Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks

Could Hedo Turkoglu win Most Improved Player within one season?

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Our esteemed colleague Rob Mahoney wrote the following last week at the New York Times Off the Dribble blog:

Don’t be fooled: Turkoglu is the same player he was in Phoenix, in Toronto and in his final year in Orlando. And any perceived excellence is a product of some statistical smoke and mirrors. The Magic has shifted Turkoglu back into his former role as a point forward (something he was never fully granted as a member of the Suns or the Raptors), but as far as scoring and efficiency go, there really isn’t any improvement.

via Hedo Turkoglu: Same as He Ever Was – NYTimes.com.

And Mahoney’s words last Friday have held true through another week. Turkoglu is averaging 12.9 points per 36 minutes, which is actually down from Toronto (13.2) and Phoenix (13.5). He’s rebounding at the same rate (5.4) as he did in Toronto, and slightly less than he was in rebound-desperate Phoenix (5.7).

However, one thing Mahoney overlooked and that has come to light, particularly after Turkoglu dished out 17 (!) assists last night in the Magic’s come-from-behind win over the Dirk-less Mavs, is his efficiency. It’s true that Turkoglu isn’t producing at a higher rate than he has in his other locales since leaving Orlando the first time, he’s just getting more minutes. However, he’s a lesser part of the offense in Orlando, and yet is producing more efficiently when he does contribute.

Consider his passing. In Toronto, which was offensively loaded despite not being very good, and which featured a dominant big man (kind of, at least on offense) in Chris Bosh, Turkoglu averaged 4.8 assists per 36 minutes. In Phoenix, again, high-powered offense that can’t stop anybody, just 3.3 assists. In Orlando? 6.6 assists. His Assist Rate (percentage of possessions in which he contributes with an assist) has jumped from 19.5 in Toronto and 13.8 in Phoenix to 29.5 in Orlando since the trade. It’s a small sample size, but it still reflect the change in Hedo since coming back to The Kingdom.

He’s also shooting at a better clip. His eFG% which factors in three-point shooting was an abysmal 49% in Toronto and 57% in Phoenix. In Orlando so far it’s 58%. He’s taking fewer shots and hitting more of them. Isn’t that what you want from a role player you’ve brought in?

It’s not just offense where he’s become more efficient. In Toronto, via Synergy Sports, Turkoglu gave up .94 points per possession. InPhoenix? A dreadful 1.02. But in Orlando, so far he’s giving up just. .90 points per possession which is very solidly average. He’s taken away one of his worst features and improved in that area considerably. Most notably, Turkoglu is only giving up .64 points per possession, forcing opponents into a 33% shooting clip. It’s again, a small sample size, but it speaks of the effort and how Turkoglu fits in.

Basically, Turkoglu has returned to being a smarter, more efficient player who contributes more to the offense. It makes you wonder if a player can win Most Improved due to declining in production and then kicking it up, within one season. If so, Turkoglu makes a compelling case, especially with the Magic 9-1 since his return.

And that’s on Stan Van Gundy. For a guy who is so often criticized for “panicking” and getting players to tune out, or whatever nonsense is being lobbed his way this week, SVG gets guys to thrive in their roles. And talking to coaches, that’s a refrain they’re constantly committed to. So the fact that Turkoglu is back in the old system, over a year and a half later, picking up where he left off and producing in meaningful ways for the Magic says a lot about SVG’s system and his ability to incorporate players’ talents.

For all the talk about players leaving Orlando for bigger markets, maybe Dwight Howard should consider that before he jets off for parts unknown. Turkoglu’s a great example of why he may wind up wishing he was still clowning with Mickey.

(All per-minute and efficiency stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com)

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.