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.

Chris Paul scores 33, Rockets topple Warriors 116-108

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden felt closer to normal after struggling in his first game back from a hamstring injury, and the Houston Rockets got a big game from Chris Paul to down the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

Paul scored 33 points with 11 rebounds, Harden bested Stephen Curry twice in the final seconds and the Rockets held off the Warriors 116-108 to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

The victory gives Houston a 2-1 series advantage over Golden State after the reigning NBA champions had won the series the previous three seasons.

“Obviously they’re a championship caliber team for the past four years … and that’s what we’re trying to build our way up to,” Harden said.

Harden stepped back from Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left, then blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt after a timeout.

Harden finished with 22 points. Paul added two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

“It’s been a good streak, disappointing end to it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “But we didn’t deserve to win tonight. We played pretty poorly, did a lot of things to hurt ourselves and we’re playing a great team. Can’t get away with it.”

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni raved about the performance of the 32-year-old Paul .

“The guy is a winner, he’s been a winner, he’s going to win,” D’Antoni said.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts and 6 of 20 overall. It was just the sixth time in his career that he’d attempted 20 or more shots while making six or fewer.

“It was just one of those nights where I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor,” he said. “So I’ve got to take that responsibility for that one. It was pretty bad.”

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half.

It was Harden’s second game back after missing seven with a strained hamstring. He was in a much better rhythm than in his return Thursday night, when he scored a season-low 10 points. He had eight assists, two steals and two blocks Saturday.

The Rockets got the victory despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green, who were both serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an altercation with the Clippers. Clint Capela added 18 points for Houston on a night when top reserve Eric Gordon went 0 for 9 from 3-point range and finished with just six points.

Golden State led by four before Houston went on a 9-2 run, with the first five points from Paul, to take a 109-106 lead with about three minutes left.

 

Report: NBA’s minor league won’t allow potentially eligible college players

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USC’s De’Anthony Melton, Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy haven’t played this season due to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Mitchell Robinson left Western Kentucky before his freshmen season started to train for the NBA draft.

But they’re all potentially eligible to play college basketball again someday.

So, they can’t play in the NBA’s minor league.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

That ineligibility stems from a rule that prevents players who were enrolled in college during an academic calendar year from being offered a contract in the same season, unless they have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA with no opportunity of being reinstated (as was the case with P.J. Hairston in 2013).

“We’re not looking to compete with college basketball for their players,” a G League source said. “The NBA, specifically NBA lawyers, are concerned about the optics of NCAA players being disgruntled with minutes or coaching decisions and leaving college with the hopes of joining the G League. This is a blanket rule unfortunately that applies to all players. Like all of our rules, we are open to revisiting them if needed, but at the moment any player that was enrolled in a college this season is ineligible to play in our League.”

NBA executives and scouts are griping because they can’t evaluate these prospects in games. I don’t care about that.

This is an affront to capitalism. The basis of our economy should be competition, and the NBA is handing the NCAA – a cartel – a monopoly in this level of basketball. And it’s the workers (players) who lose.

So what if a freshman is disgruntled with his minutes and wants to turn pro during the season? He can’t join the NBA due to the age minimum. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to at least enter the NBA’s minor league, for which he’s old enough? We should trust him to manage his future, not protect the almighty college coach from facing consequences to his rotation.

I don’t know whether or not the NBA and NCAA colluded, but the NBA’s stance is the exact one it would take if it colluded. The NBA has worked to improve the quality of play in its minor league by increasing salary to compete against foreign leagues for players. It’s strange to just willingly take a backseat to college basketball when there’s a great opportunity to compete for top talent.

The players could legally challenge the policy, but they’ll be eligible for the NBA draft in June, and there’s risk in upsetting a potential future employer. And would anything be decided quickly enough in court to matter for the challenging player?

Players like Melton, Bowen, Wiley, Purifoy and Robinson aren’t allowed to let the market set their compensation as college basketball players, because NCAA schools have colluded to cap wages. Those players aren’t allowed to seek employment in the comparable American professional league, because that league doesn’t want to compete with the NBA.

It’s a travesty for capitalism and these workers.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safety

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?