How do the Thunder deal with Tony Parker?

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We can sometimes overanalyze what happened in a regular season game when trying to look at a playoff matchp. It’s like comparing Suzanne Collins and José Saramago novels, technically they are the same art form but one of these things is not like the other.

However, the Feb. 4 meeting of the Spurs and Thunder provides some interesting insights into what we might see starting Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals — specifically how the Thunder try to deal with Tony Parker.

In that game, on orders from coach Gregg Popovich to attack Russell Westbrook, Parker had 42 points on 29 shots, had 9 assists, got to the line a dozen times and carved up the Thunder defense like your dad on a Thanksgiving turkey. The Spurs won. Then this week Parker added this:

“We’re definitely going to go at (Westbrook). It’s not going to be like Dallas or the Lakers,” Parker said. “Their point guards are not as aggressive. It’s going to be a little bit different. We’re going to go at him.”


Westbrook told the Oklahoman he remembered that February game.

“It was a bad game,” Westbrook said when asked what he remembers about that night. “It was a bad game for our team. We got out sluggish, kind of let them do what they wanted to do, especially Tony Parker.”

That’s a tad short on details for my taste. Fortunately, Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated has more details and information than you’ll know what to do with in his breakdown of the Thunder and Parker.

Westbrook, however, can be jumpy against the pick-and-roll, and the Spurs know this… In pick-and-r0lls involving Westbrook, Parker often waits an extra beat as the screen is set to see if the Thunder point guard will try to get a jump on the play by lunging in the direction he thinks Parker will go — usually in the direction of the pick. Parker had great success waiting for that lunge and then going against the pick, leaving Westbrook hopelessly behind. Or, if Westbrook’s aggressive sliding took him far above the pick, Parker would dribble at him, cross over and split defenders on his way into the paint.
The Thunder’s standard defense against Parker offered a second way for him to attack: by going full speed at the big man helping against the pick-and-roll. The cliché about Parker is that he is a shaky long-range shooter, and that opponents should go under picks, daring him to shoot jumpers. But the Thunder did not defend Parker this way. They mostly had Westbrook chase Parker over the pick, while the man defending the screener slid over to contain Parker’s dribble penetration….

The strategy concedes the pick-and-pop jumper, and Duncan get several wide-open looks at jump shots against the Thunder. But having Duncan shoot 20-footers — some of which the Thunder could contest by crashing from the wing — is a better outcome for Oklahoma City than having Parker get into the paint, break down the defense and find a layup or wide-open shooter.

Go read Lowe’s entire post.I’ll wait.

This starts to explain why I think San Antonio will win this series — the Thunder can’t really stop them, the Spurs are too efficent. Right now the Spurs’ ball movement in situations like that is incredible. Duncan may hit that 20 footer, or he may make a pass to the next guy to hit a corner three or drain another shot of choice. The Spurs are getting and incredible 1.18 points per possession on spot up jumpers in the playoffs because they are getting the jumpers they want. If they do that against Oklahoma City, the Thunder will struggle to keep up with the scoring.

Which comes back to why I think Westbrook is the key to the series — he has to dent Parkers’ efficiency on one end and create a lot of offense on the other end.

It’s a big task. Spurs are relentless on offense. As athletic and talented as the Spurs are, I’m not sure they can keep up. I just keep flashing back to the original Terminaor movie and seeing the Spurs offense.

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).