Three Stars of the Night: Stretching Out

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The stretch big man has come a long way. I distinctly remember watching Sam Perkins play with the Lakers and Sonics through the 90’s and wondering how someone so big could shoot it from the perimeter so well. It was a little jarring to see. Perkins was 6-foot-10, about 235 pounds, and his eyes always looked half asleep — he made Tracy McGrady look alert by comparison. He wasn’t the most prolific 3-point shooter, but the way George Karl used him as a floor spacer and frontcourt partner next to Shawn Kemp was way ahead of its time.

Perkins was purely a specialist, but we’ve got a few different types of big men making Three Stars tonight. Apologies to Kawhi Leonard (more on him soon), Brook Lopez and Bradley Beal among others, but tonight was a night for big guys stretching out.

Third Star: Ryan Anderson – (31 points, 5-for-9 from 3)

If we’re talking “true” stretch bigs, Anderson should be first on every list out there. The 6-foot-10 power forward is on pace to lead league in 3-point attempts and makes for the second straight season, which is pretty incredible. We’ve talked about how big men have evolved at length here, but Anderson takes it to a whole different level. His 40 percent 3-point shooting makes him the perfect offensive pair next to more traditional bigs like Robin Lopez or Anthony Davis, and you have to give him credit for accepting a bench role after signing a big contract.

Although the Hornets’ place in the standings will almost certainly keep him from serious consideration, Anderson at least warrants mentioning for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He was a nightmare tonight in the pick-and-pop game, helping the Hornets to a big time blowout with his game-high 31 points.

Also, New Orleans? Love those Mardi Gras jerseys. It’s like watching three teams on the court instead of two.

Second Star: Byron Mullens – (25 points, 18 rebounds, 4-for-5 from 3)

Byron Mullens is a pretty awful shooter. Any other 7-footer who shot 37 percent from the field on 12 attempts per game would be told to go directly to D-League jail and not collect 200 dollars, but Mullens occasionally goes off for huge nights. Tonight was one of those nights, as Mullens scored Charlotte’s first ten points all by his lonesome. The artist formerly known as B.J. has gone for 24 and 27 points already this season, but his 18 rebounds were a season-high and helped snap Boston’s winning streak sans Rondo. That’s really the interesting thing about Mullens — the Bobcats are one of the only teams in the league who are in the position to ride out his brutal shooting nights so long as he can help elsewhere.

It may be tempting to tell Mullens to stop shooting so dang much, but what do the Bobcats really have to lose? If Mullens can develop from a 30 percent 3-point shooter to a 35 percent 3-point shooter, he’ll be a pretty useful guy to have around. Nights like this against one of the league’s best defenses will certainly buy him some time to see if he can become that.

First Star: Josh Smith – (26 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4-for-5 from 3)

The universal frustration with Josh Smith for taking so many long jumpers turned into laughter tonight, as just about everyone watching this game couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Smith has a lot of the other qualities of a stretch big man. He’s a good passer from the top of the key, and he understands floor spacing pretty well. But that jumper. Oh, that jumper. Smith is shooting 29 percent this year from 16-to-23 feet — an atrocious number made even more hideous by the fact that he’s launched 179 attempts from that range. A max player he is not, unless you locked a GM in a dark room and made him watch highlights from this game on a loop.

Smith is consistently a great defender and a strong rebounder, but it was the J that led the way against the Mavs. Smith channeled the spirit of Dirk Nowitzki in a closely contested road win by connecting on 7-of-9 shots from beyond 17 feet en route to a game-high 26 points. Check for a blue moon in Dallas.

Josh Allen’s old tweet: ‘I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks’

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Josh Allen, a quarterback from Wyoming, could be the No. 1 pick in tonight’s NFL draft. But his recently unearthed high school tweets – which include using the n-word with an ‘a’ at the end – are the sports story of the day.

And there’s an NBA tie.

Via Ryan Young of Yahoo Sports:

I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks

— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) June 7, 2011

Damian Lillard went down this same road with LeBron James, and they got past it.

But it would be a little more awkward if the Cleveland Browns – who have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks – take Allen. Then, Allen will face more scrutiny over this tweet – the most innocuous of the bunch.

Donovan Mitchell tells Thunder fans, Jazz teammates Utah not returning to Oklahoma City this season

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The Jazz blew a 25-point second-half lead in Game 5 last night, extending their series with the Thunder. Up 3-2, the Jazz are still in control. They can close out in Game 6 tomorrow in Utah. Blow that, and they must return to Oklahoma City for Game 7 Sunday.

But Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell is making it abundantly clear he doesn’t plan to do that.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise 107.7:

Jake Edmonds of KUTV:

A confident proclamation that rallies his team or youthful exuberance run amok?

The narrative will be decided after Game 6. That’s just how this is done.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?