Author: Kurt Helin

Dallas Mavericks v Sacramento Kings

It’s official, Gal Mekel reaches deal with New Orleans Pelicans


We told you this was coming but now it is official:

Gal Mekel has signed on as a backup point guard with the New Orleans Pelicans, the team announced Friday. He will be in uniform on Saturday when the Pelicans take on the Clippers.

This is a non-guaranteed two-year deal according to Marc Stein of ESPN, meaning Mekel has to stick on the roster past Jan. 10 to be guaranteed a salary for the rest of this season. The second year is also not guaranteed.

The Pelicans give most of their point guard minutes to Jrue Holiday, with Austin Rivers getting the key backup minutes (and playing a little at both guard spots). Makel will battle Jimmer Fredette for the limited third point guard minutes.

Mekel, out of Israel, played for Dallas last season but was buried on the bench (behind Jose Calderon andDevin Harris). Mekel is a classic pass-first point guard who does some things well like coming off the pick-and-roll and being able to find teammates. The questions about him are his shooting (he really struggled with that in Dallas), which allows teams to go under picks, as well as his ability to defend NBA point guards.

Indiana tried to sign Mekel a couple of weeks back but were under a deadline due to a roster exception spot being about to expire and Mekel couldn’t get a work visa within the 24 hours needed (it often takes 72 hours). Although apparently that was not the problem in the Big Easy.

Roy Hibbert given flopping warning for fall vs. Trail Blazers

Indiana Pacers v Phoenix Suns

Apparently something of Lance Stephenson rubbed off on Roy Hibbert last year, because Hibbert’s not really a flopper but check out this move from against the Trail Blazers Thursday night:

Robin Lopez is strong, he’s not that strong.

The league was less amused and gave Roy Hibbert a flopping warning for this.

Which borders on meaningless, as we have mentioned before. If Hibbert is cited as flopping one more time this season, he has to pay a $5,000 fine. Which works out to 0.0003 percent of his salary this season. That’ll teach him.

Hibbert had 9 points on 10 shots in what was an easy Portland win.

Kobe Bryant jokes he, Rajon Rondo had “mutual intervention” at breakfast

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo went out to breakfast together and here’s the only real takeaway from this:

They both like bacon.

Anybody trying to read more into this is trying too hard. Guys get together and have meals with friends on other teams all the time. But because this is Kobe, and because Rondo has been in trade rumors and could leave as a free agent next summer, and because the Lakers are essentially Jim Thome at the plate with free agents — swing for the fences every time, strike out a lot and hope to connect on one — it generated a lot of buzz and spun the rumor mill.

So, Kobe, what did you guys actually talk about at breakfast? Via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Bryant joked that he and Rondo had a “mutual intervention” surrounding their respective team struggles. In reality, Bryant reported having a “basketball geek conversation” that entailed revisiting the Lakers and Celtics trading NBA titles in 2008 and 2010.

But what about Rondo becoming a Laker, because they had breakfast together so it’s a done deal. Like that time when LeBron James wore a Yankees cap to an Indians’ game, clearly signaling his intentions to sign with the Knicks.

Bryant showed off his sarcasm involving the issue on whether he would like Rondo join the Lakers once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.

“I’ve never thought about having any future teammates before,” Bryant said, wryly.

To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes breakfast is just a breakfast.

The Lakers don’t have the assets to make a Rondo trade (who on that Lakers’ roster would anybody want?) but they likely will call him this summer during free agency. Along with 20 other teams. And at that point the most important thing about this breakfast will still be the bacon.

How Steve Kerr brought about Harrison Barnes’ resurgence, a window into Warriors success

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers

What the best coaches do well is understand a player’s game then put them in a position to play to their strengths, not ask them to do too much. It’s what Gregg Popovich does very well, it’s why guys like Boris Diaw struggle at one stop then thrive in San Antonio. It’s what Bill Belichick does in New England.

It’s what Steve Kerr is doing in Golden State.

And it’s the reason the Warriors are the best team in the NBA right now, have won 11 straight, and have moved into legit title contender status (as much as you want to say that about a team less than 20 games into the season). Kerr has the Warriors playing the best defense in the NBA, but he also has improved their offense by smarter use of the massive talent at his disposal.

Guys like Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry have talked about the offensive changes, but it may be no more clear than what has happened with Harrison Barnes. The breakout star of the 2013 playoffs who seemed to take a step back last season but has become a key starter for the Warriors averaging 11.6 points on 51 percent shooting plus is grabbing 6.7 rebounds a game. The Warriors are 15 points per 100 possessions better when Barnes is on the court, both their offensive and defensive numbers improve.

What is Kerr doing differently with Barnes? Marcus Thompson II laid it out beautifully at the Mercury News.

Under Mark Jackson, Barnes was asked to be a scorer. Especially last year, when Barnes was moved to the Sixth Man role after the signing of Andre Iguodala, Barnes’ role was to carry the offense for the second unit. But most of his action was isolations. That just didn’t fit his game.

Before the season began, Kerr sat down with Barnes and went over film with him. Kerr explained where Barnes’ best spots were on the floor, where he should drift, where he should cut and how he wants him to exist in the Warriors’ potent starting lineup. Plus, Kerr started Barnes with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. That opens the floor for Barnes to cut and find creases to offensive rebound….

“It’s hard when you get the ball in an iso situation and you have a set defense in front of you,” Barnes said. “Very few players in the league can do that. You look at the best – Durant, Melo, those guys — look at what percentage they shoot. And that’s the best of the best, so you can imagine where I’m at. I’m like at 15, 20 percent on isos. To get me with the ball moving, getting me in different spots, playing off other people, that’s more of a strength for me right now. Going straight isos, that wasn’t a strength for me.”

That’s where Barnes gets the ball now, cutting and moving more, both in the half court and in transition. Barnes has the athleticism but not the handles, so when he gets the ball on the move he can get to the rim (where he is getting more often) or to his spots and finish.

Kerr also asked Barnes to be the glue guy among the starters — they’ve got plenty of fire power to score, they needed an athlete to defend and rebound. To play with a little edge. Barnes has loved that role and thrived in it.

Barnes is at home in a starting lineup — with Curry, Thompson, Bogut and Draymond Green — that is +27.8 points per 100 possessions together. That is ridiculous. When David Lee does come back from injury Kerr can’t break this unit up, he’ll have to bring Lee (with Iguodala) off the bench.

And it will probably work, because Kerr will get Lee to play to his strengths, he will get Lee the ball in the spots he can do the most damage. Then the Warriors will be just that much stronger.

Kevin Durant remains on minutes restriction. Not that it will matter vs. Sixers.

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans

The Philadelphia 76ers are playing their best basketball and with that are on the current longest winning streak of the season.

That Oklahoma City Thunder seem unconcerned.

Kevin Durant will remain on his minutes restriction of 30 in his second game back from foot surgery when the Thunder take on the 1-17 Sixers Friday night, reports Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman.

That shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, if he needs to play the full 30 I’d be more concerned. And the Thunder are right to not push too hard on the reigning MVP and the guy they need to be right for the long haul.

That said, Thunder need wins. Now. They need to go 44-20 the rest of the way to get to the 49 wins that was the playoff cutoff in the West last season (and it likely will be in that ballpark again this season). They can’t go out and not care against the Sixers, no matter how bad they are.

The Thunder enter a 10 game stretch now where they can make up ground facing teams such as lowly Philadelphia, as well as Detroit, Milwaukee (not a pushover), Minnesota, and the LA Lakers. There are some challenging games in that stretch — Cleveland, Golden State — and one game they should real circle on the calendar: Phoenix. That is the current eight seed and the team they need to catch in the Western Conference.

Like Durant said, they can’t look past anybody right now, they need to win about 70 percent of their games the rest of the way.