Friday And-1 Links: The Hawks are playing really good defense

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Here is our regular look around the NBA — links to stories worth reading and notes to check out (stuff that did not get its own post here at PBT) — done in bullet point form. Because bloggers love bullet points more than football players like viagra.

• Things we did not expect coming into this season — the Atlanta Hawks have the best defense in the NBA right now. Yes, seriously. They are giving up fewer points per possession than any team in the NBA and the reason is Al Horford and Josh Smith. They are killing it when together. The Hawks still basically switch every pick-and-roll but with really athletic bigs like Horford and Smith they can get away with it.

• Right now the Lakers are not shopping Pau Gasol around (and despite some message board rumors there are no talks with the Knicks) but if they do, this is a more realistic assessment of what they might get.

• Rob Mahoney takes a fantastic look at Sports Illustrated at the NBA rookies not named Davis or Lillard. Great thoughts here on Dion Waiters and the guy I like more each time I watch him, Harrison Barnes. Mahoney makes a point I like about Austin Rivers being to isolation based with his offense — Rivers admitted he grew up idolizing and patterning his game after Kobe Bryant. So there you go. (Kobe can pull that off, kid. You can’t.)

• Warriors GM Bob Myers will not rule out the possibility of Andrew Bogut needing another ankle surgery. Basically, he has no idea how long this could drag out. Nobody really does. He also apologized for the suggestions Bogut could be back sooner rather than later.

• A great video breakdown of why Jimmer Fredette is playing so much better this year.

• The Thunder have sent rookie Jeremy Lamb down to the D-League.

• By the way fans, don’t think of guys like Lamb or Kendall Marshall being sent down to the D-League as a demotion. Guys need seasoning and this is a place they can get on the court and develop. For rookies like these guys, this can be a good thing for their career if they use it properly and work hard.

• Here’s an interesting Q&A with Al Horford of the Hawks.

• The NBA has reached a four-year contract extension to its deal with the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA), the only Association comprised of NBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotters alumni. Basically, the NBA is giving them money. Or, to use the words of the press release the NBA will provide “direct financial support to fund new and existing programs and services that uphold the NBRPA’s mission to assist former players as they transition into life after basketball.”

• In case you think plans for a new NBA-friendly arena in Virginia Beach are going well… not so much, it turns out.

Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.

Maryland star Melo Trimble declares for NBA draft

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Maryland guard Melo Trimble declared for last year’s NBA draft but withdrew.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun:

Trimble, less than three weeks removed from finishing his junior season with the team’s first-round loss to Xavier in the NCAA tournament, announced Wednesday he will make himself available for the NBA draft.

Unlike a year ago, when Trimble went through the pre-draft process without signing with an agent and then decided to return to school hours before the deadline, the 6-foot-3 point guard will forego his senior season.

“The deciding factor was that I felt there was nothing more I could do,” Trimble told the Baltimore Sun from the Stamp Student Union during a lunch break. “I felt like I did everything I could for the program. We went to the [NCAA] tournament three years in a row, and I had the same amount of points three years in a row. I felt that if I wanted to hopefully get to the next level, I had to leave at this time.

Trimble’s scouting report hasn’t changed much in the last year. He’s a scoring guard whose size (6-foot-3) will require him to play point guard in the next level, but he hasn’t shown the necessary distributing skills.

The biggest difference: He’s now 22, not 21.

Trimble had a superb college career, but at this point, his range is second round to undrafted.

DeMarcus Cousins answers first several Kings-related questions same way (video)

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DeMarcus Cousins had a bitter exit from the Kings, but that won’t be the last they see of him.

Cousins’ Pelicans will host Sacramento tomorrow night.

Not that Cousins rushed to talk about the matchup.

Justin Verrier of ESPN:

Cousins is pretty funny when joking with the media, and his smile is contagious. Just listen to all the laughs Cousins generates as he goes through his shtick.

Bonus points to Cousins for eventually breaking down and providing real answers. Some of his relationships in Sacramento were clearly meaningful to him, and he wanted to acknowledge those — even if he’d prefer just to get past this awkward game and all the talk it invites.

Report: Sweet-shooting 7-footer Lauri Markkanen leaving Arizona for NBA draft

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Lauri Markkanen is 7-foot and made 42% of his 3-pointers this season.

That combination alone will have NBA teams drooling, and the Arizona freshman will capitalize.

Evan Daniels of Scout:

Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is declaring for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent, multiple sources told Scout.

Markkanen seems pretty certain to get picked in the lottery, likely in the top 10.

Calling him a good shooter for his height undersells him. It’s not just he shoots so efficiently from deep, it’s that he can generate 3-pointers in so many ways — pick-and-pops, spot-ups, off off-ball screens and even running pick-and-rolls himself. Having the height to shoot over defenders is his most noticeable asset, but don’t undersell his mobility.

Markkanen also finishes well at the rim and offensively rebounds at extremely impressive clip for someone who spends so much time on the perimeter. Those interior skills instill belief he will eventually become a suitable defender.

There are a couple red flags. He’s old for a freshman, turning 20 before the draft. He leaves plenty to be desired defensively, especially due to his lack of strength.

But his size and shooting are tantalizing. That’s plenty for now.