Five players that need a change of scenery

4 Comments

Breakups are never fun, but sometimes it just has to be done. Maybe there’s someone new, or things have become stale, or both parties just need to go a different direction. The following is a list of five talented players who could really use the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech from their current teams.

Kevin Martin, SG, Houston Rockets

There was a time when Martin and the Rockets were absolutely perfect for each other. Martin was really the poster boy for “Moreyball” —  he was awkward as could be, but he put up incredible stats. However, after multiple failed (or vetoed) attempts to acquire a superstar, the Rockets have shifted young and are perhaps finally breaking bad — accepting short-term failure for potential long-term gains.

But where does that leave poor Kevin Martin? Although he has played the majority of his career on losing teams (475 regular season games played, but only 6 playoff game appearances) the 28-year-old shooting guard incorporates a style that requires the games to mean something. Despite his slender frame and injury history, Martin led the NBA in made free throws in 2010-2011, and has finished in the top 10 of that category four times in his career. After a huge drop-off in that department last season, it’s clear that Martin could stand to play meaningful basketball again. That’s probably not happening in Houston. As he recently said himself, the Rockets just don’t have a chance to compete with the Thunder and Lakers any longer.

Martin is on a 12.9 million dollar deal that expires this season. He can’t afford to have his minutes jerked around like Kevin McHale did last year. Don’t be surprised if a contender takes a chance on one of the most efficient scorers the league has to offer — so long as he’s healthy.

J.J. Redick, SG, Orlando Magic

The Dwight Howard saga affected a lot of people, but J.J. Redick may have been hurt the most. Not only does Redick lose the post presence that freed him up for his outside sharpshooting, but he also has to fight for minutes with the “big haul” from the trade: shooting guard Arron Afflalo. You can actually make the argument that Redick is a better offensive player than Afflalo, and at least last season, he may have been the better defender as well. Afflalo is a nice player, but there was a Trevor Ariza quality to his play last year, as his defensive performance dipped dramatically (Synergy Sports ranked him the worst wing defender in basketball) as he focused more on expanding his offensive game.

Nevertheless, Orlando has little choice but to give Afflalo the majority of the minutes at the 2 to keep the egg off their face, and that means there is a prime opportunity for a team to swoop in and steal Redick, who is a knockdown 3-point shooter (40% career) who takes nothing off the table. You’d be hard pressed to find a contender that couldn’t use a sure thing like Redick — and because he’s on an expiring contract, Orlando might be wise to see what they can get in return before he leaves town.

Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors

There’s a clear movement taking place in Toronto. The Raptors want to get younger, and they want to get better defensively. Kyle Lowry starting over Jose Calderon accomplishes both of those things, but that doesn’t mean Calderon can’t be a starting point guard in the league anymore. Calderon is really a coach’s best friend — he gets his teams into their sets, he hardly ever turns over the ball or makes careless mistakes, and he’s an incredible free throw shooter. Calderon could provide plenty of stability to a team that really sticks to their stuff in the halfcourt (think Utah or New Orleans) so long as they’re willing to forfeit a few points on the other end. Calderon is still a swinging door defensively, but point guard is the position where you can most afford a bad defender.

Another player on a big deal that expires after this season, Calderon will probably head the list of available point guard options on the market come trade deadline season.

Ekpe Udoh, C, Milwaukee Bucks

Finally, someone on this list who plays a little defense! Udoh is an incredibly flawed big man that can’t score in the paint or rebound, but pair him with a specific type of frontcourt player (think along the lines of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap) and Udoh’s rim protection (4th in block percentage last year), pick-and-roll defense, and stretchiness out to 15-feet make him well worth the playing time. The Bucks were much better defensively last season with Udoh on the floor, but they threw another log in the frontcourt jam when they drafted John Henson — another shot blocking specialist. With Ersan Illyasova, Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders and Henson all needing minutes at either the 4 or the 5, Udoh could be left scrapping for leftovers.

With big time decisions on tap for Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis (and Beno Udrih’s contract expiring), Milwaukee might want to sell Udoh’s late bloomer appeal for a viable backcourt option.

DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs were the only team with the chutzpah not to pass on the ACL-less DeJuan Blair in the 2009 NBA Draft, and Blair immediately rewarded the Spurs by posting the league’s best offensive rebounding percentage in 2010-11. Even though Blair is a solid contributor during the regular season, where Gregg Popovich distributes minutes like he’s dealing cards in a poker card game, that all quickly comes to a halt during playoff time. More than ever before, the Spurs are relying on spacing and stretching the floor — which is the main reason why Boris Diaw leapfrogged the other bigs on the roster. With Diaw, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter all commanding time in the frontcourt, there just doesn’t seem to be any room for Blair, despite his impressive 17.5 career PER.

Although the league is trending away from throwback power forwards who gobble up rebounds and score in the paint, Blair could still carry a second unit with his energy and post scoring. Like Martin and Calderon, Blair can’t defend a lick, but it would be a crime to see a young rebounding machine yet again relegated to the end of the bench when the games begin to really matter.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

5 Comments

Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

Getty Images
4 Comments

It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

1 Comment

We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

Associated Press
Leave a comment

James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.