Kurt Helin

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Solomon Hill

Without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Hornets playoff hopes fade

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The Hornets’ goal this season is a return to the playoffs.

They had ended their drought and made it in two seasons ago behind the strength of one of the NBA’s better defenses. Then last season chemistry issues, injuries, and a host of other problems saw the Hornets taking a step back. This season coach Steve Clifford was talking about getting the defense sharp again and the team returning to the postseason.

Those dreams took a punch to the gut Monday.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out due to a torn labrum (from a dislocation shoulder) the entire picture changes. Officially, Charlotte has said no decision on treatment has been made on how MKG’s injury will be treated. However, this injury requires surgery that will cost him the season.

And with that, the Hornets playoff dreams become deferred for another season.

This stat may sum it up best: Last season the Hornets were 28-29 when Kidd-Gilchrist played, 5-20 when he was out.

There are two main reasons for the drop off — and neither are MKG’s legendarily bad jumper, which was re-worked by Mark Price and is less painful than it used to be (he averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season).

The first and larger issue is MKG is the heart of the Hornet defense. Last season when he was on the court, the Hornets played Warriors-level defense (Charlotte allowed 96.3 points per 100 possessions, which was better than Golden State). However, when MKG was off the court the Hornets defense was Detroit Pistons-like (Charlotte allowed 104.1 per 100). The Hornets were 7.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was out. Because Charlotte plays Al Jefferson in the paint they have no rim protection, and if their best perimeter defender is out as well they are in trouble.

The second issue is they have nobody nearly as good to replace him. The options are Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lamb, P.J. Hairston or Troy Daniels. Out of that group I guess Williams starts, but he’s had more success as a small four than a three.

In an Eastern Conference, there are a few teams that believe they have a shot to jump up into the playoffs — Miami will; Detroit and Indiana think they can. In that setting, it’s hard to picture a Charlotte team struggling to defend making the leap over those teams plus Brooklyn or whoever is going to fall out.

It’s not fair to Charlotte or their fans for this to happen early in the preseason. But the reality is the Hornets will be golfing by mid-April again.

Bradley Beal says himself, Wizards trying to reduce long two pointers

Bradley Beal, Kent Bazemore
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Take a look below at Bradley Beal‘s shot chart — 28 percent of his attempts last season can be considered long two pointers. He shot 33.2 percent between 16 and 24 feet last season — already statistically the least efficient shot in basketball.

Also, notice all that green behind the three-point line.

Beal shot chart

It wasn’t just Beal — the Wizards as a team took the fifth most shots between 16-24 feet in the league and the fourth fewest threes per game. It’s why it felt like Randy Wittman was keeping the Wizards’ offense in the dark ages last season.

This season they are stepping into the light and Beal is going to lead the way, he told J. Michael of CSNWashington.com.

“I did evaluate it after the season,” Beal said of the spots where he took so many shots in averaging 15.3 points. “Sat down, looked at film, looked at statistics on paper. It just made sense to eliminate those (long twos). Those are bad shots and as a team that’s what we’re doing now. We want to eliminate those long 2s as much as possible. Just be aware on the floor. It’s going to be hard to say we won’t shoot them because there are going to be times when we’re going to be open….

“I have been working on my stepback,” he said of offseason with Drew Hanlen, a strength and skills coach consultant. “I have been working on my 3s off the dribble this summer.”

This is another step in the Wizards trying to modernize their offense — you will see less of the Marcin Gortat and Nene big front line and more small ball with guys like Jared Dudley getting time at the four. That should space the floor and opening up driving lanes for John Wall. And they will look for threes — Wittman rightly says they are not going to pass up an open two for a contested three, but they have to take fewer long twos. It’s part of what held the offense back.

It’s also good to hear this from Beal, who if he can stay healthy is poised for a huge year. Just how good the Wizards are this season hinges on Beal and Wall taking a step forward together.

Former Suns center Neal Walk dead at 67

Neal Walk
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PHOENIX (AP) — Neal Walk, a tough center on the early Phoenix Suns teams after they drafted him No. 2 overall in 1969, has died at age 67.

The Suns confirmed his passing, calling him “an integral member” of the Suns in their formative years.

Walk had health problems over the years and his condition deteriorated in recent weeks. He underwent surgery 28 years ago to remove a tumor on his spine.

Phoenix drafted Walk after losing the coin flip with Milwaukee to draft Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor).

Walk averaged 20.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in the 1972-73 season. Charles Barkley is the only other Sun to top the 20-point, 10-rebound average.

Walk also played for the New Orleans Jazz and New York Knicks in his eight-year NBA career.

Paul George says he’s on board with Pacers’ new plan

Paul George
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Paul George still doesn’t like playing the four — he’s not backing down from his opinion, reiterated after he had to go up against Anthony Davis in the Pacers’ preseason opener.

But after a “clarification” meeting with team president Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel, George now wants to be clear he’s on board with the team’s new direction.

Yes, those two positions seem at odds, but that’s what George said after Pacers’ practice Monday. From Candace Buckner of the Indy Star.

“I mean, there was clarification on what we’re (doing) going forward,” George added later. “That’s what it was, just clarification.”

When asked if the “clarification” meant changes to his role, George said: “We’re going to still stick with it, see how it works.”

Then, when quizzed if he’s OK with that, George responded: “I’m a part of this team.”

 

The Pacers transitioning to a team that wants to play small and fast — their preseason game against the Pelicans had 109 possessions. That’s going to mean going small a lot and trying to force teams to match up with them, and in the modern NBA that is the right direction to move. Against much of the Eastern Conference it should work well, but against some teams and matchups — say MVP candidate Davis and the Pelicans — George will find himself in a very difficult spot.

George is not comfortable at the four yet, especially with the physical nature of trying to defend and box out some bigger, stronger guys. George has spent his entire career on the perimeter, it’s a tough transition. But he’s going to have a lot of success this season at the four if he can stay healthy and as he adjusts. He just has to fully buy in and do it.

The Pacers play the Pistons on Tuesday, a game where George will be matched up against Ersan Ilyasova. That’s a place George can have a little more success and feel better about this.

PBT Extra bold prediction previews: Warriors still best team in West

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How quickly it seems the Warriors went from everybody’s second favorite team, the team you wished your team played like, to “they got lucky.”

A lot of people are down on the Warriors for some reason heading into this season, and I talk about that in the return of PBT Extra for the season. This is the first of 30 “Bold Prediction” previews looking at every NBA team, but Jenna Corrado and I decided to start it all off out West with the defending champs.

Did they get lucky with health? Yes. So did every other team ever to win an NBA title. This was the best team in the NBA last season, they brought back their entire young core, and they are the bar that needs to be cleared if any other team is going to make the NBA Finals out of the West. And I’m not convinced any other team can clear that bar.

(Keep an eye out on for me on Twitter as I ask for your bold predictions on teams for future PBT Extras.)