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O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight just want the Bucks to get an identity already

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The Milwaukee Bucks have not won a game in 2014.

Considering the 7-33 Bucks are the NBA’s worst team, who knows when they’ll break their nine-game losing streak? They’re capable of winning any game – though all seven of their wins have come against teams with losing records – but they’re not going to be favored any time soon.

To the surprise of nobody, Milwaukee’s veterans are beginning to express their displeasure. Winning cures all ills, but the Bucks have had no feel-good moments to ease the pain of their sick season.

Caron Butler wants more playing time, and O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight want an identity.

Mayo, via Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:

“You look around the league, you’ve got some teams that are defensive teams,” Mayo said. “You’ve got some teams like (Houston) and the Warriors that are offensive-minded, like Portland and Denver, they’re going to get up and down, spread the floor.

“You’ve got teams like Memphis, Chicago, physical, defensive-minded. Here we are at game 40, we don’t know what we are right now. It’s going to be hard to collect wins when you don’t know what to expect.”

Knight agreed with Mayo. Via Gardner:

“That’s a great point,” Knight said. “If you look at the Bucks, what are we known for? We know this team here (Houston) is known for their inside presence with Dwight and scoring a lot of points. And they’re going to shoot a lot of threes as well.

“So what is our identity? I think that’s something we have to define and we have to play to that identity if we’re going to be anywhere near the team we want to be.”

I’m sorry, but the Bucks have an identity.

They’re the worst offensive team in the NBA, scoring just 95.6 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats.

They shoot poorly, don’t get to the free-throw line and turn the ball over too much. On the bright side, they’re only slightly below average at offensive rebounding. But all together, their offense distinguishes them from the rest of the NBA.

If their offensive rating holds – which isn’t a given, considering scoring typically rises during an NBA season – it would the worst in an 82-game season since 2003-04, when the Chicago Bulls (93.9) and Toronto Raptors (94.6) had lower marks.

Milwaukee also the worst defensive-rebounding team in the NBA (identity!), but that’s unlikely to reach a historically bad level.

The Bucks can’t simply choose to be a strong offensive team like the Rockets or Warriors, a strong running team like the Trail Blazers or Nuggets or a strong defensive team like the Bulls or Grizzlies.*

Those teams have the players to succeed in at least one facet of the game. The Bucks don’t.

*Memphis has struggled defensively overall this season but ranks sixth in points allowed per possession in the last month.

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In his assessment, Mayo also complained about getting irregular minutes. And perhaps Larry Drew should end the fluctuations – and sit Mayo. The Bucks have been drastically better when he’s off the court.

With Mayo:

  • Offensive rating: 92.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.7

Without Mayo:

  • Offensive rating: 100.1
  • Defensive rating: 102.5

That’s the difference between being the worst team in the league and just regularly bad.

Then again, doesn’t being the worst team in the league come with a stronger identity than being just regularly bad?

Mayo and Knight should be careful what they wish for. Instead of seeking an identity, they should help Milwaukee go from terrible to merely subpar in a few areas – and there are a lot of areas where Milwaukee is terrible to choose from.

Teams rarely choose their identity and then play to it. Typically, their identity is established based on the skillsets of their players. Milwaukee is better off with no identity than the identity it has now – bad defensive rebounding and even worse offense.

And good news for all: Even if the Mayo and Knight help the Bucks lose their identity, they’re already so far back in the standings, that meager improvement probably wouldn’t cost them the top seed in the lottery. Then, in June they can draft a player capable of helping the team form a positive identity.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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