NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Can Bynum make a difference?

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Bynum_Celtics.jpgFor all the differences between the 2007-08 Lakers, the 08-09 Lakers, and this year’s Laker squad, one thing remains the same: The Lakers are hoping that they can get a significant contribution from Andrew Bynum, but aren’t sure he’ll be healthy enough to make one. 

Bynum missed the 2008 NBA Finals due to knee surgery, and was severely limited by injuries in last year’s finals, averaging only six points a game against the Magic. Bynum was finally supposed to be healthy for this playoff run, and has had games where’s he’s looked like the great young center the Lakers know he can be. Unfortunately, those games have been exceptions, and for most of the playoffs Bynum has looked hobbled by his latest knee injury, a slight meniscus tear suffered in game six of the Lakers’ first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 
Bynum recently had a kiddie pool taken out of his knee, and the Lakers hope that the knee-draining procedure will be half as effective for Bynum as it was for Kobe Bryant, who has been an absolute house of fire since getting his own knee drained. 
If Bynum can actually come back from this injury and play at anywhere near a 100% level during the Finals, the dividends would be immediate and significant for the Lakers. Kobe and Rondo may be the best two players in this series, but the games will likely be decided by which team wins the frontcourt battle. If Bynum is healthy enough to force Perkins to pay attention to him on defense, Gasol gets the kind of room to operate he didn’t have in the 2008 finals, when Gasol didn’t have a single 20-point game in the series. 
If he isn’t, Kendrick Perkins gets to guard Gasol in the post, and KG switches onto Lamar Odom. If the way KG destroyed Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis over the course of these playoffs has taught us anything, it’s that KG absolutely destroys fast, undersized fours. The Lakers need to make Perkins and Garnett pay attention to their man, because if one of them is free to rotate and give help on defense, the paint gets shut down. 
If Bynum is healthy, that means more offensive rebounds for the Lakers and fewer missed three-pointers, since the Lakers will be getting more shots in the paint. The Lakers already do a great job of limiting their turnovers; if they can get some offensive boards and cut down on threes that lead to long rebounds, they could keep Rajon Rondo from getting out in transition. 
When Bynum doesn’t play well, the Laker offense is fantastic when the ball is moving and the shots are falling, and mediocre on off-nights. When Bynum does play well, the Lakers absolutely own the paint on offense, and can destroy teams even when they aren’t doing the right things on offense: look at what they did to the Jazz in game two of that series, when the Lakers cruised to a win despite turning the ball over twice as much as the Jazz did, taking less shots in the paint, and going 4-17 from beyond the arc. I was there. It was intimidating. 
It’s no secret that Boston wants to get physical with the Lakers and try to do to them what they did in 2008. It may be a pipe dream, but if Bynum can actually play through his injuries and make an impact in this series, the Lakers are more than capable of beating the Celtics at their own game. 

David West: “I would say Kevin Durant is back with the Warriors next season”

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Kevin Durant doesn’t know what Kevin Durant is going to do next summer.

It is entirely possible he chooses to remain a Golden State Warrior, on a team that has dominated the West since his arrival and remains the clear favorite to win it all again (despite some stumbles early in the season). Plus, they can offer more money than any other team.

That’s not what is expected around the league — most sources think he is bolting. Where is unknown — the Clippers and the Knicks are the most mentioned but the Lakers and other teams come up — but the consensus is he will be in a new jersey next season.

Former teammate David West is in the first camp, as he told Steinmetz and Guru on 95.7 the Game, the Warriors radio flagship.

Kevin Durant is not the most decisive person in the world — what he thinks about free agency today may not be what he’s going to think about it in a week, or a month. Or, more importantly, next July.

West doesn’t see what others do, but then again West left $11 million on the table to chase a ring. He’s not the norm that way. His biases may cloud what he expects from the superstar.

Durant is having another in-the-MVP-conversation season, averaging 28.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game, and he carried the team while Stephen Curry was out. Durant is the two-time Finals MVP and in the conversation for the best player on the planet. There are 29 teams that would bend over backward to get him on their roster.

What Durant wants in the mystery. Maybe West is right.

Report: Bulls talking Jabari Parker trade

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The Bulls are reportedly pulling Jabari Parker from their regular rotation.

That might spell the end of Parker in Chicago.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Parker is having a dismal season. His defense has been as advertised. He’s shooting a lot and inefficiently and turning the ball over too much.

He’s also earning $20 million this season, which will make matching salary in a trade difficult.

At least Parker is on a de facto expiring contract. (His $20 million team option for next season will surely be declined.) His contract could help facilitate a trade. Maybe the Bulls deal him for an unwanted player with a multi-year guarantee plus sweeteners. Chicago is far enough from winning that punting 2019 cap space for draft picks and young players makes sense.

Parker is just 23 and talented. While his expiring contract is likely to be the central appeal of any trade, his potential is higher than the typical player in such a deal. That only helps his value.

The Bulls won’t get much for Parker. He’s not even good enough to play on their lousy team. But both sides are probably ready to move on, and maybe they can make it happen.

Parker and his agent know how to work their way out of undesirable situations.

Former Knicks center Joakim Noah: ‘I’m too lit to play in New York City’

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When Joakim Noah signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks in 2016, his father – former tennis star Yannick Noah – boasted about how well his son would fit in New York:

“He knows the city,” Yannick Noah said. “He was born here. It’s not like he’s coming from the countryside and he’s coming to New York City. He lived here for a long time. Of course, it can be dangerous for an athlete. But he knows and he’s so motivated. It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s going to give all he has for the city.”

Oops.

Noah played terribly, got suspended for taking a banned substance and feuded with his coach. Before this season, the Knicks cut him, preferring to pay him out than have him continue to occupy a roster spot.

Noah, who previously played for the Bulls, signed with the Grizzlies. He’s now addressing what went wrong in New York.

Noah on the Chris Vernon Show:

I could look back on it and say I thought I was ready for New York City, but I wasn’t. And it’s something that I’ve got to live with.

Not just the pressure. I remember after the first game, I probably had, like, 60 people in my house. I’m too lit. I’m too lit to play in New York City. I’m too lit to play in New York City. Memphis is perfect for me.

We were lit in Chicago, but I was young. So, you recover faster, you know? You recover faster.

I respect the honesty. Not many players would have revealed so much about their partying.

But I’m also not convinced a smaller market will fix Noah.

The 33-year-old might just be too worn down to help an NBA team.

Anthony Davis doing it all for Pelicans

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DETROIT – Anthony Davis repeatedly entered and exited the visitors’ locker room after the Pelicans win over the Pistons on Sunday. At a time most players go from their locker to the shower and back then leave, Davis was busy. He visited with people in the hall. He breezed back by his locker then left to attend to other matters. He returned again and, before showering, turned to the assembled media.

“Y’all need me?” Davis asked.

Davis is used to getting pulled in every direction and still being needed even more.

The superstar is having another MVP-ballot-caliber season. Yet, New Orleans is just 15-15, 11th in the Western Conference.

It’s for a lack of effort by Davis. He has expanded his game offensively. Playing center regularly, his defensive responsibilities are as great as ever. And he leads the NBA with 37.0 minutes per game.

“You don’t have Secretariat run half the race then step out because it might be too far,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “No. You’ve got a great player, you use him the best you can.”

New Orleans has little choice but to lean heavily on Davis. With him on the floor vs. off, the Pelicans score 9.7 more points and allow 6.2 fewer points per 100 possessions.

Put another way: New Orleans plays like a 59-win team with Davis and a 20-win team without him.

Here are the leaders in win-rate difference with off-court on the left, on-court on the right and difference between (minimum: 300 minutes):

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It helps Davis plays a large majority of minutes with Jrue Holiday, who actually rates better by this metric. But Davis is clearly driving New Orleans’ success.

Not only does Davis lead the NBA in real plus-minus (+7.11), he does so with an unparalleled two-way efficiency. Nobody nears his combination of offensive (+3.73) and defensive (+3.38) real plus-minus.

Here’s every NBA player by offensive and defensive real plus-minus with the positive outliers’ photos:

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Davis is producing in all his usual ways – 28.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. But he’s also averaging 4.7 assists per game, more than double his previous career high.

The Pelicans increased their pace and passing last year, and the system did wonders for setting up Davis. But they lost key component Rajon Rondo in free agency last summer, and replacement starting point guard Elfrid Payton has missed most of this season due to injury.

So, Davis has stepped up.

He’s done it while continuing to protect the ball, an overlooked but important aspect of his game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 2-to-1, impressive for a big.

Davis faces frequent double-teams and generates many of his assists by passing out of those:

After scoring so well in transition for so long, Davis is now taking advantage of his speed by playmaking in the open court:

Davis has also become adept at flipping short passes to a teammate then walking into a screen ball screen. That threat has sparked more creative options with Davis’ improved distributing abilities:

Davis’ teammates appear invigorated to receive his passes.

They run the court with him on fastbreaks. They cut actively. They re-position themselves around the 3-point arc to create passing angles.

With Davis attracting so much defensive attention, openings abound.

“He just finds me, and it’s an easy look,” said Nikola Mirotic, who’s shooting 70% on 2-pointers and 52% on 3-pointers off passes from Davis.

Davis keeps putting more on his plate. He said he has to play nearly perfectly for the Pelicans to win, and he hasn’t shrunk from that responsibility. In fact, he keeps raising his personal standard.

New Orleans is trying to keep up. The Pelicans are reportedly one of the most active buyers on the trade market, but they lack trade chips beyond their draft picks. Davis is propping up a mediocre supporting cast.

Of course, Davis will be eligible for a super-max extension – which projects to be worth about $240 million over five years – this offseason. That will be the moment of truth for his future in New Orleans.

Most players so good on teams so bad would have left already.

But Davis – for now, at least – is still with the Pelicans, still doing everything he can to carry them.

“Being the guy on the team, the leader, franchise player you say,” Davis said, “the team asks a lot of me. So, anything less than what they expect, it’s on me.

“Anybody who wants to be that great player, it comes with the territory.”