Author: Kurt Helin

2014 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

Hornets’ coach explains why Noah Vonleh barely sees the court


Timing is everything.

And to hear Charlotte Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford talk, Noah Vonleh’s timing was all bad with the sports hernia injury that kept him out of training camp. Which is why right now he barely sees the court. The rookie, ninth overall pick of the Hornets in the last draft, played seven minutes of garbage time against Oklahoma City Friday night, which brings him to a total of 32 minutes played this season in four games.

Now that he’s healthy why is Vonleh not getting time on the court and some in-game development? Clifford laid it out for Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s the speed of the game: To play consistent, regular minutes you have to have a comfort level with how the NBA game is played,” Clifford said. “Unfortunately once the season starts you only have certain stretches of the year where you can practice a lot.

“He’s a 19-year-old who missed all of September, when the foundation was put in, and all of October and is now playing catch-up. The thing that gives him a chance is he’s very gifted and a great worker. But it would be tough for anybody to catch up quickly after missing his rookie preseason.”

Vonleh was always seen as a bit of a project — he’s got size and athleticism and showed shooting range in college, but he struggled to bring that shot to the next level (for example, he shot just 28.4 percent overall and 12.5 percent from three in the Las Vegas Summer League). At the time Hornets Summer League coach Patrick Ewing told PBT that Vonleh needed to get stronger, needed to show more consistent effort, and needed to be a beast on the boards to get some minutes when the games count. He hasn’t shown enough of that to the staff so far, apparently.

But if the 10-20 Hornets continue to struggle and fall out of the playoff picture in the East, maybe it will become time to just play the kid and go with some trial by fire.

Kobe Bryant listed as “probable,” likely to play Sunday vs. Suns

Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings

Kobe Bryant isn’t the kind of player who wants to be on a maintenance program — reduced minutes and some nights off — but at age 36 coming off two major surgeries his body is telling him he needs one. After shooting 29 percent over five games and not having any lift in his legs, Byron Scott gave Kobe three games off in a row — including him sitting on Christmas Day vs. the Bulls. One nobody expected him to skip.

Apparently that’s enough. He should be back in the lineup come Sunday when the Lakers take on the Suns, reports Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

We’ll see if Scott keeps Kobe’s minutes closer to 30 than the 35 he was playing.

The Lakers won their first game without Kobe against the Warriors before dropping their next two — they got crushed by the Bulls then lost a closer one to Dallas.

The Lakers are not better without Bryant, but they are less predictable on offense. And if you’re predictable you’re defendable. If Kobe is pounding the ball out on the wing or in the post in an isolation set — whether or not Scott drew it up as an iso play — the other team knows what is coming next. The Lakers offense has looked better when Kobe is doubled because he makes the right pass out of that and hits open teammates (and most of his teammates need to be open to shoot a high percentage). But if he’s single-covered and is hunting for his shot first, you can bet he’s not going to hit a crazy efficient percentage and you can keep everyone else in check.

We’ll see if and how that changes with a rested Kobe.

PBT’s Top 10 NBA stories of 2014, No. 10: Anthony Davis’ breakout

Utah Jazz v New Orleans Pelicans

He’s got next.

As in, Anthony Davis is the guy after LeBron James who will hold the title “Best Player on the Planet.”

His college coach at Kentucky John Calipari said that could happen in five years. He may have underestimated his former pupil.

Anyone who watched the Pelicans last season knew Davis was special and he was going to grow into maybe the game’s best player (just not a lot of people watched because the Pelicans don’t get on national television often). It has just happened a lot faster than anyone thought — after a summer as a lynchpin leading Team USA to gold at the FIBA World Championships, Davis’ play through the first third of the NBA season has seen him be the best player in the league.

Think of it this way: Davis’ PER so far this season is 32.5, the highest PER in NBA history for a season is Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63 at 31.8.

And Davis is just 21 years old. In just his third NBA season. He’s just starting to tap into his potential.

“The Brow” does pretty much everything well — and he seemed to get better at all of it this season. He can score around the basket or with a midrange jumper, or he can make a quick move and with a couple dribbles be at the rim. He works well off the ball and puts himself in smart positions to make plays (he has a very high IQ game). He can run the floor in transition. With all that he is putting up 24.4 points a game with a ridiculous .618 true shooting percentage this season. And coming out of college scouts thought his offense would lag behind his defense. He is blocking 2.9 shots a game on average and is pulling down 10.2 rebounds a game. He’s taking on more of the Pelicans offense — he uses more than 26 percent of the Pelicans’ possessions when on the court — and turning the ball over less often.

And he’s ending up on SportsCenter and other highlight shows almost nightly because of finishes like this.

Or this.

Fans are noticing — Davis is the leading vote getter so far among Western Conference front court players in the fan voting for the 2015 All-Star starters. He’s ahead of Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and everyone else.

But maybe the highest praise comes from coaches, both the ones that have him on their team and the ones he goes against.

“We think he’s one of the top players in the league and we need for him to be that five that nobody else has,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told ProBasketballTalk during Team USA training camp last summer. “Everyone talks about things we don’t have, well they don’t have him.”

“He’s a difficult guy to double-team,” Portland coach Terry Stotts told Sean Highkin of PBT after Davis went off for 31 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks on his team (and the Pelicans lost when the guards went away from feeding him in the fourth). “He doesn’t play off the dribble much. It’s usually one or two dribbles and he’s pretty quick. You’ve just got to make him work, just like all great players. You go down the list, you’ve just got to make him work for his points.”

Coaches are trying to make him work for those points, but it’s not that easy.

Davis’ play has him mentioned as an MVP candidate. He likely doesn’t win this year — not because his play isn’t good enough but because the team around him isn’t, the Pelicans likely will miss the playoffs in a deep West. A lot of voters gravitate toward the stars of winning teams.

But Davis’ time will come. For MVP’s and much more, he is going to be the world’s best player.

In 2014 we just got to see the start of it.

Tobias Harris trash talked LeBron, then LeBron goes off, leads Cavs to win

Cleveland at Orlando

The Cleveland Cavaliers do not have a good defense (108.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, 22nd in the NBA), so when they win it’s usually because their powerful offense just explodes and they simply overwhelm and outscore the opponent.

The Cavs weren’t doing that Friday night, they were trailing the Orlando Magic. LeBron was 5-of-13 shooting, he was not taking charge of the game. Meanwhile Tobias Harris had 16 points by the middle of the third quarter and he had the Magic up by two.

Then Harris made a tactical mistake — don’t wake a sleeping LeBron. Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer breaks down what happened.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping….”

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul….

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-of-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-12.

Come on, did Harris’ workds really spark LeBron?

“It wasn’t the shoulder or the elbow, it was the words that he said that got me going,” James acknowledged. “I was actually in chill mode tonight but chill mode was deactivated after that.”

Cleveland won 89-81, Orlando scored just 14 points in the fourth.

LeBron remains the best player on the planet. He really can’t go into “chill mode” and have this team rack up wins, the Cavaliers just are not good enough yet. They are vulnerable when he isn’t pushing the offense. This isn’t about David Blatt as coach, this is about the front office putting the right players around their big thee as role players. They aren’t all there yet. This team needs defenders. And until that roster gets tweaks LeBron is going to have to be the best player on the planet. Nightly.

Spurs could sit Tony Parker “a while” to rest nagging hamstring

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs

Tony Parker sat out again Saturday night when the Spurs took on the Pelicans. The reason is a nagging hamstring issue that has kept Parker out nine of the Spurs last 12 games.

That’s the problem with hamstring injuries — you think it’s healed but if you come back even a little too early you just aggravate the injury again. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has never hesitated to rest guys to get them healthy, and he could be doing that again for some extended time to get healthy.

Here’s what Popovich said, via Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:

“Every time he thinks it’s back, he feels something,” coach Gregg Popovich said before the completion of the sixth of seven double-doubles in 32 days for the Spurs. “He felt it at the end of the Clipper game. He gave it a run (Thursday). You can’t have him doing that so we’re going to sit him. Give it time and if we err, it’s on the conservative side. It keeps coming back and that’s not good, so we’re just going to sit him out for a while.”

While the Spurs are usually resilient in the face of injuries, Parker is the guy who keys their offense and it’s not the same without him. Combine that with his primary backup Patty Mills being out, not to mention the Spurs’ best defender and key player Kawhi Leonard sitting with a hand injury, and you have a Spurs team that is 3-7 in their last 10 games and looking like father time is starting to finally win the race with them.

Thing is, we’ve all written Spurs obituaries before, only to have them reinvent themselves, get healthy and prove us all wrong. Nobody around the league is shoveling dirt on the Spurs yet. But until they get Parker back they are vulnerable.