“Two big men who don’t really fit together and the rest is a D-league roster.”
—An anonymous scout, when as by the Charlotte Observers’ Rick Bonnell to describe the Philadelphia 76ers. The 0-14 Sixers.
It’s a funny line. And the fact is we know that most of this Sixers’ roster will not be around in a few years as they start to bring in better talent (via the draft, and then free agency). The problem is it’s hard to evaluate Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor as a front line because of the terrible play around them. Make no mistake, they have not looked good together — when Okafor and Noel are on the court together, the Sixers have an offensive rating of just 80.7 points per 100 possessions, and they are getting outscored by 25.7 per 100. The spacing is terrible, but then again the Sixers’ spacing is terrible in general because of the lack of quality guard play and shooting.
The Sixers are committed to this rebuild system for now — they could have two top five picks next June (theirs, plus the Lakers’ pick if it is outside the top three), and potentially other picks in the first round (depending on how things go, those picks have protections, but likely at least one more). Plus we are still waiting on Joel Embiid to play and Dario Saric to come over from Europe. There is potential in the Sixers’ process — if they nail the draft picks. Have they so far? Can they in the future? The entire process we are supposed to trust relies on it.
Since J.B. Bickerstaff took over the Houston Rockets they have one overtime win and two losses — but they are losing by less, so that’s improvement, right?
One thing that might help is more Dwight Howard, the Rockets’ defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when he is on the court (the offense is much worse, for the record). The Rockets’ rebounding is better with him on the court.
Howard hasn’t played in one-half of every back-to-back the Rockets have had this season as they try to keep him healthy following all the back problems he had last season. But the struggling Rockets are going to reconsider that policy, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
The plan was always to have Howard start playing back-to-backs at some point during the season, but the ugly start to the season apparently has upped the timeline.
Which isn’t the worst idea, but like swapping Bickerstaff for McHale, it’s not enough on its own. Houston has a lot of things that need to improve for them to turn the season around.
Mark Cuban gets asked about trends of news from other teams around the NBA because he’ll usually give us in the media an answer. Often a pretty good one.
So it shouldn’t be a shock he was asked about the Rockets’ choice to fire Kevin McHale last week. To Cuban’s credit, he didn’t use the opportunity to take another swipe at Houston GM Daryl Morey. Instead, he veered the answer into how hard it is to hire a good coach in the NBA. From Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
“So I’ve said it before, the hardest thing for an NBA owner to do is hire a coach. The easiest thing to do is fire a coach. The reason it’s hard to hire a coach, coaches are great at date-face, they know exactly what your weaknesses are and they know exactly how to sell to those weaknesses, so it’s really difficult to pick it right and it’s 90 percent luck.”
Cuban recently signed his coach, Rick Carlisle, to a five-year extension.
“If the hardest thing to find is a good coach, you marry him, you put a ring on it,” Cuban said.
Cuban has found his guy.
Coaches do their research certainly know what to say and what an owner/GM wants to hear, and there are guys such ad Vinny Del Negro, who people around the league will tell you is a fantastic interview (and a genuinely nice guy). The hard part for any owner or front office is to see past that sit-down and understand if the guy with the great interview is a good fit with style with the GM’s vision for the team, and with the players in the room.
Even that may not be enough — McHale is a solid NBA coach who seemed to connect with this team last season and had them winning 56 games and reaching the conference finals, and then 11 games into the new season was kicked to the curb. He didn’t forget how to coach over the summer, but situations changed, James Harden showed up in less than ideal shape (by NBA standards) and the Rockets are off to a slow start. It hasn’t gotten any better under Bickerstaff (which isn’t a surprise).
When center Jonas Valanciunas is on the court the Toronto Raptors shoot five percentage points higher from three, they assist on a higher percentage of their shots, Toronto’s defense is a little better, its offense is 6.1 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. Most importantly the Raptors outscore opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions when he plays, but get outscored by 4.8 per 100 when he sits.
While there is a lot of noise in those early numbers, this much is clear — the Rockets are not the same without Valanciunas in the lineup, and according to an update from Yahoo’s Shams Charania he is going to be out a while.
Valanciunas is expected to miss approximately six weeks, league sources said.
Valanciunas averages 13.5 points and 9.8 rebounds a night, and he does it efficiently (a true shooting percentage of 60.6 percent). The Raptors don’t have anyone who can effectively replace him. Expect Bismack Biyombo to get more time, which will keep the Raptors playing good defense (he’s a better shot blocker), but their offense is going to take a hit without their Lithuanian big man in the paint.
Take this with the entire box of Kosher salt you just picked up for cooking Thanksgiving dinner, because we have entered the “Cleveland Cavaliers Spin Zone.”
Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt said Saturday that Kyrie Irving was doing some 5-0 work and some 1-on-1 drills, making progress, but there was no timetable for his return. That wasn’t enough positive spin for someone in the Cavaliers organization, who leaked this to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
Kyrie Irving played a set of modified 1-on-1 games against LeBron James after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ shootaround Saturday and “destroyed him,” a team source told ESPN.com.
They weren’t true games of 1-on-1 in the sense that only one dribble was allowed per possession, thus rendering James’ significant size advantage moot as he couldn’t simply back Irving down with his dribble and post him up. Games finished with the first player to score three baskets.
Getting hot from the outside with his shot helped Irving succeed, per the source.To be fair, James ultimately evened the set of games 2-2 before the pair finished for the afternoon, but Irving was, apparently, in the zone.
What kind of zone one can actually get in for a game with modified rules which favors guards who have quick first steps and outside shots pretty much the only option is up for debate, but apparently his jumper was falling during this afternoon practice.
Good for him, but don’t read much into it because the difference between a one-dribble-only, 1-on-1 practice game and an NBA game is the difference between dancing like Uma Thurman and dancing like Mark Madsen. Which is to say “destroyed” is not the word that one would use here, unless one were trying to spin things in a pro-Cavaliers way. Which clearly someone was.
That said, the Cavaliers are 10-3 this season, the top seed in the East, and they are doing it without two starters in Irving and Iman Shumpert. This team is going to get a lot better as the season wears on and they get healthy.