Vince Carter

NBA Power Rankings: Detroit, Minnesota crash top five party

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A few weeks into the season and we’re starting to see which hot starts are for real — Boston, Detroit — and which teams are coming back to earth (Orlando). The top three on this list have started to separate themselves from the pack… for now, it’s a long season.

 
Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (9-2, Last Week No. 1). When Gordon Hayward went down, one of the expected drop offs was that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were young players about to be thrust into much larger roles, and how were they going to handle it? Turns out, just fine. For example, the pair has shot 35-of-71 (49.3%) during team’s a nine-game win streak, plus they are part of a very switchable perimeter defense. They have been fantastic

 
Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (8-3 LW 3). Their offense hasn’t just been good, it’s been all-time good to start the season. The Warriors are averaging 116.4 points per 100 possessions, that is 7.5 more than the second-place Cavaliers and 1.8 per 100 better than the 1986-87 LA Lakers, who have the best mark of all time. As they were last season, the Warriors have been a dominant third quarter team to start this season.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (8-3, Last Week No. 4). The Rockets have started to pick up their pace again, and with that their offense has returned to being a force — then James Harden exploded, dropping 56 points on a very good Utah defense. Tough week with the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Pacers, and Raptors ahead, but if Harden does this again the Rockets will be just fine.

Pistons small icon 4. Pistons (7-3, LW 10). Detroit is off to its fastest start in nine years, and one key reason is the play of Anthony Tolliver off the bench, particularly defensively. While a lot of attention has gone to Andre Drummond shooting 75% from the free throw line (with good reason), he also has improved true shooting percentage (59%), assist rate (doubled it to 12.2%), and his rebound rate (which was already the best in the league and is now at 25.8%). Drummond has been a beast.

 
5. Timberwolves (7-3, LW 14). Winners of five in a row, and it’s not a coincidence it started with the return of Jimmy Butler to the lineup — they are 8.4 points per 100 possessions better when Butler is on the court. As Zach Lowe noted on Twitter, it’s not because he is dominating the ball, he has the fifth highest usage rate on the team, it’s because of his defense, and he is being efficient on offense.

 
Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (7-4, LW 2). The Grizzlies are 2-1 so far into a five-game road trip, splitting a pair in Los Angeles then winning in Portland. Tyreke Evans is impressing off the bench, averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 43.1 percent from three. Watching him live this week he is moving well — which is amazing considering the knee injury he is coming off of — and hitting shots his coach wishes he wouldn’t take. So, vintage Evans.

 
Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (6-4, LW 11). The Spurs offense has not been consistent without Kawhi Leonard, as one would expect. San Antonio is 19th in the NBA in offensive rating, and they no longer shoot threes the same way (22.6 attempts per game, 29th in the league). What is surprising is their usually stout defense (even without Leonard) has fallen to 11th in the league. San Antonio’s ability to execute and not beat themselves works against the Hornets and Suns, but not against the Celtics and Warriors, where they lost.

 
Knicks small icon 8. Knicks (6-4, LW 20). While all the attention is focused on Kristaps Porzingis (he did have a monster week), the Knicks are 6-1 since steady veteran Jarrett Jack was made the starting point guard. He keeps the offense moving and puts the ball in the right place. Porzingis — who gets compared to Dirk Nowitzki all the time but reminds me more of a better Andrei Kirilenko — dropped 40 on a Pacers defense Sunday.

 
Raptors small icon 9. Raptors (6-4, LW 9). DeMar DeRozan is still a guy who gets his buckets in the midrange, but one thing is different this season — he is attacking earlier in the shot clock, rather than letting the defense set. It’s worked, his true shooting percentage is up to a career high 57.1% this season. After a respectable 3-3 road trip through the West, the Raptors came home and got beat by the Wizards without John Wall, a tough loss in this East.

 
Magic small icon 10. Magic (6-4, LW 7). Injuries to their top two point guards — Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin — set this team back against Chicago and Boston, and it continued a slide for an offense that was hot early (No. 2 in the NBA) but has since regressed to the middle of the pack. Payton should return Wednesday against the Knicks. Aaron Gordon has shown no signs of slowing down his hot shooting.

 
Sixers small icon 11. 76ers (6-4, LW 21). What team leads the NBA in passes made per game? You guessed it, the Sixers. Rookie point guard/power forward Ben Simmons is averaging the most passes made per game of any player in the league. Those are good signs for the future and speaks to a selfless team. Tuesday night in Utah (a Philly win) started a five-game road trip that includes facing the Warriors and both Los Angeles teams.

 
Blazers small icon 12. Trail Blazers (6-5 LW 13). Damian Lillard remains one of the most clutch players in the NBA. Look at it this way: Lillard shoots 42.3% in the first quarter, 32.4% in the second, 37.9% in the third, then suddenly 54.3% overall and 43.8% from four in the fourth. He was getting to the line late against the Thunder, then against the Lakers he did this.

 
Pelicans small icon 13. Pelicans (6-5 LW 19). This needs to be pointed out: DeMarcus Cousins is putting in real effort on defense and doing well. It’s small sample size theater, but the Pelicans’ defense is 7.1 points per 100 possessions better when Cousins is playing this season (granted, being paired with Davis for a chunk of that time helps). The Pelicans are feasting on weaker teams this season, but that’s a start.

 
Nuggets small icon 14. Nuggets (6-5, LW 22). Last season after the All-Star break — when the Nugget offense was the best in the NBA — they were taking 70 percent of their shots either at the rim or from three. This season that has fallen to 58.2 percent and that is part of the reason their offense is off 5 points per 100. The Nuggets are 3-1 in their current six game homestand after a win over the Nets (tougher matches with the Thunder and Magic are ahead).

 
Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (5-5, LW 16). Kemba Walker is once again brilliant and once again overlooked. This season he has averaged 21.8 points per game and is hitting a solid 37.1 percent from three. More importantly, the Hornets are 30.3 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court.The Hornets started a four-game road trip 0-3 with Boston still remaining.

 
Wizards small icon 16. Wizards (5-5, LW 8). The Wizards have a soft schedule for the next week plus, giving them a chance to bank some wins, but the problem is this team does not bring its focus against weaker teams. As evidence, look at the home loss to Dallas on Tuesday night. The Wizards want to be contenders but championship level teams bring it nightly. John Wall missed a couple games with a shoulder injury but returned Tuesday.

 
Clippers small icon 17. Clippers (5-5 LW 5). The Clippers just stumbled through a 1-4 homestand where you understand the loss to the Warriors but the other ones hurt, and it’s due to their defense completely falling apart (second worst in the NBA over the past six games). Tuesday’s loss to San Antonio started eight of nine on the road and that includes facing the Thunder and Cavaliers, it’s a tough stretch for a slumping L.A. that could see them tumble down these rankings and the standings.

 
Lakers small icon 18. Lakers (5-5 LW 23). Brook Lopez has been a fantastic big for what the Lakers want to do — he is their best three point shooter, a good passer, and can get buckets down low (they go to him in the post on mismatches after a switch). The Lakers start a four-game road trip in Boston on Wednesday, where Lonzo Ball matches up with Kyrie Irving.

 
Pacers small icon 19. Pacers (5-6, LW 18). Myles Turner is back, which has bumped Domantas Sabonis to the second unit — and that could be a good thing. Sabonis has been fantastic as the guy the offense ran through with the starters, if he can boost the bench it’s a big help in Indy. The loss to the Suns stings, but serves as a reminder that teams struggling on defense — the Pacers are 24th in the league this season — are more likely to have ugly losses. Indy needs to improve on that end of the court.

 
Cavaliers small icon 20. Cavaliers (5-6 LW 17). Four of the five Cleveland wins have come against the Bucks, Wizards, and Celtics — the Cavaliers show up and care against teams seen as a perceived threat. They don’t other nights. LeBron played the best game of the season last Friday night against Washington, scoring 57 points and single-handedly ending the Cavs four-game losing streak. To do that in his 15th NBA season is insane. But it just put a Band-Aid over the Cavaliers woes, and their worst in the league defense. The Cavs biggest defensive problem is not chasing teams off the arc and not contesting out there — teams are shooing 41.9 percent from three against them.

 
Thunder small icon 21. Thunder (4-6 LW 6).. Their defense is second best in the NBA, but the offense remains people taking turns going in isolation, not playing like a team. They have thrown the fewest passes of any team in the league. Carmelo Anthony is taking one more three and seeing one or two fewer possessions a game in OKC, but aside that his numbers are almost identical to his last season in New York. Things are not changing for him. Anthony needs 12 points to pass Hall of Famer and former teammate Allen Iverson for 24th on the all-time scoring list.

 
Jazz small icon 22. Jazz (5-6, LW 15). Utah’s offense is 8.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rudy Gobert is sitting? There’s no one simple answer as to why, but with Ricky Rubio at the point the pick-and-roll with Gobert has no threat of someone taking an outside shot, so the spacing becomes all muddled. Rubio is being more aggressive shooting the ball this season, especially from three, but his hitting just 29.8 percent of them.

 
Bucks small icon 23. Bucks (4-6 LW 12). After dropping three straight and feeling like this might be another season they take a step back, the Bucks made the big move and traded for Eric Bledsoe. That will help the rotations: Bledsoe will start, pushing Malcolm Brogdon to the second unit, and Matthew Dellavedova out of the rotation (a good thing, he’s been awful). Ideally Tony Snell gets fewer shots. On paper this is a smart gamble, now we will see if it pays off.

 
Heat small icon 24. Heat (4-6, LW 24). Hassan Whiteside returned last Wednesday and they needed him — he helped get the win over the Bulls then had 21 and 17 against the Clippers. The Heat just need consistency out of him now. Miami has started 1-2 on a six game road trip, and they have eight road games and three home games the rest of this month.

 
Nets small icon 25. Nets (4-7, LW 26). The Nets are averaging 109.2 possessions per game (via NBA.com), 3.5 possessions faster than the second place Suns, but combine pace and a bad defense and you have five guys having dropped at least 30 points on the Nets this season. Brooklyn has dropped five of its last six, and suddenly all that talk about the pick the Cavaliers got not being all that good has been silenced.

 
Suns small icon 26. Suns (4-7, LW 25). After the Suns sent Eric Bledsoe home, they gave up all their leverage, so the first-round pick they just got back for him — despite all the odd protections — is about as good as they were going to do. The question now is can the Suns flip Greg Monroe for more assets from another trade? Probably, but they are not going to get much in return as every team knows they want to dump him.

 
Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (2-7 LW 30). Bobby Portis is back in the rotation and didn’t look bad in his first game against the Raptors. Lauri Markkanen remains impressive, and is second in the NBA among rookies in both points per game and rebounds (trailing Ben Simmons in both categories). With Robin Lopez as an anchor, the defense for the Bulls’ starting five is pretty good, but get into the bench and things get ugly fast.

 
Kings small icon 28. Kings (2-8, LW 27). They still have the worst net rating in the NBA — -11.5 per 100 possessions — but the win over the Thunder Tuesday night keeps them out of the bottom of these rankings. It’s an odd mix with coach Dave Joerger trying to get minutes for George Hill (when healthy, he’s not right now), Zach Randolph, Garrett Temple and Vince Carter, and with them win games, then also be sure their young players get run to develop.

 
Hawks small icon 29. Hawks (2-9, LW 29). Their ailing offense looked good against the Cavaliers, which speaks more to Cleveland than Atlanta. Dennis Schroder is averaging 22.6 points and 6.6 assists per game, both career highs, and he’s been efficient if not consistent this season.

 
Mavericks small icon 30. Mavericks (2-10 LW 28). It’s been a rough start to the season (save for a nice win against Memphis last week), with Dallas having the third worst defense and seventh worst offense in the NBA this season. While seven of their remaining 10 games this month are at home, it’s a brutal schedule with the Thunder and Spurs twice each, the Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Celtics also in the mix.

Three questions the Sacramento Kings must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 32-50, missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season.

I know what you did last summer: Their “summer” really started last February at the trade deadline when they moved DeMarcus Cousins for Buddy Hield. The Kings had an active summer, and that included moving on from a lot of guys on the roster: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo, and Ben McLemore among others were gone. To replace them they drafted De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, rolled the dice on Harry Giles, the Kings finally got Bogdan Bogdanovic to come over, then in free agency landed some solid veteran free agents in George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter.

THREE QUESTIONS THE KINGS MUST ANSWER

1) How do the Kings balance the minutes between their best young players and their veterans? George Hill is clear and away the best point guard option on the Kings, but they just drafted the speedy and talented De’Aaron Fox. Zach Randolph, while his skills are fading, is a solid four coach Dave Joerger can trust, but Skal Labissiere could become the most skilled power forward on this roster. Kosta Koufos is a solid veteran big who will not beat you with mistakes, but the Kings are trying to season the talented Willie Cauley-Stein at center.

It’s the biggest question coach Joerger has heading into the season, how to balance out the minutes and opportunities for the veterans on this team vs. the best young prospects on the Kings’ roster. It’s easy to say “George Hill is there to develop guys like Fox and Buddy Hield” but that doesn’t mean Hill is just another coach riding the pine most of the time. The Kings aren’t going to win a lot of games, but veterans like Vince Carter can show young players how to compete (Carter, who has been in the league since roughly the Taft administration, may well be the best three on this roster still). The hope has to be that as the season goes along, as the young players get minutes and good developmental coaching, their role grows as the veterans take a step back, but will it work out that way?

Tied to this: How long are these veterans going to be Kings? Part of the reason for bringing in a guy like Hill is that at some point a team hurting at the point guard spot due to injuries or whatever reason come calling. These teams will want Hill, and in return the Kings can get a quality young prospect or a good pick. The question is how long before the calls come, and how much demand will there be (especially for the aging Randolph and Carter)? It may happen this season, at or before the trade deadline, or it could be next summer, but expect the Kings to make a move.

2) Which young players on this roster develop into quality NBA players? The Kings have eight guys on rookie contracts plus a couple other young players — they have 10 players 25 and younger. The Kings are in the player development business now, and the question is which ones will find their way to become NBA players of some level — stars, starters, rotation players, whatever?

There are interesting questions up and down the young roster. Harry Giles will be out until at least January (if not the season), but can he get healthy and if so how much can he contribute? Skal Labissiere showed promise at the end of last season, can he build on that (he didn’t at Summer League)? Can Justin Jackson get stronger, develop his shot and become a rotation player at the three? Just how good is Willie Cauley-Stein? Same question for Malachi Richardson? A lot of these questions could get answered on the Reno Bighorns, which is where some of these players will go to get run.

For me, the most interesting battle to watch is at the two. The Kings got Buddy Hield back as the main piece from New Orleans in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and in 25 games with the Kings he averaged 15.1 points per game and shot 42.8 percent from three. However, the Kings are also very high Bogdan Bogdanovic, who Vlade Divac called the “the best player in Europe” and he is going battle for that starting spot. Which one of these two develops into a starter and takes the job, and who does not. We’ll see how Hield develops, but watching him as a rookie — and his both lack of understanding and interest on defense — and I saw a sixth man. A gunner in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford mold — which is not a bad thing, those guys have had good careers and helped a lot of teams. Is Hield on that path, or can he develop into something more?

3) Can management and ownership be patient? The Kings have a good plan in place. They have young players with potential — De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more — and some veterans were brought in to mentor them and set a tone. Whatever you think of the young talent (I like the potential) or how many veterans they brought in (more than I would have) it’s a solid rebuilding plan. One that’s not going to yield a lot of wins short term (they retain their first round pick next draft) but is a respectable and reasonable path.

The problem is the Kings have never stuck to a plan long enough to let it play out. Look at it this way, since they drafted Cousins in 2010 the Kings coaches have been Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin, George Karl, and Dave Joerger. That’s not counting the three different GMs and a change of ownership. With each successive move the plan shifted, and with that, the roster and the style were never settled.

This falls to owner Vivek Ranadive — he has to be patient. It’s not in his nature, but he needs to be. I don’t know that I would have chosen Vlade Divac to run my team, but now that Ranadive has let the basketball people make the basketball decisions. Divac and the staff there have planted a garden, let it start to grow and blossom, and know that it’s going to take years to bear fruit. The biggest mistake the Kings could make right now would be to at the All-Star break (or next summer) change plans, bring in a new GM and coach, and completely change directions.

Three questions the Memphis Grizzlies must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 43-39, lost to San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs

I know what you did last summer: Memphis moved on from the “grit n’ grind” era by letting Zach Randolph and Tony Allen leave via free agency. Vince Carter also left, and the Grizzlies got younger and looked to the future re-signing JaMychal Green (two-year deal) and took a gamble on a young player with potential who didn’t work out in Sacramento in Ben McLemore (who will be out with a broken foot until Christmas at least). The Grizzlies also drafted Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks, and added Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers.

THREE QUESTIONS THE GRIZZLIES MUST ANSWER:

1) Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are gone, did the Grizzlies lose their identity? Did they get worse? This season is going to be different in Memphis, the “grit n’ grind” era has come to an end with the Grindfather himself down in New Orleans (a team that could use some grit). Randolph rejuvenated his career in Memphis and was loved by fans. Memphis’ identity will change some this season.

The thing is, on the court those losses aren’t that serious. Randolph was a bench guy asked to put up shots, and at age 35 Allen could still defend some but opposing teams didn’t have to guard him on the other end of the floor. They were rightfully beloved, but be blunt their on-the-court skills can be replaced.

Memphis is going to be competitive and about at the same level if Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can stay healthy and continue to contribute. Those are both All-Star level players (although neither likely makes the team this season in the stacked West) — Gasol added an efficient 19.5 points per game last season and showed he could shoot threes, Conley averaged 20.5 points per game, shot 40 percent from three, and remained a quality defender. If the production from those two is about the same this team will be around the same number of wins and hang around in the fight for one of the bottom three playoff spots in the West.

Those two should get a little more help this season, too. Chandler Parsons should be able to give them more than 34 unimpressive games (see the next question). JaMychal Green is a year older and should take another step forward. James Ennis has been working hard this summer on his ball handling, midrange game, and being effective in the pick-and-roll. The Grizzlies will get more out of the backup point guard spot (will that be from Mario Chalmers is another question). The Grizzlies are not threatening the Warriors, but healthy this is still a playoff team.

2) Do the Grizzlies get anything out of Chandler Parsons? This feels like an annual question. Parsons, battling knee injuries again, played in just 34 games last season and didn’t look good when on the court — he wasn’t creating shots, and he wasn’t spacing the floor, shooting just 33 percent from three. He was signed to be the third guy to be in the core with Gasol and Conley, and to this point he has done little in Memphis save eat good barbecue.

This is really about his knees — if he can move freely, he can contribute. If his knees hamper how he moves, he will not. If he can contribute on offense, the Grizzlies look a lot more like a playoff team, even in the crowded West. If he can’t, the load on Gasol and Conley may be too much.

3) At what point — next summer? — do the Grizzlies decide it’s time to go full in for the rebuild? Right now, the Grizzlies are not changing their plans or goals — Gasol and Conley were untouchable when teams called about trades this summer.

But for how long? Gasol sounded this summer like a guy who doesn’t want to be on a team treading water in the West for much longer. Gasol has two seasons and a player option on his deal, Conley has three plus an option, and at some point Memphis may want to consider moving one or both of them in trades, while their value is high, to get assets back that help the eventual rebuild. Grizzlies ownership/management isn’t there yet, but if the team struggles this season will that change around the trade deadline? Will it change next summer? This era of Grizzlies basketball — the best era in its history, with a couple of trips to the conference finals — is starting to wind down. At some point, Memphis will want to make moves while their best players still have trade value.

But that time is not yet. Not this season.

Kings extend Vlade Divac contract, pick up option on coach Joerger

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It’s good to have the trust of the owner. Not a lot of coaches and front offices coming off a 32-50 season feel secure.

Sacramento  GM Vlade Divac and head coach Dave Joerger get to.

The Kings announced Wednesday the organization has extended the contract of Divac and picked up the fourth-year option on coach Dave Joerger, keeping both of those men in their positions through 2020.

Divac has been taken his share of criticism as a GM — plenty of it deserved, he was learning on the job and it showed — but this is a smart move. It’s good to see Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive trying to add a little stability to the franchise rather than making changes again out of frustration. Those constant changes — in roster personnel, in coaches, in style — are part of why it’s been a decade since the Sacramento Kings made the playoffs. Now they are on a rebuilding plan and they need to draft well and stick with it (they had a pretty good summer, although they brought in more vets than I would have preferred). They need to solidify a new culture, something that is not easy and takes time. We can debate if Vlade is the guy to head that effort, but tearing the playbook up and starting over right now would be a setback.

“I am so excited to continue to build this team with incredible partners and want to thank Vivek and the entire Sacramento Kings organization for their support. Together, from ownership to the front office to Dave and his team, we’re unified in our vision for the future of this franchise,” Divac said in a statement.

“It is a great time to be in Sacramento and I’m thrilled by the opportunity to continue working alongside Vlade and the entire Kings organization. Together, we are bonded as a group focused on working hard and developing our team,” Joerger said in the same statement.

It’s up to the Kings and Jaeger to develop a lot of young talent on this roster. There are guys already in a Kings jersey such as Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein, plus some interesting rookies — De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Divac and Joerger wanted solid veterans around that group and added guys such as George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter. Jaeger has to balance getting those vets minutes and touches, letting the young guys get their run, teaching that young core, and letting them learn from their mistakes. Keeping the morale up on a team that will lose a fair amount of games — they are not playoff bound in the ridiculously deep West — will not be easy.

Is Vince Carter going to have his number retired by Raptors?

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Vince Carter has made a transition that few players do, evolving from former All-NBA, dynamic scorer, dunk contest winner, and team leader in his prime to a solid veteran willing to play a smaller role at age 40. The Kings wanted that kind of leadership in their locker room and signed Carter to a one-year, $8 million deal this summer.

It’s not clear how much longer he will play after that. When he does retire, could he come back to Toronto to see his jersey in the rafters? Raptors president Masai Ujuri hinted at that.

The Raptors are one of two teams with no retired numbers (the Clippers are the other).

Carter spent six-and-a-half seasons in Toronto, where he averaged 23.4 points per game, was a five-time All-Star and a highlight factory — we all remember him in the dunk contest in that purple Raptors jersey — but the ending was not pretty. Toronto fans have moved on, and it would be great to see Carter’s jersey hanging above the court in Toronto.