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Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert quietly excels offensively, too

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Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy raved about Jazz center Rudy Gobert earlier this season:

“There’s a couple things with Gobert. I think, obviously defensively, he’s really, really good. He’s got great timing. He moves his feet well on pick-and-rolls. He protects the rim. And then offensively, I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, too. He plays exactly the way they want him to play and exactly the way he needs to play for them to be successful. And if you watch, he is always in pick-and-rolls. So, they lead the league in pick-and-rolls per possessions, and a great majority of them are him. And he’s content to play that and role and just keep running pick-and-rolls. You don’t see him stopping down in the post and bringing the offense to a stop. He doesn’t get many post touches at all. But he’s content to play that way, and so their team plays really well. That guy is a winning basketball player. Quin and has his staff have done a great job developing him. He was obviously a great pick for them. And you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, because all he’s concerned about –.”

Van Gundy suddenly stopped himself.

“I don’t know the guy at all,” Van Gundy said.

But then the coach kept rolling.

“Just watching from the outside, all he’s concerned about is playing the way he needs to play for them to win,” Van Gundy said.

To watch Gobert is to believe you know him. He plays hard and selflessly with little fanfare. He’s the type of player coaches love and casual fans too often overlook.

This is the time of year someone like Gobert tends to get more credit. Everyone gets caught up in offense during the season, for the draft and in free agency. But even cursory consideration of Defensive Player of the Year or All-Defensive teams forces people to evaluate the other end of the floor, and Gobert shines there. He is – or at least should be – running neck and neck with Draymond Green for Defensive Player of the Year.

But don’t discount Gobert’s offense. Even though he averaged a modest 14.3 points per game, he contributes mightily on that end. He’s a compete player.

Just two players have ever surpassed Gobert’s 14.3 win shares in a season while averaging fewer than 15 points points per game: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

“I wish more fans would know much more than just the points,” Gobert said. “But I’m happy that it makes us better as a team.”

So, let’s talk about more than just the points. Gobert helps the Jazz offensively in three primary ways:

Screens

Gobert is a relentless screener, on and off the ball. He ranks second in the NBA in screen assists, screens for a teammate that directly lead to a made shot by that teammate:

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But screen assists don’t fully capture Gobert’s value as a screener. He participates in pick-and-rolls that will never see him get the ball, but his roll to the basket collapses the defense and frees someone else.

“There are some actions that we run that are literally worthless if Rudy is not screening,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

“We need to continue to reward him for his rolling.”

Scoring at the rim

It’s easier to reward Gobert for his Yeoman’s work, because he has become such an efficient scorer.

He shot 70.4% at the rim this season, up from 61% last year. And he’s doing it on a healthy seven attempts per game.

Though he has grown in many areas, this is the crux of Gobert’s Most Improved Player case.

Scoring at the rim isn’t just about field-goal percentage, because even most poor finishers are more efficient at the rim than players generally are from other areas on the court. Generating attempts at the rim is a skill, and Gobert has become stronger to get better position and developed his hands to catch passes inside.

Plotting all NBA players by shots at the rim per game and field-goal percentage at the rim shows Gobert with an elite combination:

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Maybe he should shoot more often.

“I can’t say enough about Rudy’s unselfishness on offense,” Snyder said. “And like I said, I think our players are aware of it. The more we can involve him and get him touches, we want to do that, too.”

Offensive rebounding

After setting so many screens and rolling so hard, once the ball goes up, Gobert tracks it. He grabbed 13.6% of available offensive rebounds, 12th in the NBA among qualifying players:

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That list contains many low-minute role players who expel all their energy chasing rebounds. This is only one of Gobert’s numerous responsibilities. And he handles them with aplomb – even if he doesn’t receive enough credit.

“People look at stats,” Gobert said. “Most people don’t watch the games. Only a few people watch the games, especially us, because national TV two times a year.”

The right stats show Gobert’s two-way effectiveness. His defense has become appreciated, but his offense remains underrated. The Jazz scored 4.1 more points 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor than off.

Part of that is Utah’s rotation. Gobert often plays with the Jazz’s talented other starters, including Gordon Hayward and George Hill (another underrated player).

But if you watch, Gobert wasn’t merely along for the ride. He helped plenty offensively.

Utah’s playoff games will be nationally televised. Watch and find out.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on LeBron James’ heavy workload: ‘Next, he might play 48 minutes’

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Except for his backpedaling hairline, LeBron James shows no visible signs of age.

At 32, still in his prime, and still at the top of his game, he’s defying time.

“Benjamin Button,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called him, referring to the fictional character who ages backward.

LeBenjamin?

Following a regular season in which he averaged more minutes per game (37.8) than any player, James logged 43.7 per game during Cleveland’s tougher-than-it-looked sweep over the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. And as James and the defending champions await either Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round, James is taking advantage of the down time.

Not that he might need it.

Lue spent much of the season defending his use of James, who in all honesty is really the one in control of when he sits or doesn’t. At this point, Lue has given up worrying about resting the superstar.

“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue said Wednesday. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again. So next he might play 48 minutes. … Bron today just said he feels worse when he doesn’t play.”

James wasn’t available for interviews as the team gathered for the first time in two days at Cleveland Clinic Courts, and it’s likely that he won’t speak to the media until the Cavs have a second-round opponent.

But as has been the case for months, James’ playing time was one of the prime topics presented to Lue, who believes that the four-time MVP’s heavy workload during the regular season is what enables him to play at such high levels in the postseason.

Consider that James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists, shot 54 percent from the field, went 9 of 20 on 3-pointers and led the Cavaliers to the biggest second-half comeback in league history during the series against Indiana, and it’s easy to see why Lue wants to move past the minutes chatter.

“With him playing the minutes he played during the course of the regular season, it has helped him in the playoffs,” Lue said. “Now he is able to play those 42, 43 minutes. Because he’s used to it. His body can take it, so, I’m not worried about what outside people say.”

Unlike the regular season, when brutal travel schedules, back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights can wear players down, the postseason allows for recovery. Lue also thinks too many teams are allowing outside pressures to influence how they use players.

“Teams are suffering,” he said, “because they listen to what the media is saying about guys playing minutes” and “some teams should play some guys more minutes, and it would’ve been different (playoff) series.”

James has ramped up his minutes nearly every postseason. Now in his 12th playoffs, he averaged 39.1 minutes last year and has only twice averaged less than 40 per game.

Lue trusts that the three-time champion knows how far to push himself without reaching his breaking point.

“He knows his body better than anyone,” Lue said. “He said he feels great and he feels worse when he doesn’t play, so we’ll see how that works out.”

As for the rest of the Cavaliers, Wednesday included some competition in the team’s weight room on an aerobic conditioning machine while the team’s in-house DJ from Quicken Loans Arena spun music. After the vigorous workouts, yoga mats were dragged onto the court and the facility’s lights were dimmed for some stretching and decompression.

Namaste, NBA-style.

The Cavs had a similar, one-week break between the first and second rounds last season. Kyrie Irving said it’s imperative to make the most of it.

“The mental preparation and physical preparation starts now and hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Took a brief day off or two and now just get back to work and get ready for whichever team we’re getting ready for. The work never stops.”

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NBA fines Rockets owner Leslie Alexander $100,000 for confronting referee

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Rockets owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat, walked down the sideline and talked to referee Bill Kennedy during Houston’s Game 5 win over the Thunder.

It took less than a day for an investigation to yield the predictable result.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has been fined $100,000 for confronting a referee during live game action, it was announced today by Byron Spruell, President, NBA League Operations.

The interaction occurred with 0:13 remaining in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 105-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 25 at Toyota Center.

Per Patricia Bender’s database, this is the NBA’s largest fine in nearly two years. The NBA fined the Clippers $250,000 in 2015 for setting up DeAndre Jordan with an endorsement deal while trying to lure him back in free agency.

The NBA rightfully keeps owners on a tight leash. Unlike players, coaches and referees, who have their own unions, the league office represents the owners. So when one crosses the line – Alexander trampled over it – the hammer comes down hard. It’s an example to keep everyone else in line, and owners know they come out way ahead in this arrangement. Alexander might not like the punishment, but he benefits from owning a share of a league that so strongly dissuades such behavior.

David Stern: ‘Shame on the Brooklyn Nets’

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Brooklyn rested Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker for its final game this season, which had huge playoff implications. Not for the Nets, of course. They were long eliminated from postseason contention.

But the Bulls beat Brooklyn to reach the playoffs over the Heat, who also won that night.

Miami fans were obviously ticked, and they have company in former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Stern, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“I have no idea what was in the mind of the executives of the Brooklyn Nets — none — when they rested their starting players,” Stern, who still holds the title of Commissioner Emeritus, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday on the NBA A to Z podcast. “If you’re playing in a game of consequence, that has an impact, which is as good as it gets (you should play your players). Here we are, the Brooklyn Nets are out of the running. They have the lowest record in the sport. But they have an opportunity to weigh in on the final game with respect to Chicago. And they sit their starters? Really? It’s inexcusable in my view. I don’t think the Commissioner maybe can, or even should, do anything about it. But shame on the Brooklyn Nets. They broke the (pact with fans).”

The resting dilemma takes slightly different forms when it involves a team like Brooklyn rather than a certain playoff team, but the underlying conflict remains the same:

The team is better off resting its players.

The NBA is worse off, at least in the short term.

The league was robbed of an important competitive game that could’ve drawn higher ratings. The Nets had just beaten Chicago a days prior, but that was with major contributions from Lopez and Lin. Without them, Brooklyn had little chance and lost by 39.

The Nets weren’t playing for anything, not even a higher draft pick. They owe their first-rounder to the Celtics and already clinched the worst record anyway. Brooklyn was better off resting those veterans at the end of a long regular season.

There’s no easy answer. If the NBA bans resting, teams will sit players and assign to minor or made-up injuries. If the league shortens the season, it will lose revenue.

The best solution is to improve at the margins – provide more rest days (which the league will do next season) and schedule nationally televised games outside of grueling stretches of the schedule. That’s obviously no silver bullet, though. Bulls-Nets wasn’t nationally televised, and Brooklyn had the day off before and the entire offseason off after.

Another potential solution: Shaming teams into playing their top players. Stern is giving that one a go.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.