Tag: Kawhi Leonard

Miami Heat v Detroit Pistons

Erik Spoelstra: Heat’s starting lineup needs time before it’ll succeed


Who has the NBA’s best starting lineup?

The Warriors (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut)?

The Cavaliers (Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov)?

The Spurs (Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan)?

The Clippers (Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan)?

Take your pick between those four or other contenders like the Thunder, Rockets or Bulls.

But there’s one team that belongs in the discussion despite two oddities:

  • All five projected starters played for the team last season, but its projected starting lineup didn’t log a single minute together.
  • The team missed the playoffs.

Yup, the Heat with Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside.

Bosh was sidelined for the rest of the season with blood clots just after Miami traded for Dragic. So, the lineup’s debut was postponed to this season.

On paper, the Heat have it all – offense and defense inside and out. They’re balanced, and nobody is playing out of position.

But Miami coach Erik Spoelstra cautions against expecting instant gratification.

Spoelstra, via Zach Lowe of Grantland:

“It’s not the kind of lineup where you can just throw it out there, and you know it will work,” Spoelstra says. “It’s going to take practice.”

The biggest question with the Heat’s top lineup is health, especially Wade. He’s 33 and has a history of knee problems. There are also questions about Whiteside’s ability to perform over a full season, Bosh’s rust and Deng’s longevity.

But those are all individual concerns.

Like I said, there’s a lot to like about this unit as a whole. The one area for caution is probably Dragic and Wade sharing ball-handling duties. Though they play different positions – Dragic point guard and Wade shooting guard – both are used to being the lead guard. That could take more time to sort out.

Mostly, though, I think Spoelstra is just trying to lower expectations. The less people think of a team, the more opportunity the coach has to impress (and the less blame he’ll take if the team falters).

Kawhi Leonard: “I want to be an all-star and MVP of the regular season”

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game Three

The traditional arc for an NBA player is for them to chase numbers and try to get paid early in their career, then near the end they start making sacrifices for a team in hopes of getting a ring.

Kawhi Leonard has flipped that arc. From the beginning of his career he was on a Spurs team that was about sacrifice — Tim Duncan led the way, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili bought in fully. Four seasons in Leonard has a ring and a Finals MVP.

Now he may be looking to get some personal accolades, to go along with his winning. Look at what he told David Zink of Press Enterprise (hat tip Eye on Basketball)

“Winning just rubs off on you, once you see Manu (Ginobili), Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) wanting to win every game.”

Now that’s he’s reached a new plateau professionally, Leonard says he’s ready to make another big leap.

“I want to be an (NBA) all-star and MVP of the regular season,” said Leonard. “I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”

The Spurs want him to be those things. They are paying him become the franchise face and cornerstone after Tim Duncan retires, or at least to share that with LaMarcus Aldridge for a while.

Eventually, that means Leonard taking on more of the scoring load — he averaged 16.5 points per game last season, and with the added depth on the roster that may not jump much in the short-term. But if he’s going to get in the regular season MVP consideration, he’s going to have to be closer to 20 points per game and set a tone on offense.

Leonard may do all that, but he’s not going to give up team play to do it.

LaMarcus Aldridge says free agency left him “mentally drained”

LaMarcus Aldridge

Changing companies is stressful. Moving cities is stressful.

In that sense, it’s understandable that LaMarcus Aldridge found the free agent process he went through this summer taxing. He had big decisions to make about his career and lifestyle he wanted to lead. I wouldn’t know, but I imagine being wined and dined all over the country so you could sign an $80 million contract would ease some of that stress. But maybe not.

Either way, Aldridge opened up to the San Antonio Express-News about the adjustment to his new life.

“I don’t like change,” Aldridge said. “That’s been a little bit difficult for me, trying to get used to a new city. I got lost like twice yesterday. That’s not fun.

“In the end, it should be great for me. Right now, it’s been tough because everything is so new.”

Aldridge, who turned 30 on July 19, has spent most of the summer decompressing from a stressful free agency chase that left him – in his own words – “mentally drained.”

On the court, I think Aldridge will adjust very quickly and fit in — it may take a little while, but he and Tim Duncan will play well off each other. In an offense that allows players a lot of freedom, guys like Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green will make things easier. Aldridge said he expect to get better looks, and he will, plus he will help create those for others. He will like the Spurs cerebral game (which is not terribly structured compared to the micro-control some coaches demand).

When we talk about player changing teams, that’s usually all we think about — how will it work on the court? That and the money. We tend to ignore the fact these are human beings with families and changing teams means a host of challenging life changes as well. Aldridge may have willingly took those on this summer by agreeing to play for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, but that doesn’t make the transition easier.

It only makes sense for Aldridge to be drained and struggling to adjust. I just have a feeling that by Halloween he’ll be past all that and focused on the game.



Stan Van Gundy not worried about hack-a-Drummond strategy next season

Memphis Grizzlies v Detroit Pistons

It happened to DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard seemingly every game. It happened to guys such as Josh Smith, although less often.

But when it came to the Pistons’ Andre Drummond, there was not a lot of hack-a-Drummond taking place. That despite the fact he shot just 38.7 percent from the free throw stripe last season.

The Pistons should be improved this season, and Drummond should be at the heart of it — he had 27 points and 16 rebounds in the Team USA exhibition last week. He’s going to draw more attention and it he’s shooting around 40 percent from the line there will be hacking.

His coach, Stan Van Gundy, told Zach Lowe of Grantland on his podcast that he’s not worried about it (hat tip to the Detroit Free Press).

 “We had teams do it,” said Van Gundy. “Quite honestly if we get better we’ll see it more. I had Dwight Howard and I also had Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) so I’ve been through this before. In terms of wins and losses it just hasn’t been that effective. It might be effective for a possession or two….

“I don’t think it’s hopeless,” said Van Gundy. “I think my hope would be that this year we could get him up over 50% and we could start pushing 60%. If you get him over 50% then it’s not really an effective strategy. If you get to 52% then you’re having a quality possession.”

The average NBA team averaged 1.025 points per possession last season, so you can see where Van Gundy is going here — even at 52 percent that’s well above average.

The Pistons are talking extension with Drummond, and they will give him the max (it is possible the sides decide to do what Kawhi Leonard did with the Spurs and wait to sign next summer, giving them more cap space to chase free agents). The Pistons are going to pay Drummond to be their future, their cornerstone.

Will free throws be his Achilles heel, or will he knock enough down to take that off the table?

Austin Rivers tweets he’s ‘straight up better than a lot of those dudes playing’ in Team USA scrimmage

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets - Game Seven

As a reminder, here were the rosters for last night’s Team USA scrimmage:

Blue Team (Monty Williams, coach):

Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, Victor Oladipo, and Elfrid Payton.

White Team (Tom Thibodeau, coach):

Arron Afflalo, Michael Carter-Williams, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Blake Griffin, Terrence Jones, Kawhi Leonard, Mason Plumlee, Klay Thompson, C.J. Watson.

Austin Rivers’ takeaway?

Rivers certainly doesn’t lack confidence – which is his biggest problem as a player. He too often takes bad shots or dribbles into trouble, because he believes he’s good enough to handle it.

This tweet gives little hope he better grasps his limitations.

To be fair, Rivers has improved each of his three NBA seasons. How dreadful he was as a rookie certainly plays a part, but Rivers has made nice progress. Most Improved Player is a good goal for him.

The rest is nonsense.

Maybe – maybe – Rivers is better than Watson, a non-Team USA minicamper invited to fill out the roster. But a lot of those dudes? It’s just insulting to them, which Rivers seemed to realize before he went further: