Kurt Helin

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried

Donatas Motiejunas returns to Rockets Saturday night

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The Rockets have won four-of-five, and their next seven games are against teams below .500. — they have a chance to get above .500 and go on a little run.

It helps that they are getting healthy — Donatas Motiejunas returns to the Rockets lineup Saturday night.

The backup big man had been out since April due to back surgery, a long recovery that had seen multiple setbacks. But they could use him off the bench behind Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones (Motiejunas was more successful last season at the four, but can play the five).

Motiejunas took a big step forward from last season. He has the ability to score inside with hook shots, or he can knock down threes (and the Rockets could use the floor-spacing shooting). He’s not a great defender, but when paired with Howard last season the Rockets were a lock-down team.

Things are setting up well for the Rockets, we’ll see if they can take advantage of it.

Dirk Nowitzki’s favorite Pau Gasol play? One Gasol may want to forget.

Pau Gasol

Tonight at the United Center, when Pau Gasol takes the court with the Bulls against the Hornets, it will be Gasol’s 1,00th NBA game.

The two-time NBA champion tweeted out to his fans to send him their favorite Gasol moments from his career.

Dirk Nowitzki‘s answer wasn’t what Gasol was expecting. But it was funny.

That is Nikola Vucevic, in case you were curious.

(Hat tip jaimep25 at NBA reddit)

Steve Nash calls Stephen Curry the next evolution of the NBA

Stephen Curry

There has been a lot of talk about the small-ball revolution in the NBA. The seeds were planted by Mike D’Antoni (and Don Nelson before him) but have fully blossomed with Stephen Curry and Golden State. The NBA can be a copycat league and every team now thinks about small ball lineups (if not starting them).

Steve Nash doesn’t see it as a revolution. It’s an evolution. That’s what he told Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star.

“It looks easy, but the shots he takes are insane,” says Nash. “The speed, range, dexterity, going left, going right, leaning, fading. It feels like the possibilities are limitless. I feel like I could shoot the ball in as wide an array of ways as anybody, but he’s been able to do it with more range and more speed. It’s remarkable. It’s the evolution of the game. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anybody be able to do this….

“It’s a leap,” says Nash. “When you take all factors in, even without the accuracy, just to be able to take those shots at an acceptable rate is itself an evolution. We’ve had a lot of gunslingers, a lot of volume shooters. but to take the shots he takes, even without the accuracy, is a revolution. And then, the accuracy: it’s remarkable.”

It is an evolution. Curry is the at the top of that food chain right now, a guy in the right place with the right skills at the right time.

What the Warriors do on offense has roots going back to the early 2000s decision by the NBA to allow zone defenses and remove hand checking on the perimeter — the Gary Payton physical brand of defense went away. That gave advantages to isolation/pick-and-roll players driving from the wings, and the league adjusted with Tom Thibodeau’s overload defense (something that couldn’t be done pre-zone rules). The zone also made it easier to keep post players in check because you could front and back them, making entry passes hard. NBA offenses responded to that evolution with tempo — get up shots before the defense sets — and using the three to create space and pull defenders away from the paint. Going smaller helps those things. (That’s a very simplistic outline, but you get the idea.)

Stephen Curry and the Warriors are the current peak of that evolution. Curry’s ability to shoot off the catch or the dribble, and the spacing he creates opens up looks inside, his passing skills, all of that is perfect for a modern offense. As Nash said, he makes it look easy but it is not. The Warriors are also an anomaly because of the high-IQ players they have everywhere, plus the ability of Draymond Green to keep the Warriors playing elite defense despite going small separates them.

Curry is the next evolution, and if you want to call it a revolution go ahead.

It will last until the next one.

Kobe Bryant on no sixth ring: “I did everything I could. I’m fine with that.”

Kobe Bryant

The idea that Kobe Bryant would play beyond this season always was rooted in his competitiveness — he wanted to get ring No. 6 so badly he would be willing to take far less money and be the third (or fourth) option on a contender to get it.

Nope. Kobe is going to retire a Laker at the end of the season. That means no ring No. 6. (I think we can safely put the 3-16 Lakers out of the title contender category, not that they were ever in it.) Kobe was asked how he is going to accept finishing one shy of Michael Jordan, and here is his response via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

As I have written before, the most stunning part of Kobe’s announcement to those of us there last Sunday was how at peace he was with the decision. Kobe had made a career out of overcoming obstacles — and inventing obstacles in his mind for motivation if needed. To see him accept that he could not clear this hurdle, that it was time to walk away, was surprising.

Part of that acceptance has to be no more rings. Although the handful he’s got should help him get over it.

LeBron okay with LSU’s Ben Simmons being called next LeBron

Ben Simmons
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Ben Simmons is the presumptive No. 1 pick in next June’s NBA draft. The 6’10” forward playing for LSU has been compared to Anthony Davis in terms of what he can do on the court and his potential impact in the NBA. Some have said he could be a future best player on the planet.

A future LeBron James?

Simmons was in the crowd Friday night when LeBron put up 37 and Davis put up 31 in the eventual Pelicans OT win in New Orleans. After the game, LeBron was asked about having Simmons compared to him, and he’s fine with it, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I don’t mind it,” James said Friday before the Cavs’ 114-108 overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. “Someone’s going to be compared to someone all the time, and I don’t mind him being compared to me. People not only recognizing what he does on the floor, but he’s a great kid, too. He has a great family, great support system, and that’s why he’s able to do what he [does] on the floor.”

Scouts generally hate player comparisons when talking about guys coming out of college, because every player is unique. Compare Simmons to Davis or LeBron or anyone else and those comparisons carry bagage with them that are not necessarily part of the package. That said, the human brain wants to draw connections to things we know, it makes understanding new information easier, and because of that comparisons aren’t going anywhere. Including ones to LeBron.

We are long, long way from knowing if Simmons can have the kind of Hall of Fame career that LeBron has already assembled at age 30.

That said, I had a scout tell me a while ago about Simmons “he might be worth taking for.”