Kevin Love

The Extra Pass Weekend Roundup: Seven storylines from Week 1 and Sunday recaps

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One week down, 23 more to go. Let’s look at some of the emerging storylines from the first week of the season.

A Sneaky MVP Candidate Emerges

There’s a real struggle to discern what’s real and what isn’t in the early part of the season, and the standings are almost a totem of sorts. If Philadelphia is on top of the Eastern Conference, we probably shouldn’t put too much stock into anything at all.

That being said, it’s still pretty hard to ignore what Kevin Love is doing right now. Through three games, Love has averaged 29.7 points, 14.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 50 percent shooting and an absurd 13 free throw attempts per game.
Small sample size? Sure. But don’t assume Love can’t keep this up. Back in the 2011-12 season, Love averaged 26 and 13 with a significantly worse supporting cast (Michael Beasley!) that didn’t do him many favors.

Now with a better understanding of the nuances of Adelman’s corner system and the benefits of a refined chemistry with Ricky Rubio, Love is finding more breathing room to operate in what has to be the league’s most aesthetically pleasing offense.

Love is looking like prime Chris Webber with range out to the three-point line right now, basically. Webber never finished above fourth in the MVP voting during his dominant run in Sacramento, but don’t underestimate voter boredom. If he can finally stay healthy for a full season, and if Minnesota is as impressive as predictive systems like Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE has them pegged to be, Love could end up being in the running for an MVP at the end of the year. He was born to play in this offense.

Do we trust Philadelphia?

No. Nope. No.

That doesn’t mean they still won’t be fun, though. Philadelphia’s young guards have done a phenomenal job racing the ball up the floor and as a result, Philly is playing at the league’s fastest pace so far this season.

It’s working right now, but teams are going to start to figure it out. By forfeiting the offensive glass and getting back on defense, opponents will soon force Philadelphia to execute in the halfcourt. From there, it may get a little ugly.

Still, I appreciate the freedom rookie coach Brett Brown has given his players offensively, and the plan from down on high of Sam Presti to boost his players’ individual stats as much as humanly possible to make them more attractive trade piece. It’s working for now, but this offense will stall and sputter sooner rather than later.

Lance Stephenson: Everywhere At Once

Lance Stephenson is quietly one of the most enjoyable players in the league.

It’s fun to imitate Friday Night Lights coaching legend Eric Taylor and say “Lance” with a southern drawl whenever he gets the ball, it’s fun to watch him fly in for crazy offensive rebounds, and it’s super mega extra fun to watch Stephenson streak up the court in what he thinks are “transition opportunities”, which is actually just anytime he gets the ball.

The fun may be over soon, though, as the Pacers are going to have a really hard time keeping Stephenson next year as an unrestricted free agent if they don’t want to dip into the luxury tax (and they don’t). If Eric Bledsoe (who will earn plenty of pub in this space) gets anywhere near a max offer, what kind of deal is Stephenson going to command next year? Small market problems lie ahead, but let’s just enjoy the ride for now.

Anthony Bennett’s Lackluster Start

Can you remember a less anticipated debut for a first pick than Anthony Bennett’s? It was barely on the radar at all, and Bennett did very little to dissuade viewers from tuning out with his performance.

Three games into his rookie campaign, and Bennett still hasn’t made a field goal. In 40 minutes, Bennett has gone 0-for-12 from the field and has a PER of -2.9.

Whether it’s due to his asthma issues or injuries during the offseason, Bennett still looks woefully out of shape, and in some corners of the internet he’s starting to be referred to as a “stretch-marks 4” which is, ya know, a little mean and worrisome all at the same time.

It’s still extremely early, but Bennett could end up being Cavs GM Chris Grant’s waterloo. It was a shaky pick at the time, and
it’s not looking any better right now.

The new Chris Paul

Speaking of small stubborn generals, Chris Paul looks like a completely different player under Doc Rivers in the early going.
Paul typically likes to play extremely slow and really grind out possessions, as evidenced by the pace of those old New Orleans teams and the Clippers’ starters the last few years.

This year, however, the Clippers are flying up and down the court and getting shots early in the clock, which may have a lot to do with Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry as well.

Whoever or whatever the reason is, it’s working brilliantly so far. The Clippers are scoring 115.2 points per 100 possessions, and Paul’s usage rate is up to 27.9 percent compared to his career percentage of 23.8. Many coaches have pined for Paul to be more aggressive looking for his own shot, but Rivers and Gentry may have finally reached him. He’s in fourth quarter mode for all four quarters right now, and that’s a scary proposition for opposing teams.

Paul will need to preserve his energy and turn this thing into a marathon instead of a sprint, but keep an eye on the Clippers’ pace this season. It seems like this is a style of play they’re embracing.

You’re On Notice: Larry Drew

I can’t imagine Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond is all that pleased with head coach Larry Drew right now.

After the Bucks locked up Larry Sanders as a franchise building block, Drew has played Sanders only 17 minutes a night through Milwaukee’s first three games. Zaza Pachulia, a familiar face from Drew’s time in Atlanta, has played 26 minutes a night.

That’s not all. Gary Neal is also playing more minutes (27) than Ersan Ilyasova (22), and Krhis Middleton is playing nearly as much as John Henson. There’s riding the hot hand, and then there’s sitting all your best young players and potential trade assets. If this keeps up, there’s going to be some fireworks in Milwaukee real soon.

Fantasy Pickup of the Week: Francisco Garcia

I’m incredibly bullish on Garcia, who has always been a good 3 and D guy stuck on teams who couldn’t utilize it properly.

After shooting 13-for-23 in preseason from the behind arc, Garcia has gone 10-for-20 from deep in Houston’s first three games. Three-point shooting is his defined role, so if you need threes with a few blocks and steals smattered in, he’s your man.

Houston is also on a four-game week, and three of those games should be shootouts (Clippers twice, Lakers once). Garcia is available in 98.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues right now. Go get him.

For more fantasy advice and news, make sure you check out Rotoworld.com.
—D.J. Foster

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Pistons 87, Celtics 77: Brandon Jennings made his season debut for the Pistons, and contributed 14 points, four assists, and four steals in 31 minutes off the bench. But it was Detroit’s front line that did the damage, with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond combining for 45 points (on 50 percent shooting), 39 rebounds and five blocked shots. Boston threatened late and was within two points with under two minutes remaining, but a critical turnover by Avery Bradley with about a minute and a half left ended their chances. Rookie Kelly Olynyk was a bright spot for Boston, and finished with a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench.

Heat 103, Wizards 93: LeBron James wasn’t about to let Miami fall to 1-3 on the season, especially playing at home against the lowly Wizards. James got things started with 14 first quarter points (which included knocking down three from three-point distance), and the Heat lead reached as many as 23 points before the game was finished. John Wall returned to action after being he;d out of practice over the weekend due to back spasms, but finished just 4-12 from the field for 11 points and nine assists, to go along with five turnovers. Nene remained sidelined with a calf issue, and is scheduled for an MRI on Monday to see what the extent of the issue is.

Magic 107, Nets 86: Orlando spoiled Jason Kidd’s head coaching debut, thanks to a balanced all-around effort that saw six players finish in double figures scoring. Brooklyn, meanwhile, got subpar performances from Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett, and didn’t get much help from its bench. The Nets need Williams to play like the All-Star he’s capable of being to both score and get others involved, and when he struggles, the Nets will too. Victor Oladipo was big for the Magic, and had a couple of dazzling highlights on the way to 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals in just 21 minutes off the bench.

Thunder 103, Suns 96: Russell Westbrook returned to action for the first time since suffering a knee injury that ended his season in last year’s playoffs. He looked as speedy and explosive as ever, if a bit rusty in terms of his in-game decisions. He finished with 21 points on 5-16 shooting, to go along with four rebounds and seven assists in 33 minutes of action. On the Suns side, Goran Dragic was limited to just 20 minutes due to aggravating a sprained ankle he had suffered previously. But Eric Bledsoe continued his strong start to the season and finished with 26 points and 14 assists (along with eight turnovers) which kept Phoenix in it until the game’s final minutes.

Timberwolves 109, Knicks 100: A 40-19 first quarter lead taken by Minnesota put the Knicks into a hole they were never able to crawl out of, and the Timberwolves moved to 3-0 on the young season. Kevin Love continued his early season dominance for the Timberwolves with 34 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, and Kevin Martin added 30 points of his own on just 12 shots.

Lakers 105, Hawks 103: This was a game where the Lakers had a favorable matchup against a team that would allow them to play fast and loose offensively, so L.A. got the desired result. It didn’t come easy, however, as the Lakers gave back all of a first-half 21-point lead before hanging on late (thanks to a couple of free throws from Pau Gasol) for the victory. Xavier Henry got the start in place of Nick Young, and the move seemed to benefit both players. Henry finished with 18 points in 26 minutes, and Young had his best game as a Laker, contributing 13 points on 5-9 shooting, to go along with four rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes off the bench. Young is now apparently gunning for the Sixth Man of the Year award, which obviously is awesome.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.

Paul Pierce: Clippers are a super team

PLAYA VISTA, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  L-R; Paul Pierce #34, Austin Rivers #25, DeAndre Jordan #6, J.J. Redick #4, head coach Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin #32, Jamal Crawford #11, Luc Mbah A Moute #12 and Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers pose for a photo during media day at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center on September 26, 2016 in Playa Vista, California. 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 Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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Derrick Rose opened the super-team floodgates by declaring the Knicks one.

Paul Pierce is trying to get the Clippers into the conversation.

Pierce, via Jesse Dougherty of the Los Angeles Times:

“To me, I think we have a super team here,” Pierce stated at Clippers media day on Monday. “You look at Chris Paul who’s been first-team all-NBA … Blake Griffin first-team … DeAndre Jordan currently first-team All-NBA.

“I mean how many teams can currently say that? You have the best three-point shooter in the NBA (J.J. Redick). You have the Sixth Man of the Year (Jamal Crawford). I mean why is this not a super team? What defines super team? When you look at those stats and you hear when I’m saying, this could very well easily be what’s considered a super team.”

If the Knicks are a super team, so are the Clippers – and Cavaliers and Spurs and Grizzlies and Bulls and…

But New York can’t be the standard.

With four players who made an All-NBA team last year – Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – the Warriors are the undisputed super team.

Relative to Golden State, the Clippers don’t hold up.

All four All-NBA Warriors are expected to remain elite. Paul is 31 and coming off injury, and Griffin had an injury/suspension-ravaged season that kept him from making All-NBA last year.

Jordan made All-NBA at center, where a bevvy of players have cycled through in recent years. None of the All-NBA Warriors relied on that wide-open position to make it.

Golden State has two players – Curry and Durant – better than any Clipper.

Redick is one of the NBA’s most underrated players, but he’s not a star, leaving the Clippers with just three to the Warriors’ four. Crawford’s Sixth Man of the Year award last year was dubious, and I’d rather have Golden State reserve Andre Iguodala.

With three All-NBA players in or near their prime, the Clippers might have been a super team in a different era. They stack up reasonably well in stature with Pierce’s 2008 Celtics, who also had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

But the Warriors have pushed the bounds of what a super team can be so far, I’d consider them the league’s only super team now.

At least Pierce’s claim sparks discussion of the term and his team’s credentials – unlike the response Rose inspired: laughter.

Cavaliers keep re-watching their Game 7 victory over the Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three-point basket against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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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The Cavaliers’ win over the Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals was an all-timer.

LeBron James bringing a championship to title-starved Cleveland, the Cavs topping the 73-win defending champions who’d built a 3-1 lead, Kyrie Irving‘s shot, Kevin Love‘s defensive stand – the game had it all.

The Cavaliers obviously enjoyed it. And enjoyed it, and enjoyed it and…

LeBron James, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“I’ve seen it a few times,” James said. “It was on NBA TV throughout the summer. I watch it from a fan’s perspective. I see what we could’ve done better, but I also watch it for enjoyment, to see those three zeros on the clock.”

Irving, via Windhorst:

“I was rewatching the games and talking to my teammates about it, sending them snapchats of me watching,” Irving said. “I got chills. My stomach was dropping knowing the ball is going in but knowing exactly, emotionally how I felt at the time. It still gets me excited thinking about it. It’s such a huge moment for not only Cleveland but our team, our families, our friends.”

Iman Shumpert, via Windhorst:

“I’ve watched it over and over,” Iman Shumpert said. “Oh, it was enjoyable.”

At some point, the Cavs have to refocus on the upcoming season. Maybe they already have.

But I’m not going to tell them to stop reliving Game 7. It was a big deal. Enjoy it.

This can even be healthy if it motivates them to chase that euphoric feeling again.

And if it just distracts them from their goal of repeating? There are worse things – like being stuck on a Game 7 loss.

Report: Rockets give Gary Payton II fully guaranteed salary

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Gary Payton II #0 of the Houston Rockets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Rockets scooped up undrafted point guard Gary Payton II shortly after the draft ended.

How did they do it?

Fully guaranteeing his deal, according to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders.

I rated Payton a borderline first-rounder coming out of Oregon State, but he went undrafted. Perhaps, the league just deemed him unworthy. Or maybe the teams that liked him most weren’t positioned to draft him. Or maybe teams opted for lesser players in the second round who were willing to spend a year overseas or in the D-League.

Houston guaranteeing his deal certainly points to a robust market for the point guard. It could also indicate the Rockets plan to keep him into the regular season.

Payton gives the Rockets 15 players with guaranteed salaries plus restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas, who has an outstanding qualifying offer and seems likely to return. There’s no obvious candidate for Houston to waive to reach the regular-season roster limit of 15 – and it could be Payton. This could just be a (more expensive than usual) way of getting Payton onto the Rockets’ D-League affiliate. They won’t be the only team to eat a guaranteed salary this season.

With James Harden (yup), Patrick Beverley, Pablo Prigioni and Tyler Ennis at point guard, Houston doesn’t have a pressing need for Payton. But Ennis, who has accomplished little in two NBA seasons, should be on notice. That Houston values Payton so highly could mean Ennis is the odd man out. Both players, and everyone else, will have the preseason to prove themselves.

Payton, son of the former SuperSonics guard, has major defensive potential. Running an NBA offense will be a tall order, but he has enough raw skills to offer intrigue on that end. He’ll need his defense to buy him time.