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)

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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As expected, Wesley Matthews says he will pick up $18.6 million option with Mavericks

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Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.

However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.

He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.

Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.

Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.