Three Stars: Career highs for three guys

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The soulless pursuit of stats by players on bad teams (or as I like to call it, the Corey Maggette special) can often be pretty brutal to watch. No one likes watching a guy play isolation basketball the whole game, hogging possessions and looking off teammates. Three Stars doesn’t reward that type of behavior, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate some great individual play — even in a losing effort.

Tonight, we have two career bests by players with a combined NBA experience of 15 years, but our First Star is just getting started. Yes, Kobe Bryant, we’re very impressed with what you did to the Spurs tonight, but you’ve clearly made the mistake of setting your career-high bar (81 points!) much, much too high. Here are Tuesday’s Three Stars of the Night:

Third Star: Jose Calderon – 13 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Jose…Jose, Jose, Jose! Filling in place of the injured Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon put up his first career triple-double in 487 NBA games, and set a new career-high for rebounds with 10 all at the same time. I know what you’re thinking — how the heck does Jose Calderon get 10 rebounds? Well, with Andrea Bargnani on the floor, anything is possible. Bargnani pulled down just two rebounds in 30 minutes of floor time, but give Calderon some credit for sticking his nose in there and capitalizing off an Indiana Pacers team that loves shooting long jumpers. There’s a pretty good chance we’ll never see this happen again, so let’s give Calderon his due in a big win over the Pacers after a triple-overtime battle last night.

Second Star: Anderson Varejao – 35 points, 18 rebounds, 16-for-21 shooting

The league’s premier garbage man did it bigger than ever before, hanging around the rim for a career-high in points with 35. While we know Varejao is plenty capable of those duties, his evolution as a pick-and-roll big man has been incredible to see. Varejao has always been one of the league’s best screeners, but now he’s timing his rolls better, creating angles for his guards and finding the open space on the floor rather than plowing into traffic. It might sound silly, but the Irving/Varejao pick-and-roll combo may finish as the league’s best this year, even though they’re surrounded by no other consistent contributors. Seriously, Cleveland. Six bench points tonight? It’s time to get Andy, one of the hardest working players in the league, some more help.

First Star: Kyrie Irving – 34 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 9-19 shooting

Kyrie went all “Uncle Drew” tonight, toying with one of the league’s best point guards in Deron Williams. Although Williams would win the war, Kyrie won nearly every battle, maneuvering to the hole with ease and getting to the free-throw line (14-for-14) whenever he wanted to. If you had to start a franchise today, and every player is on their current salary, wouldn’t Kyrie Irving be a smart choice? Although he neglects one side of the floor completely, Irving is one of the most dynamic offensive forces in the league. There’s nothing he can’t do with the ball in his hands, and as a natural point guard, he’ll have the ball plenty. Don’t be surprised if his new career-high of 34 points is broken this year, or even this month. It’s rare for this to happen, but Irving is even better than advertised.

Kevin Durant fined $25,000 for telling fan to “shut the f*** up”

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The percentage of players who would like to tell a courtside fan to “shut the f*** up” would be close to 100.

However, there are 25,000 reasons players don’t do that. Kevin Durant found out the hard way. During the Warriors loss in Dallas Monday, Durant was being heckled by fans along the baseline calling him “cupcake” (an old Russell Westbrook insult) and it got under KD’s skin enough that he told the fans to “watch the f****** game and shut the f*** up.”

The league office, it turns out, does not like it’s players talking to fans that way — at least when it’s caught on video — so Durant was fined $25,000 on Tuesday.

Fans taunting players with the hopes of catching a reaction on video is a growing trend in recent years around the NBA, and so far the league’s response to that has been to remind fans around the court they can be removed for what they are saying (with a postcard note on each seat).

Personally, if you choose to engage a player that way during a game, he has the right to fire back and say whatever he wants. If you want to get in the NBA trash talk game, you have to be able to take it, not just dish it. Those are not the ground rules, however, so KD gets a fine.

Only high schoolers who would’ve been consensus draft candidates to receive $125,000 minor-league offer

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The NBA’s minor league’s plan to offer players $125,000 salaries straight out of high school sparked two major questions:

  • Who will receive that offer?
  • Who will take it?

Former NBA player Rod Strickland and former WNBA player Allison Feaster will run the program, and they’re answering the first question.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBA is limiting eligibility for the professional path program to prep players who would be considered consensus candidates for the draft if there were no early entry rule to prohibit them. Feaster will work with a group that includes Strickland and the NBA’s basketball operations and player development staffs to evaluate the potential players.

“It will be elite prospects with a readiness for a professional league,” Feaster told ESPN. “We want to target players who would not be going to a university if it weren’t for the NBA eligibility rule. That’s more or less what’s going to dictate this.”

Feaster expects a “handful” of players to be part of the initial group in the professional path. Feaster and Strickland emphasized that the program will be judicious in choosing those eligible for the pro path opportunity.

For reference, 17 high schoolers were picked in the final two drafts (2004 and 2005) before the NBA implemented its one-and-done rule. So, that suggests about 8-9 players annually will get offered the $125,000 deal.

That still leaves the other question: Who will take it?

Kevin Durant said he wouldn’t have. Shoe companies are still spending the most money, and they’re heavily invested in the visibility of college basketball.

But every prospect’s situation is unique. With Strickland and Feaster in place, we’ll soon see how players receive this new path.

76ers sound caught off guard about Markelle Fultz stepping away

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Markelle Fultz has played in all 17 of the 76ers’ games this season, starting until they traded for Jimmy Butler. A couple weeks ago, Fultz called himself generally healthy.

Then, Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, informed the 76ers the guard wouldn’t play or practice until visiting a specialist Monday. Fultz will miss at least three games – against the Pelicans, Cavaliers and Nets.

76ers coach Brett Brown:

It’s kind of the first real sort of red-flag-type news.

This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard. But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. If that’s what it is, then we’ll support him.

76ers general manager Elton Brand:

We thought it was the regular bumps and bruises.

There’s nothing that we saw medically that didn’t allow him to play.

This yet another odd turn in a saga that already included plenty of contentiousness, animosity, rumors and cringe-worthy moments. At this point, it’s hard to be shocked by anything with Fultz.

It’s also hard to take the 76ers seriously when they suggest it seemed like business as usual. Fultz’s shot is disturbingly broken. There is clearly a problem. Maybe letting Fultz play without fretting over the issue was the right course, but how surprised can Philadelphia be that he took a more drastic measure?

Hopefully, the specialist helps Fultz identify and fix this issue.

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.