Manu Ginobili and the dark cloud of the Spurs on the Western Conference horizon

3 Comments

If the Spurs are going to win the title this season it will be on the back of Manu Ginobili. That has become abundantly clear over the past six weeks or so. The Spurs are facing what can genuinely be considered their 14th consecutive season of championship contention, which is, in every way possible, completely and totally amazingly bonkers. That’s consistency of a kind that we simply almost never see in the NBA. Not even the Lakers have truly been contenders for that length of time, and they have five titles to their credit. But in the past two years we’ve seen a dramatic shift from the gritty, patient, bore-a-hole-in-y0ur-head-and-suck-out-your-brains-with-a-vacuum-cleaner Spurs to an offensive juggernaut with defensive issues.

In March of last year, the Spurs defensive efficiency skyrocketed to 108.5 up from 101.1 for their season average. It was a trend few were examining until the playoffs came and all of a sudden the Spurs couldn’t stop the Memphis Grizzlies, eventually losing to them in the first round in one of the biggest upsets ever. For most of this season, the trend had been corrected. Unfortunately, over the past month, we see the same trend picking up as what bit them in March of last season.

So that’s not good (I ignored the four game stretch in December for sample size purposes and the two games in April. But let it be known those six games they were good defensively overall.) They were really locking down in February but March rolled around and things changed. Interestingly, both Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw, the two deadline and buy-out additions for the Spurs haven’t been the problem, the Spurs’ defensive efficiency is better than average with them on the court. It’s everyone around them that has slid backwards.

Does this mean that the Spurs are terrible at defense? Not at all. In the past ten games, the Spurs have the 9th best defensive efficiency in the 4th quarter. They’re quite capable of good defense and all signs point to their having a superior defensive front than last year. It’s just that they are clearly not a tremendous defensive team. They’re average-to-slightly-above-average, at least in the regular season. I had anticipated them turning it on in the playoffs last year, only to find defense to be the biggest reason they lost in the first round. Can they turn it on this year? Probably to a degree, but they won’t be winning with defense.

They’ll be winning with Ginobili.

Ginobili missed a large portion of the year with various injuries. To say that the Spurs have crept to this record because of Ginobili would be false. It’s been Tony Parker, and the bench’s brilliance, and Popovich’s coaching, and overall execution. But in the playoffs, when the margin between teams is narrowed to a handful of possessions, it will be Ginobili that will make the difference.

Like on plays like this.

As Spurs blog Pounding the Rock has described Ginobili:

The 34-year-old shooting guard (34 being considered as chronologically challenged in the NBA) carefully brings the basketball past half court methodically, seemingly taunting the defense. Ten eyes are scanning his every move. His passing ability alone warrants the defense’s undivided attention. Couple that with his quirky offensive game — a game is crafted with artifice, predicated on unique angles, balanced upon the threat of scoring from every part of the floor, his ambidextrous dribbling and the ability to draw fouls continuously — Manu Ginobili is still incredibly hard to stop despite having logged 652 games at the professional level (not counting his International experience).

Manu has always been as attuned as any player can be to the ebb and flow of a game; ready and able to deliver what his team needed from him at any point. For me, the worst part about watching the ’08 and ’09 playoffs, was having the involuntary thought, “Ok, Manu needs to step up now,” only to realize that he was in street clothes. If we can all agree that his sensitivity to where and how he needs to play is as advanced as it’s always seemed to be, then it’s a really short trip to believing that we’re seeing a metamorphosis in his game that will take him places we can only imagine. And that will take the team where it hasn’t been in five long years — into the Golden Hour, where the end of the day brings beauty, even as night closes in.

via Manu Ginobili’s Game Is Changing Right Before Our Eyes – Pounding The Rock.

Ginobili’s continued excellence lies in his ability to make key plays. Not clutch plays. But well-timed conversions of low-percentage opportunities. Slipping between defenders and hitting the and-one when the lead has swelled to seven. Nabbing the steal when the offensive momentum is with the other team. Canning the open three when the defense loses him for just a second. These are the Ginobili plays that will make the most difference.

The Spurs’ defense is not where it needs to be. But it’s good enough. And when the playoffs come around, if Ginobili is playing at this level, there will be no first-round upset. There will be the Spurs, standing in the Thunder’s way, with every matchup advantage you can imagine.

The Spurs are the dark cloud on the horizon of the Western Conference. Ignore them at your peril.

Rule change kept Paul Millsap off All-Defensive teams

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Giannis Antetokounmpo made the All-Defensive second team at forward with 35 voting points.

Paul Millsap missed the All-Defensive second team at forward with… 35 voting points

The difference? Antetokounmpo had more first-team votes (seven to zero), and that was the tiebreaker. But not long ago, both would have made it.

The league changed its policy a few years ago to break ties rather than put both players on the All-Defensive team, league spokesman Tim Frank said.

In 2005, Dwyane Wade and Jason Kidd tied for fourth among guards with 16 voting points each. Even though Wade had more first-team votes than Kidd (six to four), both made the All-Defensive second team.

In 2013 (Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah) and 2006 (Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd), two players tied for the first team. So, the league awarded six first-team spots and still put five more players on the second team.

I was definitely against that. A six-man first team should have meant a four-man second team – four guards, four forwards and two centers still honored.

But with a tie for the second team, I could go either way. Having a clear policy in place – and it seems there was – is most important.

It’s just a bad break for Millsap, who, in my estimation, deserved to make an All-Defensive team based on his production.

Kid scores dribbles through Victor Oladipo’s legs to score on Thunder guard (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tired of those videos where NBA players effortlessly swat kids’ shots?

Victor Oladipo and this kid help provide an alternative:

Complete NBA award voting results

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

The NBA, finally, announced its award winners last night –  Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, Teammate of the Year and Sportsmanship Award.

How individual media voters will be released later today, but for now, here are the completing voting results for each award:

Most Valuable Player (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-total points)

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 69-19-13-0-0-888

James Harden (HOU) 22-69-10-0-0-753

Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 9-9-52-28-3-500

LeBron James (CLE) 1-4-19-63-11-333

Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 0-0-4-8-37-81

Stephen Curry (GSW) 0-0-3-1-34-52

John Wall (WAS) 0-0-0-1-4-7

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 0-0-0-0-7-7

Anthony Davis (NOP) 0-0-0-0-2-2

Kevin Durant (GSW) 0-0-0-0-2-2

DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 0-0-0-0-1-1

Defensive Player of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Draymond Green (GSW) 73-22-3-434

Rudy Gobert (UTA) 16-53-30-269

Kawhi Leonard (SAS) 11-23-58-182

Robert Covington (PHI) 0-1-1-4

LeBron James (CLE) 1-1-0-3

Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 2-0-3-3

Andre Roberson (OKC) 3-0-3-3

Patrick Beverley (HOU) 4-0-1-1

LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS) 5-0-1-1

Rookie of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Malcolm Brogdon (MIL) 64-30-4-414

Dario Saric (PHI) 13-59-24-266

Joel Embiid (PHI) 23-9-35-177

Buddy Hield (SAC) 0-1-18-21

Jamal Murray (DEN) 0-1-5-8

Willy Hernangomez (NYK) 0-0-8-8

Marquese Chriss (PHO) 0-0-3-3

Rodney McGruder (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Jaylen Brown (BOS) 0-0-1-1

Yogi Ferrell (DAL) 0-0-1-1

Most Improved Player (first-second-third-total points)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 80-8-4-428

Nikola Jokic (DEN) 14-26-13-161

Rudy Gobert (UTA) 1-30-18-113

Otto Porter Jr. (WAS) 1-10-8-43

Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 0-7-14-35

James Johnson (MIA) 1-6-11-34

Bradley Beal (WAS) 1-3-5-19

Devin Booker (PHO) 1-3-4-18

Tim Hardaway Jr. (ATL) 0-3-5-14

Mike Conley (MEM) 1-0-0-5

Dion Waiters (MIA) 0-1-1-4

Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 0-1-0-3

Dennis Schroder (ATL) 0-1-0-3

Jusuf Nurkic (POR) 0-1-0-3

Gordon Hayward (UTA) 0-0-3-3

Seth Curry (DAL) 0-0-2-2

Harrison Barnes (DAL) 0-0-2-2

Myles Turner (IND) 0-0-2-2

Gary Harris (DEN) 0-0-2-2

Hassan Whiteside (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Joe Ingles (UTA) 0-0-1-1

John Wall (WAS) 0-0-1-1

Clint Capela (HOU) 0-0-1-1

Avery Bradley (BOS) 0-0-1-1

DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 0-0-1-1

Sixth Man of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Eric Gordon (HOU) 46-40-8-358

Andre Iguodala (GSW) 43-34-9-326

Lou Williams (HOU) 5-10-15-70

Zach Randolph (MEM) 2-6-18-46

James Johnson (MIA) 1-3-11-25

Greg Monroe (MIL) 1-1-13-21

Jamal Crawford (LAC) 1-3-6-20

Enes Kanter (OKC) 1-1-6-14

Patty Mills (SAS) 0-1-11-14

Tim Hardaway Jr. (ATL) 0-1-0-3

Vince Carter (MEM) 0-0-1-1

Tyler Johnson (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Malcolm Brogdon (MIL) 0-0-1-1

Coach of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Mike D’Antoni (HOU) 68-17-9-400

Erik Spoelstra (MIA) 9-28-24-153

Gregg Popovich (SAS) 8-19-18-115

Brad Stevens (BOS) 7-16-13-96

Scott Brooks (WAS) 5-7-17-63

Quin Snyder (UTA) 1-8-8-37

Steve Kerr (GSW) 1-1-6-14

Jason Kidd (MIL) 1-2-2-13

Dwane Casey (TOR) 0-1-2-5

David Fizdale (MEM) 0-1-1-4

Executive of the Year (first-second-third-total points)

Bob Myers (GSW) 9-4-2-59

Daryl Morey (HOU) 7-6-4-57

Dennis Lindsey (UTA) 6-5-4-49

Danny Ainge (BOS) 4-1-6-29

Ernie Grunfeld (WAS) 1-3-1-15

R.C. Buford (SAS) 0-3-1-10

John Hammond (MIL) 1-1-1-9

David Griffin (CLE) 1-1-0-8

Sam Presti (OKC) 0-1-5-8

Tim Connelly (DEN) 0-2-0-6

Gar Forman (CHI) 1-0-0-5

Neil Olshey (POR) 0-1-2-5

Jeff Bower (DET) 0-1-0-3

Dell Demps (NOP) 0-1-0-3

Masai Ujiri (TOR) 0-0-2-2

Sean Marks (BRK) 0-0-1-1

Pat Riley (MIA) 0-0-1-1

Teammate of the Year (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-total points)

Dirk Nowitzki (DAL) 41-51-31-35-30-1057

Tyson Chandler (PHO) 50-29-38-27-28-1002

Udonis Haslem (MIA) 27-41-37-25-33-850

Jason Terry (MIL) 33-19-45-42-23-837

Mike Miller (DEN) 36-29-28-31-31-827

Manu Ginobili (SAS) 16-39-35-42-22-756

Kyle Korver (CLE) 24-25-25-32-27-663

Kyle Lowry (TOR) 31-22-22-17-35-660

Boris Diaw (UTA) 21-22-28-27-45-630

Shaun Livingston (GSW) 19-23-18-20-18-519

Al Jefferson (IND) 24-15-15-22-19-505

C.J. Watson (ORL) 9-16-9-11-20-300

Sportsmanship Award (first-second-third-fourth-fifth-sixth-total points)

Kemba Walker (CHA) 88-63-78-46-31-20-2424

Kyrie Irving (CLE) 52-88-38-43-46-59-2042

Shaun Livingston (GSW) 70-43-54-48-38-73-1962

Anthony Davis (NOP) 28-57-68-53-89-32-1861

Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 32-47-49-87-62-48-1787

DeMarre Carroll (TOR) 56-28-39-49-60-94-1660

D’Angelo Russell on criticism of him in L.A.: “It’s the past. I’m here now. It’s irrelevant.”

Getty Images
2 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) — D'Angelo Russell wasn’t only traded, he was insulted on the way out the door.

After the Los Angeles Lakers selected Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, team President Magic Johnson said Russell played well but stressed that he needed a leader as his point guard. Given that Johnson is one of the greatest ever to play the position, the sting might have really hurt Russell.

But his turbulent time in Los Angeles is over, so the only voices Russell are listening to are in Brooklyn.

“It’s good to be here. I can’t really control that, what they say,” Russell said Monday. “I’m gone. It’s the past. I’m here now. It’s irrelevant, honestly.”

The Nets introduced Russell and center Timofey Mozgov in a news conference at their training facility, having acquired the pair in the deal last week that sent center Brook Lopez and a draft pick to Los Angeles.

Russell is just 21 and himself was the No. 2 pick just two years ago, the kind of player who isn’t usually available via trade. But the Lakers needed to make room for Ball, and the Nets are in desperate need of talent after finishing with the worst record in the NBA.

“Looking at what the Lakers were dealing with, we’re always in that talent-acquisition mode here,” general manager Sean Marks said. “We will be for a while, but adding a player – specifically D’Angelo being 21 – we could’ve easily drafted somebody who was a year older than D’Angelo.”

Russell averaged 15.6 points last season, an improvement over his rocky rookie season. Fitting in under coach Byron Scott in Kobe Bryant’s final season was a difficult transition, and Russell made it harder on himself when his video of a private conversation with teammate Nick Young ended up on social media.

Even though Russell played better under Luke Walton, the fallout from the video may have already damaged his ability to become the leader Johnson was seeking. Marks didn’t dwell on the past, believing Russell will find a more stable situation under second-year coach Kenny Atkinson.

“I think everybody’s going to question what happened in the past with the whole Nick Young so forth,” Marks said. “But as I said before, I’m not really concerned about that, because I think if any one of us looked in our little dark secret of closets there would be things that we would be embarrassed about and wish we could take back. So again, I’m going to bet on this group, from Kenny, the coaching staff, they’ve done a terrific, terrific job of developing these guys.”

Lopez was the Nets’ career scoring leader, but Atkinson believes the Nets will get strong play from Mozgov, remembering how hard the Russian worked when Atkinson was on Mike D’Antoni’s staff with the Knicks. Mozgov didn’t play late last season as the Lakers went with their youth, but he is a strong rim protector who won an NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But the key to the deal will be Russell, who joins Jeremy Lin as the point guards on the Nets’ roster. His transition from Ohio State to Los Angeles was rough. Perhaps going coast to coast will be a smoother start.

“A lot of guys have it easier. A lot may have it harder,” Russell said. “My situation was different. It was what it was. It’s the past. I’m here and looking forward to it.”