In smart move, Kings add Scott Perry, formerly of Orlando, to front office

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When Rob Hennigan was fired as the man in charge of the Orlando Magic right after the season, Scott Perry — his assistant GM — was let go as well. That surprised people around the league. While the Magic saw Perry as part of the problem in creating too soft a culture in Orlando, outside the organization people didn’t see it that way (for example, Perry wanted to pull the trigger on a potential DeMarcus Cousins trade, it was Hennigan who did not).

Perry has found a new job with the Sacramento Kings, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by Sacramento.

Sam Amick of the USA Today added this.

How successful Perry can be in a culture other teams see as toxic — and the results do not prove otherwise — remains to be seen. That said, he’s a smart, steady, well trusted voice, which is exactly what the Kings need.

With the trade of Cousins, the Kings are a rebuilding team, which takes patience and a long-term plan (plus a little luck). Perry might well provide that. If he gets the chance.

Kyle Lowry bounces back, Raptors edge Bucks to even series at 1-1

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TORONTO (AP) Kyle Lowry scored 22 points, including the clinching basket with less than 10 seconds to play, and the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 106-100 on Tuesday night, evening their first-round playoff series at 1-1.

DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Serge Ibaka added 13 of his 16 in the second half and Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who improved to 5-1 when playing Game 2 of a playoff series on their home court.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Milwaukee.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks. Khris Middleton scored 20 points and Greg Monroe had 18.

Lowry scored just four points in Saturday’s Game 1 loss, missing all six of his 3-point attempts.

He was much better in Game 2, going 6 for 12, including 2 of 5 from long range. His step back jumper with 8.9 seconds remaining gave Toronto a 104-100 lead.

Toronto went 5 for 23 from behind the 3-point line in Game 1, but nearly tripled its output in Game 2, finishing 14 for 29.

Leading 84-83 through three quarters, Toronto opened the fourth with an 11-0 run that included a pair of 3-pointers by Ibaka, and a third from P.J. Tucker.

Milwaukee battled back, and a layup by Antetokounmpo cut it to 98-97 with 2:46 remaining, leading to a Raptors timeout.

Ibaka made a jumper to put Toronto up three but Antetokounmpo answered with a 3-pointer, tying it at 100-all with 2:03 left.

DeRozan broke the tie with a jumper and, after missed 3-pointers by Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova, Tucker missed a pair of free throws.

DeRozan grabbed the rebound on a missed jumper by Middleton, setting the stage for Lowry’s decisive basket.

DeRozan scored 12 points in the first and Antetokounmpo made just one of six field goal attempts in the opening quarter as Toronto led 28-25.

Lowry scored 12 points in the second but Milwaukee scored the final five points of the half to keep it close. Toronto led 55-52 at the break.

DeMarre Carroll scored seven points in a 13-0 Toronto run that gave the Raptors a 73-60 lead midway through the third but the Bucks answered with a 15-4 run over the next three minutes. Toronto led 84-83 heading to the fourth.

TIP-INS

Bucks: Antetokounmpo missed six of his first eight field goal attempts. His only made basket in the first quarter was a dunk. … Antetokounmpo finished with seven assists.

Raptors: Ibaka started despite a sore left ankle sustained when he stepped on Antetokounmpo’s foot in the third quarter of Game 1. … Lowry had four rebounds and five assists. … Former Toronto C Bismack Biyombo attended the game.

Knicks lose pre-lottery tiebreaker to Timberwolves

AP Photo/Jim Mone
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The Knicks create more than enough problems for themselves.

They’re getting bad luck, too.

New York lost a pre-lottery tiebreaker to Minnesota today. If neither the Knicks nor Timberwolves move into the top three in the lottery, Minnesota will pick one spot ahead of New York – 6-7, 7-8, 8-9 or 9-10

Tied for the NBA’s sixth-worst record, the Timberwolves and Knicks will split 106 of 1,000 lottery combinations, 53 apiece. The two teams each have an 18.3% chance of moving up in the lottery, which determines the top three picks then slots non-playoff teams in reverse order of record after that.

The league also broke ties for four sets of picks later in the first round, including one four-team tie:

15-16

15. Trail Blazers

16. Bulls

17-18

17. Bucks

18. Pacers

19-20

19. Hawks

20. Trail Blazers (via Grizzlies)

23-26

23. Raptors (via Clippers)

24. Jazz

25. Magic (via Raptors)

26. Trail Blazers (via Cavaliers)

Five out: NBA entering era of 3-point-shooting centers

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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In 2014, the Atlanta Hawks snuck into the playoffs with a 38-44 record. Their reward? A matchup with the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, who boasted the NBA’s best defense.

Roy Hibbert, a mountain of a center, anchored Indiana’s defense by using his 7-foot-2, 270-pound frame to wall off the paint.

On the other hand, Atlanta’s starting center, Al Horford, suffered a season-ending injury in December. The Hawks rotated three replacements: Pero Antic, Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon. Ayon suffered his own season-ending injury in February, leaving Atlanta to choose between a past-his-prime, but veteran, Brand and Antic, a 31-year-old rookie who liked to shoot 3-pointers but converted them at a below-average clip.

The Hawks started Antic – and told him to bomb away.

"Even though Pero wasn’t a great 3-point shooter, we told him to shoot it, because we needed Hibbert out of there," said Kenny Atkinson, who was then a Hawks assistant coach. "That was the only way we were going to score.

"We had to take some risk."

Antic hoisted 42 3s in 170 minutes – the highest rate ever in a postseason by someone who started all his team’s games at center. But he made just 7-of-42, a dreary 17%.

Yet, the scheme worked anyway.

Antic pulled Hibbert from the paint, scrambling the Pacers. Hibbert was lost on the perimeter, and his teammates didn’t know how to play without an elite rim protector behind them. Indiana was on tilt, and its offense collapsed as everyone bore the weight of new defensive challenges.

Atlanta outscored the Pacers by 30 with Antic on the court and got outscored by 37 otherwise. Though the Hawks lost the series in seven games, they pushed the Pacers far more than anyone anticipated.

"That was kind of a little bit of an epiphany," Atkinson said. "This can help. This can help draw a great rim protector away from the rim."

The stretch-five revolution was underway.

Atkinson and the Hawks, coached by Mike Budenholzer, had become full believers. The next year, Horford shot and made more 3-pointers than he did in his first seven years combined. The following year, he again trumped his growing career totals – and he wasn’t alone. The shift spread beyond Atlanta by then.

Anthony Davis also shot and made more 3-pointers last season than he had in the rest of his career combined. So did DeMarcus Cousins, who topped his new career totals again this year. Marc Gasol and Nikola Vucevic did it this year, too.

But perhaps the biggest domino to fall was Brook Lopez.

Atkinson became the Nets’ head coach this season and inherited Lopez, an archetypical center who made just 3-of-31 3-pointers in his first eight seasons. In his first year under Atkinson, Lopez has made 134-of-386 3-pointers (35%).

If Lopez can shoot 3s, what is the limit?

We’re progressing toward finding out.

Centers made 1,479 3-pointers this season – more than double any other year, more than the last four years combined, more than the first 17 years of the 3-point arc combined.

Here are number the of 3-pointers made (orange) and attempted (blue) per game by centers, as classified by Basketball-Reference:

image

Season 3P 3PA 3P/G 3PA/G 3P%
2017 1479 4183 1.20 3.40 35%
2016 544 1662 0.44 1.35 33%
2015 331 1020 0.27 0.83 32%
2014 429 1310 0.35 1.07 33%
2013 118 485 0.10 0.39 24%
2012 115 443 0.12 0.45 26%
2011 176 588 0.14 0.48 30%
2010 481 1463 0.39 1.19 33%
2009 368 1080 0.30 0.88 34%
2008 500 1519 0.41 1.23 33%
2007 305 945 0.25 0.77 32%
2006 64 301 0.05 0.24 21%
2005 253 785 0.21 0.64 32%
2004 150 559 0.13 0.47 27%
2003 150 497 0.13 0.42 30%
2002 317 896 0.27 0.75 35%
2001 86 364 0.07 0.31 24%
2000 100 382 0.08 0.32 26%
1999 44 199 0.06 0.27 22%
1998 128 535 0.11 0.45 24%
1997 219 686 0.18 0.58 32%
1996 148 528 0.12 0.44 28%
1995 247 799 0.22 0.72 31%
1994 74 339 0.07 0.31 22%
1993 91 353 0.08 0.32 26%
1992 101 396 0.09 0.36 26%
1991 117 504 0.11 0.46 23%
1990 197 677 0.18 0.61 29%
1989 170 607 0.17 0.59 28%
1988 34 191 0.04 0.20 18%
1987 12 101 0.01 0.11 12%
1986 16 129 0.02 0.14 12%
1985 11 129 0.01 0.14 9%
1984 21 147 0.02 0.16 14%
1983 18 139 0.02 0.15 13%
1982 22 112 0.02 0.12 20%
1981 14 88 0.01 0.09 16%
1980 10 95 0.01 0.11 11%

For the first time in history, the average NBA game featured a center making a 3-pointer. But the opening weekend of the playoffs sent the trend into overdrive.

In eight Game 1s, centers combined to shoot 12-for-16 on 3-pointers (75%).

That doesn’t even count all the time teams used players listed at forward, like Serge Ibaka and Draymond Green, at center – a strategy that becomes much more popular this time of year. Teams have embraced small ball more quickly than positional designations can keep up.

"A stretch five," said Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, who implored Marc Gasol to become one, "is a serious luxury."

Enjoy it while it lasts.

It wasn’t long ago that stretch fours were a novelty. Teams had to create special game plans to defend them, because they popped up on the schedule so irregularly. Now, it’s a change of pace when a team starts two traditional interior bigs.

Stretch fives are the new frontier.

Coaches are quick to point out how much trouble opposing 3-point-shooting centers cause, but not every team has developed its own. As long as the former remains true, the latter will change.

The current crop of high-volume stretch fives all have their own origin stories. Davis started shooting 3s under Alvin Gentry, who saw the value of a playmaking center while coaching Draymond Green with the Warriors. Cousins didn’t like being labeled a center and wanted to expand his game. Gasol listened to Fizdale, who was a Heat assistant when Miami – due to injury – learned the value of small ball and then turned Chris Bosh into a center. Vucevic played for Frank Vogel, who coached that Pacers team torched by Antic.

Eventually, there won’t be anything special about a center who shoots 3-pointers. It’ll be the norm.

To be fair, it was hardly unpresented pre-Antic. Mehmet Okur, who retired in 2012 is the all-time leader in 3-pointers by a center (460). Channing Frye set the single-season record for 3-pointers per game by a center (2.1) in 2010, when he played for Gentry’s Suns. That broke the record by Al Harrington for the 2008 Warriors (1.9).*

*Counting only seasons players were listed as centers by Basketball-Reference

That 2010 Phoenix team, coached by Gentry, was still running Mike D’Antoni’s spread scheme. Harrington was primarily a forward during his career, but then-Golden State coach Don Nelson frequently used him at center.

D’Antoni and Nelson were seen as mad scientists, bending basketball into an unholy style. But they were actually visionaries not appreciated in their time.

Stretch fives have not become conventional, but they’re no longer such a rarity. Nine centers made more than one 3-pointer per game this season. No more than three had done that in any other year.

Here’s every center ever to average more than one 3-pointer per game:

image

Other players could join their ranks next season.

Big forwards who already shoot plenty of 3s, like Ibaka and Kristaps Porzingis, could soon be primarily centers. Young stretch fives like Myles Turner could take more 3s in bigger roles. Centers with established mid-range games – like Robin Lopez, Brook’s twin brother – could venture beyond the arc.

There’s so much incentive to experiment.

It’s not just the added value of a more efficient shot than a long two. It’s not even just the value of generally spacing the floor.

It’s that centers are often the best rim protectors, so there’s exponentially more value in a stretch five pulling an opposing center from the paint than a stretch four pulling an opposing power forward from the paint.

Stretching the floor has enhanced existing skills for these centers, too. Getting the ball on the perimeter with the threat of shooting has made Brook Lopez an even more effective driver. Gasol can survey the floor from beyond the arc, with a defender pressed closed to him rather than disrupting the passing lanes, and zip dimes from even more angles.

Lopez has embraced his new skill dutifully, though he didn’t want to talk much about himself late in Brooklyn’s awful season. Gasol has unleashed his 3-point shooting with joyous flair – at least once he got going.

"He laughed at first because I told him I want him shooting four a game, and he thought I was joking," Fizdale said. "But as you can see it’s not a joke."

Gasol came close, finishing with 3.6 3-point attempts per game. But there’s always next year.

The stretch-five revolution has just begun.

Orlando CEO says Scott Skiles warned about culture under GM Rob Hennigan

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After a 25-win season in 2014-15, the Orlando Magic hired no-nonsense coach Scott Skiles to bring some discipline and accountability to the locker room, and some wins to the record. The next season under Skiles the Magic won 35 games, then after the season Skiles unexpectedly left the team after having issues with GM Rob Hennigan, particularly about the use of a few players and their value.

On his way out the door, and even before, Skiles warned Magic ownership about the soft team culture under Hennigan. The Magic brought in Frank Vogel as coach and he ran into some of the same issues as Skiles, got the team to only 29 wins, and this time it was Hennigan who was let go after the season.

Speaking with the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said Skiles gave them warnings about the team culture under Hennigan and the also let go GM Scott Perry.

“Scott certainly had his concerns; I don’t think that was any secret,” Martins said when I asked if he should have listened to Skiles instead of Hennigan. “He made that very well known. He and I had several conversations about things during his tenure here.”

From talking to people close to the situation and listening to Martin’s public comments, it appears Skiles felt Hennigan and Perry coddled players and undermined the coaching staff’s ability to instill accountability. Skiles is a no-nonsense basketball lifer who didn’t like the work ethic of his young players or the culture created by the inexperienced Hennigan….

“There were things Scott could have done better and one of them is that he could have been more patient,” Martins said. “We were clearly having those conversations [about the culture] and working toward solutions, but Scott didn’t want to be patient about it.”

You can’t blame him, because coaches are usually the ones let go, not the GM. Part of what changed is that Vogel was a proven winner who knows how to build a strong team and culture, and he had a four-year contract. Vogel wasn’t going anywhere, so Hennigan was.

There was surprise around the league GM Perry was caught up in the house cleaning, he was well respected by other teams. Perry reportedly had pushed for a trade that would have brought the Magic DeMarcus Cousins for Nikola Vucevic and either Evan Fournier or draft picks, but Hennigan shot the idea down, worried Orlando couldn’t re-sign Cousins and, ironically, about Cousins impact on team culture. New Orleans stepped in and made a trade for Cousins.

The Magic have said they are going to take their time and get the right GM in place, but there are key decisions coming this summer to turn this franchise around. That will start with the NBA Draft, where the Magic will have a high pick (currently fifth before the lottery). There also are decisions about whether to bring Jeff Green back, what free agents to chase, and to consider trades of guys like Vucevic or Terrence Ross.