of the action. Samhan had trouble establishing post position, looked rushed when he got the ball, and had trouble staying in front of his man on defense. As a result, Samhan ended up with more fouls (5) than points (4) during his 19 minutes of play. It wasn’t the type of game that NBA scouts and GMs were looking for, and Samhan knew it.
On Saturday, Samhan bounced back from his shaky debut and showed those in attendance the package of skills that made him one of the most productive big men in college basketball last season. The Mavericks went to Samhan in the post on their first possession of the game, and Samhan responded with a nice turnaround jumper over Jordan Hill. 
In Samhan’s own words, that first basket “broke the ice” for him — After he hit the shot, much of the first half turned into the Samhan show. Samhan faced Hill up and scored on him with a righty dribble. He hit two straight pick-and-pop jumpers from the left side of the court, and looked very confident in his stroke — Samhan said after the game he’s trying to extend his range to the three-point line, and the work he’s putting in shows.
Samhan also showed some nice passing ability from the low block, was active on the boards, and did a good job defending Jordan Hill in the post. Samhan’s best play of the day came on the fast break, where Samhan is generally the least effective. While running the floor, Samhan caught a pass at full speed, started to go into a spin, stopped himself on a dime while keeping one foot down, and calmly reverse pivoted back to his right hand for an easy basket. 
Samhan was less effective after taking a hard fall in the first half; he sprung up and clapped his hands after he went down, but that was because Samhan knows he doesn’t have the luxury of asking out of any games. It was a hard fall, and Samhan admitted after the game that the blow to his head affected his play.
Samhan’s lack of foot speed was also an issue, and he gave up a few easy threes because he was slow to close out. Samhan has the talent and touch to provide some scoring off the bench, but he still has a lot of work to do on his conditioning before he can hope to play significant minutes against the NBA’s athletic big men. The good news for Samhan’s supporters is that he appears ready to put in that work. Samhan may be the slowest player in summer league, but he was moving faster than any other Maverick during pre-game warmups on Friday, and the way he toughed out his head injury on Saturday was impressive. 
Samhan’s body isn’t NBA-ready yet, but there may be a roster spot available for somebody with Samhan’s combination of size, skill, savvy, and willingness to work if Samhan can continue to play the way he did during the first half of Saturday’s game. 

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
Leave a comment

When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

image

Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

image

Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

image

Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Russell Westbrook keeps trying to show up Rudy Gobert

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the second quarter during a NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
3 Comments

Jazz center Rudy Gobert is having an awesome season, credibly putting himself in the mix with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol as the NBA’s best big men.

But that doesn’t mean Russell Westbrook respects him.

Before the Thunder’s win over Utah yesterday, Westbrook was asked how Oklahoma City would contain Gobert. Westbrook just laughed and walked off.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Then, in the game, Westbrook tried to jump right over the 7-foot-1 Gobert and dunk on him:

I would say Gobert proved his ability by successfully protecting the paint, but I’m just too astounded by Westbrook’s leap.

Zaza Pachulia, running up court, turns back to smack Luke Babbitt in face (video)

1 Comment

Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?

That debate can be rekindled after the Warriors center earned this flagrant foul for smacking Heat forward Luke Babbitt.

Just don’t forget: Pachulia is more than an unskilled enforcer. He brings plenty to the table as Golden State’s fifth starter, and his ability was on display earlier in the game:

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

Leave a comment

How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.