The Flip Side: There are point guards, there are shooting guards, and then there's Lance Stephenson


Thumbnail image for lstephenson.jpgWednesday’s four-way trade saw just about every team involved walk away a winner. However, the effects of that trade are far more specific than just saying “This team got better,” or “This team accomplished its goals.” In The Flip Side, we’ll look at one player from each of the four teams — the Nets, the Pacers, the Hornets, and the Rockets — and how their career is impacted by the move in both the immediate and distant future.

In a trade that saw a number of moving parts rotate among the four participating teams, the Pacers came out with the most obvious prize. They surrendered rumor mill mainstay Troy Murphy, a useful shooter and rebounder on a sizable expiring deal, and in return received Darren Collison, one of the many standout point guards from last year’s rookie class. Collison did a superb job filling in for Chris Paul last season, and now he’ll have a team to truly call his own, even if it’s a slightly dysfunctional one.

Danny Granger will be thankful. Roy Hibbert’s life just got a whole lot easier, too. In fact, every single Pacer who hopes to score, score, or score this season will benefit from Collison’s presence.

Collison also isn’t T.J. Ford, which is a good thing. He’s going to run the offense, find his teammates, and get better every night, and Indiana will never have to worry about him sulking through another mid-January outing.

Yet it’s somewhat disappointing that we won’t have a proper opportunity to see if Born Ready really was born ready. One of the more interesting subplots coming out of this year’s draft was Jim O’Brien’s decision to transform Lance Stephenson, who up until this point has always been considered a traditional 2, into a point guard. Stephenson probably needed a fresh start after a sub-par year at Cincinnati, but the idea make a floor general out of him is, well, both remarkably odd and absolutely fascinating.

Based on his summer league performance (which is, empirically speaking, a dangerous way to begin a sentence), Stephenson looked very much like a scoring guard who happens to handle the ball. That’s fine. He’s a second rounder finding his way into the league, and is doing so at a new position, no less. It makes sense for Stephenson to do what got him here, even while slotted as a de facto playmaker.

Playing Stephenson at the point was an idea born out of necessity, but that necessity has since been removed. O’Brien seemed hopeful that Stephenson could develop into Indy’s point guard of the future, but the Pacers just nabbed a promising PG via trade. Collison is going to comfortably slide into the role that Stephenson was hoping to one day fill, which could mean the end of the Stephenson point guard experiment all together. If A.J. Price and T.J. Ford are filling in the minutes behind Collison, where does that leave Stephenson?

It’s not easy to say. Collison’s arrival is an undoubtedly good thing for Stephenson’s career overall though, even if it means we have to wait a bit longer to see him thrown into the fire. It’s entirely possible that if Lance were delegated responsibilities that exceeded his fledgling point guard skills, his chances of staying at the position over the long-term would be quashed. Maybe O’Brien would try to shift Stephenson back to the 2 after some early troubles. Maybe Lance’s confidence in his ability to adjust would be shaken. Or maybe Stephenson would simply succumb to one of the many fearsome perils that plague rookie second rounders.

Instead, Stephenson has an incredible luxury: time. Time to learn, time to develop, time to adjust. Hell, time for Lance to prove that he belongs in the NBA at all. He may be a point guard yet if O’Brien wills it so, and while Collison’s arrival in Indiana makes Stephenson’s positional status just a bit more ambiguous, it’s the kind of development that really could do wonders for Stephenson over the long haul. Some rookies burn up the pine, oozing with potential, waiting for a chance to play. Others, like Stephenson, have a lot to gain by operating in the background, even if doing so ruins an interesting case study in positional fluidity.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. 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.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.