Free Lou Williams?

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Kevin Love averages just 26 minutes a game, and the world is outraged. How could Kurt Rambis leave an elite rebounder and promising young big man on the bench for the pitiful Timberwolves? How dare he play Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, and Anthony Tolliver — all lesser talents than Love at this juncture — instead of the once and future rebounding king? It’s an injustice to Love, the Timberwolves, and anyone who is a fan of either.

Only, here’s the thing: if we’re trying to free Love from Rambis’ dungeon, we should probably be trying to jailbreak Lou Williams from his holding facility in Philly as well.

Williams, too, averages just 26 minutes per game, and if that persists, the world should, eventually, be outraged. So far this season (small sample size, rabblerabblerabble), Williams is averaging a remarkable 18 points per game on 10 shots, 46% shooting from the field, and just over four assists. He’s milking those 26-minute outings for all they’re worth, and if we extrapolate his numbers over 36, his scoring average jumps to 25. That per-minute scoring is 10th in the league among all players that average at least 20 minutes a night, which has Williams rubbing shoulders with a few guys named Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Martin. No big deal.

Lou’s situation is admittedly a bit different. For one, Doug Collins is new to the Sixers, and though a poster of incumbent point guard Jrue Holiday is probably on the wall in Collins’ bedroom (remember, he touted Holiday as a top-five PG this season), he’s still figuring out his roster. Given more familiarity with Williams, it’s conceivable that Lou’s minutes could resemble that of a starter by the end of the year. Additionally, Collins’ young tenure in Philly also means that there’s less of a precedent for injustice. This isn’t a long-standing issue, as is the case with Love.

It also doesn’t help that the two players are evaluated according to vastly different criteria. There are those who would hold Williams’ high scoring average against him, claiming point guard sacrosanct. How dare a player do what he does best! How dare Williams shoot efficiently from the floor and get to the line frequently in an otherwise distressing offense! He’s one of them combo guards, and apparently, we don’t serve their kind here.

Putting up gaudy scoring totals shouldn’t mean everything, but it still has to mean something. Perhaps we’ve come so far in our rejection of scoring averages as a definitive measure of a player’s worth that now we give them less justice than they deserve. Scoring still matters. Shot creation still matters. And Lou is making it all happen whether with the Sixers’ second unit and starters alike. Over the first five games of the season, Williams has been the Sixers’ top guard, but the possibility of him overtaking Jrue Holiday for the starting job — and the corresponding playing time benefits — remains slim. I know Lou has had his chance as the starter before, but is it so odd to think that a player could really start to come into his own at 24?

And for that matter, what did Holiday ever really do to take the job from Williams in the first place? Both are similarly effective playmakers, only Williams is able to better complement those abilities with his scoring. Both have an excellent handle, but Lou is able to use it to create shots for himself as well as his teammates. Both are defensive sieves, and don’t let Holiday enthusiasts, enamored by his height and long arms, convince you otherwise. Neither is a particularly effective defender, and both have plenty of work to do in their defensive development.

Jrue is 20, and a promising long-term prospect. Some may have been too willing to invest in Holiday’s stock late last season, but he’s athletic and talented. I’m just not sure we should write off Williams just yet, or naturally assume that Holiday will be the better player when all is said and done. We shouldn’t base too much off of a mere five games, and don’t misunderstand my intention: I’m making no call for immediate action. In fact, benching Holiday now could completely nuke his confidence and destroy any aptitude he’s shown up to this point. But should Williams’ numbers hold and Holiday’s hover around their currently decent but unremarkable level, switching their roles should be considered a legitimate possibility. I’m not sure it will be, but it should be.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.