With Haslem out, will LeBron see more time at the four?

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Udonis Haslem going down with a torn foot ligament is very bad for the Miami Heat means that the Miami Heat are going to have to make some tough calls regarding their rotation in the coming weeks. Allow me to offer this thought: instead of giving Haslem’s minutes to Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, or increasing Joel Anthony’s minutes, why not use more lineups that use James Jones at the three, feature a backcourt of Wade and Arroyo/Chalmers, play Anthony or Ilgauskas at center, and use LeBron at the four spot?

After all, LeBron is bigger than most power forwards, and there isn’t a power forward in the league who can keep James in front of them. The Heat have been using LeBron as their de facto point guard a lot of the time, which takes full advantage of LeBron’s passing ability. That’s all well and good, but LeBron isn’t the best passer in NBA history. However, he might be the most frightening combination of size and speed the NBA has seen since Wilt Chamberlain. The closer LeBron is to the basket, the more chances he has to use that athleticism.

LeBron’s footwork in the post is one of the worst parts of his offensive game, but putting him on the block will force defenses to bring double teams, give James more opportunities to finish plays at the basket, and infuse some athleticism into a Heat offense that has relied heavily on pick-and-pop basketball in the opening parts of the season. And if LeBron does use this opportunity to commit himself to working on his footwork and developing a scorer’s mentality in the post, the rest of the league is going to have problems. Even if the Heat go “four-up” with LeBron at the four like ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh predicts they will, the Heat are going to be tough to defend because of how well they can spread the floor.

Here’s some of what Haberstroh had to say about the possibility of James seeing extended minutes at the four:

LeBron at the 4 sounds nice. And it often is. But there’s more to it.

The Cleveland Cavaliers found success deploying LeBron at the power forward, but only while he was paired with a mobile, defensively-focused big man like Anderson Varejao. The effect was lost when LeBron tagged alongside slumbering 5s like Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Evidently, the Cavaliers excelled with the duo of James and Varejao, beating opponents by about 28 points every 100 possessions. But that’s not the case with Shaq and Ilguaskas, with the Cavs getting outscored on a per possession basis. (Side note: the Cavs had 12 more offensive possessions than defensive possessions, explaining the negative efficiency differential for Iglauskas’ line).

While it’s insightful to look at how Cleveland fared with LeBron at the 4, the situation in Miami is substantially different. The Heat don’t have a player like Varejao who can run the floor, finish in transition and sufficiently defend opposing bigs without fouling them every time down the court.

The Heat will look for Bosh to fill that role at the center position even though he’s been vocal about it not being his favorite one.

Possible Heat acquisition Erik Dampier isn’t a speedster by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a good deal more mobile than the glacial pair of O’Neal and Ilgauskas. Joel Anthony isn’t as smart of a defender as Varejao, but he’s nearly as quick, stronger, and a better shot-blocker.

It might be beneficial for the Heat to give LeBron some minutes at the four now, because injured Heat 6th man Mike Miller is probably a natural small forward — a Miller/James frontcourt combination could be a great way to keep the pressure on teams when Bosh sits, or they could even go crazy and play Miller/James/Bosh for some stretches. The Heat will probably end up playing LeBron on the perimeter as much as they can, and LeBron himself doesn’t seem that excited about playing the four, but LeBron embracing his size and athleticism in Miami instead of insisting on being the world’s largest lead guard could ease the blow of the Haslem injury.

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Nick Falzerano/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.