The last couple of games the Charlotte Bobcat offense has been… how can I put this in a family-friendly way… ugly. Phyllis Diller without plastic surgery ugly. Keanu Reeves doing Shakespeare ugly. No Gerald Wallace anymore and without Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas due to injuries, the Bobcats just had no good way to generate offense.
But that is about to change Wednesday.
Jackson and Thomas are expected to return to the lineup against the Bulls, according tweets from Mike Cranston of the Associated Press. Jackson missed a couple games due to a strained hamstring, Thomas had missed 23 games after knee surgery. Here was what coach Paul Silas said to Cranston:
“It’s a godsend that (Jack) and Tyrus are coming back at the same time because I think we’ll have a chance.”
That would be a chance at making the playoffs. The Bobcats are currently the nine seed in the East, 1.5 games back of the Pacers for the eight and final playoff spot. (They are not catching anyone ahead of that, the Sixers are hot, the Knicks are just better.)
They do have a chance. The Pacers are 3-7 in their last 10 and are fading (especially on offense) after the new coach smell has worn off the team. The Bobcats are 4-6 in their last 10 and having Jackson around to take on the offense the last couple games and that might be higher.
That the Bobcats have a legit shot at the playoffs speaks more to the depth in the East than anything. But that doesn’t matter, if you get an invite to the dance you get an invite (and you can bet Michael Jordan would love that extra revenue from a couple home playoff games.
This had long been expected, but now it is official.
North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.
“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”
Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).
Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.
Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.
James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.
When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.
“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….
“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”
Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.
This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.
In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.
However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).
Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.
That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.
Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.
Is he petty? Yes.
Is he harsh? Yes.
But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.
Sean Highkin of The Athletic:
For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).
The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.
“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”
Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.
The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.
It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.