Author: Dan Feldman

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?


I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.

Frank Kaminsky dancing is weirdly hypnotic (video)

Frank Kaminsky
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@fskpart3 steals the show at Fan Appreciation Day in Shanghai! #NBAGlobalGames

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

I’m assuming Frank Kaminsky is fulfilling some type of rookie hazing ritual.

I also watched this way too many times.

John Wall to pay Wizards assistant $100 per three-turnover game

John Wall, Jahlil Okafor

Put the ball in John Wall‘s hands, and good things tend to happen. He can get to the rim to score for himself or set up his Wizards teammates.

But, if you want to nitpick, Wall can be a littlie sloppy. His 3.8 turnovers per game ranked fifth in the NBA last season behind Russell Westbrook,DeMarcus Cousins,James Hardenand LeBron James.

Wall wants to nitpick.

Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

He also wants to improve his shot selection and turnover rate. To incentivize the cause, Wall will pay assistant coach Howard Eisley $100 for every game he commits more than two turnovers.

That would have cost Wall $6,200 last season. He had at least three turnovers in 62 of his 79 games.

Fewer than three turnovers per game is a low bar to limbo under for someone who handles the ball as much as Wall. The ideal number is zero, but turnovers happen. The ability to get better shots by moving the ball and risking cough-ups justifies the occasional turnover.

As long as Wall doesn’t become too conservative just to protect his turnover total – similar to the concern I have over his outside shooting – this is an admirable goal. Wall is clearly holding himself to high standard.

Sacramento Kings documentary airing delayed over Kevin Johnson sexual-assault allegations

Kevin Johnson

ESPN planned to air a documentary Oct. 20 on Sacramento keeping the Kings. Presumably, Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson would have been a hero in the film.

Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated:

In light of recent articles revisiting allegations of sexual misconduct involving Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, ESPN has decided to delay its on-the-air premiere of Down In The Valley, a 30 for 30 ESPN Film that focuses on the fight to keep the Sacramento Kings from relocating to another city.

Deitsch is referring to an article by Dave McKenna of Deadspin, in which Mandi Koba described how Johnson – then a star point guard for the Suns – sexually assaulted her as a 16-year-old in 1996. Deadspin also posted video of her detailing the abuse to police at the time:

This is all obviously troubling. One concern is why this is getting attention only now. The Phoenix New Times covered these allegations in 1997. 1997! Other than Koba going on the record in the media, what has changed? As a society, we are too reluctant to believe potential victims of sexual assault. This is not a court of law. There might not be ample evidence to find Johnson committed a crime beyond reasonable doubt. But if we’re troubled by the allegations now, we should have been troubled for the last 18 years.

Johnson, who maintained a sterling public image despite the New Times reports, was later investigated for “inappropriate sexual conduct” of multiple students at St. HOPE Academy – again detailed by McKenna.

McKenna has also covered Johnson using public money toward private ends, using private employees to do quasi-public work, trying to keep his private emails public and dissolving a historic black mayors group.