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.

Knicks say they scouted Giannis Antetokounmpo in Greece

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s agent, Giorgos Panou, said the Knicks were the only team not to scout Antetokounmpo in Greece before the 2013 NBA draft.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

If the Knicks indeed scouted Antetokounmpo that thoroughly, it’s a shame they were smeared for not doing so.

Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo No. 13. New York had the No. 24 pick and kept it to draft Tim Hardaway Jr.

Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma scores 35, wins MVP, leads USA to victory in Rising Stars dunkfest

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CHARLOTTE — Nobody comes to the Friday night Rising Stars Challenge — the All-Star weekend showcase of first- and second-year stars — for the defense. Which is good, because there isn’t any. Zero. Nada. Your Saturday blacktop pickup game at the local park has guys that care more about defense than you see in this game.

What the Rising Stars has are dunks. A lot of big dunks. And some threes. Then more dunks.

For example, the Hawks’ John Collins was showing off why he was in the dunk contest, complete with a pass off the backboard to himself.

As for the game itself, the USA won 161-144 over the World.

The Lakers Kyle Kuzma raced out to 23 first-half points and finished with 35 to earn MVP honors.

“Last year I didn’t really play that hard,” Kuzma said of his first time in this game. “This year I just came out, one, I wanted to get some conditioning, and, two, why not MVP? You’re in the game. So might as well just try.”

Kuzma also broke out the windmill.

D’Aaron Fox said before the game he wanted to break the assist record for the Rising Stars, and while he fell short of that number he had 16 for the USA. Boston’s Jayson Tatum had 30 and Donovan Mitchell had 20 for the USA. Ben Simmons led the Word team of 28 points.

As for highlights, there were plenty.

Atlanta’s Trae Young hit six threes and had this dime.

He also had the play of the night, nutmegging Deandre Ayton.

Philly’s Ben Simmons had a couple of throwdowns.

The Timberwolves Josh Okogie had the putback of the night (teammate and All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns sat courtside wearing an Okogie jersey).

Hawks’ John Collins passes to self off backboard for dunk in Rising Stars

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CHARLOTTE — The NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge — the Friday night showcase of first- and second-year players during All-Star Weekend — has less defense than your lunch run pickup game at the Y. Even less than the All-Star Game itself.

Which leads to some monster dunks.

Enter Atlanta’s second-year big man John Collins, playing for the USA (vs. The World), who went off the backboard to himself for the best throwdown of the game.

That wasn’t Collins’ only quality dunk in this game.

He looks ready for Saturday’s Dunk Contest.

Report: Nuggets extend president Tim Connelly’s contract

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On the same day the Pelicans fired general manager Dell Demps, the Nuggets extended the contract of president Tim Connelly, who went to Denver from New Orleans.

Nuggets release:

Nuggets President and Governor Josh Kroenke announced today that the Nuggets have extended the contracts of President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and General Manager Arturas Karnisovas as well and also provided multi-year extensions for the entire basketball operations staff.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I don’t know whether Connelly used the threat of the Pelicans job as leverage. But he deserved this extension, anyway.

The Nuggets have only continued to rise since his previous extension three years ago.

Denver has yet to make the playoffs under Connelly, and he declared this season postseason or bust. Denver (39-18) is second in the Western Conference.

Connelly made a second-round pick so good in Nikola Jokic, it altered the course of the franchise. Connelly has done well to lock Jokic onto a five-year extension, surround him with young talent like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez and get them a good coach in Michael Malone.

If Denver weren’t stuck barely missing the playoffs in the loaded West the last couple years, we might have been singing Connelly’s praises sooner. But his success is undeniable. The Nuggets are in great shape now and in the future, and Connelly should see that through.