NBA Playoffs: With Hinrich out, Rose is set for an onslaught

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Kirk Hinrich is doubtful to play at all in the Atlanta Hawks’ series against the Chicago Bulls. As such, the Hawks are doubtful to even remain competitive in the series that will surely spell their playoff end. I hate to foretell a team’s postseason demise in such certain terms, but Hinrich’s absence makes it easy; without their top perimeter defender, the Hawks just don’t stand a chance.

Atlanta’s playoff success thus far has hinged on making their opponent’s offense operate even less fluidly than their own, and if they’re to follow the same template in the second round, then finding a way to impede Derrick Rose is the Hawks’ foremost priority. It’s a tall order to begin with, but almost inconceivable without Hinrich in the lineup. It’s going to get ugly.

Hinrich’s on-ball defense on Jameer Nelson and semi-frequent digs against Dwight Howard in the post were instrumental in keeping the Orlando Magic’s offense under wraps in the first round; according to NBA.com’s StatsCube, the Hawks were 9.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Hinrich on the floor, and it wasn’t hard to imagine a healthy Hinrich having a similar defensive impact in the second round. It just wasn’t meant to be, as a strained hamstring has created even more difficulties for an outmatched Hawks team.

That said, Hinrich’s defensive value sadly has as much to do with his strengths as it does his teammates’ weaknesses. When Hinrich sits, either Jamal Crawford or Joe Johnson typically defends the opposing team’s point guard, and at risk of spoiling the surprise, let’s just say it doesn’t typically end well. Johnson once had the repute of being a successful defender, but he and Crawford are both similarly flawed on that end of the court. The Indiana Pacers may have successfully utilized a wing defender – rookie Paul George – on Rose in their first round matchup against the Bulls, but the limitations of the Hawks’ rotation wings make employing a similar strategy almost impossible. Atlanta could potentially cross-match Johnson, Crawford, or Marvin Williams to defend Rose, but none of those players have the lateral movement or the athleticism to mimic George’s success. They would merely be empty copies, defenders with size on Rose, but no total skill set with which to use that size as a defensive weapon.

With that in mind, Hawks head coach Larry Drew has reportedly elected to start second-year guard Jeff Teague at point guard for Game 1, though it’s unknown how exactly Atlanta will match up on defense. Assigning Teague to defend Rose could be the best option available, if only due to the aforementioned poor alternatives; not only are Johnson and Crawford limited defenders, but giving them such a taxing defensive role is perhaps too much of a burden given their demanding offensive responsibilities.

Teague is athletic, but — by Drew’s own fault — a bit inexperienced. The same could also be said of George (though he has former Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien to blame), but the fundamental difference in the physical profiles of the two players makes a profound impact. Teague may have a better athletic capacity to stick with Rose than anyone on Atlanta’s roster, but his lack of experience defending quality point guards will only make him prone to defensive mistakes. George may have been similarly hindered by his lack of consistent court time, but height and length privilege defenders with a greater opportunity for recovery. When George made a mistake in the first round, he could still hustle back to block Rose’s shot from behind or get a hand in his face. When Teague makes a mistake in this series, he’ll practically be dead in the water. Length is an effective mask for the limitations of young players, but Teague, who stands at just 6-2, will have no such benefit.

Atlanta has nowhere to turn. Their best defensive option against Rose is sidelined. Their contingency plan is athletic, but can be easily exploited. All other alternatives are too slow, and too unathletic. Rose can create a positional advantage against just about every team he plays against, but this Hawks roster is uniquely incapable of stopping him without excessive trapping, and thus uniquely incapable of maintaining their current level of defensive success.

Bulls’ Denzel Valentine likely to miss entire season

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Bulls wing Denzel Valentine has had a rough go of it.

A lottery pick two years ago, battled ankle injuries during his rookie year and underwent ankle surgery after the season. He stayed mostly healthy last year, but his season still ended early for knee surgery. Then, over the summer, he got torched in the Drew League by Frank “Nitty” Session, who questioned how Valentine was in the NBA:

And now…

Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He’ll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The long end of that timeline will keep Valentine sidelined the entire season. The short end would allow him to return late in the year, but with Chicago so dismal, there’s little incentive to rush him back.

Valentine is under contract next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. He might need to prove himself to make Nitty’s question still relevant.

Report: J.R. Smith and Cavaliers separating as they seek trade

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DETROIT – Yesterday – yesterday! – J.R. Smith explained why he didn’t leave the Cavaliers when, a few weeks ago, they pulled him from the rotation and gave him the offer to step away.

“I can’t do that to the city and the fans,” Smith said. “A lot of people have been backing me since I’ve been here. I feel like it’s been a new start since I came here. The way the fans embraced me, the way that I’ve embraced the city, my teammates, I can’t do that to them.”

But Smith also said Cleveland is tanking and reaffirmed his desire to be traded. That probably set wheels in motion.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Smith – who’s guaranteed $18.59 million on a contract that will surely end after this season – carries negative trade value. The Cavs shouldn’t attach the sweetener necessary to dump him. They’re better off just paying him for now.

Because just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed, Smith’s contract could prove useful in a trade.

If Smith would reduce his guarantee with a buyout, let him go. But Smith probably shouldn’t do that without a new job lined up.

So, the stalemate continues.

If everyone is happier apart, all the better. Smith wasn’t making a difference on the court for a team he correctly identified as tanking.

Report: ‘At the direction of his attorney,’ 76ers G Markelle Fultz to stop playing and practicing, see specialist

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Markelle Fultz said his shooting problems were due to injury, and just a couple weeks ago, he insisted he was generally healthy.

But something is clearly amiss.

The 76ers guard finally appears to be acknowledging it.

David Aldridge of The Athletic:

Should we read into Brothers – usually identified as Fultz’s agent – being referred to as Fultz’s attorney? That sounds ominous.

There has been back-and-forth between Fultz’s and the 76ers about who deserves blame for his struggles.

J.R. Smith: Cavaliers are tanking

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J.R. Smith said he wants the Cavaliers to trade him.

But that was right after they told Smith he’d be shut down. He has been playing regularly lately.

Still, Smith isn’t pleased with Cleveland.

J.R. Smith, via Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

“I don’t think the goal is to win. The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as you can,” Smith said. “I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks. I think that was always the plan.”

And as long as the Cavs are operating this way, Smith is not interested in being part of it.

“Not if the goal isn’t to compete, to win,” he said.

If that’s what the Cavaliers are doing, that’s smart. They need premier young talent, and a high draft pick is the best way to acquire it. Because they owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder, the Cavs need to tank hard rather taking half-measures.

But I also understand why Smith wants no part of it. He’s 33 years old, and he doesn’t have time to wait around for a rebuild. He wants to win now.

Smith should shame the Cavaliers for tanking. That should be a consequence of their plan, even if it’s the right one. He is a casualty of it. If he shames Cleveland into trading or buying him out, all the better.