Detroit Pistons v Portland Trail Blazers

Saturday Starting 5: Injury Damage

1 Comment

Hey, so, you’re stuck with me on the weekends, so I thought we’d put together something you can count on. Every weekend here at PBT we’ll have the Saturday Starting Five. Five elements, chosen thematically (so I’m not just basically vomiting words onto a screen for you) and brought for discussion about the NBA. Today’s topic? Injuries that shape this season.

The Big Guy On Ice. Again.

All the talk this week was about Greg Oden having microfracture surgery for the second time on the second knee. It’s the kind of development which makes the hill that much higher for the Blazers to climb. Most annoyingly, it lowers the ceiling on the club. The Blazers have been up and down this season, but the thought was that if they could just reach their potential in the other areas of the game, then add a young, productive center like Oden, all of a sudden a championship seems less like a fairy tale. But with Oden on the shelf, the team not only has to lower their expectations for this season, but to reconfigure their vision of the future. The Blazers will need a new plan because Marcus Camby won’t last forever and they still need a true big to compliment LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Other Terrible Blazer Injury Situation

Oden is at least a conundrum the team is used to. They’ve been playing mostly without him for years. Brandon Roy having to toe the line on avoiding microfracture surgery is a pretty significant development. There’s been some clarification that Roy does not have bone-on-bone arthritis, but the fact is that his knee is pretty jacked. It’s not going to get much better, and you can’t help but wonder if the Blazers are hoping instead of thinking that Roy will be able to avoid injury. And in that instance, the Blazers’ season is pretty much over. The Blazers are pretty much at their breaking point with injuries. They can’t sustain any more hits to their roster, and we’re in November. It’s a long season, and they’re still having to deal with a superstar who just simply may not be the best he can be this season, or ever.

The Dynasty Undone

Yao is already on the shelf for two weeks. Already. And that’s a shame. What’s even more of a shame is that the Rockets can’t get into a rhythm with him being in and out. It just disrupts things and they’re trying to almost be two different teams which simply isn’t going to work. They need a player like Yao to work around so they have consistency when he’s not in. But finding players like Yao is simply too difficult. They can’t not have Yao, he’s too good. But his minute limit complicates things and makes it very difficult for them to be a complete team. It’s hard to see this era in Rockets history ending happily ever after.

The Jazz Addition

Mehmet Okur is due back within the forseeable future. It’s true that he won’t be back to full strength for a good long time after his Achilles’ injury, but getting Okur back to bolster the core of Millsap and Jefferson which has already proven effective is huge. It’s like the Blazers’ situation, only if Oden wasn’t as good of a rebounder and could shoot threes. It’s another weapon for a Jazz team that is already deep and clicking together. He could wind up as the difference between being at home or on the road for most of the first round.

The Championship Bruiser

Hey, take a look, the Celtics are the top team in the East. Looks like they’re just back to business. Yep, this team is really great, even if can’t really improve due to age or… oh, wait. They get Kendrick Perkins back next year. Yeesh. Imagine how good this team is going to be with Perkins as the starting center versus the two constantly banged up old guys they have now? Even Perkins at less than 100% is going to make them meaner, tougher, and more productive on the glass. It’s scary how good this Celtics team could be.

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
Leave a comment

PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
Leave a comment

The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.