Portland Trail Blazers v Charlotte Bobcats

The Extra Pass: Teams in the basement

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we hope David Stern isn’t reading. 

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who have had their memory cleansed of everything lockout related, but try and remember this. Before everything went down, there was a report that David Stern told a room full of important people, including Derrick Rose, that he, “knew where the bodies are buried” in the NBA. That was pretty scary. Even though we never got clarification where the bodies are actually buried, probably (maybe?) because he was speaking metaphorically, I’ll tell you what we can find in the basement besides the bodies of writers who mistakenly tried to tie in threatening David Stern quotes into their article…and that’s bad teams doing weird things!

Here are a few facts you should know about the league’s cellar dwellers this season:

The Washington Wizards have the 10th best defense in the league. No, really.  

Somehow, the Wizards currently rank 10th in defensive efficiency, which puts them three spots higher than your defending champion Miami Heat.

To give you an idea of how defensive efficiency typically is a strong indicator of success, the current top 13 teams in defensive efficiency right now would all be in the playoffs if they started today — except, of course, for the 7-28 Wizards.

How is this possible? The league’s least efficient offense helps explain the league’s worst record, but the defense holding on strong does make you wonder if the Wizards are in for a turnaround with John Wall back in the lineup. To that point, Washington has won three games in a row with Wall back, which is obviously kind of a big deal for them.

But let’s enjoy the present, right Wizards fans? Your team is better defensively than the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers right now. That’s something to hang your hat on.

The Charlotte Bobcats rank second in the league in points per play for ballhanders in the pick-and-roll. 

That vaunted Bobcats pick-and-roll attack! According to Synergy Sports, the Bobcats notch .88 points per play for their ballhandlers in the pick-and-roll, which ranks them second in the league.

This is pretty incredible, mainly because every team in the NBA uses picks for ballhandlers. It’s the bread and butter of nearly every NBA offense.

But it’s the Bobcats with Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and any other pick users that rank second among all teams. With all the great point guards around the league, Kemba Walker (31st overall in P&R scoring) and Ramon Sessions (38th) are quietly consistent enough as scorers to have the Bobcats rank as elite in this category.

You just keep on setting screens and doing your thing, Bismack Biyombo. You may not be scoring, but your guards are.

New Orleans Hornets rookie Austin Rivers may be having the worst season ever.

I do wish this was hyperbole, but according to stat magician Kevin Pelton, Rivers has the worst WARP (wins above replacement player) rating since 1979-80, the first year with the 3-point line. That’s right — Rivers is projected to cost his team more wins than every single player who came before him for the last 30+ years.

That ranking aside, shooting 32 percent from the field is hard enough, but Rivers keeps getting worse, as he’s shot 22 percent from the field over his last ten games. The good news is that Monty Williams appears ready to hand out playing time elsewhere with Eric Gordon back in the fold. Rivers, quite clearly, is not ready for the NBA yet.

But here’s the good news in regards to Pelton’s WARP — a negative rookie season doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed:

(…) a poor first season isn’t necessarily a death knell for a player’s career. Allan Houston, Chris Kaman and Glen Rice all developed into All-Stars after rating at least three wins below replacement as rookies. And none of those players was anywhere near as young or inexperienced as Rivers at the time.

Via Kevin Pelton | ESPN.com

After all, if the Wizards can rank 10th in defense, anything is possible.

Orlando’s offense is better without Glen “Big Baby” Davis. However, the defense is much, much better with him on the floor. 

Down is up, left is right, war is peace. Glen Davis hurts Orlando offensively, but helps defensively. Who knew? Orlando posts an impressive 105.7 offensive rating when Davis is off the floor, which would be good for 7th in the league.

However, when Davis is on the floor, Orlando drops to a 101 offensive rating, which would sink them to 17th in the league.

But fear not, because Glen Davis is apparently a defensive stopper! Defensively with Davis on the floor, Orlando holds opponents to a 101.7 rating — 12th best in the league.

But with him off the floor, Orlando is a disaster defensively without their Big Baby, surrendering a 110.6 rating, which would be dead last in the league by a large margin.

With 824 minutes on the floor and 919 minutes off, the sample size is pretty substantial. The solution? If Glen Davis used less possessions and focused on tip-ins and offensive rebounds, the Magic could, theoretically, have a high ranking offense and defense. Of course, basketball doesn’t quite work like that, but it’s something worth considering when you watch Davis get the ball from now on.

LeBron James on surpassing Michael Jordan: “It’s a personal goal”

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Since he was a teenager, LeBron James has been compared to Michael Jordan. That comparison has usually been used as a way to cut him down or explain why he’s not in the same class, but that’s changed since he won his third championship, and first in Cleveland, in June. Now, LeBron has started to be a lot more open about his desire to eventually surpass Jordan. He said so in an interview with the AP’s Tom Withers after practice on Tuesday:

Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:

Catching Michael Jordan.

Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.

It’s time now.

“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”

Now that James has indisputably cemented his legacy as one of the handful of greatest players ever to play the game, he has a lot less to lose by openly talking about these things. Five years ago, he would have gotten killed for bringing it up. Now? It just seems plausible more than anything else.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.