The Extra Pass: The league’s leading lineups; plus Tuesday’s recaps

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After watching two of the league’s best starting lineups duke it out in Indiana, let’s check in on the best and worst lineups around the league so far this season.

Best Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Houston: Patrick Beverley-James Harden-Chandler Parsons-Terrence Jones-Dwight Howard

Net efficiency is the difference between a team’s offensive rating and their defensive rating.

The Pacers or Heat are usually a safe bet to be in the pole position all year, but the league’s best net offensive/defensive efficiency mark actually belongs to a lineup no one saw coming.

After the experiment with Omer Asik failed and Jeremy Lin went down with an injury, this lineup has led way for Houston and put up a net rating of +23.3 this season, a differential that’s nearly double what the fourth best lineup (Portland’s starters) has posted this season.

Supplementing the core talent with athletic defenders in Beverley and Jones has paid dividends defensively, but it hasn’t sacrificed spacing on the other end. Houston may be tempted to turn Asik into a legitimate power forward or upgrade at point guard, but the production this group is providing is hard to walk away from.

Worst Net Efficiency Rating (minimum 150 minutes)

Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins

Shocking, right? Oklahoma City’s starting lineup for the last three years has laid an egg out of the gates and simply can’t score. This group’s offensive rating of 93.1 would rank dead last in the NBA, and the net rating of -10.2 isn’t a whole lot better.

History would indicate two things will happen here, though.

The first is that this number should improve a great deal, as this very same lineup posted a net rating of +12.3 last season.

Secondly, you can bet that Scott Brooks will stay with it for extended minutes, even if he has preferred to close games with Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb as of late.

League’s Fastest Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Minnesota: Ricky Rubio-Kevin Martin-Corey Brewer-Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic

Minnesota’s starting lineup is playing at a ridiculously fast pace of 102.8. How? Pairing the league’s best outlet passer with a player constantly leaking out on the break doesn’t hurt:

Best Shooting Lineup (minimum 150 minutes)

Golden State: Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-David Lee-Andrew Bogut

Anytime the phrase “best shooting” is uttered, you can be sure the splash brothers are involved. Curry and Thompson obviously carry this lineup, but Iguodala’s incredibly efficient start to the season took this group to another level.

This lineup’s true shooting percentage of 63.6 percent blows everyone else out of the water, as the second place team (Houston’s aforementioned lineup) is four percentage points worse.

Watch out for the Warriors once Iguodala recovers. With Harrison Barnes playing in place of Iguodala, Golden State has posted a net rating of -7.4 and has dropped in true shooting eight full percentage points. He’s critical on both ends for them.

D.J. Foster

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Take a second to look at how small the ball looks in the hands of Bucks’ rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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Cavaliers 109, Knicks 94: New York followed up its horrific 41-point home loss to Boston by falling behind by 18 points in the first quarter in this one. At least they did battle back to close the gap before ultimately getting down big again, and for a team with so few positives to lean on this season, a competitive streak could be something to lean on. Staying positive, Carmelo Anthony finished with 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and Amar’e Stoudemire had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in just 27 minutes. But allowing Kyrie Irving to drop 37 points in 36 minutes, while seeing Jarrett Jack score 17 points on eight shots was too much on the road, so New York fell to a record of 5-15 on the season. —Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 90, Heat 84: Indiana trailed early, but Paul George and Roy Hibbert came alive in the second half to ensure a Pacers victory. Indiana treated this game like it mattered while Miami simply viewed it as one of many on the long road back to the playoffs, but this Pacers team causes real matchup problems for the Heat. Miami has more than four months before the postseason begins, however, to figure things out. —BP

Spurs 116, Raptors 103: Jeff Ayres started in place of the injured Tiago Splitter for the Spurs, but it was Aron Baynes who provided the big man performance that San Antonio needed to push through. Baynes finished with 14 points and six rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting in less than 21 minutes to help San Antonio overcome an early deficit of 14 points. The Spurs shot 54.9 percent from the field and 56.5 percent from three-point distance in compiling their 116 points, yet no single player managed to score more than 16 points — in other words, it was a perfectly balanced attack from one of the top teams in the game. —BP

Nets 104, Celtics 96: Paul Pierce faced his former team for the first time, but did so coming off the bench in his first game back after suffering a broken hand injury five games ago. He finished with an uncharacteristically effective line of four points, seven rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes as a reserve, while Deron Williams and his return was much more important to the game’s ultimate result. Williams finished with 25 points and seven assists as the Nets won their second straight to improve to 7-14 on the season. —BP

Thunder 101, Hawks 92: OKC held Atlanta to 35.6 percent shooting for the game, and used a 27-18 second quarter run to gain the separation needed to finish the game with a comfortable margin. Kevin Durant finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Russell Westbrook ended up with 14 points, 11 assists and four steals in the victory that sent the Thunder to a record of 16-4 on the season. —BP

Timberwolves 121, Pistons 94: This was close until midway through the second quarter when Minnesota went on a 21-5 run sparked by Kevin Martin, who had 12 of his 18 in that period. Minnesota ran away from there and the starters basically got to rest the fourth quarter. Kevin Love put up a monster 26 point, 17 rebound line in just 30 minutes. However, the real key to Minnesota’s run was them getting to the free throw line 33 times, hitting 28. Brandon Jennings led the Pistons with 20 points, but basically none of the Detroit starters played well. —Kurt Helin

Bucks 78, Bulls 74: No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no Joakim Noah, no Jimmy Butler — no offense and no win for the Bulls. Milwaukee’s John Henson was the best player on the floor scoring 25 points with a variety of shots (he’s got a nice lefty jump hook) and pulling down 14 boards. Chicago, with few options on offense, tried to go to Carlos Boozer late but on a key play late Henson stripped him. Mike Dunleavy outscored the Bucks 18-15 in the second quarter (he finished with 24). This was an ugly game, let us never speak of it again. —KH

Suns 114, Lakers 108: Kobe Bryant looked better — he had a team high 20 points and switched up his game to get the ball either in the post or at the elbow most of the time, which allowed him to work closer to the basket. The Laker offense worked better — but their defense was a mess. The Suns guard tandem of Goran Dragic (31 points) and Eric Bledsoe (18 points, 9 assists) did what they wanted, which included feeding Marcus Morris who added 22 points. The Suns know who they are right now, the Lakers are clearly figuring that out and now have to do it on a tough four-game road trip. —KH

The Good, the bad, the ugly: A breakdown of the Carmelo Anthony trade

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It was always a question of when, not if, Carmelo Anthony would get traded. However, Anthony’s no-trade clause and desire to go to Houston with Chris Paul and James Harden led the drama to drag out all summer. When Anthony realized his choice was to add teams to his list or go to Knicks camp because a Houston deal was not happening, he added the Thunder, and well, that escalated quickly. Thunder GM Sam Presti and new Knicks GM Scott Perry had a long history, they had already laid some groundwork on possible scenarios, and when Anthony opened the door, Perry and the Thunder rushed through.

Anthony is headed to the Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and Chicago’s 2018 second round pick. The trade will be finalized Monday with the league.

Let’s break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of this trade.

THE GOOD

The Oklahoma City Thunder. One year ago, when Kevin Durant announced he was joining the gold rush in California, other teams were speculating how things could — more likely would — fall apart for OKC. Would they have to trade Westbrook when the frustrated star wasn’t happy? Except Westbrook signed an extension (essentially for one year), then went on to win the MVP. Now the Thunder went out and got Paul George and Anthony to go around Westbrook, three stars on a team that already had a solid foundation of role players (Steven Adams, Patrick Paterson, and Andre Roberson, for example).

The Thunder went all in — and it’s a brilliant move. It’s a risky one because Anthony, George, and Westbrook (when he opts out) all will be free agents next summer and they could all walk, but if the Thunder had done nothing but run back last year’s team Westbrook almost certainly walks. Now, they have as good a shot as anyone at dethroning the Warriors. Yes, a healthy Golden State team may be too much, but when you have a superstar in his prime like Westbrook, you go for it. The Thunder went for it.

The big question is will the big three learn to sacrifice, and will they do it fast enough? Talk to players that won a ring and they talk about needing to sacrifice part of what they do for the good of the team (taking fewer shots, or Andre Iguodala coming off the bench, or whatever). These three have not had to make those kinds of sacrifices before. Will they? And if they will, can they figure it all out fast enough (because all three are almost certainly not back with the Thunder, the cost would be too great)?

Still, this is a bold stroke move. You have to love it.

Sam Presti. The Thunder GM has long been seen as smart and shrewd — he drafted both Westbrook and Harden in spots most teams thought were too high. But this must be his greatest summer yet. Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post put it best.

Next time I buy a car, I want Presti to negotiate. I may only be able to afford a Toyota Corolla, but he’s going to get me a Tesla model X.

Russell Westbrook. Last season it was Russell Westbrook against the world, and he won. He averaged a triple-double — the first player to do it since Oscar Robertson — and dragged the Thunder to the playoffs. But now he’s got some serious help. Westbrook showed he can carry a team, now he’s got the chance to show he can lead a team, that he can make players — superstar players — better.

That is a double-edged sword. It’s an opportunity, but it’s also a challenge — the Thunder just added two players with much higher usage rates than any teammates he had last season. As noted above, is Westbrook ready to make the sacrificed needed to win at the highest levels? If Westbrook is up to the challenge he is in the mix for another MVP award, but if not things could move from the good to the ugly category in OKC.

Carmelo Anthony… but be careful what you wish for.
He is out of what had become a toxic environment with him in New York. He is with two other superstars who have a chance to compete at the highest levels of the sport. Anthony may not have gotten his wish to go to Houston, but he got his wish to go to a team that is relevant. A team that could be on a big stage in May.

If Billy Donovan can convince Olympic ‘Melo to be on this team, the Thunder look dangerous. That’s a guy that didn’t worry about minutes or starting, didn’t stop the ball on offense but flowed with the game, and that’s a guy that didn’t demand touches. Anthony could be splitting a lot of time with Patrick Patterson (once Patterson gets healthy) and when OKC needs defense it may turn to Patterson at the four (or Andre Roberson for stretches). Will Anthony make the sacrifices and accept that? Could he lead the second unit for stretches while Westbrook and George rest? Anthony got what he wanted, now he has to prove he deserves it.

The New York Knicks. This trade isn’t really good or bad for the Knicks, but the movie was not “The Good, the bad, and the meh” so we had to put them somewhere. Here is what is good about this trade for the Knicks: They get to make this Kristaps Porzingis‘ team. He is out of the shadow of Anthony, and while the Knicks will lose a lot of games this year, they have a clear path now going forward (Porzingis will need to step up into that leadership role). Also, Kanter is a solid big man (so long as they don’t expect much defense from him). Maybe McDermott will play enough defense in a contract year to provide value beyond his shooting. That 2018 second-round round pick is essentially a late first rounder, the Bulls are terrible so that pick will be no worse than 33 or 34. They can get a good player there.

THE BAD

The New York Knicks. Remember how much the Knicks gave up to get Carmelo Anthony? Four quality players went West, plus picks and other pieces. It is still looked back on around the league as a textbook example of how not to trade for a superstar — don’t strip your team to the bone to get one guy (the Knicks made a host of other mistakes that, combined with Anthony, led to an up-and-down tenure for him in NYC). This trade was the opposite of that, the Knicks didn’t get much in return. The Knicks had been seeking a starter-level wing player, they didn’t get that. They got a pick, but it’s a second rounder. At least they didn’t take any bad contracts on in the trade. The Knicks take a step back with this deal, and while that may be the best thing for them, it still lands them in the bad category for now.

The Los Angeles Lakers. Paul George probably is still going to leave OKC and become a Laker next summer, his camp made his thinking very clear.  However, if George and this improved Thunder team make a run — let’s say 57+ wins then they get to the Western Conference Finals, things that are certainly possible — George and Westbrook are more likely to look at each other and decide to stay together with the Thunder. This is bad for the Lakers because the chances of George leaving Oklahoma City just went down, even if it’s just slightly.

THE UGLY

The Houston Rockets. This is ugly for them on two fronts. First, they thought they were going to get Anthony. There was nobody else in the bidding (because ‘Melo wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause for anyone else) so they had all the leverage. The Knicks didn’t want to deal with the circus of bringing Anthony to camp, they might cave, and the Rockets would get their man. Except the Knicks didn’t cave, Anthony expanded his list, and ‘Melo is now headed to the Thunder.

Second, this puts another elite team in the West. There are four now in a conference that is more Game of Thrones than NBA: House Warriors, House Spurs (everyone sleeps on them, don’t do it), House Rockets, and now House Thunder. Those may well be the four best teams in the NBA (only the Cavaliers and maybe Boston could come close to saying they are on that level). Golden State will probably end up sitting on the Iron Thone next June, but there is going to be a lot of hard battles and between now and then — and two of these teams aren’t even going to get out of the second round, which will be seen as a failure.

Warriors respond to Trump, say trip to D.C. will “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion”

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Last spring during the NBA playoffs, Warriors coach Steve Kerr did not hesitate to criticize President Donald Trump. Stephen Curry also has taken issue with the president and some of his policies.

Saturday, the Warriors were going to discuss an invitation to Trump’s White House — a tradition in many sports where the champion is invited to meet the president and do a photo-op — but on Friday Curry said he would vote no. With that, Trump pulled his invitation.

Saturday the Warriors released a statement.

“While we intended to meet as a team at the first opportunity we had this morning to collaboratively discuss a potential visit to the White House, we accept that President Trump has made it clear that we are not invited. We believe there is nothing more American than our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them. We’re disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise.

“In lieu of a visit to the White House, we have decided that we’ll constructively use our trip to the nation’s capital in February to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.”

That’s classier than some of the responses from others around the NBA to Trump.

The Warriors’ David West explained why the team was leaning toward backing out of going to the White House, and the players’ opposition to Trump.

There would be a number of charitable things the Warriors could do in the area, and the team’s high-profile would draw attention to whatever they choose to focus on. It’s a good move. Try to rise above this silly fracas over a photo-op and do some good.

Report: Suns’ Alan Williams suffers torn meniscus, will miss time

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Alan Williams is a guy who worked hard for his spot in the NBA. The UCSB alum started with a 10-day contract, then parlayed that into a Summer League deal where he shined. That evolved into a full season contract with the Suns last year, and they liked what they saw enough to give him a three-year deal this summer (for $17.4 million total).

But now the fan favorite is going to miss at least the start of the season due to a knee injury, reports Chris Haynes and Marc Spears of ESPN.

How much time Williams will miss will depend on the degree of the tear and the course of treatment, but he’s going to be out for training camp and the start of the season.

Williams was already going to be in a fight for minutes on a team fairly deep in the frontcourt with Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Alex Len, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Bennett, and Jared Dudley. This setback does not help his cause.

Enes Kanter thanks Thunder fans in video, urges team to beat Warriors

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Enes Kanter loved playing in Oklahoma City.

Which made the fact he was traded to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony difficult. Kanter had been through a lot, his political stance against the ruling party in his native Turkey led to his family being forced to publicly disown him (and his father being arrested and questioned multiple times), plus his passport being revoked while he was in Europe as Turkey tried to force him to return (where he would have been instantly arrested). He has said on multiple occasions that the people of Oklahoma City, and the Thunder organization, provided him a home when his native one was yanked away from him.

He said that again in a thank you and goodbye video to the people of Oklahoma City.

Kanter said he had “no hard feelings. I understand it’s a business.”

He also urged the now-stacked Thunder to go out and beat the Warriors.