Dan Feldman

Courtney Lee catches LeBron James with chase-down block (video)

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No player is better know for getting chase-down blocks than LeBron James. So, perhaps LeBron should’ve known beating the man ahead of him – Kemba Walker – wouldn’t be enough.

Then again, it took an incredible effort by Courtney Lee to make this play happen.

Also credit Walker for an impressive save to turn into a fastbreak the other way.

Tyronn Lue says he didn’t even notice Iman Shumpert tossing towel on him (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in action against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2016 in New York City. The Cavaliers defeated the Knicks 107-93.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Iman Shumpert tossed his towel onto Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue’s shoulder while leaving a huddle during Cleveland’s loss to the Rockets on Tuesday.

Big deal or nah?

Lue, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I didn’t even notice it,” Lue told cleveland.com. “Somebody later brought it to my attention. It’s not something I’m concerned with. Him and me are cool. When did it happen?”

Shumpert’s towel drop happened so quickly. Someone even yanked the towel away nearly immediately after it landed on Lue.

But it looked disrespectful.

I’m not entirely convinced Lue didn’t notice it, but if even if he’s fibbing to move on, that says something. If he’s willing to dismiss it as an issue publicly, that indicates a smaller chance of a larger problem at play. If Lue were deeply bitter, he’d have a hard time giving Shumpert a public pass.

Everything is dissected more closely in Cleveland, so eyes will be on the Lue-Shumpert relationship. If no other evidence of a rift appears, this video will soon be forgotten.

There are bigger issues with the Cavs to follow.

Derrick Williams, as weight of being No. 2 pick wanes, thriving with Knicks

New York Knicks forward Derrick Williams (23) goes up for a shot past Washington Wizards forward Jared Dudley (1) with guard Garrett Temple (17) nearby, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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What if Derrick Williams never faced the burden of being the No. 2 overall pick?

He considers that question often.

Would he have developed better on a winner picking lower in the 2011 draft? Would he be on his third team in five years? Would he have thrived without enormous expectations?

The low point came in his second year with the Timberwolves, a team headed toward its eighth straight losing season. That November, he fell out of the rotation.

“When you have your teammates asking you, ‘Why aren’t your playing?’ or ‘Why didn’t you play tonight?’ or ‘Why didn’t you play this week?'” Williams said, “it takes a toll on you, man.”

Minnesota traded Williams to the Kings early in his third season. He thought he’d get a fresh start in Sacramento, and for a while, the results looked promising. But the Kings had three head coaches last season, which troubled Williams.

“I wanted to get out of that environment,” Williams said

Finally, Williams got his chance last summer.

After being locked into the NBA’s rookie-scale system for four years, he could pick his team. He bet on himself, signing a two-year, nearly $10 million contract with a player option with the Knicks after strongly considering the Mavericks and Wizards. If anything, the price tag seemed too high given his lackluster play his first four seasons.

But Williams is rewarding Phil Jackson’s faith with the best season of his career. A couple small tweaks in his approach have moved Williams’ production into the positive side of the ledger.

“There’s a reason why I went so high in the draft,” Williams said. “Like I said, this league is about opportunity, situation and timing – those three things right there. And if you have good opportunity, situation is right, and the time is right on point, you can’t be stopped.”

Williams knows plenty about those factors going wrong.

He was the consensus No. 2 prospect behind Kyrie Irving in 2011, no matter how the lottery shook out. Williams had just played an awesome sophomore season at Arizona, and the next tier of prospects came with major drawbacks. Though he was fairly locked into the second slot, Williams was probably closer to No. 1 than No. 3.

The Timberwolves drew the second pick, and Williams’ poor fit immediately became apparent. They were already overloaded at forward with Kevin Love, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Anthony Tolliver and Anthony Randolph. But David Kahn, reasonably with the information available, deemed Williams too valuable to pass up. Kahn just never modified the roster to help Williams (or anyone, really) shine.

Williams quickly diagnosed his situation and, given his draft status, realized his fundamental problem in Minnesota.

“What they expected,” Williams said, “they weren’t going to get.”

The logjam in Sacramento wasn’t nearly as large, but the Kings traded for Rudy Gay a couple weeks after acquiring Williams. It was downhill for Williams from there.

Worst of all, Williams let his detractors dictate his play.

He heard critics questioning his shooting ability. So, he tried to prove them wrong by hunting outside shots.

Then, he heard them questioning his driving ability. So, he relentlessly attacked the rim.

Nothing came in the flow. Everything was forced.

But Williams is letting the game come to him now, and it shows in his efficiency.

Most of Williams’ numbers resemble prior seasons. He’s not shooting better inside or outside the arc. He’s not rebounding better. His defensive metrics remain poor.

Williams improvement can be chalked up entirely to two areas: free throws and passing, and it’s mostly free throws.

By reacting to defenders rather than critics, Williams has excelled at inducing contact. He has always drawn fouls well, but he has reached a whole new level this season.

Williams’ 10.0 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions – which ranks 12th in the NBA (minimum: 400 minutes) – are by far a career high:

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Williams is making those trips to the line count.

In Minnesota, they called him “1-for-2,” because it seemed like he always split at the line. The nickname even carried over to Sacramento.

That didn’t sit well with Williams, who said he focused on free throws this offseason.

The result: Williams is making a career-high 75.2% of his free throws this season:

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Williams’ comfort with the ball in his hands has also helped him develop a passing game that was non-existent prior. His driving ability opens passing lanes, and Williams is taking advantage at a reasonable rate.

His assist percentage (blue) is a career high, his turnover percentage (orange) a career low. And for the first time, the latter tops the former:

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As much as this is a feel-good season for Williams, New York isn’t taking full advantage of his capabilities.

The slow-paced Knicks, bent on running the triangle in the halfcourt, score the fewest fastbreak points per game in the NBA. They don’t have many players who can get out and run with Williams, so at times, it seems like he runs a one-man fastbreak.

Despite his limited role (17.2 minutes per game), Williams has scored 19.0% of New York’s fastbreak points.

Here are the 48 players who’ve scored at least 15% of their team’s fastbreak points, Williams marked with a  Knicks logo. As you can see,  he’s a huge outlier with his playing time:

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Player Team Percentage of team’s fastbreak points Minutes per game
James Harden HOU 30.5% 38.0
Kyle Lowry TOR 33.8% 37.3
Jimmy Butler CHI 21.3% 37.1
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope DET 26.8% 36.7
Khris Middleton MIL 17.9% 36.4
DeMar DeRozan TOR 16.1% 36.2
John Wall WAS 26.5% 36.1
Gordon Hayward UTA 28.9% 36.1
Brandon Knight PHX 15.6% 36.0
Kevin Durant OKC 23.6% 35.9
Kemba Walker CHA 26.4% 35.9
Damian Lillard POR 18.3% 35.9
LeBron James CLE 41.6% 35.5
Paul George IND 25.0% 35.3
Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 28.0% 35.2
Andrew Wiggins MIN 19.6% 35.1
C.J. McCollum POR 18.5% 34.8
Russell Westbrook OKC 36.6% 34.5
Monta Ellis IND 16.5% 34.3
Stephen Curry GSW 28.5% 34.0
Rudy Gay SAC 15.6% 33.8
Avery Bradley BOS 19.7% 33.6
Klay Thompson GSW 18.6% 33.2
Chris Paul LAC 16.0% 33.0
Thaddeus Young BKN 17.1% 33.0
Goran Dragic MIA 23.8% 33.0
Victor Oladipo ORL 20.3% 32.9
Kawhi Leonard SAS 23.7% 32.7
Isaiah Thomas BOS 32.3% 32.5
Jordan Clarkson LAL 15.7% 32.2
Evan Fournier ORL 17.5% 32.1
Gary Harris DEN 18.2% 32.1
Derrick Rose CHI 15.8% 31.7
Jabari Parker MIL 16.1% 31.3
Dwyane Wade MIA 20.3% 30.6
Darren Collison SAC 21.6% 29.6
Chandler Parsons DAL 16.7% 29.5
Will Barton DEN 24.2% 28.7
Lou Williams LAL 17.2% 28.5
Jeff Teague ATL 16.2% 28.3
Matt Barnes MEM 15.5% 28.3
D'Angelo Russell LAL 16.3% 27.6
Kent Bazemore ATL 16.5% 27.6
Zach LaVine MIN 25.0% 27.6
Devin Booker PHX 18.2% 27.1
Bojan Bogdanovic BKN 18.7% 26.7
Langston Galloway NYK 18.1% 24.5
Derrick Williams NYK 19.0% 17.2

The above list is littered with impact players, in part because, they play so much, they’re bound to score in transition – but also in part because players athletic enough to excel on fastbreaks tend to do other things well, too.

The prospect of Williams rounding out his game – refining his shooting stroke, using his explosiveness to defend and rebound better – should intrigue teams. He’s just 24.

Until this season, Williams had been a drag on his teams, who were hoping playing him would pay off in the long run. It’s much easier to bet on a player’s upside when he’s contributing positively in the interim.

Williams wouldn’t say whether he’ll exercise his $4,598,000 player option, but it seems likely he’ll opt out to take advantage of the salary cap skyrocketing. I wouldn’t be surprised if his salary doubles.

The risk Williams took with a one-and-one contract is on the verge of paying off. He says he never fretted about the risk of bypassing a long-term deal. Instead, his primary goal for the season was rehabbing his reputation.

“I’m not necessarily worried about, I wouldn’t say, money situations or injuries or things like that. I think, if you just enjoy the game, things happen for a reason, man. Injuries happen,” Williams said before his tone changed ever so slightly. “Playing well happens.”

Pau Gasol flips no-look pass over his head to cutting Nikola Mirotic (video)

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Pau Gasol was on the receiving end of one highlight last night, but he also produced his own (and got the win).

The Bulls center put the give in give-and-go with Nikola Mirotic. Facing the wrong direction and not looking, when there was an opening, Gasol got the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible.

James Harden cross over Mike Dunleavy, dunks on Pau Gasol (video)

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Whom does James Harden show up more here, Mike Dunleavy or Pau Gasol?

My vote: Dunleavy.

Harden just left him in the dust. Gasol didn’t rotate over far enough to take the full brunt of getting dunked on.