Kurt Helin

at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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Kevin Durant says with him, Westbrook, Thunder should run isolation sets

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The success of the Golden State Warriors — and the Spurs the season before that — has even casual fans calling for more system offense and less isolation.

Moving away from isolation sets to something less predictable on offense was part of the reason Scott Brooks was let go and Billy Donovan was brought in as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s working. Last season 14 percent of the Thunder’s plays were categorized as isolation sets, this season it is down to 8.4 percent, and the Thunder are scoring about three more points per 100 possessions.

But the Thunder lean on isolation sets late in games, and Kevin Durant defended that speaking to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN after OKC knocked off the Clippers this week.

“When you have iso players and guys who can score as many points as Russ and me, you’ve got to live playing some iso ball,” Durant said on Monday night following the Thunder’s 100-99 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. “What do you want? Just pass the ball around and around and not be aggressive? If they’re looking at me and Russ is open, he gets the ball. But if I’ve got it, I’m going to work. Iso. It’s pick your poison.”

Durant is right. He scores 1.14 points per possession on isolation sets, he remains one of the best scorers the game has ever seen and in an isolation set he is nearly impossible to stop. If you throw a few players at him he can swing the ball to Russell Westbrook or find Serge Ibaka for an open midrange jumper, or maybe even find Steven Adams rolling to the rim.

The Thunder have options, but for them isolation is a good one.

Rumor: Bulls willing to move Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson for wing player

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You just had to know that when Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski finally got his own podcast, it was going to be must listen and filled with great information. Just two editions in, The Vertical (as it is called) hasn’t disappointed. The first one featured guest Adam Silver, the next Warriors GM Bob Myers.

But also in the latest podcast, which dropped Wednesday, Wojnarowski let fly an interesting rumor about a Bulls team that has struggled to find its identity this season under Fred Hoiberg (hat tip BlogaBull, who has the transcription).

Executives around the league, and people have told me, that the Bulls are very determined to add a talented wing player… and I’ve been told that the Bulls are open to…whether it’s Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson…maybe not both of them, but either of them if there’s a deal out there that they can bring in the best possible wing player available, they’re open to it… They need more shooting.”

It’s not hard to understand why the Bulls want to make a move. This roster as constructed is a poor fit for the up-tempo motion offense Fred Hoiberg wants to run — he put in a lot more of it in training camp and the players came to him and asked him to re-install some of Tom Thibodeau’s slower, more traditional sets. The result is these Bulls lack an offensive identity. Derrick Rose isn’t near the old Derrick Rose (and hasn’t seemed to accept that), they do lack shooting (especially with Mike Dunleavy out), Jimmy Butler is still figuring out how to lead on and off the court, Hoiberg hasn’t settled on front court rotations, and all of that has led to the 27th-ranked offense in the NBA this season. Plus a lot of infighting.

Whether they make a trade now or not, this Bulls roster is going to see a heavy overhaul in the next couple years. That starts this summer when Noah is a free agent and Pau Gasol is expected to opt out.

The problem with the trade idea is that the Bulls are not going to get a lot for Noah — he’s 30 year’s old but has Thibodeau miles on him and isn’t the same guy physically who won Defensive Player of the Year just a couple of seasons back. Plus, he’s an expiring contract so the Bulls would have to find a team willing to give up a talented wing player to rent Noah — it’s hard to imagine that coming together.

Gibson may have some value — he’s a rock solid NBA rotation player. He gives a team rim protection, he’s strong on the glass, and he scores efficiently, plus he’s under contract for another season after this at $8.5 million.

The other problem for the Bulls is right now is there are not a lot of sellers on the market. With so many teams still seeing themselves in playoff contention (the East is legitimately deep, and the bottom of the West is struggling enough to keep almost everyone’s hopes up) teams are not looking to move key pieces right now. Including the kind of quality wings the Bulls are looking for.

But this is something to watch as we crawl toward the February trade deadline.

 

Joakim Noah says he will be out 2-4 weeks with shoulder injury

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On Tuesday, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said that Joakim Noah would be out at least two weeks with the shoulder injury he suffered trying to defend Andrea Bargnani of the Brooklyn Nets Monday night. The idea was to re-evaluate him after a couple of weeks of rest and therapy.

Joakim Noah echoed that speaking with the media Wednesday, but put the potential of him missing more time out there.

Noah is a guy who has been willing to play hurt — even when he shouldn’t have — throughout his career. The question isn’t if he would come back as quickly as he could, but the Bulls need to get him right.

Noah is the emotional leader of the Bulls, and the team is their only defensive minded big. He hasn’t been their problem. Him being sidelined likely means more run for Pau Gasol, more small lineups, and if we’re lucky more Bobby Portis. But it certainly will hurt the Bulls in some matchups. The Bulls’ next game is Christmas Day against Oklahoma City.

There’s already plenty of dysfunction around the Bulls and this injury at this time could lead to more losses, and with the Bulls that means more squabbling and bickering.

Kobe Bryant has found his shooting touch again

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 22: Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers gives high fives to fans after the game at the Pepsi Center on December 22, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 111-107.  (Photo by Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant
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For the past five games, as fans of the game we have got to witness what we hoped to see in purple and gold this seaon — vintage Kobe Bryant. The guy who can create a little space, has the legs to get some elevation, the guy that takes too many questionable shots but makes enough of them to remove the question from the picture.

It’s been fun.

In his last five games, Bryant is scoring 22.4 points a game shooting 49.4 percent, and he’s hitting a third of his threes. Against Denver Tuesday night took on a key defensive assignment (Will Barton, who had 23 in the first half) and handled it well while still scoring a season-high 31, including knocking down the dagger that earned the Lakers their first win against a Western Conference team.

Check out Kobe’s shot chart from the past five games and you see that the key difference between this and his start to the season (he shot 33.6 percent in his first 10 games) is that his midrange jumpers are now falling.

Kobe shot chart last 5

Why are they falling? Kobe told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes he feels like his legs are back under him.

“I just feel good. My legs feel fine. I feel like me,” Bryant said. “I feel good. I feel like I can control the game. I feel like I can read everything. I can get to the spots I want to get to — not as quickly as I want to get to them. [But] I can get to them.”

It’s not a reduction in minutes per game, although he did have the game before the Lakers took on Denver Tuesday off (due to a shoulder injury). Kobe knows this is his farewell tour and doesn’t want to disappoint fans, he tries to play every night. The reality is he kept putting in the work and seems to be physically adjusting to the grind of the NBA season again. That’s letting him have some big nights.

Don’t confuse that with him changing his mind on retirement.

I don’t know if he can sustain this, especially if defenses start to focus more on him. And I’d still question if playing Kobe and Lou Williams more minutes than D'Angelo Russell or Julius Randle for the sake of getting a meaningless win against Denver in December is the best way to develop the young players that are the Lakers’ future.

Still, as fans of basketball, what we are getting lately is all we can hope for from Kobe — some vintage games, some moments that remind us of his greatness, and fewer of the cringe-worthy moments from earlier in the season. That and let him stay healthy so he can leave walking away on his own terms at the end of the season.

It’s fun to see this Kobe. Hopefully, we get more of him this season.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Sixers set new record for futility

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 22: A Philadelphia 76ers fan looks on with a bag over his head during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 22, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Grizzles defeated the 76ers 104-90.  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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Is all your Christmas shopping done? Me neither. So I fully understand if you were hitting the shops rather than watching NBA games on Tuesday night, but we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know from a Tuesday night around the Association.

1) Philadelphia sets record for worst 30 game start in NBA history. The 76ers have deflected some of the heat and criticism of their play this season — and the rebuild process that has them worse in the third year of the rebuild than the first — by hiring Jerry Colangelo to make decisions (ones such as putting Mike D’Antoni on the bench or interviewing veterans to help the locker room be more professional). But all that is for optics in the short-term, they don’t want to get too good too fast. The Sixers have a lot of picks coming — they likely have three, maybe four first rounders this June, depending on the lottery ping-pong balls — and they don’t want to start suddenly winning a lot of games and hurting their lottery odds. Not to fear.

With their 104-90 loss to Memphis on Tuesday, the Sixers are 1-29 on the season, the worst 30-game start in NBA history. This far into the season, every team had won two games. Every other team had won three by 46 games, so the Sixers have some work to do before setting a new milestone.

2) Kobe Bryant decides it should be throwback Tuesday, drops 31 on Dallas in Lakers win. Bryant had missed the previous Lakers’ game due to a shoulder injury and was considered a game-time decision on Tuesday, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him. Bryant was living in the midrange but knocking it down from the left side of the floor, he attacked and got to the line 11 times, he hit 9-of-16 contested shots, and seemingly every time the Lakers needed a bucket he was there. Los Angeles won 111-107 against Denver.

3) Coach Rick Carlisle rips Mavericks after they lost to the Raptors. Dallas has been one of the surprise teams of the NBA season, with Dirk Nowitzki finding the fountain of youth and the team around him playing better than expected. Yet they are still basically a .500 team (15-13), and Carlisle didn’t like the mental vacation the team took against the Raptors up in Toronto and let his team have it postgame. From James Herbert of CBSSports.com’s Eye on Basketball:

“We got our asses kicked at the beginning of the game,” Carlisle said. “We knew they were going to come out hard. They did the exact same thing in Dallas. They’re coming off a tough loss. They’re very aggressive by nature. We really knew it, we talked a lot about it and we didn’t handle it well. And it was, frankly, it was embarrassing.”

A reporter asked Carlisle if he was unhappy with the starters, and Carlisle essentially threatened to have them traded.

“Do I look happy?” he said. “I mean, would you be happy? Look, it was a 24-minute, take-you-to-the-beach, kick-your-butt, kick-sand-in-your-face type deal. And then, hey, we come in at halftime and we’re finally pissed, I get on their case and we decide to bust our ass in the third quarter. And we played a hell of a third quarter. But, look, if it’s going to be like that, these guys aren’t going to be Mavericks very long. I can promise you that.”

We’ll see if the message gets through and how Dallas plays in Brooklyn on Wednesday night.

4) Apparently it was highlight dunk night in Miami. The Heat put on a show with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Justise Winslow all throwing down big dunks on the Pistons.

5) Miami put up the highlights, Detroit will take the win. Early on this game had the look and feel of a Miami Heat game of a few seasons ago. Cristiano Ronaldo was sitting courtside, the Heat raced out to a quick 18-point lead, and the Heat players were filling the highlight reels (see above).

But Detroit came back from that deficit with some big second quarter runs, got 18 points out of Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond had his league-leading 25th double-double, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had seven points in the fourth quarter, and the Pistons got the victory. That’s a quality road win for Detroit.