Nene

Nene is an elite player

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The Denver Nuggets’ post-Carmelo play has been one of the best stories of the second half of the season. The Nuggets had the highest offensive efficiency in basketball before trading Anthony, and they haven’t skipped a beat offensively since the trade. More importantly, the Nuggets have transformed themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the league since the trade. Having the league’s best offense with a great defense is a very good thing, and the Nuggets have been on an absolute tear since they made the trade.

The Nuggets’ post-Carmelo success has hardly been a secret, but here’s one question that hasn’t been asked enough in the wake of the Nuggets’ success: if Nene (nee Nene Hilario) can be the starting center for one of the best defensive teams in the league, why isn’t he one of the best centers in the league?

Consider the following:

– Nene’s “True Shooting” percentage is currently 66.5%, which is the second highest true shooting percentage in the league. Nene averages 14.8 points per game. That is an incredible combination of scoring volume and efficiency — only Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, Cedric Maxwell, and Darryl Dawkins have ever averaged more than 14.5 points on 66.5% or better True Shooting over the course of a full season.

– Nene is a skilled passer, and his turnover ratio is solid as well.

– Nene has a lower usage rate and a higher PER than Chris Bosh.

Basically, if you have any doubt that Nene is one of the best offensive centers in basketball, you haven’t been paying attention. Nene is a versatile offensive player who can do damage in post-up situations, is an absolute master of creating scoring opportunities for himself without the ball in his hands, is an excellent finisher around the basket who can run the floor, is a good free-throw shooter, and can even step out and make mid-range jumpers.

His statistical accomplishments are beyond reproach, and he has one of the best offensive +/- ratings on a team that has had the highest offensive efficiency in basketball for most of the season. (In case you’re wondering, the loss of Carmelo hasn’t impacted Nene’s offense in the slightest — he averaged 14.8 points per game on 60% shooting from the field in March.)

The question with Nene has always been his defense. The Nuggets had been a below-average defensive team for the last two years, and Nene looked like part of the problem. He has never been much of a shot-blocker, and he was prone to missing rotations and seemingly taking plays off on defense. Nobody questioned Nene’s offense, but there were some worries about whether or not Nene put a glass ceiling on a team’s defense.

With the way the Nuggets have been playing defense since Carmelo left, it appears that no glass ceiling exists. Playing alongside Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin helps, but Nene has been buying in and using his athleticism to disrupt opposing offenses, and he definitely has been a valuable part of the Nuggets’ stifling new-look defense. Simply put, it’s time to give Nene his due as one of the best centers in basketball.

This is a good news/bad news situation for the Nuggets. On the bright side, their starting center is one of the best centers in the league, and will increase their chances of going far in the playoffs. On the other hand, Nene can opt out of his contract after this season, and will command serious money on the open market if the lockout doesn’t muck things up too badly and front offices have a lick of sense. Nene made 11.4 million dollars this season, and it will likely cost the Nuggets more than that to retain the 28-year old’s services.

Denver is being billed as a team that has succeeded without a superstar, but the truth is that Nene has been producing like a superstar this season, and will get paid like one next season. The only question is by whom.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tears labrum

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
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October:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s shoulder injury?

It’s bad.

Now:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s shoulder injury?

It’s bad.

Hornets:

Kidd-Gilchrist tore his labrum in the preseason, and the injury was expected to sideline him for the year. But he returned a couple weeks ago and helped Charlotte go 5-2.

Now, another setback. This is just awful news for Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets. He had worked so hard to get back.

Hopefully, this injury isn’t as severe and Kidd-Gilchrist can play again this season.

Report: Rockets working with Dwight Howard’s agent on trade

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JANUARY 29: Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets leaves the game after he was ejected during the third quarter of a NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on January 29, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
J Pat Carter/Getty Images
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The Rockets have a lot of problems.

One of them is Dwight Howard.

Howard plans to opt out this summer, and he could command a max contract. Does Houston want to pay the 30-year-old center that much?

That question has become increasingly essential as Houston – losers of three straight and six of eight – has sunk out of playoff position. If Howard can’t help the Rockets achieve anything of note this season, determining his place past this season takes priority.

On that note…

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Houston Rockets have started contacting teams about trading eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard, league sources told The Vertical.

The Rockets are working with Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, on possible destinations, league executives told The Vertical.

Working with Fegan is imperative. Because Howard can become an unrestricted free agent, teams will fear him walking in free agency and propose trades to the Rockets accordingly. That could sink Howard’s value below the threshold where Houston would trade him.

But Howard and Fegan can assure certain teams Howard would re-sign, which would make Howard more valuable to them – and boost their trade offers. The NBA forbids under-the-table agreements, but these discussions happen.

Teams could also look at Howard as a rest-of-season rental, but it’s tough to find win-now teams that need a center. And again, it’s less likely a team would value Howard as a rental enough to appease the Rockets’ trade demands.

For Howard, this could be a chance to secure a larger contract. His max projects to be about $170 million over five years if he re-signs or $128 million over four years elsewhere. Ideally for him, he’ll finish the season with a team he wants to re-sign with.

Is that Houston? He’s reportedly unhappy taking a backseat to James Harden, though he denies it. The Rockets’ dismal record certainly doesn’t engender confidence from anyone.

The Celtics and Rockets reportedly talked Howard trade, and the notion Houston won’t trade Howard looks outdated.

It’ll still take multiple sides to make a deal happen – the Rockets, a trade partner and, depending on the details, probably Howard. Those are a lot of hurdles.

But it seems Houston is ready to try clearing them.

Report: Patrick Beverley to drop from All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge title

Patrick Beverley
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Last season, the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley won the NBA All-Star Saturday skills challenge because of his jump shot. In head-to-head battles with the Hawks’ Jeff Teague and the Bucks (now a Sun) Brandon Knight, Beverley fell behind on the passing part of the competition but made up the ground by knocking down his jump shot at the end.

He was set to come to Toronto to defend his skills title but has been forced to back out due to injury, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

After tweaking his ankle Wednesday night in a loss to Portland, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley will not travel to Toronto to defend his skills competition title at All-Star Weekend, league sources told The Vertical.

Beverley wants to rest the ankle over the All-Star break for the Rockets’ final push to make the Western Conference playoffs.

This has yet to be confirmed by the NBA, nor has a replacement been named, but no doubt Woj is accurate on this. No player would risk further injury for a skills competition.

The Rockets have lost six-of-eight, and with the loss to the Blazers Wednesday night have fallen out of the playoffs in the Western Conference. They will need all their players healthy, including Beverley, but they will also need a lot more than that to climb back in the race — they need to start playing defense, they need to stop becoming disinterested for large stretches of the game, and they need someone in that locker room to step up and be a serious leader of men.

Report: LeBron James might not play for Team USA in 2016 Olympics because Kobe Bryant won’t

Kobe Bryant (L) and team mate Lebron James of the U.S. sit on the bench during the game against France during their men's Group A basketball match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Basketball arena July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar
REUTERS/Mike Segar
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LeBron James admires Kobe Bryant.

How much?

Kobe pulling his name from 2016 Olympic consideration (perhaps an informed preemptive gesture just before the roster finalists were announced) might keep LeBron off Team USA.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Bryant not pursuing a spot on the U.S. Olympic basketball team this summer is a very real reason James might also not join the team, according to NBA sources.

James is that disappointed the Rio Olympics will not serve as the final, ultimate celebration of Bryant’s career—and more so that James won’t have the priceless honor of being Bryant’s co-star teammate when it ends.

I don’t buy this.

Kobe said during the 2012 Olympics those would be his final Olympics. Two weeks later, LeBron said he wanted to play in 2016.

Did playing with Kobe on Team USA become more important to LeBron over the last few years?

I suppose it’s possible. Many got behind sending Kobe to Rio as a sendoff into retirement. Perhaps, LeBron got attached to the idea and became bitter once it fell through.

I just have a hard time believing LeBron would tie his decision so strongly to another player. Remember, he left one of his best friends, Dwyane Wade, in Miami to sign with the Cavaliers. Would Kobe’s presence really dictate LeBron’s outlook?

LeBron has been mum on his plans for Team USA. I’m sure the length of Cleveland’s playoff run and the toll it takes on his body will factor. He might not yet know what he’ll do.

The ball is in his court, which can be challenging. There has been backlash from media and fans against players who turn down Team USA, and LeBron could be trying to avoid that.

I trust Ding was told LeBron felt this way, but nobody – including me, including Ding – can know what’s in LeBron’s head. But this report strikes me as LeBron setting up the ability to attribute his absence to Kobe’s rather than facing the full brunt of reaction that comes to turning down Team USA.