Kurt Helin

Damian Lillard’s 2015-16 goal: Get to the free throw line more

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James Harden had a free throw attempt for every .561 shot attempts last season (called free throw rate). Russell Westbrook was at .445, Isaiah Thomas at .437, LeBron James .413, Dwyane Wade .341.

Damian Lillard was at .293.

This season, with the entire Portland offense basically on his shoulders, Lillard wants to move up into the category with the elite foul drawing players, as he told Jason Quick at CSNNW.com (video above).

“In the past I was trying to beat guys to the rim and get the ball on the glass,” Lillard said. “This year, in the summer, I worked a lot on getting into people’s body, drawing contact. And (work on) my balance, using angles, and getting to spots on the floor.”

The preseason is a small sample size and notoriously unreliable predictor, but his free throw rate jumped to .352. Or, if you prefer some old-fashioned stats, that was 7.4 free throws a game, which would be a career high by a couple per game if he can sustain it over the course of the season.

Portland GM Neil Olshey did a good job of putting big men who can score on the roster as pick-and-roll partners for Lillard, with the bigs drawing defenders he should have a little more room to operate. Besides getting to the line, he needs to continue his improved efficiency finishing at the rim (64.2 percent last season, a big step up for him).

Lillard is one of those players known for throwing his body around on drives, which takes a large toll on him. If he can lessen that and get to the line more, he’ll be in a better position.

Report: Pelicans’ want to sign Ish Smith but Sixers may claim him

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The New Orleans Pelicans are banged up at the point guard spot. Jrue Holiday is playing but on a 15 minutes a game limit until January, reserve point guard Norris Cole is out with a high ankle sprain, and Tyreke Evans just underwent knee surgery and is out six to eight weeks.

That leaves Nate Robinson and… Ish Smith.

That may be the case soon, reports Scott Kushner of the Advocate

However, that’s if they get the chance.

Smith has bounced around the NBA in recent years having played for the Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors, Magic, Bucks, Suns, Thunder and Sixers. What he brings is quickness. Crazy speed. That makes him being a solid pick-and-roll defender, plus he gets you steals. However, that quickness has never translated on the offensive end where he struggles with his shot (career .421 true shooting percentage and 25 percent from three) plus he turns the ball over a lot more than you want out of a point guard.

He’d make a solid third point guard on a roster, but right now the Pelicans need him and will give him some run. The Sixers have arguably the worst point guard rotation in the NBA (them or the Nets) and Smith could help there as well.

The Pelicans could claim Smith off waivers (the Wizards just released him), but the Sixers would have first shot. If Smith clears waivers the Pelicans can give him their own deal, possibly a multi-year deal with team options.

NBA “looking in to” Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes dust up

Derek Fisher
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This much we know: Matt Barnes went over to the home of his estranged wife, where Derek Fisher was with other friends as the Knicks’ coach is seeing Barnes’ ex, and the two got into a fight. Barnes said he went over because his children complained, but apparently texted friends he kicked Fisher’s a**. Regardless of how it went down, it wasn’t pretty, but no criminal charges will be filed in the case.

Still, the NBA is looking into it.

Commissioner Adam Silver was asked about it Friday and kept his answer short and tight (hat tip New York Daily News).

I don’t have a time frame and we are looking into it.”

If there are suspensions or fines, I would expect them to be short or small. As much as this looks bad for a league trying to look tough on domestic violence — Barnes storming over to his ex-wife’s and beating up her new boyfriend, still attempting to control her life — what the league wants is for this just to go away. Sweep it under the rug.

Barnes is now a member of the Grizzlies, where his three-point shooting and irritant style on the court should be a good fit with the “grit and grind” team.

Grief-filled reactions on social media to passing of Flip Saunders

Flip Saunders, Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins
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The death of long-time NBA coach Flip Saunders has saddened the NBA, and you could see that outpouring of grief online Sunday afternoon.

His former players in particularly were saddened by the loss of someone many saw as a mentor. This is just a small fraction of the responses.

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released this statement:

“The NBA family is mourning today over the tragic loss of our friend and colleague, Flip Saunders.  With more than 40 years around the game, 20 of them in the NBA, Flip’s untimely passing has left a gaping hole in the fabric of our league.  Flip was a beloved figure around the NBA, nowhere more so than in Minnesota, demonstrating a genuine and consistent passion for his players, his team and the game.  On behalf of the NBA, we offer our most sincere condolences to Flip’s wife, Debbie, their four children and the entire Minnesota Timberwolves organization.”

The condolences flowed from people who had not played for him as well.

Timberwolves coach, GM Flip Saunders passes away at age 60

Flip Saunders
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Minnesota head coach and team president Flip Saunders had been battling cancer for months now (that we knew of) and, unfortunately, that ugly disease has claimed another good man.

Phil “Flip” Saunders has passed away at the age of 60, the team announced on Sunday.

He had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (cancer of the immune system).

Saunders was one of the nicer and more open people around the league, a guy genuinely liked by nearly everyone. In my admittedly limited one-on-one interactions with him (at Summer League), he just made you feel comfortable talking to him. And he was honest.

Saunders coached 17 NBA seasons including three years with the Detroit Pistons where they reached the Eastern Conference Finals. He was a determined coach with a vast knowledge of the game to lean on.

He is best remembered as part of the Timberwolves, where he coached 11 of those seasons and helped build and coach some of the franchise’s most successful teams (including the young but talented roster they have now). He was part of the basketball culture in Minnesota, including hosting youth camps and often speaking to groups in the area.

His NBA coaching record was 654-592, but he had 35 total years of coaching experience.

Saunders was expected to be out for this coming entire season, with Sam Mitchel in as coach, but things were much worse than that.

He is survived by his wife and three daughters, as well as his son Ryan, an assistant coach with the Timberwolves.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends.