Weekend Observations: 25 things from the week that was

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Each weekend we bring you 25 random observations from the NBA week that was. 

1. Ramon Sessions is not shooting well, but he’s drawing a lot of contact and his assists are up this year. He’s got a 19.5 PER and can’t get over 25 minutes per game on the Cavaliers. He’s much more of a playmaker this year. It’s hard to understand why no one will make a move for him.

2. Derrick Williams has that tweener offensive game, but that’s becoming less of an issue in this league. Coaches have started to understand how to use athleticism from bigs effectively on the perimeter. Williams has great scorer’s touch and that doesn’t always translate from college to the NBA. He’s drawing fouls and converting a high percentage from the field. Rubio gets all the attention but there are two good rooks in Minny.

3. If Ricky Rubio can shoot like this, if this isn’t an aberration, he’s going to be a perennial All-Star. As in, next year. As in, he’d be one this year if it weren’t for the shortened schedule keeping him from nabbing the starting job in time.

4. Efficiency is a big key word in the NBA. The Bulls aren’t particularly efficient, in terms of style of play (they are 6th in offensive efficiency, 2nd in defensive efficiency, so overall pretty efficient), but they are hyper-effective. The things they do are proven to work (defend, draw fouls, have a guard that blows by everyone), and they do them insanely well. They create open jumpers for Deng who can hit them, and create space. They grind you into oblivion. It’s not a lot of fun to watch. Not that defense isnt’ fun to watch, but that they make the opponent so bad and their offense is so grinding there’s not much spectacular play outside of Rose.

5. Paul George has been phenomenal on teh catch and shoot this year. It’s such an underused element in the NBA and he’s killing it. With his range and size, it’s a near-impossible matchup for opponents. The guy has a 67 TrueShooting percentage this year. That’s insane.

6. Danilo Gallinari is going to find his long-range shot and when he does he’s going to be terrifying offensively. His awareness this season of when to pump fake and drive and when to shoot has been really impressive, as has his ball-hawking (2 steals per 36 minutes).

7. I don’t have a specific name or description of the award that Gerald Wallace needs to win for his performance through the first two weeks of the season, but he deserves it. No one has made more of a positive impact for his team than Crash so far. Both ends. His work on Kobe Bryant this week was the stuff of legend, wrist or no.

8. James Harden still has a hand full of plays per game where he tries to do too much. But it’s mostly on account of the fact that the rest of the time, you’re pretty sure there isn’t anything he can’t do.

9. The Hawks really aren’t as bad as they looked against Miami. They have played really well top to bottom this season outside of that game. The Hawks have a greater penchant for playing down to the lowest level they can on national television of any team in the league.

10. Gerald Henderson has improved in just about every phase of the game. 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from the arc. He needs to learn to draw more fouls and finish at the rim in traffic, but there’s a lot to like about him for Charlotte.

11. Greivis Vasquez is a fine NBA player who has worked exceptionally hard to get where he is. He also should not be playing as many minutes as he is.

12. You want to blame everything for Memphis on injuries. But so much had to go right and did last year for what the Grizzlies accomplished, you feel like this is some sort of karmic payback. Crushing to see a team with that much effort struggle so much with execution.

13. Can we talk about Bosh? 21 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block per game, and he’s been a go-to for them on offense. This is the best I’ve seen him play, maybe ever. His defense has been rock solid, too, though he’s struggles in the post. As scary as the Heat have been overall, Bosh has been an important element in it.

14. Both the Knicks and Clippers have shown the true power of star power this week. In close games, they simply gave the ball to their best player and let him do damage to close out a game. The Clippers used it to give the Blazers, the best team in the West, their first loss. The Knicks used it to beat the Wizards, the worst team in the East. Same result, though, with Melo doing Melo things.

15. Greg Monroe has been a much more complete player offensively this year. He’s passing out of the post well, and is getting better on weakside defensive rotations. 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists (!) per 36 for the second-year big. He and Jerebko are the best players on the Pistons right now. Which says a lot about the Pistons, but still.

16. Utah’s starting to get it together, and Al Jefferson has been part of it. It continues to boggle my mind that no one is making a sronger push for Paul Millsap on the trade market.

17. Double-small-guard lineups are a rage right now and they’re being deployed really effectively. Denver with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller and Indiana with Darren Collison and George Hill (Hill’s a pretty legit two, but still) are some examples.

18. The schedule is slamming down on teams right now. It’s not really conditioning, which has been good, but the initial rush of the season is over and teams are struggling with these back-to-back sets. It’s not pronounced on the back-to-backs or even the back-to-back-to-backs. It’s just the overall play as we see scoring drop and injuries piling up.

19. The Blazers play really balanced, well-executed ball for about 44 minutes. Jamal Crawford takes care of the rest. That’s been a huge pickup this season.

20. Andrew Bynum is an All-Star and for once the hype is deserved. He’s finally put it all together.

21. Some teams lose because they’re just terrible at multiple aspects of the game. The Rockets, instead, are good in multiple aspects of the game. They’re just immensely solvable. Their schedule has been brutal, though.

22. If the Wizards could just learn to close a game… they’d still be pretty terrible. But you have to think this team will look better at season’s end than they do now. Some pieces you started to see coming along this week.

23. Chris Singleton keeps winding up having to defend players who are offended he’s guarding him. Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony. Gotta feel for the kid.

24. Dallas. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad bad. Bad bad bad.

25. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert.

Report: Cavaliers not willing to put Nets pick in potential trade packages

Associated Press
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When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to Boston last summer — at Irving’s request — they got something Danny Ainge had held onto for years: The Brooklyn Nets 2018 unprotected first round pick.

From the first moment the Cavaliers got the pick there was speculation they might flip it to get LeBron James more help to chase a title this season (and then, ideally, get him to re-sign with the team next summer). Yet, every utterance from the Cavaliers front office on and off the record was that the pick was untouchable. Consider it LeBron insurance should he leave, and if he stays they can add some good young depth.

Now approaching a third of the way into the NBA season, with the Cavaliers looking good but a clear step behind Golden State or Houston (and with Brooklyn playing better than anyone expected), has their position on the pick changed? No, reports Sean Deveney at The Sporting News.

Nearly two months into the season, circumstances have changed for the Cavaliers, but according to league executives, one thing that has not changed has been Cleveland’s unwillingness to part with that Nets’ pick, even as Brooklyn has exceeded expectations, thus dinging the value of the pick.

“They would be open to a deal by all indications,” one general manager told Sporting News. “But they’re not talking about that pick. That’s the Plan B for the LeBron stuff and from what I know, they don’t want to budge on it.”

It’s an interesting team building philosophical debate for the Cavaliers: When you have a reasonable shot at a title is it better to go all in for the big prize, or do they need to think about what is next, especially with LeBron’s future unsure? (Cleveland is not a title favorite, however, they are still the favorite to come out of the East in the playoffs, and if the Cavs reach the Finals they have a puncher’s chance at least.)

The Cavaliers seem to be leaning toward keeping the pick and thinking a little about the future. The Cavaliers do have their own first round pick — which will land in the mid- to late 20s — to potentially thrown in a trade. It’s a first-round pick, if not a terribly valuable one.

On top of this, just how good the Nets have been must factor into the Cavaliers’ decision. If the season ended today, the Nets pick would be 10th heading into the lottery (which has a 1.1 percent chance of jumping up to the top pick, a 4 percent chance of jumping up to the top three picks, and an 87 percent chance of staying 10th). On our recent podcast looking ahead at the draft, NBC’s Rob Dauster said what a lot of scouts have said: After about player 8, there is a drop off. If the scrappy Nets keep playing this well as the trade deadline approaches, do the Cavaliers change their calculus?

The Cavaliers have reportedly reached out to teams about big men — the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (available), the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol (the team says not available) — but it’s hard to imagine the Cavs getting an impact player that can help them get closer to another title without throwing in the Brooklyn pick. The Clippers aren’t going to take Tristan Thompson and the Cavs pick for Jordan, they will need more.

This is going to be an interesting trade deadline, and Cavaliers are going to be in the middle of it all.

Adam Silver is honest: NFL more likely to expand to Europe than NBA

Associated Press
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Basketball is a much bigger sport in Europe than American football (not to be confused with the futball that rules European sports).

However, in reality, the NFL is far more likely to put a team in London than the NBA. Logistics is why, and why the NBA is much more strongly considering a team in Mexico City (there will be a D-League in the Mexican capital within a season or two).

Adam Silver addressed the NFL’s scheduling advantages for a London team, speaking to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

For the NBA teams closest to London — Northeast teams such as the Knicks or Celtics — the flight time from their cities to London or Mexico City are about the same (a little over six hours). However, for a team such as Miami it is just a little over 3:30 to Mexico City and nearly five hours more than that to London. And as you move West and get to teams from Los Angeles or Denver — not to mention the three teams in Texas — the trip to Mexico City is less than a cross-country flight to play those East Coast teams.

I could see the NBA putting an All-Star Game in London someday, but even that would require a longer break around the showcase game than exists now.

I’m not about to speculate how an NFL team would draw in London, if they could sell out the required luxury boxes and expensive seats, or if they could help broaden the league’s shrinking television audience. But it makes a lot more sense for that league to explore the idea than it does the NBA.

Magic Johnson: Lakers might save cap space for 2019

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LeBron James seems to be tempering expectations of him signing with the Lakers.

Lakers president Magic Johnson – who has hyped signing two max free agents this summer – is doing the same.

Johnson on Spectrum SportsNet , as transcribed by Harrison Faigen of Lakers Nation.

“I feel really good about it. Now, we have cap space for probably two max guys, but that’s not to say we’ll use both of them. We want to if we can, but we have a Plan A and we have Plan B. Say we only get one of those guys, then we’ll make a decision on not to use the cap space. We can do that and save it for the class that’s coming the next year. We’re not going to give money away just because we have the cap space. I’m not about that. If the guy can’t really take our team to another level, and we see what Kyrie Irving has done for the Boston Celtics. Put him with that young talent the Celtics have, and they’ve taken off. We feel the same thing can happen for the Lakers. If we get the right free agent, that guy can take our young talent to a whole ‘nother level.”

I don’t think this will be deemed tampering, though the league’s arbitrary enforcement leaves it questionable. But I’m surprised Johnson – who already played a role in the Lakers getting a $500,000 tampering fine – discussed Irving while suggesting the Lakers leave money available for 2019, when Irving will likely become a free agent. That’s just asking for trouble.

To the substance of Johnson’s comments, no, the Lakers won’t have double max cap space next summer. Not without other moves that will reduce their positive assets.

And rolling over cap space isn’t so simple. If the Lakers sign one max free agent, his 2019-20 salary will cut into 2019 cap space. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng and Kyle Kuzma are collectively due a raise of $5,895,550 from 2018-19 to 2019-20. Re-signing Julius Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and/or Brook Lopez to multi-year deals would eat into 2019 cap space. It might not be possible to keep those players without multi-year guarantees, and losing them would hurt the team as it tries to impress free agents through quality play.

The Lakers shouldn’t spend just to spend this summer. But delaying would come with complications, too.

Joel Embiid takes blame for Sam Hinkie leaving 76ers

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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In his letter resigning from the 76ers, Sam Hinkie wrote:

You can be wrong for the right reasons. This may well prove to be Joel Embiid.

Embiid never played for Philadelphia while Hinkie ran the team, sitting out his first two pro seasons due to injury. Then, Hinkie got ousted and Embiid got healthy. Now, Embiid – arguably the NBA’s best center – is leading the resurgent 76ers, and Hinkie is left to subtweet the franchise.

Embiid, in a Q&A with David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Me: Sam Hinkie drafted you. Do you keep in touch with him, call, text?

JE: Yeah, we text sometimes. We talk to each other sometimes. I mean, that’s the guy that drafted me, and he made sure he put everything in place so I could get healthy. And I got healthy and I got back on the court. And I feel like he basically kind of lost his job because of me, because I missed two years. So I feel like I owe him a lot. Yeah, we talk. We talk sometimes.

Hinkie’s patience in a long-term plan allowed Embiid to wait as long as necessary to play. (It also might have enabled Embiid to not take his rehab seriously enough.)

So, I get where Embiid is coming from.

But Hinkie knew what he was getting into when he drafted Embiid, who fell to the No. 3 pick in part due to injury concerns. The 76ers signed off on Hinkie’s Process then lost their appetite for the plan amid all the losing. It’s not Embiid’s fault Hinkie couldn’t persuade people to follow his direction. It’s not Embiid’s fault ownership got skittish.