Damian Lillard continues to impress at NBA Summer League

1 Comment

LAS VEGAS — Seven days in Las Vegas is a long time regardless of the occasion, but there are times that it has seemed particularly long this week as four games in a gym watching fringe NBA players play basketball can surprisingly take its toll on a guy. There are always a few moments that make it all worth it, though, and Thursday’s performance from Damian Lillard did just that.

Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers first round draft pick, has been pretty great all week … though he’s somehow slid just a bit under the radar as the game this writer’s been watching has taken place in the other gym. That all changed on Thursday in the Cox Pavilion, however, as the Weber State product didn’t disappoint with yet another impressive performance.

Portland’s new point guard entered the game averaging 26 points while shooting better than 41 percent from beyond the arc through his new team’s first two games and followed that up with an impressive 31 points and seven assists while limiting himself to just three turnovers after committing seven the game prior. It’s tough to tell how much Summer League performances matter, but Lillard’s having one heck of an exhibition season.

The rest of Thursday’s standouts are as follows:

  • Thomas Robinson got the best of Jared Sullinger as the Sacramento Kings beat the Boston Celtics, but since that’s already been written about here, let’s instead single out undrafted free agent Tony Mitchell. The Alabama alumnus scored 13 points off the bench in yet another solid effort as he continues to show that he can put the ball in the bucket at this level.
  • The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in large part thanks to the play of last year’s No. 2 pick Derrick Williams, but Coby Karl’s shooting was probably the more fun aspect to watch (no offense to Derrick’s crazy drives to the bucket, of course). Karl, the son of George made six of his seven 3-point attempts en route to 18 points off the bench — and blocked a shot to boot.
  • Dionte Christmas led the Boston Celtics in scoring on Thursday and, although it happened in a loss, it was a good look for him as continues to be impressive in Summer League. The most surprising part is that his shot is still falling considering the Celtics completed their eight game since last Monday after previously competing in the Orlando Summer League.
  • Ed Davis continued to impress for the Toronto Raptors on Vegas as he helped his team pick up a close victory over the New York Knicks with 15 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots while taking exactly what he was given — a facet most second-year players are struggling with here in Vegas. Aside from rookie Terrence Ross (2-for-8, five points), the whole Raptors team looked pretty good on the offensive end, but Chris Wright — formerly of the Golden State Warriors — stood out most with 15 points, six rebounds and the usual array of powerful dunks in transition.
  • Tobias Harris was good once again in Vegas with 21 points and 12 rebounds against the D-League Select team, but the well-built wing turned the ball over an unsightly seven times. Tarence Kinsey, former member of the Memphis Grizzlies, scored 14 points as he attempts to return to relevance — and took a solid step toward that with a nice defensive effort in extended minutes on Thursday.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers needed five games to get a win in Vegas, but at least it happened. The way it happened was quite intriguing, too, as Christian Eyenga scoring 22 points — quite a few on jump shots, no less — was not what Summer League fans expected. Julian Khazzouh wasn’t bad either as the Australian big man scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds as a pick-and-pop option alongside Robert Sacre.
  • Tyler Zeller came back to earth for the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 1-for-7 shooting performance after looking much better than that earlier in the week and, not surprisingly, it led to a Cleveland loss. Not all was bad for the Cavs, though, as Tristan Thompson scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting while a reformed Samardo Samuels had 14 points and added five assists.
  • It unfortunately came in a loss, but Adam Morrison was once again impressive for the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night. The former third overall pick hit his usual array of difficult shots on the way to 22 points as he tries to earn his way on to an NBA roster. Terrico White was good off the bench, too, finishing the game with 10 points and four rebounds.
  • The D-League Select Team fell behind early and simply couldn’t recover, though it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Instead the team just couldn’t convert on the offensive end. Kenny Hayes (15 points) and Leo Lyons (nine points, 10 rebounds) were bright spots, but it simply was not enough.
  • The Knicks’ Summer League squad hasn’t looked very good all week aside from Chris Copeland (who has already wrapped up a training camp invite) and, unfortunately, that was the case again on Thursday afternoon. Copeland, despite missing a crucial bucket late, scored a game-high 17 points while the rest of his team struggled … though new addition Sylven Landesberg was a pleasant surprise with 10 points and no turnovers after playing last season in Israel.
  • Mike Scott, the second round pick of the Atlanta Hawks, led an underwhelming effort for the Atlanta Hawks as they finished up their Summer League schedule with 14 points and seven rebounds.

More action continues on Friday with seven games slated to take place. Hopefully the excitement comes in more than just small spurts.

Memphis pays tribute to Zach Randolph as he returns to FedEx Forum

1 Comment

Zach Randolph found his career around in Memphis.

He had fantastic on-the-court years in Portland, then bounced to New York and Los Angeles, but it was in Memphis that he became a beloved figure in the community who embraced it, plus on the court played a big role in the best years in the Grizzlies franchise.

He took the bigger check in Sacramento last summer, and when he returned to FedEx Forum in a Kings uniform Friday he was greeted with nothing but love.

🙌🏽 The @memgrizz pay tribute to @macbo50! #ThisIsWhyWePlay

A post shared by NBA (@nba) on

Randolph has earned this. Hope he savored it.

 

 

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins: All-Star nods bode well for Pelicans pairing

Getty Images
1 Comment

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins figure they’ve proved they can co-exist to spectacular and prolific effect.

Both big men have been named All-Star starters, giving them hope they’ll be paired together beyond this season, which is Cousins’ last under contract.

“First time I’ve ever been in an All-Star game with a teammate,” the 6-foot-11 Cousins noted after practice on Friday, one day after All-Star starters were announced. “This is big for the entire city, the organization and just our team moving forward. It kind of shows what this combo has the potential to have.”

The 6-10 Davis, who was the Pelicans’ lone All-Star last season, sounded equally pleased by the results a decision by New Orleans to counter the trend of guard-heavy “small ball” by pairing dynamic big men who can dominate inside, handle the ball and shoot with range.

“The biggest question was, was it going to work? I think we just proved that it is and it can work,” Davis said. “We feel like we complement each other.”

The 24-year old Davis is averaging 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Cousins, 27, has averaged 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.6 blocks. Their exploits have filled highlight reels, sometimes on plays involving one setting up the other – above the rim or otherwise.

“I’m mostly happy for DeMarcus,” Davis said. “To be a starter, that’s huge – huge for him. He’s having a hell of a season. It’s well deserved.”

The comparable production from both Davis and Cousins shows that “both of those guys are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Both of those guys are willing to leave a little bit of their game off the floor so the other guy can be good.”

There’s just one problem.

New Orleans hasn’t won enough to be firmly on a path toward postseason play.

At 23-21, the Pelicans entered Friday night’s action tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for seventh in the eight-team Western Conference playoff picture.

The Pelicans’ past two results were a microcosm of their season. On Tuesday night, New Orleans beat Eastern Conference-leading Boston. The following night, they lost at Atlanta, which entered the game with the worst record in the NBA.

“We’ve had flashes throughout the year,” Cousins said. “We’re still trying to find that consistency. There’s still a lot of things we need to work.”

Cousins acknowledged the Pelicans have yet to master “being the team we want to be at all times … no matter if we’re playing Golden State or the Atlanta Hawks.”

The Pelicans have yet to string more than three consecutive victories together this season and had developed a habit of losing to teams with losing records well before their Atlanta collapse. New Orleans has dropped home dates with Orlando, Sacramento, Dallas and New York. They’ve lost twice at Memphis.

If that trend continues, it could sour Cousins on the prospect of re-signing with New Orleans.

“I wasn’t really concerned about accolades. I’ve gotten accolades. I’ve done everything except win,” said Cousins, who spent his first seven seasons in Sacramento before his trade to the Pelicans following the 2017 All-Star game in New Orleans. “With the whole (trade) going down, what I thought I had a chance to do was win, and that’s why I was OK with it.”

Still, Cousins sounded confident he won’t be dealt to another club when asked if he liked the league’s decision to move up the trade deadline to Feb. 8 this season, before the All-Star break.

“I don’t really care because I don’t think I’m getting traded,” Cousins said. “Hopefully I’ve never got to deal with it again.”

If the Pelicans aren’t able to make a major addition with a trade, they could get a boost from the expected return of small forward Solomon Hill from an offseason hamstring tear. Valued by the club for his defense, Hill, a former starter, is scheduled to return for the final month or so off the regular season.

In any event, the Pelicans have 38 games to make their push, starting at home Saturday night against Memphis.

 

Thunder’s Paul George finding his role, doing a little bit of everything for new team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder coach Billy Donovan can’t pinpoint the best thing about Paul George.

Oklahoma City’s versatile forward averages just over 20 points per game, leads the league in steals and is third in 3-point goals while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

“I think that’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of players in the league that are great offensive players, but they’re not great defensive players. I think arguably, it would be hard to make a case either way of what end of the floor he’s better on, offense or defense, because he’s that special.”

George believes he’s having an All-Star season in first year with Oklahoma City after being traded from the Indiana Pacers. There have been challenges as he has tried to fit in with superstars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and it’s still unclear where he will play next season because of his upcoming free agency.

Still, he has remained focused enough to be a top-notch performer. As he has found his way, the Thunder have rallied from an 8-12 start and have gone 17-8 since heading into Saturday’s game at Cleveland.

“He can score it, attack the rim and he defends,” Lakers rookie guard Kyle Kuzma said. “Anytime you do that, you’re going to be a pretty damn good player.”

George was first team All-Defense in 2014 and second-team in 2013 and 2016, and he was a defensive stopper for Team USA when it won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He says without hesitation that he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year this season and feels he should have won the award in the past.

“I think I have the makeup, I think I have the intangibles,” George told The Associated Press. “I’m physically capable of doing the things necessary. I thought 2013-14 I thought I was hands down the best perimeter defender on the league and I thought I was overlooked.”

George is averaging a career-best 2.2 steals per game. Having another top-notch perimeter defender in Andre Roberson to share some of the responsibility allows him to gamble more than in the past. He also credits carrying less of the offensive load.

“It gives me more energy, not having to create or generate offense every possession,” George said. “I can conserve energy that way. It allows me to really ramp up the defense on the other end, which is another reason why I’ve been able to accumulate so many steals. I have the energy, the endurance to keep flying around and keep being productive.”

An example of his all-around play this season was a five-steal performance against the Sacramento Kings. He made just 7 of 17 shots but was a critical factor in Oklahoma City’s win.

He hasn’t always emphasized defense, but he was forced to as a rookie for the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. Frank Vogel took over as coach at midseason and saw enough grit and improvement on that end to insert him into the starting lineup in March. He came of age during the playoff series that season against the Chicago Bulls when he faced league MVP Derrick Rose. George gave up some points, but he battled and helped the Pacers hold Rose to 37 percent shooting in the series.

“My mindset was I knew I was outmatched from a standpoint of staying in front of him,” George said. “That’s what really got me going in trying to think things through, trying to see what I can do that can disrupt the MVP. I tried to use my length. I tried to make it as hard as possible. I knew he was going to get his 20s, get his 30s, but how can I make it as hard as possible, and how can I wear this guy down? You’re not going to be able to shut down a guy like that at that stage.”

From that point, George embraced the role of defensive stopper while evolving into an all-around offensive player. He was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2013 and made the first of his four All-Star appearances. Last season, he averaged a career-best 23.7 points for the Pacers. Now, he can still create when needed and he has learned to be more of a catch-and-shoot scorer.

“He’s a beast out there,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “He’s great. He can score the ball from three, the mid-range and the post. He’s tough to guard so you have to pick your poison with him, and it’s hard to do.”

Three Kemba Walker trades that could work for both sides

Getty Images
10 Comments

Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office are exploring the idea anyway.

As they should. The Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s purgatory of a middle-ground with one All-Star level player in Walker and not enough around him to make this team a threat. The Hornets are 17.3 points per 100 possessions better when Walker is on the court — when he plays they look like a borderline playoff team, when he sits they are a disaster. Because of some big contracts, that situation is not likely to change. Charlotte may finally be proactive with this — trade Walker but attach a bad contract to it, and get some pieces to jump-start a rebuild back. That’s less than ideal in a smaller market like Charlotte, but it’s the right basketball move — test the market and see if they can get an offer that works for them.

Here are three potential trades that would fit the parameters being discussed. These are not likely, but this is the kind of deals that we would see.

Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks

Charlotte gets: Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and either Jarrett Jack or Lance Thomas

New York gets: Kemba Walker

The ups and downs of slowly rebuilding do not play well in New York — and right now they are in a downward spin after a fast start to the season. Still, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and Walker instantly puts them back in the playoff conversation. Walker gives New York another shot creator and scoring threat, someone to run pick-and-pops with Kristaps Porzingis, set up Tim Hardaway Jr., and just improve an offense that is middle of the pack. For the Hornets, they get the point guard of the future in Ntilikina, one building block as they move forward. This might be the best deal for the Hornets — if the Knicks would consider moving Ntilikina. That is far from certain.

Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons

Charlotte gets: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, draft picks, plus some other players to make the salaries fit such as Anthony Tolliver.

Detroit gets: Walker and Marvin Williams.

The promise of the Jackson/Andre Drummond connection in Detroit has faded, and Walker would bring the spark and scoring that the Pistons need to be a real threat come the postseason. I like this for Detroit, but less so because Jackson has two-years, $35 million left on his contract after next season, and that’s a lot of money to take on for a team trying to strip it down. That said, if the Hornets think they can develop Johnson on offense (he’s good defensively, a black hole on offense) and the picks are good, they should consider it.

Kemba Walker to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Charlotte gets: Isaiah Thomas, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (plus another player to make the money work such as Channing Frye

Cleveland gets: Kemba Walker, maybe another deep bench player to round out the salary.

This seems the longest shot. Cleveland wants to upgrade their backcourt, that’s why they are talking to Sacramento about George Hill. However, the talk around the league is the Cavaliers are not moving that Brooklyn pick for anything less than a total game changer who makes them a real threat to Golden State. Is that Walker? Probably not. This is also probably not a move Cleveland makes unless it thinks Thomas is not going to get back to All-Star level performance, but if they think that’s not going to happen this would be a serious upgrade. The Hornets would do this to get the Nets pick, giving them a couple of lottery picks (their own is the other) in this draft to start a rebuild.