Josh Smith

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.

DeMarcus Cousins says as of right now he wants to play in 2020 Tokyo Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  Demarcus Cousins #12 of United States reacts in the first half while taking on Argentina during the Men's Quarterfinal match on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Four years in the NBA is a couple of lifetimes away. GMs get paid to try and plan that far out, but the constantly shifting sands of the NBA — injuries, player improvement, new talents coming into the league, players changing teams, not to mention front office/ownership changes — make that a nearly impossible task. Nothing is set in stone that far out.

But if four years, DeMarcus Cousins wants to be playing for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics. Here is what he told Gary Washburn at the Boston Globe.

“I’m open to [coming back for Tokyo 2020]. I’ll be older then, so it depends on how my body feels. As of right now, where I’m at, absolutely, I’m open to it,” he said. “I think people don’t understand [how hard this winning is]. They see the guys on the roster and they think automatically, they’re supposed to win. This [international game] isn’t our game. This isn’t the way we play. This is an adjustment for every guy on the roster.

“No matter how much time there is, if guys can come together and mesh and play with some type of chemistry, you’re going to win games. It’s been proven in the past. We’ve had some of the most talented teams in the past and we didn’t win, so it’s not as easy as people think it is.”

I’m sure everyone on that team, save for Carmelo Anthony, is saying the same thing about returning for the next Olympics right now. We’ll see how things play out. C0usins certainly struggled to adjust to what is a foul in international ball (not to mention the inconsistent officiating) and spent much of Rio in foul trouble, but he was a monster in the gold medal game.

On another note, Cousins is right, the USA players face unreasonable expectations. They are unquestionably the most talented team in the Games, but with that and the history of USA Basketball they are expected to do more than win, they are expected to dominate. The 2016 team in Rio went undefeated and won gold, but because they had three tough games won by 10 or less — good Australian, French, and Serbian teams —, there was a lot of “what is wrong with Team USA?” talk.

The 2020 team will likely be even more talented — Cousins and Kevin Durant could well be joined by guys who skipped Rio such as Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis. However, the challenges will be the same: The rest of the world is getting better (watch out for Canada) and the USA will still be throwing a team together and trying to build chemistry on the fly.

But we still expect Gold.

After two years off court, Joel Embiid says he “probably” will have minutes restrictions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a shot from the bench prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid could be the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers in a couple of years — many scouts had him the highest rated of all the first-round draft picks the Sixers have had in recent seasons.

But after two foot surgeries and two seasons sitting on the sidelines, we don’t know how good Embiid can be. We should find out starting in October when Embiid is part of the Sixers training camp. Embiid says he feels 100 percent, but he expects there will be restrictions on him at first, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com during the Sixers Beach Bash community event this weekend.

This is the smart move by the Sixers — they are not competing for a title, the games in November have minimal meaning long term, bring him along slowly and make sure he can make each step along the way. Let’s see what he can do, then worry about how much run he can get in games that matter.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all fit together up front — and which one of them gets traded this season.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley on defense: “Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me”

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 09:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Memphis Grizzlies  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Avery Bradley was first-team NBA All-Defensive team last season, and his coach Brad Stevens lobbied for him to get the honor. Bradley picks up guys full court, pesters, and plays physical — we can debate if he is as good defensively as his reputation, but guys like Damian Lillard think he’s tough to go up against.

Bradley, for his part, says he has no fear going up against the best. Here is what he said to Tom Westerholm of Masslive.com.

“I love the challenge,” Bradley said on Friday, making an appearance at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “I love going up against the best players. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care about getting embarrassed. I don’t care. Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me. I know some players in the NBA probably get butterflies before the game, but not me. I’m licking my lips. I come excited. They need to prepare for me at the end of the day. That’s how I think.”

That’s exactly the attitude you want an elite defender to have.

Bradley injured his hamstring in the first game of the playoffs last April and sat the rest of the Celtics’ one series. Then this summer his name came up in potential Jimmy Butler trade rumors (that deal never actually came close to getting off the ground). Expect Bradley to put that all behind him by the time training camp opens.

Watch highlights of LeBron James’ playoffs, Finals run

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LeBron James was dominant — the clear best player on the planet — when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed him most. That’s the reason Cleveland got its first major sports title in 52 years.

It’s the dead part of the NBA season — training camps don’t even open for a month — so why not enjoy a look back at LeBron’s amazing run to a legacy-defining NBA ring. Like you don’t have 15 minutes for this. What are you going to do, watch more preseason football?