Author: Kurt Helin


Report: Referees to focus on illegal screens, verticality this season


It’s one of the fun questions at the start of every NBA season: What are the referees going to focus on and call the first half of the season.

Every year the NBA referees are given new points of emphasis, and we get these calls for the first half of the season. Then between a combination of players adjusting and the referees reverting to form, the game kind of finds its equilibrium by the All-Star Game.

So what are the referees going to focus on this year? Illegal screens (a big NBA issue), verticality, and allegedly traveling. Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today tweeted this out on Friday.

The use of a central replay center (something all the major sporting leagues have or are going toward) should speed up replays. Should. I’d like to think it will lead to more consistency of calls, too, but I will need to see that to believe it.

That’s pretty much the same with all of this. Whatever the referees call now, by the All-Star Game things will return to NBA normal.

Raptors push Jonas Valanciunas to become elite rim protector

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings

Last season’s story of the Raptors rise to 48 victories and winning the Atlantic Division focused on the career year of Kyle Lowry and the improved Raptors offense. With good reason. However, there was another key factor:

The Raptors were ninth in the league in defense (based on points allowed per possession). That was way up from a bottom 10 performance the season before.

If the Raptors are going to repeat or improve on last season’s finish and get out of the first round of the playoffs this time around, that defense has to be better than it was. And that has to start in the paint. A Raptors coach told Eric Koreen of the National Post that only happens if Jonas Valanciunas picks up his game.

“One of the big focuses for us to advance in the playoffs is that he’s got to be the best rim protector — block shots, [legal] vertical [jumps] and being able to get over to that weak side early on any [dribble] penetration,” said Bill Bayno, the Raptors assistant coach who has worked extensively with Valanciunas. “At times he was great at it last year. … But we want it every night, 82 games.”

In case you need “best” clarified…

“Best in the league,” Bayno clarifies. “We want him to be No. 1 in the NBA. We want that as a goal. Right now, [Pacers centre Roy] Hibbert is the best. We want him chasing Hibbert. If he comes up a little short, hopefully he’s going to be elite, one of the top five in the league.”

To be clear, the Raptors were 3.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Valanciunas sat down last season — their defense improved in spite of their starting center. It’s not like Valanciunas is anywhere close to Hibbert. Or Marc Gasol. Or Dwight Howard. Or any of the elite defensive big men in the NBA. He’s not even the best help defending big on his own team (that’s Amir Johnson). Valanciunas has a lot of work to do.

Toronto’s system calls for its perimeter defenders to really chase guys off the three point line. Which is a good strategy, but you can’t then just let them waltz into the paint and score, you need to have an intimidating force in there that has those players settling for midrange jumpers.

Valanciunas has to become that guy for Toronto. It’s something to watch. Toronto has a real chance to win their division again (the Nets are the only likely threat to them in the Atlantic) and have home court in the first round. But the goal is to take the next step and Valanciunas is at the heart of those plans.

Thunder’s Reggie Jackson left game with wrist injury Friday, to be re-evaluated Saturday

Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks

Reggie Jackson — either as a starter at the two or a sixth man off the bench — is going to be a big part of what the Oklahoma City Thunder do this season. They are counting on him to become a third wing scoring threat for them — and if he does he’s really going to get paid next summer as a free agent.

Which is why what happened in the third quarter Friday in Dallas was a little scary.

Jackson attacked the rim with the ball where he ran into Al-Farouq Aminu as the help defender. Jackson went up, tried to avoid contact but got a little and that led him to fall awkwardly on his right arm (he made the shot). Jackson was clearly in pain, staying on the floor, and he came out and went straight to the locker room after making his free throw.

There were not a lot of details after the game, reports Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman.

A team official said only that Jackson had a right wrist injury and is scheduled to be re-evaluated Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Add this to the string of injuries the Thunder have faced this preseason.

Kendrick Perkins (quad), Nick Collison (ankle), Serge Ibaka (ankle) and Grant Jerrett (ankle) have yet to play this preseason. Rookie forward Mitch McGary, the 21st overall pick out of Michigan, sustained a foot fracture of his left second metatarsal in Wednesday’s preseason opener and will miss approximately six weeks.

We will update Jackson’s situation when we know more. Hopefully it is not serious.

Chris Kaman’s new web reality series looks… like Kaman (VIDEO)

Trail Blazers Media Day

“I think someone who would watch this would think there is something wrong with me and something wrong with my friends.”

That’s Chris Kaman’s own description of his new Web-based reality series “Exploring Kaman.” How should we put this…. Kaman is a different cat from your average NBA player. This is a guy who when he first signed his deal this summer in Portland asked how the pig hunting in the area was. He tried to bond with Dirk Nowitzki by taking him hunting. Kaman admitted he never liked Kobe Bryant much (and Kobe didn’t like Kaman’s laying down on the bench antics). He owns as many guns as a small militia and likes to fire large, automatic weapons.

So a Web-based reality show seems about right. The first episode will be released on Oct. 17. If you care here is the Facebook page for it. Above we have just a little taste in a trailer.

Not my usual style, but I’d rather watch this than the Duck Dynasty fools.


Boris Diaw can make an extra $500,000 by not gaining weight this season

Boris Diaw

The Spurs’ Boris Diaw loves a good meal. And a good glass of wine. I mean, if there was one guy who almost ate his way out of the league during the lockout it was Diaw, who came back just fat. There’s not really another word for it.

However, Diaw has gotten back in relative shape and has become a key part of the champion Spurs — his versatility of game and always making the smart pass was a real challenge for the Heat players in the Finals last season. Diaw is high IQ player and a perfect fit in Gregg Popovich’s system.

San Antonio just has to keep him in shape.

So they came up with a great incentive to do that — cash. From ESPN’s Amin Elhassan ($$):

• Most importantly, Diaw’s deal features $500,000 in annual performance bonuses in the form of a weight clause. Each season, he gets:

• $150,000 for weighing less than or equal to 254 pounds on Oct. 25
• $150,000 for weighing less than or equal to 254 pounds on the first Tuesday after the All-Star Game
• $200,000 for weighing less than or equal to 254 pounds on April 1


I’m generally kind of a fan of performance-based bonuses in sports. There are some in the NBA, although because of the sparse number of genuinely elite players in the league they don’t have to generally accept them. Those players have options; NBA players have more leverage than the average NFL or MLB player in talks, just because of the nature of the game. (Plus, in the NBA if you give a guy a bonus for hitting a certain points said player might throw off your team balance and system as he shoots first to try and reach said goal. Team sports can make those kinds of bonuses more difficult.)

This one works.

I’m rooting for him to make it. Diaw just needs to cut out the refined carbs and sugar on the road… although I always find that easier said than done. Craft beers contain carbs.