Dallas Mavericks Nowitzki celebrates hitting a three-point shot in the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semi-final basketball playoff in Dallas

Can the Thunder slow down Dirk Nowitzki?


He has been the best player in the playoffs so far —26.5 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting, 60 percent from three. He destroyed Pau Gasol in the second round.

And outside of hiring Jeff Gillooly, there may not be a good way for the Oklahoma City Thunder to slow down Dirk Nowitzki. Not that there really is a way to stop a seven-footer shooting one-legged rainbow fadeaways, but the Thunder are not well equipped to do the things that would slow him down.

During the two regular season meetings between these teams when Nowitzki played, Jeff Green got a lot of time defending Dirk. That didn’t really work. This season, when Dirk was on the floor against the Thunder, the Mavericks offensive rating was a ridiculous 131.7 points per 100 possession, as reported by our own Rob Mahoney pointed out at his Mavericks blog The Two Man Game. (For comparison, Denver had he best offense in the NBA this past season at 112.3 points per 100.) That’s not all Dirk, but the Thunder need to slow him down.

Expect Serge Ibaka to get the first shot Dirk, but he may end up in fast foul trouble if not ineffective. Serge wants to block shots, be aggressive. Nowitzki will throw a series of jab steps, head fakes and get the eager Ibaka off balance, then take advantage.

After that, look for Nick Collison, who had a better series against Zach Randolph than Ibaka did. Collison is physical enough to push Dirk out of his favorite spaces, but Nowitzki also has a lot more weapons at his disposal and better range than Randolph.

The stats guys at ESPN proposed three things the Thunder can do to slow Dirk: 1) Pressure him all the way out to the arc, don’t give him an easy inch of ground to work with; 2) Double him but only when Peja Stojakovic and other great outside shooters are not on the floor; 3) Don’t foul him.

And all that might not be enough.

It’s overly simplistic to have the Mavericks/Thunder series boil down to Durant vs. Nowitzki. A lot more will go into this series. But whoever’s superstar can be more consistent gives his team a big advantage.

And Mahoney adds that may well be the Mavs.

What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.

Report: Rockets will try to sign Alessandro Gentile next summer

Alessandro Gentile, Paulius Jankunas
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The Rockets tried signing Sergio Llull this summer, but he opted for a long-term extension with Real Madrid.

So, they’ll just turn to another player in their large chest of stashed draft picks – Alessandro Gentile.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Gentile, who was selected No. 53 in the 2014, is a 22-year-old wing for Armani Milano. He’s a good scorer, but he primarily works from mid-range – an area the Rockets eschew. He can get to the rim in Europe, but his subpar athleticism might hinder him in the NBA.

If Gentile comes stateside, he’ll face a steep learning curve. But he’s young enough and talented enough that he could develop into a rotation player.

Report: Hawks co-owner made more money by exposing Danny Ferry’s Luol Deng comments

Michael Gearon, Bruce Levenson
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A terribly kept secret: Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. wanted to get rid of general manager Danny Ferry.

Many believe that’s why Gearon made such a big deal about Ferry’s pejorative “African” comment about Luol Deng – that Gearon was more concerned about ousting Ferry than showing real concern over racism.

Gearon had another, no less sinister, reason to raise concern over Ferry’s remarks.

Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

While Gearon felt that Ferry, as he wrote in the June 2014 email to Levenson, “put the entire franchise in jeopardy,” Gearon also figured to benefit financially from a Sterling-esque fallout.

In the spring of 2014, Gearon was in the process of selling more of his interest in the team to Levenson and the partners he had sold to in September. The agreed-upon price for roughly a third of Gearon’s remaining shares valued the Hawks at approximately $450 million, according to reports from sources.

“We accept your offer to buy the remaining 31 million,” Gearon wrote in an email to Levenson on April 17, 2014. “Let me know next steps so we can keep this simple as you suggested without a bunch of lawyers and bankers.”

Approximately five weeks later — just a little more than a week before the fateful conference call — Steve Ballmer agreed to pay $2 billion for the Clippers, a record-smashing price that completely changed the assessed value of NBA franchises. Gearon firmly maintains he was acting out of the sincerity of his convictions to safeguard the franchise from the Sterling stench, but such a spectacle also allowed him to wiggle out of selling his shares at far below market value.

Gearon and his legal team later challenged the notion that the sell-down was bound by any sort of contractual obligation and that any papers were signed. Once the organization became involved in the investigation, the sale of the shares was postponed.

Arnovitz and Windhorst did an incredible amount of reporting here. I suggest you read the full piece, which includes much more background on the Gearon-Ferry rift.

Considering the Hawks sold for $850 million, Gearon definitely made more money than if he’d sold his shares at a $450 million valuation.

Did that motivate him? Probably, though it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Most likely, his actions were derived from at least three desires – making more money, ousting Ferry and combating racism. Parsing how much each contributed is much more difficult.

What Ferry said was racist, whether or not he was looking at more racism on the sheet of paper in front of him. His comments deserved punishment.

But if Gearon didn’t have incentive to use them for his own benefit, would we even know about them? How many other teams, with more functional front offices, would have kept similar remarks under wraps or just ignored them?