It’s OK if there’s no mania behind Jimmer

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“The first time he didn’t play [on Feb. 2 against Portland], people were calling the paper and pitching their theories,” said Jason Jones, the Kings’ beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. “People don’t want to believe that he might not be ready to play. They want to believe Keith has it in for him.”

The salty swell of support peaked on Feb. 21, when Fredette’s brother and roommate, T.J., saw Jimmer glued to the bench for 48 minutes in a game at Miami and tweeted, “Can we please get rid of this interim coach who should be an assistant at best and bring in a real head coach.” Jimmer quickly apologized on behalf of his brother, who subsequently deleted the tweet and also issued an apology. Smart had a candid moment of his own on March 8, defending his use of Fredette while saying, “If everybody in the world would just leave me alone and let me develop this kid, he’s going to be OK.”

via Jimmer Fredette being brough along slowly by Sacramento Kings – Sam Amick – SI.com.

And that last part is kind of relevant. “OK.”

Now, I’m sure if you were to press Keith Smart he’d talk about Jimmer Fredette being “pretty good” or “great” eventually. But right now? Right now the goal is just OK. And for some reason, people have struggled to accept this. There’s a lingering sense that the player Fredette was in college must be in there, that he has to be waiting to spring forth with magical unicorn bombs from 50 feet. There’s just no way that the player the JimmerManiacs saw tearing it up in the NCAA tournament last year at BYU isn’t the same. Because it’s just basketball, right?

Well, no, not really.

Here’s the thing, the article above is entirely written from the perspective of giving Jimmer time to evolve and improve. And it’s a worthwhile idea. I”m not here to bury a rookie. Guys develop, improve, and regress at very different intervals in the NBA and for the most part, it’s very difficult to predict. Fredette could have a monster sophomore year, and then disappear. There are trends, to be sure. There are probabilities. But to say that players will never change, never improve, that they are who they are is to ignore a world of players like Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, and others who progressed not from the start but who began their careers as one thing and then dramatically shifted a few years in. Fredette can have that kind of career. He’s a good enough… uh… shooter or player, or something to be able to convert those skills.

However, there’s something we’re going to need to get past. Fredette is not stuck on the bench. He’s not being held back. He’s just not very good right now. And Thomas has been excellent. He’s earned is playing time. And all the things we were concerned about with Fredette? They’ve turned out to be true.

Turns out that in the flow of an NBA game, jacking up 45 footers is not a sustainable offensive strategy. It turns out that creating your own shot against players who are twice as fast, long, athletic, and strong as you are is a bit of a trick. And most of all, it turns out that all the concerns about Fredette’s defense weren’t mythical. The kid can’t stick. He should not be on the floor right now and Keith Smart isn’t responsible for making sure Jimmer works out. He’s supposed to make the garbage salad of the Kings turn into a pizza with DMC pepperoni and Thornton sauce. (In this scenario Tyreke Evans is pineapple. The people that like it love it and always want it on, the people that don’t think it’s weird it’s on the pizza.)

Smart isn’t the GM who elected to draft a player who clearly didn’t fit with their roster, nor had the pedigree to compete at the NBA level at the position he was drafted at. Smart wasn’t the coach to weigh in on that decision. This is Smart being stuck with management’s mistake. Again, it doesn’t meant that Fredette can’t work out and be amazing and validate Geoff Petrie and everything. But for right now, it’s not working out, and Smart’s not beholden to making that work. He’s got the Kings playing better with Thomas, with Thornton, most importantly with DMC, you know the players with actual ability at this level.

And this isn’t actually unexpected. Neil Paine at Basketball Prospectus wrote about college All-Americans and the NBA. The trend over the past thirty years? It’s getting harder and harder for amateur stars to convert to pro icons.

The more common outcome for an All-American in today’s game is to be an ordinary starter or even a non-starting rotation regular (33% have met this fate so far). There’s still plenty of time for regulars like Evan Turner and Greivis Vasquez to become starters, and for starters like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to become All-Stars (in fact, Cousins arguably should have been one this season). But those are the exceptions–in reality, the book is likely already written on most of the post-age-limit prospects produced at college basketball’s highest level, and it’s not filled with anywhere near as many stars as in days gone by, despite the rule forcing elite high school talent to spend a year on campus.

via Basketball Prospectus | Disappearing Act.

There’s hope for Fredette, though.

J.J. Redick was a similar player in college, a three-point sharpshooter, the best in Duke’s history. When he came to the Magic, he got no playing time. None. And he was frustrated, essentially, for two seasons. Stan Van Gundy made it abundantly clear to Redick. Learn how to play defense at this level, you can play. He knew Redick could shoot, he needed him to defend. So Redick hit the weight room, built up his frame, kept his shooter’s touch, and wound up being a huge part of the Magic’s run to he Finals in 2009. Had Orlando not matched his offer from Chicago two years ago, he’d be a better version of Kyle Korver. That’s what Fredette needs to do. Accept it’s going to be rough, accept that he’s not ready, keep bucking to get there and do what is necessary.

In the meantime? You can hope Fredette will work out. You can even have faith that he’ll become the player we all want him to be, the same one who went gonzo in the tournament. But you can’t deny the reality that he’s not ready to play and is a detriment to his team when he’s on the floor right now. It’s not just about patience. It’s about reality and how we deal with it.

Report: LeBron James wins overall All-Star fan vote

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For the first time in a dozen years, a player has won the All-Star fan vote for consecutive years.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett have all taken turns as leader since Yao Ming claimed the vote lead in 2005 and 2006. Apparently, LeBron will retain the top spot he held last year.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The fan vote means less than ever, with media and players also playing a role in who starts the All-Star game and a draft assigning players to teams. But the leading fan-vote-getter in each conference still matters, as those will be the captains for the draft.

LeBron will be one. Warriors Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were neck-and-neck for the other captaincy.

Last I heard, the NBA was leaning toward giving the top overall fan-vote-getter the first pick in the All-Star draft, but that hadn’t been formally decided. So, it’ll probably be on LeBron to select his top choice among the other eight starters, who will be announced tonight. (All starters must be drafted first, so each team still has five starters.)

One more time: Let LeBron make that pick on television. He doesn’t mind.

Austin Rivers: Maybe I got a chance because Doc is my dad, but I know my swagger keeps me from succumbing to negativity

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Austin Rivers was the No. 10 pick out of Duke in 2012, and he struggled mightily his first few years in the NBA. His gaffes are so jolting, his teammates mock them. Yet, Rivers still carries himself as if he’s a star.

Chris Paul reportedly despised Doc Rivers over the Clippers coach’s favoritism toward his son. Former Clipper Glen Davis said Austin got paid because of his dad. Jamal Crawford reportedly chafed at the Clippers’ initial offer to him a couple years ago because it was lower than Austin’s.

These are issues Austin has been hearing about and handling for years.

Monday’s Clippers-Rockets game – Paul’s return to L.A. – was a breaking point, though.

An injured Austin stood on the sidelines talking trashing during the game, sparking a confrontation that got Trevor Ariza and Blake Griffin ejected. After the game, Austin reportedly continued jawing with Ariza as the Houston forward charged toward the Clippers’ locker room (drawing a two-game suspension).

Again in the crosshairs, Austin is opening up.

Rivers, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“People can say whatever they want about me and my father [LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers],” the guard told ESPN during a lengthy interview Wednesday night. “I get it. I can even put my ego aside and understand why people don’t like the situation. When I was growing up and I’d see the coach’s son, you’d be like, ‘He sucks. He’s only on the team because of his dad.’ So I get it.”

“People are like, ‘Well, his dad gave him his chance.’ Is that true or not? I don’t know. It might be,” Rivers said. “[But] could it be that my pops knew how good I could be because he’s my pops?

“I know what the narrative is on me,” Rivers said. “It’s because I come from money and I have a swagger and confidence about me.

“[But] if I didn’t have this confidence or swagger in myself, I wouldn’t be built to handle the negativity that I’ve gotten. I would’ve already broken down years ago because I’ve gotten this since high school. I’ve turned it into a fuel and it’s helped me. I go into each away arena and it’s rough, because of the s— I hear. This chip on my shoulder, this swagger and confidence, it helps me. If I didn’t have it, I would not be in the NBA.”

“I’m not saying poor me. There’s people that have real problems,” Rivers said. “So don’t feel bad for me. I don’t need anybody’s sympathy. I’m having my best year yet. I’m trying to get back and healthy so I can help our team.

This is more relatable than Austin has ever sounded, and I applaud him for sharing a more authentic point of view rather than maintaining the facade of an aloof superstar. He deserves better treatment from the public than he has gotten, though he’s responsible for the much-maligned persona he has displayed.

Austin hasn’t received nearly enough credit for how much he has improved. Part of that is due to just how bad he was when he entered the NBA, but he has gotten steadily better. That shows how hard he works.

Some of the criticism of Austin and Doc is fair. Some is not. They probably should have better-anticipated what Doc trading for then re-signing Austin would be perceived, inside and outside the Clippers. But it’s too late to undo those deals, so they’re trying to manage the situation the best they can.

Austin’s interview here is a good step.

Reunited with Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza embracing role as Rockets’ glue guy

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Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza went out for dinner together Dec. 8, 2011. They were back in Paul’s condo when the star point guard was thrown headfirst into one of the NBA’s biggest controversies.

New Orleans agreed to trade Paul to the Lakers, but the league – which was operating the New Orleans franchise while it was for sale – vetoed the deal.

“It was crazy,” Paul said.

Paul and Ariza, then New Orleans teammates, have reunited with the Rockets. This time, Ariza might have more than a front-row seat to Paul’s saga. Ariza could be a central character in the story.

Of course, Paul came to Houston to escape the Clippers, team up with James Harden and try to win a championship. But Paul also said his friendship with Ariza “had a whole lot to do with it.”

Three Rockets starters – Paul, Ariza and Clint Capela – will be free agents next summer. Paul is the obvious priority, and general manager Daryl Morey said Clint Capela, who will be restricted, “couldn’t price himself out” of Houston.

The Rockets already have nearly $76 million in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). New owner Tilman Fertitta has expressed limitations on paying the luxury tax.

So, where does that leave Ariza? And perhaps more importantly, how would whether or not Houston re-signs Ariza affect Paul?

“Trev, like I said, is a good friend of mine. We talk about any and everything,” Paul said. “But, when that decision comes, I’m sure we both will make the best decision that’s best for my family and best for his family.”

If the Rockets discard Ariza to to sign another of Paul’s friends, LeBron James, it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Really, worldly veterans like Paul and Ariza would likely understand if Houston lets Ariza walk even without replacing him with LeBron.

But how much risk do the Rockets want to take? Would they chance losing their big acquisition after only one season? Remember, they were reportedly reluctant to deal Ariza in a package for a third star last summer because of his Paul connection.

That bond is already showing this season.

When Paul’s new teammates questioned Ariza after the trade about Paul’s’ personality, Ariza assured them Paul, though extremely competitive, is a “real nice dude.” Houston is outscoring opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when Paul and Ariza share the court. And in Paul’s highly charged return to L.A., no Rocket answered the emotion of the night more than Ariza, who got ejected then reportedly led a post-game charge into the Clippers locker room, drawing a two-game suspension.

His point guard might be (re)new(ed), but Ariza still has the same overall job description – steady, unheralded contributor.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time,” Ariza said.

His production is in line with Ryan Anderson’s and Eric Gordon’s. But Anderson’s salary nearly triples Ariza’s, and Gordon – who also earns more money – gets the plaudits of being reigning Sixth Man of the Year because he comes off the bench.

Ariza’s modest windfall: comfort. In his fourth straight year with the Rockets, this stint in Houston has been his longest anywhere.

A second-round pick in 2004, Ariza shuffled between the Knicks, Magic and Lakers. He excelled in the 2009 playoffs, helping the Lakers win the title in a contract year. But the Lakers let him walk to sign Ron Artest (who later changed his name to Metta World Peace) – a particular disappointment for Ariza, who grew up in Los Angeles. So, Ariza agreed to terms with the Rockets for nearly $34 million over five years. But in his only season with an above-average usage, Ariza underwhelmed, and Houston traded him to New Orleans, where he teamed with Paul. In cost-cutting mode after Paul, New Orleans sent Ariza to the Wizards. He parlayed a career year in Washington into a four-year, $32 million contract with the Rockets in 2014.

Along the way, Ariza developed a 3-point shot that wasn’t at all on his résumé his first few seasons. He picked up tricks of the trade defensively. And he displayed professionalism and a strong work ethic.

He isn’t an elite outside shooter, but he shoots well enough to provide clearly efficient scoring and floor-spacing. He isn’t an elite defender, but he can credibly guard all five positions. Important and perhaps the most overlooked aspect of his game, he maintains his two-way effectiveness over long stretches.

Only Ariza, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Jrue Holiday and Ben Simmons rate as above average both offensively and defensively by ESPN’s real plus-minus while playing 35 minutes per game.

The 32-year-old Ariza is easily the oldest of that group. He keeps in excellent shape, playing 36.2 minutes per game, an age-playing time combination matched by only LeBron James, whose workload has been deeply dissected.

While Luc Mbah a Moute was injured and before Houston signed Gerald Green, Ariza played more than 41 minutes in six straight games last month.

“I’m real aware that we’re playing him too many minutes,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But he says, ‘Coach, I’m fine. It doesn’t bother me.’ During the game, he’s never winded.'”

Ariza’s steadiness is historic considering how he entered the league. Since the NBA instituted a two-round draft in 1989, he ranks eighth among second-rounders in career games:

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Ariza says he has always focused competing against the man in front of him, not caring about where he was drafted or contract status.

That approach has taken Ariza a long way in his 14-year career. He has earned a healthy living playing basketball and respect from teammates and coaches – but not job security.

He’s key to the Rockets’ present and future, but with his contract expiring, that can mean a number of outcomes.

“It’s there. You know it’s there,” Ariza said. “But you that’s not what I put all my focus into.

“I’m just going to go out and play my game and do my job, and whatever happens happens.”

Bulls’ Kris Dunn breaks teeth on dunk landing (video)

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Kris Dunn struggled in the first three quarters of the Bulls’ 119-112 loss to the Warriors last night. Then, he and Chicago played better in the fourth quarter.

Yet, that was the worst period for Dunn – because this happened.

Bulls:

Ouch.