Kurt Helin

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Report: Jazz, Rudy Gobert near deal on four-year, $100+ million contract extension


Athletic, mobile big men who can protect the rim and run the floor are few and far between — the antidote to small-ball in the NBA.

“All those teams playing small, if they had DJ (DeAndre Jordan) or (Rudy) Gobert they would take them tomorrow… There are just not a lot of guys who do what they do,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said.

The Jazz decided to lock up the guy they got and have agreed to terms of a four-year extension to the rookie contract of Rudy Gobert, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is a good deal for both sides.

Utah’s plans to leap up into the upper echelon of the NBA is based around a stingy defense of which Gobert is the anchor — he is irreplaceable to them. The $100 million figure is up there, but it is a few million less than the max and certainly less than the max next summer if Utah had let him become a restricted free agent — and make no mistake, other teams would have offered Gobert the max.

He is as good a shot blocker and rim protector as there is in the NBA — when he was on the court last season opponents shot just 41 percent of their attempts within five feet of the rim, a league low. He’s athletic, mobile, and gets buckets by outrunning guys in transition. His offense needs work, but is improving and he can get buckets.

Gobert was someone the Jazz needed to lock up, and they did before his price went up. Another smart move by a team that made a lot of them this summer (and now just needs to get healthy).

NBA Power Rankings Week 2: Cavaliers move into top spot, Warriors slide

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Volatility. For the first month or so of the season, our NBC ProBasketballTalk power rankings will have a lot of it (the statistical model I use as a base doesn’t help much until we are about 20 games in). The Warriors have struggled but haven’t fallen too far, while the Bulls have rocketed up the rankings with their three-point shooting. Expect more big changes next week as things shake out.

Cavaliers small icon 1. Cavaliers (3-0, Last Week No. 2). LeBron James is attacking the rim and averaging 21 points a game, but that’s not the most impressive thing about the Cavaliers early — they have the second best defense in the NBA so far. They are getting stops, which is leading to some easy transition buckets. Interesting matchup with Boston this week.

Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (4-0, LW 3). Popovich is already resting guys — Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and LaMarcus Aldridge have all had nights off — and it doesn’t matter, the Spurs keep on winning. Not only did the Spurs make a statement opening night, so did Kawhi Leonard (remember he was second in MVP voting last year, ahead of LeBron). Leonard has attacked the rim and gotten to the line 40 times in four games — and hit 38 of them. He’s been the beast carrying this team.

Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (2-0, LW 4). Here’s the thing that has to make Doc Rivers smile: His bench is playing more cohesively than his starters so far. In two games, his bench is +22. “We talk a lot about if you aren’t doing what you do well, what can you do for the team,” Rivers said after his team beat the Jazz Sunday. “Mo Speights was 1-of-8 (shooting), but he drew four charges.” We’ll see if they can sustain it against the Thunder and Spurs this week.

Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (2-1, LW 1). It’s just three games, but the Golden State defense has been abysmal. They have allowed 108 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the NBA. The new death lineup is just +8 through three games and is part of the defensive problems. Everyone gave lip service to the idea it would take a little time for the Warriors to figure things out with the new lineups, what we are witnessing is that reality. Thursday night Russell Westbrook and the Thunder come to town with a chip on their shoulder.

Hawks small icon 5. Hawks (2-0 LW 11). Through two games, Atlanta has outscored its opponents by 26 points per 100 possessions, thanks to a defense that was best in the NBA in the preseason and has carried over to the regular season. Granted, one of their two games was against the Sixers. Dwight Howard has defended and rebounded well, but isn’t impacting the offense much yet — will that start to be an issue? Soft schedule this week could pad that record.

Thunder small icon 6. Thunder (3-0, LW 9). As expected, it’s been the Russell Westbrook show, averaging 38.7, 12.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game. Through the first two games he created, assisted, or scored 79% of the team’s points when he was on the court. He’s been phenomenal, but will this heavy a load weigh on him? Soft schedule last week changes now with the Clippers and Warriors on the docket.

Bulls small icon 7. Bulls (2-0, LW 19). What shooting problems? The Bulls are shooting 43.5 percent from three, the third best percentage in the NBA. That has sparked the best offense in the NBA so far at 115.3 points per 100 possessions. Interesting test against Boston this week, but with a heavy Eastern Conference schedule early if the Bulls stay hot they can build a little cushion.

Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (2-1, LW 5). The Celtics have had the third best offense in the NBA as they integrate Al Horford into the rotation — which has covered up for the 22nd ranked defense. That end has been a struggle and needs to get cleaned up this week with the Cavaliers, Bulls, and a pesky Nuggets team lined up.

Raptors small icon 9. Raptors (1-1, LW 6). DeMar DeRozan is attacking the rim again with abandon and has 72 points through two games (and he hasn’t made a three). We may have penalized the Raptors too much, dropping them this far after a hard-fought loss to Cleveland. If Toronto is who we think it is — and they look it, a good team just like last season — they have four winnable games on the schedule this week that could help them climb the ladder.

Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (2-1, LW 12). Damian Lillard has averaged 35 points a game and is attacking the rim with abandon so far this season. More than that, he is finishing this attacks — Lillard has hit on 73.3% of his shot attempts around the basket, a 1.5 points per possession rate according to Synergy. Tough week as the Blazers host the Warriors then head out on the road, including stops in Dallas and Memphis.

Hornets small icon 11. Hornets (2-1, LW 18). Injuries are already hitting this team — Jeremy Lamb will be out a couple of weeks and Roy Hibbert is already banged up. As we should expect of a Steve Clifford team, the Hornets are doing it with defense early and getting just enough offense. Charlotte has about the easiest schedule imaginable this week: Just two games, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (2-1, LW 14). Zach Randolph is looking like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate early, feasting on soft second units to the tune of 18 points a game. The Grizzles’ preseason love of the three continues and they have hit 43.8 percent from deep through three. The Grizzlies have come-from-behind in their two wins, but that’s not a habit they want to continue this week with the Clippers and Trail Blazers coming to town.

Pistons small icon 13. Pistons (2-1, LW 17). They have looked every bit the Stan Van Gundy team: Top 10 defense, a beast in the paint and on the glass in Andre Drummond, and a wing shooting well (56 percent) and getting buckets in the form of Tobias Harris. Keep playing like that this week against a relatively soft schedule and they could climb these rankings fast.

Rockets small icon 14. Rockets (2-1, LW 8). Example 1,456,294 on why you shouldn’t trust preseason stats: Houston had a middle-of-the-pack defense in preseason, but have been eighth worst in the NBA through a few games. James Harden is creating 31.3 points per game out of the pick-and-roll (scoring or assisting), the highest number in the NBA according to Synergy Sports. Does that surprise anyone?

Kings small icon 15. Kings (2-1, LW 23). Good start to the season for Sacramento, going 2-1 with the only loss coming against Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. But now comes a real test — a five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference. If the Kings fancy themselves a playoff team (and they do), these are the kinds of trips where they need to post a respectable record.

Nuggets small icon 16. Nuggets (1-1, LW 21). They have been the fastest team in the NBA so far this season, and by a lot — almost two possessions per game faster. Usually pace speaks to a strong offensive team (they want more chances) but Denver has been a top-10 defensive team with a struggling offense. Particularly late in games. Coach Mike Malone needs to figure out the end of game rotations quickly considering Denver is on the road this week at Toronto, Minnesota, Detroit, and Boston. Ouch.

Jazz small icon 17. Jazz (1-2, LW 7). This team’s offensive struggles without Gordon Hayward are painful — they lack shot creation. George Hill and Joe Johnson provide some relief, but it’s a struggle for the Jazz to score right now. Asked about it after Sunday’s loss to the Clippers, coach Quin Snyder talked about effort but the truth is until Hayward and Alec Burks get healthy it’s going to be rough for the Jazz. Once they do get right, this remains dangerous team.

Pacers small icon 18. Pacers (1-2, LW 10). The bench has been the problem in Indiana — they have been outscored by 33 points in the second quarter through three games, and most of that is about the reserves getting smoked. The bright spot so far is Myles Turner is making the leap and looking like an outright stud. The downside is Jeff Teague has struggled as a starter with the Pacers.

Knicks small icon 19. Knicks (1-1 LW 20). Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have had rough patches but both have looked pretty good through the first couple of games this season, filling their respective roles. Kristaps Porzingis is a stud who needs more touches. The challenge is the New York bench — it’s been awful. Rose and Noah make an emotional return to Chicago this week, that will be a must-watch game.

timberwolves small icon 20. Timberwolves (0-2, LW 13). This team must have Tom Thibodeu popping Rolaids like candy. First, Minnesota has the third-worst defense in the NBA so far. Second, they blew leads of 17 and 18 points in their two games to far, both losses. The signs of this team getting better are there, but Thibodeau and company have a lot of work to do.

Bucks small icon 21. Bucks (1-2, LW 22). Giannis Antetokounmpo has been amazing to watch in his more point-forward role, averaging 23 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game. But after him there hasn’t been much that’s good (outside a John Henson tip-in at the buzzer), with the Bucks ranking 24th in offense in the NBA. The Bucks defense hasn’t been good enough to bail that offense out.

Nets small icon 22. Nets (1-2, LW 29). Brook Lopez is already getting rest as part of his maintenance (or keep him healthy for a trade) program. They have been a strong fourth-quarter team behind Jeremy in, including a comeback win over the Pacers. This team can be entertaining, they need to prove they can be more than that this week hosting Chicago, Detroit, and Charlotte.

Heat small icon 23. Heat (1-2, LW 26). Congratulations to Erik Spoelstra on picking up his 400th career win. Hassan Whiteside has been a beast early 21.7 points on 64.3 percent shooting, plus 14.7 rebound a night. The problem has been Miami’s offense has been unimpressive to start the season, particularly when the bench has to play.

Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (1-2, LW 28). The wins will not come in bunches for a while, but Luke Walton has the Lakers — and particularly D’Angelo Russell — looking like they are enjoying playing. That’s a start. Julius Randle has been maybe the biggest surprise on the team so far, showing development with his handles and decision making that let him take advantage of his incredible athleticism.

Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (0-2, LW 15). This ranking may be too low — I expect the Wizards will climb — but so far they have the worst defense in the NBA and have blown fourth quarter leads in both their games. Hopefully a home-heavy schedule will help John Wall (32.4%) and Bradley Beal (37.9%) find their shot, but with Toronto and Atlanta among those teams it will not be easy.

Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (0-3, LW 16). Another team that I expect will climb the ladder — they were without Dirk Nowitzki for two of these games due to a stomach issue. Harrison Barnes looks more comfortable in the Dallas offense, but the defense is bottom 10 so far. Tough games vs. Utah and Portland coming up.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (0-3, LW 27). T.J. Warren has found his comfort zone in coach Earl Watson’s offense, having scored 51 points over the past two games. Devin Booker has struggled, but expect him to come around. Most troubling is the inconsistency with this team — and the blown leads of 18 and 13 points. Earl Watson’s team needs to string together four good quarters.

Pelicans small icon 28. Pelicans (0-3, LW 24). Get Anthony Davis some help. He is averaging 27.7 points per game, and in the team’s first two games Davis created, assisted, or scored 67% of the Pelicans’ points while he was on the court. The owner doesn’t want a “rebuild” but they need to do something like it to get better, not just put patches on the problem.

Magic small icon 29. Magic (0-3 LW 25). All offseason the talk was of the impressive front line in Orlando and what coach Frank Vogel would do with it — then in the first three games of the season the Magic have been pushed around inside. We thought the issues would be on offense, but they are 25th in the league in defense. They face the Sixers this week and it’s a legitimate question which team wins.

Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (0-2, LW 30). They may be 0-2, but the Sixers showed opening night they will be competitive — and that Joel Embiid is on his way to being an elite center in this league (if he can stay healthy). Sergio Rodriguez as a starter is a lot of fun, and when he plays the Sixers are competitive. When he sits the offense falls apart. This team is taking steps forward, but they have a lot of steps to go.

NBA coaches counterpunch trend of “small ball” league

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LOS ANGELES — Every team in the NBA has done it — search for their small-ball death lineup.

After Golden State won an NBA title then 73 games going smaller and faster than everyone, other teams jumped on the bandwagon (which frankly was started by Miami playing LeBron at the four). With the advent of a zone defensive scheme making a post pass to a traditional big on the block next to impossible (if a team chooses to shut it down by fronting and backing), stretch fours and even stretch fives became the trend — that’s the modern NBA. Replace traditional bigs with another ball handler. Four out. Small and fast.


“The Spurs are big. The Clippers are big. Memphis is big,” said Quin Snyder, coach of another big team in the Utah Jazz. “Depending on whether you want to call Ryan Anderson a four or a shooting four or a three, Houston can be big. Oklahoma City’s big.

“So this is an interesting question to me, because Golden State has driven a perception that the whole league is small…. Because Golden State’s been the best team, you’re forced to match up with them, and then people will try to play small, but if you’re playing small just because someone else is, and then you’re not playing your best players, that’s a tough question. Do you chase a mismatch or do you play the way you play?”

Talk to coaches around the league and they lean heavily toward the latter — be yourself. Play to the roster’s talent. They are not caught up in the myth of an all small NBA — like Snyder they point to all the size on the other elite teams. Coaches want versatility that allows different matchup options, but what they want most is whatever gives them the best chance to win. If that’s playing big, then they go big.

“Golden State is an anomaly, with the group of players they have,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said during the preseason. “And they’re a monster. Definitely the toughest team in the league to guard. But the rest of us poor fools, 29 of us, are kind of a hybrid. Everybody tries to be flexible. Not team is going to be all big or all small. Every game, teams play small for a while, they play big for a while. That’s the way it is. That’s the truth.”

That’s also the truth for Golden State.

“If Kevin Durant is on your team, he’s probably going to play the three or the four, whatever you want to call it,” Snyder said. “You can also argue that Golden State’s big. I mean, is Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia small? I think the biggest thing is get your best players on the floor, and that’s what happened.”

“I think it’s an advantage doing what’s best for your team,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said, a guy getting Blake Griffin to play inside and get to the rim more early this season. “I think it’s a mistake trying to be someone else. I said it last year, it’s a news flash: Anyone who is trying to play like Golden State is and then tries to beat them, they’re going to lose. Golden State has the three best shooters in the league. So if you’re trying to spread the floor with shooting, well, they’re going to do it better. If you have a great shooting team and smalls, then play that way. We have bigs — play big. Be who you are.

“If us or the Spurs win this year, everyone’s going to go big next year.”

One reason more teams don’t go big is the dearth of quality big men, like DeAndre Jordan with the Clippers or Rudy Gobert of the Jazz.

“I think those guys are invaluable,” Rivers said. “I think the only reason other teams don’t have them is they don’t have them. All those teams playing the other way, if they had DJ or Gobert they would take them tomorrow… There are just not a lot of guys who do what they do.”

All the coaches kept coming back to one thing — versatility.

Especially on the defensive end. They want to be able to counter other lineups. Rivers prefers to play big, but he also acknowledged using their second unit the Clips will play small at times this season with Griffin at the five — if that’s the matchup that works.

“To have the versatility to play both ways is important…” Snyder said. “When we’re talking about playing small, what we’re really talking about is versatility. It doesn’t have so much to do with the size as it does versatility and the ability to guard different matchups. That’s why Draymond is so effective at the four, and that’s to me why Blake (Griffin) is so effective, because what’s happening is everybody is switching one through four. That’s really what it comes down to.”

The other part of this, beyond talent, is getting buy-in from the players.

“There’s a lot of teams that can play different groups, but there’s very few teams that all the players can handle those different rotations when they are not in it on a given night,” Rivers said.

Coaches realize they can’t beat the Warriors at their own game, what they need is a counter. Tristan Thompson at center and LeBron James at the four (guarding Green and switching onto Stephen Curry) worked last year. Kevin Durant may change that dynamic.

In the search for answers, a lot of teams are bucking the trend and thinking big.

Suns misspelled Eric Bledsoe’s name on jersey Sunday

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The world could use a few more editors.

We all make spelling and writing errors — certainly, I am not immune. No writer ever is. But some mistakes are just more awkward than others— and this one on Sunday by the Phoenix Suns was high on the awkward scale.

Eric Bledsoe — or Beldsoe, if you prefer — finished the game with 21 points on 11 shots, plus dished out six assists, as the Suns hung with the Warriors but fell short of the win Sunday.

(Hat tip Matt Moore at CBSSports.com)

Former Laker Anthony Brown goes No. 1 overall in D-League draft

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Anthony Brown‘s rookie season ended with him sitting courtside in Los Angeles, watching his idol Kobe Bryant end his stellar Lakers career with a dazzling 60-point effort.

Brown got many lessons from Bryant last season.

Now he has a chance to put those tutorials into use.

The 6-foot-7 forward was the No. 1 overall pick Sunday in the NBA Development League draft by the Erie BayHawks, an Orlando Magic affiliate. Brown was a second-round selection by the Lakers in 2015, appeared in 29 games and started 11 in the NBA last season, and will head to Pennsylvania on Monday for training camp and what he called “a fresh start.”

“The biggest thing that I took away from my time with Kobe was just the preparation that he came with to every game,” Brown said. “Every game that he played, his preparation was so detailed and so focused. The game is just the result of everything you’ve already worked on.”

Brown was the last player cut by the Lakers out of training camp this fall. He was one of two first-round selections Sunday with past NBA experience, joining Travis Leslie – who appeared in 10 games with the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2011-12 season. Leslie was picked No. 4 overall by the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Indiana’s D-League club.

“You’re playing NBA rules with an NBA ball,” Brown said. “I think that playing in the D-League and honing your craft there, it’s definitely translatable if you’re able to get to the NBA level. There’s definitely talent in the league.”

A trio of famous sons were among the 105 selections.

Keith Hornsby, the son of Grammy winning musician Bruce Hornsby and who played college ball at LSU, was the ninth overall pick by the Texas Legends, a Dallas affiliate.

Benito Santiago Jr. – a 27-year-old who also was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2010 and whose father spent two decades in the major leagues – went 38th overall, to the Delaware 76ers.

Ralph Sampson III, whose father was the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA draft, went in the fifth round to the Northern Arizona Suns. He was the 86th overall pick, and has been in the D-League for the last two seasons.

Other picks of note:

– Shannon Brown, a two-time NBA champion with the Lakers and someone who’s spent time with eight NBA clubs already, may be returning to the state where he played his college ball. The Michigan State product was selected in the second round by the Grand Rapids Drive, the Detroit Pistons’ affiliate. “For me, it makes me feel like I’m starting all over from scratch,” he told mlive.com Sunday.

– Palpreet Singh of India went to the Long Island Nets, at No. 80 overall. Bobby Ray Parks Jr., born in the Philippines, was the last pick at No. 105, going to the Westchester Knicks.