Dwight Howard

Olajuwon says Dwight Howard needs more freedom


Free Dwight Howard!

That is essentially what Hakeem Olajuwon seems to be saying. Last week, Dwight Howard was working out with the legendary big man, trying to “just shoot” and expand his offensive game.

When asked this week what Olajuwon said, it was less about the broad skill set Howard has developed — he has a nice midrange bank shot now and a host of moves he didn’t have a few years ago — and more about how those skills are used, Howard told the Orlando Sentinel.

Olajuwon feels Howard can be a more effective offensive player with a little more freedom and confidence in his offensive moves.

“He just said I want you to do them in the game, and tell your coach you got a lot of skills and he needs to let you use all your skills,” Howard said Tuesday….

“For me, it’s all about confidence,” Howard said. “All of the stuff that we worked on is stuff I’ve been doing my whole life.”

The Magic use Howard a lot — he had a usage rate of 27.2 last season (meaning when he was on the court 27.2 percent of the Magic’s possessions ended with a Howard shot, him being fouled or his turnover). Only 16 players in the league got a higher usage rate.

But on the question of how Howard is used in the Magic’s inside-out offense, The Dream may be on to something. Last season 59 percent of Howards shot attempts came out of post up situations and he shot 50.6 percent on those (according to Synergy Sports). That’s a high percentage but it’s efficent.  Another 13.4 percent came on offensive rebounds. Only 6.8 percent of his shots came with him as the roll man in the pick-and-roll — but he shot 81.7 percent on those chances. That is a situation you want to use him more often in. Certainly other teams focus on him when he rolls (they don’t fear the Magic ball handlers), but the Magic need to find ways to use Howard in that kind of situation more often. He has the skills.

The playoffs showed how Orlando’s offense needs more variety if the Magic are to get back to the finals. It’s more than just that, though, they need someone else who can create his own shot on the perimeter (I mean a good shot, not what Gilbert Arenas was doing). They need to have Howard moving off the ball more. There are other wrinkles they can throw in.

Stan Van Gundy knows all that. But does he have the trust in Howard and the trust in his teammates to execute those new looks? That is another question.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.