T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam

What the Wizards should do when the lockout ends…

4 Comments

We’re trying to be optimistic about the lockout here at PBT, and as part of that we are looking at what all 30 NBA teams should do when the lockout ends. And we’re sticking with when, not if, it ends. To see the full Western Conference list, click here.

Last season in Washington D.C.: For a team with a lot of young, talented players, the Wizards were just flat out bad. They won only 23 games, they were 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, 24th in offense. Defensively they blocked shots and not much else. On offense the Wizards didn’t take a lot of threes and didn’t make a lot when they did (they shot 33.2 percent from deep, 28th in the league). John Wall was slowed by injuries most of the year and seemed to be finding his way in his rookie NBA season. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were consistently inconsistent.

Since we last saw the Wizards: They got new uniforms and logos, which are actually throwbacks to an older, Bullet look. The Wizards are a very patriotic red, white and blue now. It’s better than the blue at least.

They also had a nice draft, but it adds more questions and youth to a team with plenty. They drafted Jan Vesely (he of the girlfriend you remember from draft night), who is big and talented and raw. They also picked up forward Chris Singleton and guard Shelvin Mack, both of whom likely will make the team but we’ll see how much run they get.

When the lockout ends, the Wizards need to… Sign Nick Young to keep him in house, grow up and start to play some defense. Then run more.

Nick Young is entering the last year of his rookie deal, the Wizards extended a qualifying offer, now they need to keep him around. He’s not an All-Star, but he is developing into a quality two in the league who a number of teams other teams covet. The Wizards are a team that needs points, and while Young could use to be more efficient getting them, he can get the points.

The Wizards already have about 14 guys that will be on the roster (if all three rookies and a couple other guys are brought back with Young), but what they could use is a veteran point guard to back up Wall and be a steadying influence on this team. Earl Boykins could work. Over at SB Nation Mike Prada likes two-guard Reggie Williams most recently of the Warriors, to provide scoring punch off the bench, and that works for me, too. But they need a veteran who can show guys how to be professionals and win.

Aside that, there will be growing pains for a young Wizards team, hopefully for them just fewer of them. They need to learn from the mistakes of last season and take steps forward. It’s going to be gradual, like what we’ve seen over the past several seasons in Oklahoma City. The thing is, OKC gets very consistent play from its stars, the Wizards do not. Washington has to, especially from Blatche and McGee, two wildly talented guys who cannot put it together night in and night out.

Also, what they really need to do more is run. They ran some last season — ninth fastest pace in the NBA, which was a big step up from previous years — but that is not enough with this roster.

Watching John Wall in person at the Impact Training Series, I was reminded just how insanely fast he is with the ball in his hands. Wall is healthy now — he had nagging injuries all last season — and much more explosivethan he was when he last put on a Wizards uniform. He’s blowing by defenders that are just getting back and turning around. Add in Vesely — a big that really moves well up and down the court and can finish — plus Young, Blatche and McGee and you have a lot of guys who can close out in transition. Washington’s secondary break with bigs trailing the play should be deadly, and they should run drag screens all game long (where the trailing big sets a high screen for Wall or whoever has the ball, before the defense sets). This team should be a beast in transition.

But here’s the thing — transition offense starts with good defense. Not just making steals (although that’s nice) but getting the stop, the rebound and throwing a smart outlet pass to start everything. Keep taking the ball out of the basket and your running game can stall out. With the blocking machines that are McGee and Blatche in the paint, the Wizards have a good presence in the key. But Washington’s help rotations, defensive decisions and individual defense was just bad last season. That is the end where the Wizards need to improve if they are serious about improving as a squad.

The Wizards commitment to defense will determine just how big a step the team takes next season.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Leave a comment

Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Leave a comment

I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.