Amir Johnson; Mirza Teletovic; Alan Anderson

Paul Pierce’s move to power forward adds twist to his career, Brooklyn Nets’ season

5 Comments

BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away.

On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an inch as Ibaka settled for a turnaround jumper. Airball.

“He’s always telling us how he can lock everybody up that tries to post him up,” Nets center Mason Plumlee said with a laugh. “He’s done that, pretty much.”

Pierce – the NBA’s shortest and maybe most surprising – starting power forward certainly doesn’t lack the confidence to excel in his new position.

Nor the ability defend post-ups.

He’s held opponents to 35.3 percent shooting and forced a turnover on 25.9 percent of post-up plays finished against him, according to MySynergySports. Overall, he’s allowed .64 points per post-up – 16th best in the entire NBA.

A small forward his entire career, Pierce was always crafty and strong enough to handle players his size. But his ability to routinely defend the post-ups of bigger players, often through sheer physicality, has been impressive.

In every other way, though, Pierce hardly looks the part of a power forward – beginning with his 6-foot-7 frame, shortest among the NBA’s 30 starters at the position. Even in era of small ball, Pierce at power forward adds a little wonkiness on both sides of the court.

But wonkiness seems to be exactly what Pierce, who’s reinventing himself at age 36, and the Nets need.

Brooklyn started the season 10-21, but once Brook Lopez suffered a season-ending foot injury, Jason Kidd turned to small ball and turned his team’s fortunes. Since the change, conveniently timed with the flip of the calendar from 2013 to 2014, the Nets have gone 20-9.

Of teams’ most-used lineups, the Nets’ – Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett – has been the NBA’s second best with a net rating +15.9 (offensive rating: 103.9/defensive rating: 88.1).

image

But Brooklyn’s most-used lineup has played fewer minutes (122 all season) than any other team’s most-used, so sample-size caveats apply.

Still, with with Garnett out injured and Plumlee replacing him as a starter, that lineup has been even better (116.8/86.1/+30.7). Though in just 59 minutes sample-size issues are even more relevant, it seems as long as the Nets go small, they can’t help but stumble into a productive lineup.

For Pierce, whose career appeared to be wilting just a few months ago, the results have been nearly as dramatic.

The slippage began to show during the Celtics’ first-round loss to the Knicks last season. In that series, Pierce posted negative win shares, shooting 37 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3s and turning the ball over more than five times per game.

His first couple months with Brooklyn didn’t go much better, as he posted a PER of 13.6 in 2013. That would have been first below-average PER of Pierce’s career. At 36 and on an expiring contract, he appeared nearing retirement.

By moving to power forward, though, Pierce has increased his season PER to 16.1. That would still be a career low, but it’s solidly above average and ranks fifth on a playoff team.

Careers have been extended – or ended – on less.

Despite all his progress as a quirky small-ball four, the position carries dangers. Whenever Brooklyn’s center gets pulled away from the basket, to defend a pick-and-roll or otherwise, Pierce is often left as the last line of defense near the basket.

In the third quarter of Pierce’s re-return to Boston on Friday, Celtics center-of-the-moment Kris Humphries drove past Plumlee on the perimeter. Pierce slide over and took a charge – and a Humphries elbow deep into his right shoulder.

Pierce immediately went to the bench and sat, grabbing his shoulder and wincing.

Even when Pierce succeeds as a backline defender – a difficult assignment for him – he exposes an area of his body that has bothered him for years.

“Whenever I get hit in that shoulder, just I guess the constant years of banging – especially now that I’m playing the four,” Pierce said.

But Pierce – unlike his partner in crime, Garnett, who openly hates shifting to center – seems to be in no hurry to change the small-ball lineups that feature him at power forward.

“That’s our style. It’s no secret. We’re a small team,” Pierce said. “We don’t rebound well. We force turnovers. We shoot 3s.”

Pierce certainly does his part to contribute to those trends.

  • His total-rebounding percentage (10.0) ranks in the bottom five of starting power forwards. Only Shane Battier, Wesley Johnson, Josh McRoberts and Thaddeus Young are lower.
  • Pierce’s steal rate (2.0) is his highest since 2004-05. He excels at jumping in front of passes to power forwards whom other bigs typically couldn’t get around quickly enough.
  • Pierce has taken 39.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, easily a career high. Because he’s tangling for defensive rebounds more and isn’t as exactly as quick as he once was, Pierce, shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc, is one of NBA’s more dangerous trailers.

Can Pierce keep this up? Has becoming a power forward saved his career?

“It’s not about being a four,” Kidd said. “He’s a basketball player. So, he’s out there taking advantage of maybe a bigger guy. But his basketball IQ is extremely high, so he knows how to play no matter what position he’s in.”

Jazz extend Quin Snyder’s contract

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder speaks with reporters during the Jazz's end-of-season media availability Thursday, April 14, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Leave a comment

The Jazz hired Quin Snyder in 2014, reportedly giving him a contract that ran through next season with guaranteed salaries and contained a team option for 2017-18.

Utah wants to keep him around even longer.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today a long-term contract extension for third-year head coach Quin Snyder. Per team policy, financial terms were not released.

“With this contract extension, we are declaring our confidence in Coach Snyder’s ability to continue to develop the Utah Jazz into a championship team,” said Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. “The Miller family recognizes the significant progress made under his leadership and we are excited about the direction we are headed.”

“Our relationship with Quin, and this extension, reflect our shared passion for building a championship team,” said Steve Starks, president of the Utah Jazz. “With long-term contracts now in place for Quin, Dennis and other key front office personnel, we are well-positioned for the future.”

“We have continued to take significant steps as a team under Quin’s direction,” said Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey. “His work ethic, basketball intelligence and ability to connect with and develop our players make him the ideal head coach of the Jazz.”

“I am very grateful for this gesture by the Miller family and the Utah Jazz and appreciative of their belief in me to continue to lead this team,” Snyder said. “Amy and I are fortunate to be a part of a franchise and family that cares deeply for our community, stays true to its values and is committed to winning. More than anything, it is confirmation of our collective commitment to building a championship team.”

Snyder has done a nice job in Utah.

Despite a young roster and some ill-fitting pieces (namely Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors offensively), the Jazz have gone 38-44 and 40-42 under Snyder. Player development looks good, and the defense has been top notch.

At some point, the goal must become snapping a four-year playoff drought – the franchise’s longest since its first four seasons in Utah. But Snyder has the team on the right track, and the Jazz are already winning at a fine clip given their circumstances. He deserves a chance to see this through.

Gobert, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Favors, Dante Exum, Trey Lyles and Alec Burks – who are all already signed for next season (and, in some cases, beyond) – give the Jazz a bright future.

So does Snyder.

Report: Spurs plan to pursue Kevin Durant as hard as Warriors do

San Antonio Spurs' David West, left, and Kyle Anderson, right, defend as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, positions for a shot during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Leave a comment

The Warriors are reportedly planning a big push to sign Kevin Durant in free agency.

They’re not the only capped-out contender on that track.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Spurs, though, are said to have harbored similar fantasies for months in their famously stealthy manner.

The stately Spurs, league sources say, are just as intrigued as Golden State by the thought of making a run at Durant come July 1.

Every team wants to sign Durant. Not every team will try to sign Durant. Some teams without the cap space or perceived interest from Durant won’t put in the effort – unless Durant throws a nod in their direction first. They just don’t want to waste time and miss out on other free agents in the process.

The Spurs had been the type of team to ignore high-stakes free agency, but that changed with LaMarcus Aldridge last year. Word for a while had been they’d also chase chase Durant.

San Antonio can sell a winning culture, a roster that’s already contending for a title and proximity to Durant’s college (Texas). But creating the necessary cap room will be challenging.

Durant’s max salary projects to be about $26 million next season against a $92 million cap, so the Spurs would need to trim their payroll to about $66 million.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker will make a combined $52,658,381 million. San Antonio would have to decide what to do with Danny Green ($10 million) and Boris Diaw ($7 million, $3 million guaranteed). So much is up in the air with Tim Duncan ($5,643,750) and Manu Ginobili ( $2,940,630), who both have player options and could retire. Patty Mills ($3,578,948) and Kyle Anderson ($1,192,080) also have guaranteed salaries to account for.

But there is a path, and the Spurs seem intent on trying to travel it.

The upside is just too darn high. Durant would put the Spurs on at least on equal footing with elite Golden State – maybe even higher.

Likewise, the downside is huge. If Durant signs with the Warriors, how will San Antonio ever beat them?

Better for the Spurs just to get Durant for themselves – if they can.

Report: Multiple executives expect Knicks to keep Kurt Rambis

New York Knicks head coach Kurt Rambis calls out a play from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, April 8, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Knicks won 109-102. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
AP Photo/Michael Perez
5 Comments

Phil Jackson reportedly pushed for the Knicks to give Kurt Rambis a multi-year contract. Jackson isn’t searching for another coach right now.

You do the math.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Multiple executives around the league expect Rambis to get the job.

The usual question applies: Do these executives know something we don’t, or are they just reading the same writing on the wall? They’re positioned to glean inside information, but that isn’t necessarily required here. All the public circumstantial evidence points to Rambis.

This is another signal the Knicks will make Rambis their permanent head coach, but it was already looking that way.

Goran Dragic’s teeth went through his lip last night (video)

2 Comments

Goran Dragic has a habit of losing teeth, but not usually through his lip.

Cringe.