Author: Rob Mahoney

Jonny Flynn

Dark clouds linger over Jonny Flynn


Jonny Flynn is only 23 years old, and has just two NBA seasons to his name. He has yet to play in a system that suits him, or for a coach with a legitimate ability to elevate the play of his roster. He was drafted into an unfavorable situation, undercut before he even began by his general manager, and thrown on the floor with largely inferior players. His underwhelming production has every caveat in the world, as thus far virtually nothing has gone right in the basketball sphere immediately surrounding the former No. 6 overall pick.

So why is it that, even when armed with rationalizations aplenty, it’s so difficult to shake off the unmistakable gloom that seems to come part and parcel with Flynn’s career trajectory?

The simplest answer I can conjure: Flynn is a player with a good feel for the ball, but not for the game. There’s demonstrable skill in the way Flynn handles and passes, but his play nonetheless seems oddly discordant with the way team basketball functions. It’s not even a matter of being a ball hog; something about the success in Flynn’s game is just slightly out of phase with our reality, as if he were a star in some distant dimension but simply hasn’t translated his game to ours.

And that’s the simplest answer I can conjure.

To watch Flynn is to see talent, but there’s an undeniable peculiarity in his moves and decision making. He has a good handle, but doesn’t really create quality shots. He’s quick, but remains incapable of getting to the rim. He has good form, but shoots below the league average from virtually all of Hoopdata’s preset ranges. Everything he should do well turns in on itself, and though the situation in Minnesota earns Flynn one hell of an asterisk, there remains an unshakable feeling that he may never quite figure things out.

That’s a shame to say, because it’s hard to find a more charismatic player; Flynn is sincere and natural, with a confidence that puts anyone near him at ease. Yet as easy as it should be to find reasons to like Flynn on the court, here we are, contemplating the possibility that even with considerable growth, he may never lock into the role and responsibilities his talent level had always hinted he would be able to take.

Flynn does have time on his side, and he has a clear love of the game and a desire to improve. He’s laced with intangibles, but we have yet to see them make an actual on-court impact. Intangibles are supposed to live in an incalculable space, but Flynn’s supposed best attributes evade even the qualitative. He says all the right things after the game and displays the perfect attitude, but whether his team benefits from his presence on the court is a matter up for debate.

Flynn will nonetheless compete for every second he can get on an NBA court, even though his current situation (Flynn will likely serve as a third point guard for a pretty solid Rockets team) and slight projected playing time seem strangely appropriate. He could grow into a role as a backup, but for now that kind of position should not just be gifted to him. Botched defense (he gives up 0.31 more points per defensive possession than he manages to score per offensive possession used, per Synergy Sports), inefficient scoring (see above; plus, his shooting percentages went from bad to worse in his second season), and unimpressive playmaking (just 5.8 assists per 36 minutes despite playing for the third fastest team in 2009-2010 and the league’s fastest team in 2010-2011) have ensured that much. Flynn has lost whatever built-in capital is to be had for young prospects, and will be forced to earn back everything he’d previously just been given. He’ll no longer benefit from his draft status or repute, but will be required to actually produce in whatever role Houston has for him.

Though he was given considerable playing time, Flynn has yet to show anything at all to coaches and general managers in search of reasons to believe. He hasn’t even found a way to appease NBA fans who, really, don’t ask for all that much. The game’s die-hards will cling to players who offer them even a glimpse of what joys may come, but Flynn toils away without so much as a spark.

It doesn’t have to stay that way, and in the NBA world, things so rarely do. Players evolve constantly, and Flynn would need but a subtle shift to morph into a solid player. Yet for now, his game is filled with shortcomings, to the point that manufacturing any kind of real hope for his career is an actual struggle. Giving up on a player of Flynn’s ilk isn’t even a reasonable option so early in his career; it would be both cruel and unwise to put him in a box so early, as even now his nebulous potential is worth too much to cast off. Some NBA players simply develop later than others, or rely on an the alignment of factors in a specific situation to grant them a rebirth. Both of those outcomes are possible for Flynn…but not predictable.

That’s an important distinction. Maybe Flynn will pan out better than anyone ever expected, but if that’s the case, he gave no indication of it — not with film, not with numbers, and not even with the demonstration of specific in-game skills. We’ve seen Jonny Flynn only as a struggling NBA point guard, and at this point, it’s hard to even imagine him as anything else.

Players have avoided getting their hands dirty, but will the PR high road pay off?

Derek Fisher, Spencer Hawes, Maurice Evans
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A dozen radio shows play soundbites of his voice on loop. There’s talk of competitive equity, of the struggling economy, and of players with inflated contracts. One calm voice meanders through accusation after accusation, and countless listeners on a dozen frequencies swim in the carefully manufactured bile. Somewhere, David Stern cracks a slight, sly smile.

The NBA has been on an all-out offensive over the last 48 hours, with Stern acting as a mouthpiece for the league’s owners. He’s been on major media channels of all kinds offering something that only vaguely resembles the truth, all while Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher, and virtually all of the members of the NBPA have remained civil. The attack rhetoric has been largely one-sided, and the players — by design — have opted to maintain an air of professionalism. Dwyane Wade noted as such to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

Wade said the NBA has done an “amazing” job in getting its message out to basketball fans during the lockout. Players, he said, have not wanted to take the same approach as the NBA on the battle of perception.

“We haven’t done a great job of complaining,” Wade said. “That’s what the NBA has done, they’ve done a great job of complaining. We haven’t done a great job of that so no one sees our side. They more so see the owners’ side.”

…”Not at one point have we asked for more money,” Wade said. “I’ve heard people say ‘The players are being greedy.’ How are we being greedy? … People need to get in a room and understand what really needs to be done so everyone – not just the owners, not just the players – can continue to grow with the game. That’s where we’ve got to come to an agreement.”

The players’ general lockout strategy may not be perfect, but there is some nobility in this particular element of it. Compromise is a tough sell when one group is publicly antagonizing the other, and though both parties agreed to a more peaceful media approach just weeks ago, Stern has already reverted form. The man creates rules and violates them, just as he knows the facts and chooses to publicly skew them. That kind of disingenuous behavior isn’t a good look for Stern, but it may not matter; the owners’ message is the only message, and a general public with quick tongues and a poor understanding of the lockout (as evidenced by the many still calling this a “strike,” or citing player greed) will soon replicate Stern’s soundbites. The players are trusting the fans and remaining professional, but that path could end up burning them. The high road has its costs, and we’ll soon find out if the players are willing to continue paying them.

It’s unknown exactly how the lockout’s PR front has or will affect things at the negotiating table, but it seems fairly unlikely that those outside of an informed minority will ever know of Stern’s insidious spin. He’ll continue to spew falsehoods at little risk, and it’s up to the Union to decide if they’re willing to sink to Stern’s level and play his game. Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter appeared fairly frustrated with the nature of Stern’s comments and gestures after the Union meeting on Friday, but whether their reactions were a brief slip or the beginning of something more remains to be seen. The NBPA’s leadership has some soul-searching to do.

First word from today’s union meeting: some players ready to cave to owners’ demands

Billy Hunter

We interrupt your otherwise barren, locked out NBA programming to bring a minor update from the Players Union meeting in Los Angeles today. JaVale McGee was one of apparently few players that attended today’s meeting, and spoke with‘s Sam Amick on his way out. Here are Amick’s tweets from L.A.:

Wizards’ JaVale McGee had another meeting 2 go 2. On way out out, says “Everybody knows we’ve got 2 get more people 2 come to the meetings.”

That, in itself, isn’t great news for Billy Hunter and the union. With David Stern puffing up his chest and imposing arbitrary deadlines all over the place, it’s more important than ever that all of the players are on the same page and working to maintain their collective stance. Lockouts breed dissension. It’s natural that with cashflow stopped and games being stricken from the schedule that the players side would get antsy, but meetings like this can help to clarify and reinforce the union’s message. That function was still served, but only to the apparently limited number of players who actually bothered to show.

More McGee: “There’s definitely some guys in there saying that they’re ready to fold, but the majority are willing to stand strong.”

This is nothing that both we and the owners didn’t already know; there will be players who just want to get the damn thing done already, who wear their t-shirts just like everyone else but slide closer and closer to the breaking point. That’s expected and natural. What’s not expected is that McGee would come right out and say it. Even knowing that JaVale McGee is JaVale McGee, this was a ridiculously foolish soundbite, and one that very clearly and directly betrays the interests of the NBPA. Smooth move, JaVale…unless you’re actually among the “some players,” and are ready to fold, in which case this was a surprisingly subtle and clever act of sabotage.

UPDATE (6:38 PM EST): Well, it didn’t take too long for JaVale McGee to hilariously try to issue a public dismissal. Shortly after reports from multiple journalists in L.A. began making the rounds, McGee tweeted the following:

I never said anyone is ready to fold! Media always wanna turn it!

Good one, JaVale. These aren’t reporters merely jotting down notes hurriedly on a notepad; there are any number of audio recordings of McGee saying those exact words. Those reporting McGee’s comments are among the most trusted in the business, and yet he still tries to discredit them with one of the oldest — and most outdated — tricks in the athlete’s PR book.

Another pertinent tweet on the subject came from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Player who attended NBPA meeting in Los Angeles texts: “Don’t believe (JaValle) McGee.”

Take from that what you will.

UPDATE (7:04 PM EST): Just in case there was any doubt, Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times has posted the audio from McGee’s press scrum.

Brandon Jennings takes aim for the 40-percent mark

Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings waits to enter the game against Toronto Raptors in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Yesterday, in a live chat on, Brandon Jennings lobbed an easy-as-pie piece of cake over the plate. He didn’t have to; Jennings had stopped by to pretty clearly shill for Court Grip — the new product which Dwyane Wade plugged so aggressively but a few weeks earlier — and those kinds of advertising tours tend to be very straightforward affairs. But Jennings got just a tad sidetracked in talking about his workout schedule and his goals for next season, and offered up this gem:

Steve (Orlando):

Go Bucks! How many hours a week do you, if at all, practice your 15 foot jump shot. Thanks.

Brandon Jennings  (3:05 PM):

Actually since the lockout, I’ve been in Baltimore working for 3 months straight. I’m going to shoot over 40% this year. This whole three months of the lockout, I’ve been working out 5 days a week in Baltimore.

40 percent. That’s it. Take a moment to get all of the wisecracks out of your system. Just wring out the snark. 40 percent is an incredibly unimpressive target, a number that most NBA players eclipse with even their worst shooting seasons. We know this. Jennings probably does, too, but that didn’t stop him from setting a depressed goal for his own individual performance.

Jennings is still just 21, and he’ll evolve plenty as a player before he even hits his basketball prime. Yet his underwhelming field goal percentage numbers — .371 and .390 in his first two seasons respectively — are a cause for legitimate concern. They’re far from a death sentence for Jennings’ career, but so long as his poor shot selection continues to get the best of him, his NBA potential will be curbed substantially.

To be fair, Jennings has averaged five three-pointers a game in each of his NBA seasons thus far, accounting for nearly a third of his total shot attempts. If we use effective field goal percentage instead of standard field goal percentage, his shooting efficiency looks a bit more respectable, and Jennings actually outshoots John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

Of course, the problem with comparing Jennings to players like Wall and Westbrook is that each has produced in a way that Jennings has not. Wall sees the world in angles, and harnesses them through his own brand of awesome playmaking; he posted an assist rate 10 points higher than Jennings last season, despite JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche attempting to sabotage that number at every turn. Westbrook, on the other hand, was not only a far superior playmaker statistically in his second season, but he got to the line at an elite rate. He curbed his initially low field goal percentage with rapid improvement and a commitment to drawing contact, and those free points — which exist outside of his total field goals attempted and thus his field goal percentage — are a big component of Westbrook’s incredible production.

If Jennings were a better passer, his poor shooting numbers would matter slightly less. If he were committed to getting into the lane (where Jennings has proven himself to be an decently effective finisher), his efficiency numbers would skyrocket. Yet Jennings remains committed to forcing shots he has little chance of making, and hasn’t shown enough growth in the other facets of his game to hedge the problematic influence of his shot selection.

The blame here might not solely be on Jennings (Scott Skiles seems content with players taking long two-pointers, and the Bucks haven’t exactly had a lot of high-level talent outside of Jennings and Andrew Bogut), and that notion makes it worth considering if this alignment of player, team, coach, and system might be damaging to the offensive potential of all parties involved. If Jennings was firing up more shots than normal because of Bogut’s lingering injuries and the offensive limitations of some his teammates, then that’s understandable. But if he’s growing accustomed to shooting once every other minute despite playing for one of the league’s slowest teams as if such a thing were his Basketball Gods-given right, then we could have a bit of a problem. A fair bit of restraint would behoove Jennings, but the Bucks’ system offers structure without the means to prevent him from taking ill-advised shots. Skiles has a reputation for being an oppressive coach, but in his offense Jennings is oddly enabled.

There’s something admirable about an NBAer playing within themselves, and whether due to personal motivations or circumstance, we have yet to see Jennings pull off such a feat. 40 percent would be a nice step in the right direction, but only the slightest step. If Jennings wants to keep pace with his impressively efficient contemporaries, he’ll need to show a fair bit of growth beyond that number.

H/T: Tom Haberstroh.

Portland tasked with fixing what isn’t broken

LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Gerald Wallace

Things are going just fine for the Portland Trail Blazers these days: LaMarcus Aldridge made “the leap,” last season, Rich Cho stole Gerald Wallace out of Charlotte with a bargain trade package, Andre Miller was replaced with a younger facsimile, Brandon Roy has shown signs of life, and the roster is loaded with capable contributors.

But then again, that’s exactly the problem: things are just fine for the Portland Trail Blazers, a team with plenty of talent and assets but no place in the top tier nor any straightforward means for significant improvement. The Blazers aren’t exactly locked into their current roster — they have plenty of movable parts — but the team already boasts good, productive players at every position. We know that Portland isn’t an elite team in every dimension of play, but they’ve reached a point where the acquisition of specific skills in order to rectify weaknesses could come at great expense to the overall talent level of the roster.

The Blazers are still without a GM (following Cho’s inexplicable firing), but whomever ends up taking the post will have their hands full. Improving an NBA team is always an arduous task, but elevating an already effective and versatile roster requires incredible finesse. There are too many considerations at this point to merely isolate the team’s weaknesses and go to work finding players that hold those skills. The outgoing talent in any potential trade (even if it’s only in the form of a relatively less essential cog) would likely be too considerable to deal without significant and immediate returns, and yet trades yielding equivalent talent for both parties typically only make sense when filling a positional need — of which the Blazers have none.

Portland could stand to have a bit more frontcourt depth, or really, could stand to have a healthy Greg Oden. But remove that supplementary need you’re left with a good team with so few “little,” moves to make. Elite squads are crafted from nuance, but this roster was already assembled with great attention to detail. They were on the right path with all of the crucial ingredients, but then Roy fell, Oden false started (and false started, and false started…), and the electricity dissipated.  The Blazers still hold all of the components, but something’s amiss in the current.

How does one rectify that problem? How does a GM with a glut of components fix the team’s flow without sacrificing that which generates its power?

It’s hard to say — I’m no electrician. But I’m unconvinced that the problem is a lack of star power. Aldridge is productive enough to act as a team’s primary offensive weapon. He’s that good, and lest we forget, the Dallas Mavericks recently concluded their demonstrative campaign to prove that the one-star model can be effective in the right context. Would Portland benefit from somehow turning Raymond Felton, Nicolas Batum, or Wesley Matthews into a more productive player? Surely. But I remain unconvinced that a lack of a true second fiddle is what dooms the Blazers. They could win with a more cumulative approach, but just don’t seem to have the right amalgamation of overall production and talent. The offensive and defensive potential are there, but the optimal result, for whatever reason, isn’t.

The answers are out there for the Blazers and their GM-to-be, but here’s a hope that the rush to find those answers takes a back seat to an enduring patience. Portland only gets one shot at this. They only have so many pieces that can be dealt and so much cap space to work with. Plus, with a newly implemented CBA, they’ll have entirely new rules and stipulations to consider. It may seem like there’s a swiftly ticking clock, but Aldridge, Wallace, Felton, Matthews, Batum, and even Roy have plenty of productive years ahead of them. There’s a window here, but also a problem worthy of careful analysis and creative thinking. There’s no rush. The evolution from good to great takes time and persistence, and the worst thing that could come of the Blazers’ season is a faulty move made by a new manager looking to make an immediate imprint.