Three Stars of the Night: Golden Performances

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Mama, there goes that man! Second-year head coach Mark Jackson is directing the surprise smash of the young season, as his Warriors pulled off their fifth straight road win by marching into Miami and taking down the Heat, 97-95. Beating LeBron and the boys in their own house is pretty darn impressive, but sweeping Three Stars? That’s unprecedented. Without further ado, a very golden edition of Three Stars:

Third Star: David Lee – (22 points, 13 rebounds)

With a draining travel schedule and little time to prepare for games, even the best teams are plenty capable of suffering letdowns on the road. One of the main reasons the Warriors have been able to put together such an improbable road winning streak is the consistency of David Lee. While every other player on the roster has had their good nights and their bad nights, Lee has been a solid source of at least 20 points and 11 rebounds in each of the last five games. Lee logged big minutes again tonight (38), but he’s keeping on the gas, staying aggressive and not settling, and providing much more than the “empty stats” he’s often accused of posting.

Second Star: Klay Thompson – (27 points, 7 rebounds, 5 made 3-pointers)

Usually people lose stuff when they travel (their luggage, their sanity, etc.) but Klay Thompson has found his shot on the road. After putting together a truly dreadful first month of the season (38 percent field goal shooting, 29 percent from deep), Thompson’s stroke has reverted to the mean recently. Thompson dropped a season-high 27 points with five made 3-pointers, making it the third time he’s accomplished that feat in five games. The Miami Heat practically put out a welcome mat for 3-point shooters because of their trapping defensive schemes, but after his start to the season, Thompson will take them any way he can get ’em.

First Star: Jarrett Jack – (20 points, 9-for-14 shooting, game-winning assist)

I know the Golden State Warriors are a different team with a different coach, but it still feels so wrong to go small against them. Miami may have their smallball identity set, but the Warriors beat them at their own game, often playing Steph Curry, Thompson and Jarrett Jack together in an effort to both limit turnovers and space the floor. 13 turnovers on the road against Miami on the fifth game of a road trip is about the best you can hope for, and Jack’s steady hand (1 turnover in 31 minutes) played a huge role in that. That’s all good and well, and the 20 points were a much needed boost, but let’s get down to the real nitty gritty here — Jack is tonight’s top man because he zipped a pass to Draymond Green for the uncontested, game-winning layup. Green was wide open, but credit Jack for not having tunnel vision on a night he couldn’t miss and trusting a rookie to finish the job. Responsibility and consistency: it’s not quite as fun as the havoc wreaking “We Believe” Warriors, but for now, it’s working out just fine.

Carmelo Anthony on shrinking role with Knicks: ‘I see the writing on the wall… I’m at peace with that’

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Carmelo Anthony scored just nine points on 12 shots in the Knicks loss to the Heat last night — well below his season averages of 22 points on 19 shots per game.

Anthony, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I see the writing on the wall. I see what it is,” Anthony said late Wednesday night. “I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”

Is Anthony talking about just the Knicks’ final dozen games of this season, when they’re clearly interesting in testing less-proven players? Or is he referring to his entire tenure in New York?

Anthony has said he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if the Knicks want to rebuild, and they’ll reportedly try again to trade him this offseason. Perhaps, this is Anthony indicating he’s warming up to the idea of allowing a trade.

Anthony’s and Kristaps Porzingis‘ timelines are barely compatible, if at all. It’d make sense for the Knicks to go in a different direction.

Could Anthony be at peace with that?

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

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Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

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Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.