The Extra Pass: Three takeaways and Wednesday’s recaps

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Three takeaways from a busy Wednesday night around the league:

It was Paul George, in the Garden, with the dagger

It’s a crazy thing to watch an entire arena lose all hope, all at once. The Knicks were well on their way to a statement win over the Indiana Pacers. Maybe it could have been a rallying point for the rest of the season, a moment to build up some confidence without Tyson Chandler, however irrational that may have been.

But that didn’t happen. Even before Paul George calmly sank three straight free throws to tie the game in regulation, and even before Carmelo Anthony missed his chance to win the game at the buzzer, you just knew. You knew when that whistle blew, and so did the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Each jumper George stuck in overtime felt like a punishment for believing anything else to be true. In another world, a close loss to one of the best teams in the league after a questionable whistle could be construed as a moral victory, but in New York? It’s just more proof that the sky is indeed falling.

When the gavel swings too quickly

Monta Ellis has always been a target for criticism, whether it be because of mopeds, “having it all” or just his general lack of self-awareness.

Over the years, Ellis has become a popular pinata for both the stats crowd (look at his efficiency, not his raw totals!) and the people who watched him gamble defensively and take ill-advised shots again and again. There was no better way to make any hardcore NBA fan roll his eyes than to say, “I think Monta Ellis is a good player.”

So let me say it now: I think Monta Ellis is a good player. Is he a complete player? Far from it. But anyone feeling like Ellis has turned a new leaf and been a total revelation for the Dallas Mavericks probably never gave Ellis a fair chance in the first place. Yes, he’s scoring more efficiently this year, but Ellis has always been a pretty good passer and playmaker in the pick-and-roll, which are skills a lot of folks think Ellis never had or neglected to use.

It doesn’t match the narrative, but Ellis’ usage rate is up and his assist rate is down this year compared to last year. But with better players around him, a real point guard, a real coach and a scoring threat in Dirk Nowitzki in the pick-and-pop, Ellis looks drastically improved, even though he hasn’t changed much of what he does at all.

Does Ellis have weaknesses in his game? Absolutely, but one of the nicest things about his role in Dallas is that it’s becoming okay to talk and appreciate him for his strengths (shot creation, transition play, penetration) once again. People generally love imperfect things, so long as they aren’t being taken too seriously. I enjoy Ellis like I enjoy pro wrestling, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Okay, I’m a little ashamed. Let’s just move on.

Oh no, Oladipo?

Eight turnovers is a lot of turnovers, even against a swarming defense like Miami’s. The fact that Oladipo is averaging four turnovers a games this year might make a lot of folks uneasy, but here’s why that isn’t the worst thing.

Check out this list. Here are the names players in their first, second or third years in the league who averaged more than 20 minutes and four turnovers per game with a usage percentage over 25%:

Dwyane Wade, Isiah Thomas, Ron Harper, Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas, Jim Jackson, Victor Oladipo.

Young players willing to take risks at an early stage are usually more likely to become potent scorers and playmakers down the line. Oladipo’s aggression bodes well for his future, even if his stat lines instinctively make you scrunch your face up like you just accidentally ate something with peas. Thanks for nothing, peas.

It’s Oldaipo’s ballhandling that needs improvement more than anything else, and his decision-making shouldn’t be obsessed over. He’s getting to spots on the floor where good things usually happen, even though they aren’t right now. It will come in due time.

– D.J. Foster

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Mavs coach Rick Carlisle channels his inner Gregg Popovich:

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Bobcats 95, Nets 91: Brooklyn came out with Deron Williams back in the first half and their offense was a little improved — but their defense still wasn’t. This was a close game through the first half but the Bobcats went on a 13-0 run early in the third quarter behind Kemba Walker (13 points in the third and 31 on the night) and that proved the separation the Nets could not make up. Nice night for Andray Blatche — 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Also, Deron Williams tweaked his ankle in the second quarter and did not return, which is not good for a 3-8 team. The Bobcats actually got off to a faster start last season (6-6 this season, 7-5 last season) but this start feels more sustainable, in part because of their defense)

Wizards 98, Cavaliers 91: The Wizards went on a 25-8 first quarter run, in part thanks to Bradley Beal scoring 9 points in the first — which was how many points all the Cavaliers starters had in the first half. The Wizards looked like they would run away with this and led comfortably into the fourth. Then Kyrie Irving happened — he had 18 points in the fourth quarter and made it a game. It just wasn’t enough. Beal finished with 26 but played some sloppy ball down the stretch; Nene added 20 for the Wizards.

Pacers 103, Knicks 96 (OT): New York opened the game on a 13-0 run and held Indiana to 25 percent shooting in the first quarter. But as the game moved on the Pacers defense wore the Knicks down (New York shot 40.9 percent in the paint, thanks to Roy Hibbert) and Paul George pushed back — he finished with 35 points on 26 shots and he took over at the end, going 7-of-11 in the fourth quarter and overtime. The game went to overtime because with New York up three and 5.2 seconds left Iman Shumpert fouled George on a three point attempt — a borderline call, but he touched his elbow — and George sank the free throws. Carmelo Anthony had 30 points on 28 shots and worked his way to 18 rebounds (9 offensive). But while George was hot late Anthony was 3-of-14 in the second half and overtime.

Heat 120, Magic 92: Miami opened the game on 16-0 run — Miami started out shooting 6-of-6 which included a couple of threes and a LeBron James spinning layup, while Magic went 0-of-6. This game was never close. LeBron had 21 points on 11 shots, Chris Bosh was a +27, James Jomes had 17 points on 8 shots. Orlando go a great game from Arron Afflalo, who had 30 points as Miami kept inexplicably leaving him open so he hit 7-of-9 from three.

Raptors 108, Sixers 98: Toronto had 24 assists on 36 made baskets — for them that is a minor miracle. Toronto can just be a team of guys trying to beat you in isolation but they shared the ball on Wednesday and they looked much better for it, winning comfortably. DeMar DeRozan had 33 points on 19 shots. Michael Carter-Williams was back for Philly but looked rusty (2-of-10 shooting) while Spencer Hawes continues to look good (28 points).

Hawks 93, Pistons 85: Everything that has been wrong with Detroit this season seemed to be on display in this one: Josh Smith tried to do too much in his return to Atlanta and was 5-of-15 shooting, the Hawks shot 70 percent in the restricted area (despite the Pistons’ big front line) and better than 50 percent overall, and Paul Millsap had 19 points despite having the bigger Greg Monroe on him most of the night. Brandon Jennings had 21 points but needed 21 points to get there for Detroit.

Trail Blazers 91, Bucks 82: This one makes eight wins in a row for the Blazers. It wasn’t pretty — the winning team shot 40.7 percent from the field — but Portland will take it on the road. Let’s sum this game up this way: LaMarcus Aldridge led the Trail Blazers with 21 points but needed 22 shots to do that; Luke Ridnour led the Bucks with 13 points but needed 14 shots to do that.

Clippers 102, Timberwolves 98: Chris Paul got Los Angeles this win — he had 4 points in the first 42 minutes, then took over the last half of the fourth quarter scoring 16 points in six minutes, holding off a late run from Minnesota. CP3 finished with 20 points and 11 assists, making it 12 point-assist double-doubles to start the season, breaking Magic Johnson’s record of 11. The other key to this game was it was not Kevin Love’s night — he shot 2-of-14 and while he had a double-double of his own (10 points, 12 boards) he didn’t dominate.

Pelicans 105, Jazz 98: This was a pretty tight game most of the way until a 14-2 New Orleans run in the fourth quarter gave them some breathing room. Anthony Davis had another impressive line — 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 9 rebounds and 8 blocks. Ryan Anderson had 11 of his 19 in the fourth quarter (tell me again why they are gong to trade him?). Enes Kanter had 19 points on 13 shots, while Gordon Hayward had a VERY rough night shooting 1-of-17.

Spurs 104, Celtics 93: How did you expect this one to turn out? Exactly, pretty much like this. Six Spurs in double figures, none with gaudy numbers (Tony Parker led the way with 19). Just another Spurs win. Nothing to see here, move along.

Kings 113, Suns 106: Sacramento swept a home-and-home with Phoenix, and they did it with just a better all-around effort on the second night of the back-to-back. Isaiah Thomas was in his usual attack mode and led the way with 23 points and 4 assists. It was a fairly close first half (tied after one quarter, 5 point Kings lead at half) but Sacramento started to pull away in the third with an 11-0 run, fueled in part by an efficient night from forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Jason Thompson, who combined had 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. But in the fourth Goran Dragic (18 points in the quarter, 31 for the game) and P.J. Tucker (12 in the quarter) made it entertaining — the Suns put up 44 in the final frame. But the Kings put up 39 behind 11 from Thomas and held on for the win.

Mavericks 123, Rockets 120: Houston seemed in control — up 18 midway through the third quarter, 14 at the start of the fourth, with Dwight Howard having his best game as a Rocket (he started 11-of-11 from the field and already had first 27 of his eventual 33 points). Then the fourth quarter happened. Dallas shot 73.7 percent in the fourth, with Dirk Nowitzki putting up 14 points in the frame, Monta Ellis 8 and Jose Calderon 7. Meanwhile the Rockets shot just 26 percent. James Harden and Howard were a combined 2-of-10 in the frame. Dallas did everything right, seemed to hit every shot, won the quarter 36-19 and the game. That’s a comeback Dallas can build a little momentum on.

Grizzlies 88, Warriors 81 (OT): Memphis won this with their defense. They held a Golden State team that on the season shoots 44.9 percent from three to 27.8 percent, a team that averages 19.7 free throw attempts a game to 8, a team that averages 104.3 points per 100 possessions to 86.6. The Warriors had 37 points in the second half and overtime. And this was in Golden State. The Warriors were in control of the first half but Memphis had a 17-2 run early in the third to make it a game but could not pull away. Then they got five big points from Mike Conley in OT (he had 19 on the night) and pulled away. Zach Randolph had 21 points, Marc Gasol 21 points and 12 boards. Klay Thompson had 21 points but Golden State missed Stephen Curry’s shooting and shot creation in this one.

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

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Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

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In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.

Paul George says he wants to sign with team for long haul

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Paul George is enjoying his time with the Thunder. He also likes the idea of playing near his hometown in Los Angeles.

How will George pick between the two in free agency?

One idea: Sign a short-term contract with Oklahoma City.

He’ll be eligible for a higher max-salary tier in two years (35% of the cap, up from 30%). He’d also get to play more with a prime Russell Westbrook while still having an out if the 29-year-old point guard drops off. George would likely remain with Carmelo Anthony next season, too, as Anthony likely opts in. That’d give the Thunder more time to jell and show what they can do.

It’d also give the Lakers’ young core time to develop. If a prolonged test run in Oklahoma City fizzles, the Lakers would probably look even more appealing in a couple years (provided they keep open or can create cap space).

But George doesn’t sound interested in such a plan.

George, via Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career. The decision I make will ultimately be to build something,” he said. “The only way it’s going to be done. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

George can always change his mind, and he isn’t bound to follow his public statements. But he’s quite open about revealing his thought process. I respect that.

This statement doesn’t hint at any particular team. He could sign long-term anywhere.

But it speaks to the stakes of his upcoming free agency. Any team that wants George better sign him this summer. He probably won’t be available again.