Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors

PBT NBA Power Rankings: At the quarter pole Portland takes the lead

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The general rule of thumb is 20 games into the season you can start to really trust the stats and the trends — in which case it’s good to be a Portland Trail Blazers fan. They move into the top slot with their recent wins over Indiana and OKC.

source:  1. Trail Blazers (17-4, Last Week No. 4). They are doing it with the best offense in the NBA. It’s okay to be a jump shooting team if you hit them, and the Blazers knock them down — they are hitting 42.7 percent on corner threes as a team this season and 41.8 percent from beyond the arc overall.

source:  2. Thunder (15-4, LW 4). Kevin Durant seemed to take things personally against Paul George this weekend — a side of Durant we don’t get to see very often. I liked it. Still not reading too much into the margin of victory over a clearly tired Pacers team.

source:  3. Pacers (18-3, LW 1). Indiana would really love to thank the schedule makers for their Clipper/Blazers then Spurs/Thunder back-to-backs last week. Indy lost both back ends but I’m not faulting them much for it. Showdown Tuesday with Miami.

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4. Spurs (15-4, LW No. 5). In case you ever wondered what Tiago Splitter means to this team, I hope you watched the loss to the Pacers Saturday night: San Antonio was up 35-22 when Splitter was removed for the game (calf issues) and the Pacers went on a 84-45 run. His defense is key and he’s out at least a couple more games.

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5. Heat (16-5, LW 2). They lost a couple games last week to teams with big front lines (Detroit and Chicago) but the Heat still feels like a team just kind of coasting, waiting for what matters. And they got their revenge on Detroit Sunday.

source:  6. Rockets (15-7, LW 6). On paper the Rockets look strong — elite offense and the fourth best net rating of points per possession in the league — but then you watch them play and they don’t pass the eye test at the same level. There is a lack of consistency night to night, which led Dwight Howard expressing frustration.

source:  7. Nuggets (12-8, LW 8). A scout speaking to ESPN’s Marc Stein said something we noticed: This team became a lot better when JaVale McGee went down injured. Denver tried to play inside-out with McGee, now they are just running and it works much better.

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8. Mavericks (13-8, LW 11). Winners of three in a row including over Portland last week (where Indiana and OKC lost). The simple fact is this is a playoff team in the West and one that will be a tough matchup for whoever lands them in the first round.

source:  9. Clippers (13-8, LW 7). They fell to Atlanta and Cleveland on the road last week — how is a team this good 3-5 against the East so far? L.A. continue its East Coast swing this week but with winnable games (Philly, Boston, Brooklyn and Washington).

source:  10. Warriors (12-9, LW 9). Nice 27-point come from behind win against the Raptors last week, but the fact they were down that much points to how much their defense misses Andre Iguodala. Rough stretch of games against the West coming up.

source:  11. Suns (11-9, LW 10). Eric Bledsoe is back in the lineup, which is good news, but now this far into the season we can just say that Jeff Hornacek has to come up in any coach-of-the-year conversations. His team is playing well at both ends.

source:  12. Hawks (11-10, LW 15). This is the third best team in the East right now, which just makes me hope nobody on Miami or Indiana gets hurt because we need that Eastern Conference Finals. Congratulations to Kyle Korver for breaking the consecutive games hitting a three record at 90.

source:  13. Timberwolves (9-11, LW 12). Look for them to string together some wins now after going through a rough patch in the schedule (and going all the way to Mexico City to have a game cancelled). This team is better than its record shows (they have the point differential of a 12-8 team)

source:  14. Lakers (10-10, LW 13). Kobe is back but there is a lot of work to do to get any offensive flow going — L.A.’s starters looked hesitant with Kobe controlling the offense. They have to try and shake off Kobe’s rust against the Suns, then a Thunder/Bobcats back-to-back on the road this week.

source:  15. Pistons (10-10, LW 22). Road wins against both Miami and Chicago show just how dangerous this team can be when it hits its threes (they shot 54.3 percent from beyond the arc in those games). Also, Andre Drummond is just a beast.

source:  16. Wizards (9-10, LW 17). John Wall is playing well, but simply the deeper they have to go into their bench in any game the worse they look. Good tests this week with Denver, Atlanta and the Clippers on the docket.

source:  17. Pelicans (9-10, LW 14). Without Anthony Davis the Pelicans defense has been terrible, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions. Remember, they went out and got Greg Stiemsma to give them depth up front but he is injured as well, so it’s a lot of gunning Ryan Anderson.

source:  18. Grizzlies (9-10, LW 16). The big issue is simply health — Marc Gasol is out and Zach Randolph is hobbling. But it doesn’t help that Jerryd Bayless couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean right now (to borrow an old Chick Hearn line).

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19. Celtics (10-12, LW 23). They went 3-0 last week — Rajon Rondo who? It looks like after Christmas at best and likely after New Year’s Day before they get their All-Star point guard back. Even so, are they the favorites in the Atlantic now?

source:  20. Bulls (8-10, LW 18). 1-2, Since Derrick Rose went down the Bulls defense has simply not been good… until they faced the Heat, then they looked like the Bulls we remember. If they find that consistently they are a playoff team in the East.

source:  21. Bobcats (9-11, LW 19). That the Bobcats are beating the other struggling teams in the East and would be the 7 seed if the playoffs started today speaks to the job Steve Clifford has done. But the schedule starts to get a lot tougher the next couple weeks.

source:  22. Raptors (7-12, LW 20). Rudy Gay is gone but with him out Sunday night Toronto played at a faster pace, used a lot more pick-and-rolls and their floor spacing was better. This was not supposed to be a trade that made Toronto better, but I wonder if it might be.

source:  23. Cavaliers (7-13, LW 26). They are 6-3 at home but 1-10 on the road this season. And those road losses often have been ugly — like Kyrie Irving 0-of-9 shooting ugly. The Cavs are in the running for the most disappointing team in the league.

source:  24. 76ers (7-14, LW 25). The skin infection on Michael Carter-Williams’ knee is going to keep him out Monday for sure and likely a few more games after that. They are still playing at the fastest pace in the league (which is a bad fit with their terrible defense).

source:  25. Magic (6-14, LW 21). Orlando has lost 9-of-11 games and have had a bottom five offense and defense during that stretch. Which is not good. Obviously.

source:  26. Knicks (5-13, LW 29). We saw the Knicks we expected this season against the Nets Thursday — moving the ball, raining threes — then on Sunday they reverted to their new form. Good news that Tyson Chandler returned to practice, they need him.

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27. Nets (6-14, LW 24). No, Jason Kidd is not in immanent danger of losing his job, Nets management want to see what he can do with a healthy roster. With Paul Pierce and Deron Williams do back this week, Kidd will have to start producing some wins (and he needs to turn that defense around, which may be the hardest part).

source:  28. Kings (5-13, LW 27). I get why they made the trade for Rudy Gay — not a bad roll of the dice that didn’t cost much — but after watching him fail to consistently feed Jonas Valanciunas in the post (even on nights the big man had a mismatch to exploit) it’s hard for me to see Gay and DeMarcus Cousins working out well.

source:  29. Jazz (4-18, LW 28). Trey Burke has helped the offense. But when I watch Gordon Hayward I can’t help but wonder how good he would look as the second or third option on a quality team (he’s not a No. 1 guy).

source:  30. Bucks (4-16, LW 30). So if you combine a high lottery pick with John Henson (who has looked better lately) and Larry Sanders you have… hope?

Kings GM Vlade Divac: Keeping George Karl right move ‘for now’

Sacramento Kings head coach George Karl reacts in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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The Kings reportedly planned to fire George Karl in the coming days.

Then, Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac met with Karl and changed course.

So, Karl must feel secure, right?

Divac on The Grant Napear Show, as transcribed by Sactown Royalty:

“For now.”

Oh boy.

If there’s a power struggle between Karl and DeMarcus Cousinsand there’s evidence of one – why would Cousins (or any players against Karl) let up now? Perhaps, Divac is more committed to Karl than that sounds, but by saying “for now” he opens the door to more campaigning for Karl’s ouster.

This is the worst vote of confidence I’ve ever seen.

As it has for months, Karl’s firing still feels inevitable before his contract expires.

Report: Hawks having ‘serious internal discussions’ about trading Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver

New York Knicks small forward Metta World Peace (51) shoots after drawing a foul as Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26), center Al Horford (15), and point guard Jeff Teague stand near during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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In the seven years between 2008 and 2014, 10 teams  made the playoffs at least five times:

  1. Spurs
  2. Hawks
  3. Celtics
  4. Bulls
  5. Mavericks
  6. Nuggets
  7. Lakers
  8. Heat
  9. Thunder
  10. Magic

Atlanta – which joins San Antonio as the only ones to reach the postseason all seven years – is the only team on the list not to reach even the conference finals in that span.

The Hawks: Often good, never great.

Until last year.

Atlanta won a franchise-record 60 games and reached the conference finals for the first time. (Its last comparable playoff advancement came in 1970, when it reached the division finals, before the league split into conferences.) The Hawks had four All-Stars: Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver – all of whom returned for this season.

But Atlanta has fallen back into the heap of good, not great, teams in the East. The Hawks are 30-24 and fifth in the conference, 1.5 games from both third and seventh.

Where do they go from here?

Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Atlanta Hawks are engaged in serious internal discussions ahead of the Feb. 18 trade deadline about the future direction of their team and their core players, including three All-Stars from their historic 2014-15 team: Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.

Sources close to the organization emphasize that if the Hawks become active in the next week, it will not be to “blow it up,” but rather an attempt to exchange their existing players for commensurate, if younger, talent.

Those sources also said head coach/president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer isn’t inclined to dismantle a team less than nine months removed from a conference finals appearance.

So, Atlanta wants to trade it players for equally talented replacements who are younger (and, therefore, probably cheaper)? Good luck with that.

It’s instructive that the Hawks are thinking about a shakeup, and this article contains plenty of detail worth exploring. But it seems unlikely their line of thinking actually leads to a major move.

The most pressing concern is Horford, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Already linked to the Pistons, he will likely draw multiple max offers – projected to be worth more than $145 million over five years from the Hawks and $108 million over four years from other teams.

Arnovitz and Windhorst:

Sources say that while ownership has pledged to both spend and to entrust the Hawks’ basketball minds to make basketball decisions, that figure, along with the overall tab — which would be one of the richest contracts in the NBA — has the Hawks’ brass a bit skittish.

It’s reasonable to be concerned. Horford turns 30 this summer, and while he also has a high basketball IQ, athleticism influences his on-court excellence. This is a tricky time to have a star up for a big contract.

The Hawks could face a question many teams in this position must answer: Would you rather “overpay” him or not have him at all?

I’d lean toward biting the bullet and paying Horford. The cap is skyrocketing, and with many players locked into old-money contracts, teams will have plenty to spend on free agents the next couple years. Horford, a borderline All-Star annually, is a huge part of Atlanta’s success. It’d be too difficult to replace him.

Plus, teams too often overthink committing big money to single player based on financial hesitation (though it has been less of a problem lately). The Hawks will probably spend a similar overall amount the next five years, anyway. Who cares whether Horford receives a huge share of that expenditure or it’s split equally among multiple lesser players based on overal spending? You can put just five players on the court. Generally, I’d rather sink more assets into fewer players.

But it all depends what the Hawks do with the rest of their roster. If they trade Korver and/or Teague to take a short-term step back, Horford could leave. Losing Horford for nothing is the worst-case scenario.

Atlanta’s best bet for getting a significant return in a Horford trade is working with him and his agent to find a team where he’d want to re-sign. The NBA prohibits any under-the-table agreements, but they happen. If Horford pledges to re-sign with a team, it will – justifiably – offer the Hawks more in a trade.

Short of that, I doubt they’ll get enough to justify dealing him. It’s just not worth it for other teams to offer Atlanta much now when they can try signing him outright in the summer.

A Teague trade seems most likely, because the Hawks already have his younger replacement on the roster – Dennis Schröder, who has made his desire to become a starting point guard well known.

Arnovitz and Windhorst:

Sources say the Indiana Pacers have made inquiries and have dangled guard George Hill as a possible swap. The Magic are also potential suitors for Teague, sources confirmed.

I’m not sure what Hill – who’s older than Teague – accomplishes for Atlanta. Both players make $8 million this year and next. Hill is a better defender and capable of playing shooting guard, but neither fact trumps the age difference. The Pacers would have to offer more.

Teague would improve the Magic’s backcourt shooting, which they desperately need. More importantly, this could signal Orlando isn’t completely sold on Elfrid Payton as its point guard of the future.

The Knicks are also reportedly interested in Teague, but they’re linked to any available point guard – and lack assets to get one now.

Finally, there’s Korver, who’s sneakily old – 35 next month. With him shooting nearly a career-low 38.3% on 3-pointers – great for almost everyone else – this seems like a bad time to trade him. But if a team wants help winning right now and values Korver highly, the Hawks should listen.

The downside of dealing Korver for younger players and/or draft picks is sending a signal that causes Horford to leave in free agency. So, if the Hawks trade Korver, they should consider trading Horford. And if they deal Horford, why not get more of the roster on the same timeline and also trade Teague?

One of the Hawks’ best on-court attributes is their cohesion, and building their roster is similarly related. If one domino falls, others could follow. The more Atlanta disrupts this roster, the more additional moves could make sense.

But given Budenholzer’s attitude and the team’s newfound connection with fans – especially important with a new owner – my guess is the Hawks try to keep their core in tact.

Good, not great, isn’t so bad.

NBA to teams: No Hack-a-Shaq on inbounds passer

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBA teams need to keep Hack-a-Shaq on the court, not the sideline.

The league sent a memo to teams and referees Tuesday clarifying that intentionally fouling a player inbounding the ball will be a delay of game violation – and possibly a technical foul.

The memo, sent from league executives Kiki Vandeweghe and Mike Bantom and obtained by The Associated Press, comes in response to questions after San Antonio’s Danny Green fouled Houston’s Clint Capela as Capela was attempting to inbound the ball in a Jan. 28 game.

Citing a specific rule in the rulebook, the memo says that if a defender crosses the sideline before the ball has been thrown, a delay of game will be assessed. If it comes in the last 2 minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, a technical foul will be called.

A technical will also be called if referees determine there was “unsportsmanlike contact” on the inbounder, and officials could also rule it a flagrant foul.

Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol breaks foot, out indefinitely

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Just when the Grizzlies are making a move – they’re fifth the West despite dropping two straight games in overtime after winning 9-of-10 – they lose their best player, Marc Gasol.

Grizzlies release:

The Memphis Grizzlies released today the following statement on behalf of Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace regarding Marc Gasol:

“This morning at Campbell Clinic, Marc underwent a thorough evaluation by team physicians. During the course of this evaluation, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a fracture in his right foot.

“Marc is a cornerstone of our franchise, and we are focused on getting him healthy. Marc will be out indefinitely and a further update will be provided after the All-Star Break.”

Gasol (7-1, 255) is averaging 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.35 blocks in 34.4 minutes in 52 games (all starts) this season.

Not only is Gasol the Grizzlies’ best player, he also plays their thinnest position.

Backup center Brandan Wright is injured, and Memphis has played parts of the season without a third center. The Grizzlies have been so desperate, they’ve signed Ryan Hollins multiple times – and that was with Gasol healthy.

Now, Memphis is in dire straights.

Here’s how the Grizzlies’ ratings change when Gasol is on the court to off:

  • Offensive: 102.8 to 99.5
  • Defensive: 102.9 to 103.3
  • Net: -0.1 to -3.8

And that undersells his impact. Gasol is the only Memphis player to start every game this season, so he has played with a variety of teammates – not just the team’s other top players. The Grizzlies’ dozen most-used lineups all include Gasol.

In other words, Gasol’s positive boost has also come with floormates who are typically backups. He’s not just along for the ride as his best teammates do the heavy lifting.

This injury obviously hurt Gasol, but it will also put several Memphis players in uncomfortable positions. The team’s next eight most-used players have all played a majority of their minutes with Gasol:

Gasol is an active and communicative defender and a good passer and screener. He’s easy to play with.

That’s a luxury his teammates will lose for a while.

Randolph will likely play more center and could even return to the starting lineup. He’s a nice individual defender, but needing him move quickly through rotations as the last line of defense is asking a lot. At least his low-post offense could work a little better with increased spacing if Memphis starts three wings between Conley and Randolph.

Another silver lining: This injury occurred before the trade deadline.

The Grizzlies could consider selling, but they owe the Nuggets a protected first-round pick. It’s protected top-five and 15-30 this year, top-five in 2017 and 2018 and unprotected in 2019. Memphis surely doesn’t want to convey the pick this year, which would guarantee a lottery selection. The ideal outcome is making the playoffs, guaranteeing the Grizzlies keep the pick this year, then remaining good next season and conveying a pick in the 20s.

It’s also unlikely they’d fall from they playoffs, though hardly impossible. They have a 4.5-game cushion over the ninth-place Trail Blazers

Plus, with Mike Conley entering unrestricted free agency this summer, Memphis surely doesn’t want to end the season with a poor taste in his mouth. It’ll be that much harder to secure a decent playoff seed and avoid the Warriors or Spurs – or even Thunder – in the first round. Heck, there’s no guarantee the Grizzlies have Gasol for the postseason.

Making a small trade for a serviceable probably makes most sense. Memphis will still rely on Gasol, once he gets healthy, for quite a while. He’s in the first season of a five-year max contract.

But the Grizzlies sure could use a little help as they enter this very difficult stretch.