Boston Celtics v Denver Nuggets

Top five unrestricted free agents… where will they go?

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Free agency is not going to be as much fun this time around. Whenever the owners and players get around to settling the lockout the free agency period will be condensed and hectic.

Not that I really miss the drama of Lebron dragging out his decision, but it’s fun to watch things break over a course of weeks, to hear the rumors and the “what ifs” in a normal free agency period.

That said, there will be a free agency period, and there will be some name players available. Guys who can change teams.

What follows are my top five unrestricted free agents, followed by some guessing on a landing spot. Sure, it’s a bit of a moot exercise and it’s impossible to say how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will impact what players can be paid and therefore where they land, still, on a nice July day this is a fun game to play.

Nene (last of the Denver Nuggets)

Teams saw the Mavericks win it all after years of flailing in the playoffs, and it drove home the point of what a big center who can defend the paint and rebound can do for a team. Plus, Nene has a nice offensive game (he shoots the midrange well enough you have to respect it, hitting 47 percent beyond 16 feet last season.

Denver still has the home team advantage, even if he opted out and expressed frustration that the team did not come through with an extension. Whatever the new CBA looks like, you can bet there will be some kind of advantage for players who sign with their current team. He’s going to be a max guy. Don’t be shocked if a team like Indiana makes a big move for him.

Tyson Chandler (last of the Dallas Mavericks)

For teams that need a defensive presence in the paint, why get someone else to try and be like Tyson Chandler when you can get the actual Tyson Chandler?

I’d be surprised if he lands anywhere but Dallas, Mark Cuban knows what he did for the Mavs last season and he has been reported to be the teams No. 1 offseason priority. As for other suitors, again the Pacers could use a big man like him, and if Denver loses Nene they might make a run. Also, hard to see how the Knicks afford him but he would be a great fit.

Jamal Crawford (last of the Atlanta Hawks)

He was the sixth man of the year one year ago, and we know he can come in off the bench and provide a scoring punch. His shooting numbers took a dip last year and teams need to seriously ask themselves if that was just the Larry Drew offense in Atlanta or is Crawford showing some age at 32? A long-term deal might be a mistake.

After the Hawks paid big money for Al Horford (worth it) and Joe Johnson (going to regret that deal in a couple years) they likely are not going to have the cash to keep him around. If Crawford wants a ring badly enough teams like the Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics would have interest, but he’d have to take a serious cut in salary. If he wants a good payday, there are a number of teams that may well step forward with a bigger deal (New Jersey, Washington and others may think about it).

David West (last of the New Orleans Hornets)

If you are looking for a quality power forward who is a great pick-and-pop option next to a quality point guard, West would be the choice. He took five shots a game between 16 and 23 feet last season and hit 47 percent of them, plus he can score inside and is a solid rebounder.

If New Orleans is going to keep Chris Paul after next season, they have to find a way to keep West. (That or replace him with someone better, which would be hard to pull off.) Look for the Nets to make a run at him — he’d pair nicely with Deron Williams and the Nets have their own problems trying to keep D-Will from walking away.

Shane Battier (last with the Memphis Grizzlies)

Maybe the best of the glue guys out there. He can defend, has a solid offensive game both inside and out. Teams saw what he did with Memphis to help them knock off the Spurs and push the Oklahoma City Thunder, and coaches will find a way to use this guy.

Memphis has made bringing him back a priority and that would be the logical landing spot. But don’t be shocked if veteran teams try to get him to take a little less to be a key part of a title run for them — the Miami Heat would love him, even if they have a pretty good small forward. The Clippers have cap room and also need a three and what he can bring defensively.

Too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Game 5 against Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrate after a play against the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the last 33 years, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com records go back, teammates have each scored at least 30 points while shooting less than 40% in a game three times:

  • Kevin Durant (40 points on 12-of-31 shooting) and Russell Westbrook (31 points on 11-of-28 shooting) in a Western Conference finals loss to the Warriors last night
  • Durant (30 points on 10-of-27 shooting) and Westbrook (30 points on 9-of-26 shooting) in a first-round loss to the Grizzlies in 2014
  • Durant (37 points on 7-of-20 shooting) and Westbrook (36 points on 10-of-26 shooting) in a regular-season loss to the Nuggets in 2013

Yes, every time it has happened, it has been Durant and Westbrook. And each time, the Thunder have lost.

Oklahoma City reverted back to this losing formula against Golden State in Game 5. The Thunder’s offense turned stale, the ball sticking with Durant and Westbrook as it had so many times in years prior – years that all ended short of a championship and with questions swirling about offensive creativity.

Simply, Thunder looked like the same old Thunder.

Durant and Westbrook scored 64% of Oklahoma City’s points, a mark they hadn’t hit since the season’s second game – a double-overtime win over the Magic in which Durant and Westbrook scored 18 of the Thunder’s 22 overtime points and were the only Oklahoma City players to play all of both extra periods.

Here are the percentage of the Thunder’s points scored by Durant and Westbrook in each playoff game:

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The Thunder have shown this isn’t a winning game plan for them. They’re 2-4 when Durant and Westbrook score at least 59% of their points, 6-7 when it’s between 54% and 59% and and 58-21 otherwise.

This is not to blame Durant and Westbrook. Though they might have hunted their own shot a little too often in Game 5, their teammates didn’t do nearly enough.

Oklahoma City’s other players scored a series-low 40 points – and 10 of those came on 4-of-4 shooting from Anthony Morrow, who had been out of the rotation. Dion Waiters – who, I believe, had been the biggest key for the Thunder going from very good in the regular season to elite in the playoffs – scored no points on 0-of-4 shooting in 27 minutes after averaging 10 points per game in the series’ first four contest. Enes Kanter, who had been an offensive positive, was an effective no-show, scoring one point in just six minutes because his defense made him mostly unplayable.

Durant and Westbrook are playing better than ever, but their supporting cast’s rise had been huge in these playoffs. The crew had been amazing relative to previous postseasons. Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson and the rest just didn’t sustain it in Game 5.

The second-lowest scoring output by the Thunder’s other players in this series came in Game 2, which Oklahoma City also lost. Here are the points by Durant’s and Westbrook’s teammates in each game of the Western Conference finals, Thunder wins in blue and losses in orange:

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Durant, via James Ham of CSN Bay Area:

“No,” Durant said emphatically when asked if he and Westbrook sometimes forget about the players around them. “That’s who we are, we’ve got to be aggressive. When they’re going in, you won’t say anything.”

“But we happened to miss some tonight,” Durant continued. “But we were aggressive. We were right there. We had an opportunity to win the basketball game. That’s what we we do. That’s how we play, like it or not.”

Durant and Westbrook should be aggressive, but it’s on their teammates to limit the stars’ attempts – to provide outlets when the defense hones in on Durant and Westbrook. The Thunder’s other players didn’t do that last night, so Durant and Westbrook forced shots.

This gives credence to the theory that role players don’t travel well. Perhaps, this will instantly change for Game 6 Saturday in Oklahoma City.

As great as Durant and Westbrook are, they need help. They’ll justifiably take the offensive burden when no other option presents itself, and it’s the lesser of two evils. But when games go that direction, there’s an inevitable conclusion: The Thunder usually lose.

Watch Stephen Curry’s late lockdown defense (video)

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Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant might not think much of Stephen Curry‘s defense – Durant gave a great and tremendously honest answer – but Curry was at his defensive best late in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the Thunder last night.

Curry locked up Durant multiple times. Also included in that clip: Curry’s rebound in traffic, because rebounding is a key part of defense.

The Draymond Green kicking controversy continued through Game 5

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after scoring against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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We’ve shown you the video evidence beforeDraymond Green tries to sell calls by kicking. Despite the Flagrant 2 he picked up for one of those kicks that connected with Steven Adams‘ groin, he said he was never going to start playing “careful.”

He certainly didn’t in Game 5 — he got his foot up high not once but twice.

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As we said back when it happened, the league needs to come down harder on this next season — Green is far from the only player who does it, and the league can’t only call it a foul when it connects. The habit needs to be broken with all the players doing it.

Those kicks were not even the play were Green got a technical foul, his fifth of the playoffs (get to seven and you get an automatic one-game suspension).

Did Kevin Durant throw shade at Stephen Curry’s defense? Does Curry care?

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In the fourth quarter Thursday night, Stephen Curry came up big — on defense. He had a strip of a Kevin Durant shot as KD tried to bring the ball up for a shot, plus he had another steal. Curry is no lock down defender, but he made some plays.

After the game, Durant was asked if Curry is an underrated defender (video above). First, notice that Russell Westbrook laughs at the question — he hates giving opposing players compliments. Remember he said before the series Curry wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before. Durant stammered at first then tried to give a more diplomatic answer, but threw a little shade at Curry in the process.

“You know, he’s pretty good, but he doesn’t guard the best point guards. I think they do a good job of putting a couple guys on Russell, from Thompson to Iguodala, and Steph, they throw him in there sometimes. But he moves his feet pretty well, he’s good with his hands. But, you know, I like our matchup with him guarding Russ.”

As he should. I like the matchup of Westbrook vs. every other point guard in the league. Westbrook tore Curry up in Games 3 and 4.

Of course, Curry was asked about Durant’s comments when he came into the interview room, but he refused to take the bait.

“I got a great teammate that’s obviously a better defender on the perimeter. I like the challenge. I do my job the best I can”

He’s got a couple of teammates that are better defenders on the perimeter — Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Those guys are just busy with other players this series because the Thunder are deep and present a plethora of challenges.

This is all a tempest in a Conference Finals teapot. It wasn’t as big a deal as some in the media will try to make it out to be.

Curry is going to have to play defense and score better in Game 6 than his improved Game 5 play if the Warriors are coming back for one more game at Oracle Arena.