Lionel Hollins sends O.J. Mayo to the bench

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Forming and maintaining a rotation is a delicate process for any head coach, and there are myriad factors that need to be considered, evaluated, and balanced. It’s in no way a simple process, as even the subtlest of shuffles can give an entirely new feel to a team’s offensive or defensive flow.

In theory, that would make a team’s head coach — the person whose job is predicated on being more intimately familiar with team personnel than anyone else — enlightened enough to make such intensive decisions. In practice though, coaches are as likely to flub as anyone else. Though they arrive at their decisions armed with more available data than most (even if they choose to ignore it), they sometimes decide to make rotational adjustments by way of painfully obvious follies. Lionel Hollins is guilty of one such a mistake, as according to Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Hollins has decided to move standout shooting guard O.J. Mayo to the bench in favor of rookie Xavier Henry:

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins shuffled his lineup for a second straight game. This time, discipline had nothing to do with it. Hollins said his decision Wednesday to take guard O.J. Mayo out of the starting lineup is designed to give the team’s struggling bench scoring punch. Rookie Xavier Henry will start at shooting guard for the foreseeable future, although Hollins insisted the change isn’t permanent. “It’s difficult when you make these kinds of decisions because everybody reads more into it than they should,” Hollins said. “I had a long talk with O.J. He’s fine and he’ll do well.”

Coming off the bench will allow Mayo to be featured more on offense, according to Hollins. Mayo won’t have to compete for shots with Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay or a more aggressive Mike Conley. Still, the move comes as Mayo is averaging a career-low 13.6 points on 39-percent shooting. Mayo acknowledged that the situation makes him unhappy because of his competitive nature. But the third-year guard said he’s prepared to put the team first. “I just want it to be a winning decision,” Mayo said. “I don’t think anybody would be happy. I’m uncomfortable. But I’m a basketball player. I’m a professional. If it’s what’s best for the team, honestly, I’m definitely all for it. The team and winning are the priorities. I can put my feelings aside for what’s best for the team.”

The Grizzlies have the 22nd-ranked offense in the league, and though Mayo has struggled this season, his rough times seem to be more of a temporary slump than a serious regression. Mayo needs to work his way out of these problems, but I’m not sure that assigning him to bench duty is good strategy or management to achieve that end. He’s a crucial part of the core the Grizzlies have assembled and are more or less locked into, which means that the Grizz should probably focus on better understanding how Mayo, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol can work together effectively.

Moving Mayo to the bench doesn’t necessarily preclude that from happening, but it’s certainly a roundabout way of shaping the current Grizz into a more competitive team.

On the bright side, Xavier Henry is an interesting prospect that could use further refinement, and throwing him into the mix as a starter could be something of a trial by fire. Still, is Memphis really in a position where they should risk alienating Mayo, much less bench one of their more talented two-way players? Hollins insisted that “everybody reads more into it than they should,” but Mayo doesn’t sound the part of a good soldier following every order with a salute. Mayo doesn’t seem to be the type for insolence, but the way to restoring his scoring proficiency probably isn’t through trying his patience. A happy scoring guard is a productive scoring guard, after all. Mayo may be neither at present, but Hollins seems to be attempting to solve both problems with one entirely foolish swoop.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?

 

 

 

Pelicans’ Tony Allen out 3-4 weeks with fibula fracture

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The injuries just keep hitting the Pelicans. Guys like Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca are out for extended periods of time. Anthony Davis has missed four of the team’s last six games and is questionable for Wednesday night due to a left adductor injury.

Now comes the news that reserve guard Tony Allen will be out three to four weeks due to a nondisplaced left proximal fibula fracture, the team announced Tuesday. This is the part of the bone near the ankle.

Allen has played a limited role for New Orleans off the bench this season, averaging 12.4 minutes a game, and averaging 4.7 points. His reputation is that of a defensive stopper, and when he is on the court this season the Pelicans’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better. However, father time has started to catch up with him and he is not the defender he once was.

Expect the minutes to bump up for Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore with this injury, which is not a bad thing as they have played well (they were knocking down threes against the Rockets Monday like they were named Curry), plus Ian Clark could get a little more run.