Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter begin contract negotiations with the Lakers

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While teams all around the league are spending big to keep pace with the league’s elite, the league’s elite is quietly making moves to get better and better. Last year’s Lakers were only good enough to win the championship, and yet with a handful of small, conservative moves, L.A. looks stronger than ever. Kobe seems like such a likable guy in the wake of LeBronanza, but when his team is tromping through January (and February and March…)? We’ll see if his approval rating is quite so high.

The Lakers signed Steve Blake to a modest deal, added Matt Barnes at a major discount, picked up Theo Ratliff for fun, and are likely to retain Shannon Brown. Andrew Bynum will hopefully be heathier, and now, according to Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times, the Lakers are negotiating with second round picks (and Summer League standouts) Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks.

Caracter and Ebanks were some of the top performers at the Vegas Summer League, and while they may not be pegged for consistent minutes next season, they could conceivably give the Lakers the depth they need as they pace themselves for the long haul. Ebanks’ offensive game was better than advertised, but he’s still the most intriguing as a wing defender. The guy is long, athletic, and intuitive, and while he has a ways to go before he’s ready for a bigger defensive role, Vegas offered a promising beginning.

Caracter, on the other hand, could be ready to chip in immediately. The Lakers already signed Theo Ratliff to fill in for Josh Powell, but that spot on the depth chart may be more fitting for Caracter. If Ratliff could instead push D.J. Mbenga down a notch (should he return) and give Caracter some room to stretch his legs, the Lakers could have a rookie beast on their hands, capable of competing with NBA 4s on the boards while chipping in a few garbage buckets.

Regardless of whether Ebanks and Caracter are significant players in ’10’-’11, both would be fantastic additions for a veteran team like the Lakers. If L.A. eases them into comfortable roles while working on their weaknesses, they could be rewarded in a few seasons with surprisingly consistent role players at a very affordable cost.

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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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.

James Harden makes impressive chase-down block. Really. (video)

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If we’re going to post all of James Harden‘s defensive lowlights, it’s only fair to acknowledge this impressive block.

Please overlook the fact that Jason Terry is 39 years old.

Steven Adams posterizes Rudy Gobert AND Derrick Favors with one thunderous dunk (video)

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Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors form an impressive defensive tandem that usually walls off the paint.

If there were any walls here, Steven Adams jumped right over them.

Video Breakdown: How Kyle Lowry dismantles NBA defenses from 3-point range

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Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry is arguably the team’s best player thanks in large part to his increase in 3-point shooting ability this season. He’s just above 43 percent from deep this year, much better than his career average of 36 percent. Lowry has increased his 3-point percentage six points over last season, and he’s a big part of why the Raptors are so good on offense, and why they’re a contender in the Eastern Conference.

So how does he do it?

Watch the full video breakdown on Lowry’s 3-point shooting above, or read the text version of the article below.

Early Offense

I looked at a lot of tape of Lowry over the last 3 years and he hasn’t changed much on his shot mechanics. There’s no big change in his sweep or sway toward the basket when he shoots, and he still brings the ball up from his left side.

Part of his leap is be how quickly he’s getting his shots off and how many of his early offense field goal attempts come in the form of 3-pointers.

Lowry has bumped up how many 3-pointers he’s taken in the early offense, recorded here as between 24 and 15 seconds on the shot clock. Year-over-year he’s taken nearly eight percent more of his field goals as three pointers in this range.

This takes form on the court in a couple of ways, both in transition on the fast break and on quick 1 or 2 dribble pull ups off the pick-and-roll.

Transition

With the ball in secondary transition here, Lowry gets a quick screen from DeMarre Carroll to open him up for a 3-point bucket against the Hornets. And that’s still with 18 seconds left on the shot clock!

Pull-up and off-the-bounce jumpers

The other way Lowry scores quickly is off the dribble, with quick pick and rolls. Toronto is great at screen assists — picks leading to an immediate field goal — and have three players in the Top 50 and two in the Top 10 in setting them.

Here, the Celtics defender cuts off Lowry’s attack to the middle of the floor. The screener sets up to Lowry’s right, but then quickly flips it to his left. One dribble, and it’s an easy 3-pointer.

Here against Portland, the Raptors run a two screen setup with one wing and one post. The Blazers make the switch and try to blitz Lowry, but he stays resilient and sinks the bucket with what little space they allow him anyway.

Working with DeMar DeRozan

The other thing that’s been talked about a lot is the gravity of DeMar DeRozan, who himself is having a career year for the Raptors. While Lowry is making a ton of unassisted 3-pointers this year, the Raptors point guard does benefit from DeMar.

Part of that is how good they are in transition together.

Here you can see DeMar bringing the ball up the court with Lowry in front of him. He sets the screen, then fades to the arc. Three Utah Jazz are trying to stop DeRozan, and Lowry is left all alone.

When he’s not the primary ball handler on the break, Lowry will immediately get out to the wing. DeRozan has a way of finding him to get up quick Js.

Of course, in good old set plays the Raptors see this gravity effect as well.

Here Toronto is running another double screen with a guard and a post, but Lowry is one of the screeners. At this point, all three Heat players are guarding against DeRozan’s midrange jumper, leaving just enough daylight for Lowry.

Toronto is also third in the NBA in “hockey” or secondary assists, which means two or more passes leading to a made field goal.

On this baseline out of bounds play, again it’s DeRozan’s gravity that frees up Lowry. As the ball is inbounded, DeRozan sucks three warriors defenders with him, including Lowry’s. Meanwhile, Kyle is running down the baseline to get a bucket off a pass on the opposite side of the floor. All the raps have to do is rotate the ball.

So that’s a little bit on why Kyle Lowry has been so good. It’s been about shot selection, decisiveness, and some practice in addition to the effectiveness of his teammates.