LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the planet earth right now.
Kevin Durant is, in my opinion, the best pure scorer walking the planet right now.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski is a smart man. He knows what an unstoppable force those two guys are — so he started playing them off each other.
I tweeted about this during the USA’s throttling of Spain: There is no way to really defend the two-man game Durant and LeBron have started to play. LeBron is the pick-setter and Durant comes off him, although unlike a classic pick-and-roll this is more LeBron with the ball out high and Durant coming off him and taking a handoff.
Our own Rob Mahoney wrote about the challenges this presents at the New York Times.
From the moment Durant curls around James’ screen and accepts the handoff, the defense is at an incredible disadvantage. James is a threat to flare, dive, or catch a pass and act as an intermediary, and yet opponents have no choice but to close the space that Durant now has at his disposal. Both players are threatening at every step in this sequence, giving it a sustained life that normal pick-and-roll scenarios lack.
This kind of arrangement adds potency to Team U.S.A. Each player on this roster can score in isolation, but the glory of this team’s construction isolation isn’t necessary. There’s too much potential such as the pick-and-roll above, and too many brilliant juxtapositions of talented players to succumb to inefficiency.
Mahoney’s point is that Team USA is a collection of talent but like any team improves the longer they play together. It’s one of the advantages that teams like Spain and Argentina have, where their national teams have largely played together in tournaments since they were teenagers — they have a comfort level we ask our guys to pick up on the fly. No sport works like that.
But the guys on Team USA are quick learners. The team that beat Spain in the final exhibition game was better than the one that played the Dominican Republic in Vegas a couple weeks before.
And the one in the gold medal game will be better still. And will need to be.
This is how the salary cap game is played.
Mo Williams is dead money, owed $2.2 million this season by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore. The Cavaliers kept Williams on the roster and the books in case they could use that salary in a trade, and they did shipping him to Atlanta as a throw in with the Kyle Korver trade. Atlanta then traded him to Denver, because the Nuggets wanted to add $2.2 million to their payroll and bring them closer to the salary floor. But they didn’t want him on the roster, so they waived him.
Enter the Philadephia 76ers.
But the Sixers were not done.
Now we see if one of the handful of teams with a worse record than the Sixers decides they would rather have the salary on their books.
To be clear, teams under the salary floor still have to pay that money to the players. Let’s say a team ends up $2 million under that floor, then the team pays $2 million to be divided among the players on that roster. So, bringing in a player like Williams just saves them cash.
The Knicks were down 113-110 with just 13.7 seconds remaining when Carmelo Anthony passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a 3-pointer from the corner, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win.
After the game, Lee said he didn’t shoot because he felt and heard what he thought was a defender near him, but it turned out to be Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe, who came onto the court and barked words implying he was switching out onto Lee.
The NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report sides with Lee, saying the Wizards should have gotten a technical. From the report:
A WAS assistant coach stands on the floor close to Lee (NYK) for several seconds and should have been assessed a technical foul.
This is an area the NBA needs to crack down on, coaches walk out onto the court all the time. Far too often. Frankly, I have an issue with coaches on the bench stomping their feet or yelling at shooters near their sideline, but Lowe took it a step further.
Much like telling a six-year-old to stop licking their shoes this isn’t something NBA officials should have to deal with, it should be common sense, but the league needs to crack down on coaches stepping onto the court. Maybe this will push the league to start enforcing that rule.
Should Russell Westbrook have been a starter for the All-Star game over Stephen Curry? Sure. Going on stats from the first half of this season — when Westbrook is averaging a triple double — Westbrook deserves the nod. But I have a hard time getting worked up over the fans choosing the two-time MVP to start the All-Star Game.
The real snubs are coming.
When it comes to choosing the All-Star Game reserves, the coaches are facing some tough choices. How many point guards in the East? Does Joel Embiid deserve to go? Kristaps Porzingis? Out West the questions shift to Mike Conley, Damian Lillard and others.
I talk about those tough choices and who I would pick in this latest PBT Extra.
The Bucks reportedly already planned for Greg Monroe to opt in after this season, a reasonable conclusion considering they tried to dump him in a trade all summer and found no takers.
But Monroe has quietly boosted his stock this season. Coming off Milwaukee’s bench, he’s still a skilled interior scorer. But he’s defending and rebounding better, using his quick hands to strip opponents and taking plenty of charges.
Could he even decline his $17,884,176 player option?
Monroe, via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
“I’m not thinking about anything like the off-season right now. There is a time and place for everything. If and when I have to make a decision, that time is not right now.”
The time might approach more quickly than Monroe expects. If the Bucks shop him again, potential trade partners will want to know Monroe’s intention. Some might prefer the flexibility created by him opting out, and others would like the certainty of having a productive player at a reasonable-enough cost next season. But all would want to know where they stand.
That said, it’s hardly a give Milwaukee moves Monroe. Though he has backed up John Henson and Miles Plumlee, Monroe (21.2 minutes per game) plays more than both. He’s a valuable contributor on a team jockeying for playoff position.
Most importantly, Monroe appears to complement Bucks franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo well. Antetokounmpo scores more (23.5 to 26.3 points per 36 minutes) and more efficiently (59.0% to 65.7% true shooting percentage) from when he plays without Monroe to when he plays with Monroe, and Milwaukee’s offense improves accordingly (104.3 to 114.6 points per 100 possessions).