<span class="vcard">Kurt Helin</span>

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets - Game One

Rumor: Heat to target Andray Blatche when he returns from Chinese team

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Andray Blatche put up numbers last season — 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.2 minutes a game as part of the Nets’ regular rotation — but he was also a guy suspended quietly for four games by the team for his lack of conditioning. The Nets let him walk after the season and no other teams were willing to spend much on him, so Blatche jumped to China for this season (where he reportedly will make $2.5 million).

However, the Chinese season ends early — February or March, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — which means players in that league can return to the NBA for the stretch run and playoffs. When Blatche is eligible, the Heat are interested, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

It’s likely when Blatche returns he will have multiple offers (likely all for the league minimum) to consider. For all the concerns about his erratic play and effort, bigs are just hard to come by in the NBA.

Bucks using “facial coding expert” to help judge mental make up of draft picks, players

Jabari Parker
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We’re big fans of on-the-court analytics here at PBT — from the moment Dean Oliver wrote “Basketball on Paper” through today there has been a statistical revolution that has swept through the NBA. It provides a window into the game and helped efficiency become valued over volume (among many other steps). The best coaches and GMs blend numbers — for an easy example, which lineups work and which ones don’t — with the eye test based on years of watching and analyzing players and games, to come to their conclusions on everything from in-game minutes to draft picks.

But the dated, missing-the-point comeback of the non-analytics crowd — “numbers can’t measure heart” — has some truth to it. Analytics won’t tell you how a personality fits in a locker room, or which guy has the drive to put in the minutes off the court to improve his game.

The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to change that.

They have brought in a “facial coding expert” and his analysis was part of the reason the Bucks drafted Jabari Parker No. 2 last draft over the tempting Dante Exum. It’s all detailed in a fascinating piece in the New York Times.

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season…

Hill measures the players on the seven emotions and categorizes smiles, for example, four ways: true, robust, weak and micro. Consider Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. According to Hill, Westbrook shows a high number of weak smiles or “satisfaction,” and enough “true” smiles, which equate to “joy” and contribute to what has been a highly effective season — averages of 28.6 points and 7.4 assists per game.

Before you mock Hill and this idea completely, you should know the NFL and major corporations have used this for years (much of Hill’s work is on focus groups for companies putting out a new product).

Does it work? My psychology minor in college does not exactly qualify me as an expert. I have no idea. Maybe it’s the NBA version of former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt paying a Russian psychic big money to channel “V Energy” to help the team. The Times interviews people who are skeptical and the issue for them is a legitimate one — there is a lot of noise in the results. Coaches read body language/facial expressions too and that can change how a player is used or developed, and that’s just one example.

I do know most teams thought Parker should go in the top two spots in the last draft and was considered the most NBA-ready player of the high picks in the last draft no matter what his face was saying. His play before the knee injury proved that scoring 12.3 points and grabbing 5.5 rebounds a game, while running away with the Rookie of the Year crown. (That race is now wide open.)

In the ultra-competitive NBA arena teams are going to look for any edge. Maybe this is an edge. The hardest thing to read about any 19 or 20 year old is their mental makeup and how driven they really are — they all have been coached to say the right things, but what are their real intentions? Especially since once they get to the NBA they are going to have a different level of money and attention then they are used to, can they be professional and work through that?

Maybe Hill and his face reading metrics can help with that.

You can bet on this much: After this article the Bucks are not going to be the only team calling him before the next draft.

Kyle Lowry on almost being a Knick last year: “Essentially, I was gone”

Kyle Lowry
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Raptors fans have James Dolan’s fear of getting fleeced by Masai Ujiri — again — to thank for their position a top the Eastern Conference.

Remember at the start of last season the Raptors just were not working, they needed changes, and GM Masai Ujiri was clearly thinking big moves. First he traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento (which worked out well for both sides), then he set up a deal that would have sent Kyle Lowry to the Knicks for Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and a 2018 first round pick (Metta World Peace’s name was rumored also). A reasonable trade. But Dolan backed out (he didn’t like how the Carmelo Anthony trade went with Ujiri), Lowry stayed and the Raptors started winning. A lot.

Lowry reflected on all of that and last season speaking with Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

A day after the Raptors failed to sign Steve Nash as a free agent, (then GM) Bryan Colangelo brought Lowry in from Houston in a trade for a first-round pick and somebody named Gary Forbes. Lowry remembers his emotion on that day.

“Two and done and I’m going home,” he said….

“I figured two years and I’d be a free agent and go somewhere else. This wasn’t where I wanted to be. I tell people that all the time. You can’t predict your future. You have to live it by the day….

“Our season last year was a helluva story. I was traded (to New York). Essentially, I was gone. My best friend (Rudy Gay) got traded. It was all messed up.”

Now Lowry is happy — he signed a new deal with the Raptors this summer (four years, $48 million), he loves the city and he loves all the winning. Lowry matured, his game matured and everything fell into place last season.

Lowry is playing at an All-Star level again this season — 20 points and 7.7 assists a game with a PER of 23.9 — and the coaches are not going to leave him off the list this year as an alternate (he’s fourth in the fan voting, Toronto has come out for him in numbers, but it’s not likely the fans vault him past John Wall, Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving to be a starter).

As for the Knicks… well, you don’t need a ball dominating point guard in the triangle really. So you can try to console yourself with that.

Michael Jordan’s message to Kobe Bryant: “Go get Karl”

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Just a couple of weeks ago Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan to move into third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With that came a lot of Kobe accolades and retrospectives, and even Michael Jordan himself released a public statement congratulating Kobe. One pretty clearly written by someone in the Hornets media relations department.

Kobe and Jordan had a private conversation as well, you can bet that one was more interesting. Bryant hasn’t divulged much of that talk, but did say this on Thursday (a game he missed against the Bulls), as reported by CSNChicago.com.

“If you had one guess of what he said, it was, ‘Go get Karl.’ The competitor never stops.”

Karl is Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz legend who is second on the all-time list (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops it).

Kobe has 32,365 career points to Karl Malone’s 36,928 — scoring 25 points a game it would still take more than a couple of seasons for Kobe to pass Malone (it would happen in his 183rd game, to be specific). Which is to say, it’s not likely. Never say never with Kobe, but I doubt Malone is sweating it.

Actually, I doubt Malone sweats anything anymore.

Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks: “The fans are dying, we’re dying”

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks
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It’s one thing to have an intellectual understanding that the efforts to change the culture of a franchise on and off the court is going to be an ugly, rough process. It’s another thing to go through it.

The Knicks are going through it — and it’s worse than expected. Knicks fans — not a group traditionally known for their patience — are fuming. Carmelo Anthony owned up to it after the Wizards toyed with the Knicks on Christmas Day in Madison Square Garden, as reported by ESPN.

“The fans are dying, we’re dying. We’re out there, we’re not producing. We didn’t expect, I didn’t expect to be sitting at 5-26,” he said. “So as much as I feel for the fans, I feel for us going through it, too. I don’t expect nobody to feel sorry for us, I don’t expect nobody to feel sorry for me.”

The Knicks are 5-26 on the season having lost 16 of their last 17. They are bottom 10 in offense and defense, the triangle looks like a rhombus, they don’t defend with any kind of consistency or urgency, the roster doesn’t fit the system, much of the roster is being selfish hunting for numbers because they know they won’t be with the Knicks next season, coach Derek Fisher can’t get guys to buy in and play to the system (he looks like a first year coach of a bad team in every way), and their star leader Carmelo Anthony is playing like himself — stopping the ball movement and taking contested shots (21 of his 28 shots on Christmas Day were contested).

So, they have a few issues to address.

Phil Jackson promised Knicks fans things will be better in 2015, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear. It has to start with him getting better talent on the roster and talent that will be committed to playing the system, to playing the team basketball they need. That means landing some better defenders — like a real rim protector — as well as willing passers. That’s why Marc Gasol is their top target next summer, but Jackson better have a Plan B because getting Gasol out of Memphis will be difficult, he likes it there. And if he does leave there will be a long line of suitors (including the Spurs if Tim Duncan retires). The Knicks can’t just snap their fingers and count on landing a top free agent (same goes for the Lakers, trying the same thing on the other coast). The new CBA was aimed directly at big market teams and the Knicks are going to have to adjust.

All of which is to say, this is not a one season process, or even a two season process. It’s going to take time. No matter who is the coach, no matter who is making the front office decisions, Knicks fans are unfortunately going to have to learn patience. Because getting out of a hole like this takes time.