The Extra Pass: Teams in the basement

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we hope David Stern isn’t reading. 

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who have had their memory cleansed of everything lockout related, but try and remember this. Before everything went down, there was a report that David Stern told a room full of important people, including Derrick Rose, that he, “knew where the bodies are buried” in the NBA. That was pretty scary. Even though we never got clarification where the bodies are actually buried, probably (maybe?) because he was speaking metaphorically, I’ll tell you what we can find in the basement besides the bodies of writers who mistakenly tried to tie in threatening David Stern quotes into their article…and that’s bad teams doing weird things!

Here are a few facts you should know about the league’s cellar dwellers this season:

The Washington Wizards have the 10th best defense in the league. No, really.  

Somehow, the Wizards currently rank 10th in defensive efficiency, which puts them three spots higher than your defending champion Miami Heat.

To give you an idea of how defensive efficiency typically is a strong indicator of success, the current top 13 teams in defensive efficiency right now would all be in the playoffs if they started today — except, of course, for the 7-28 Wizards.

How is this possible? The league’s least efficient offense helps explain the league’s worst record, but the defense holding on strong does make you wonder if the Wizards are in for a turnaround with John Wall back in the lineup. To that point, Washington has won three games in a row with Wall back, which is obviously kind of a big deal for them.

But let’s enjoy the present, right Wizards fans? Your team is better defensively than the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers right now. That’s something to hang your hat on.

The Charlotte Bobcats rank second in the league in points per play for ballhanders in the pick-and-roll. 

That vaunted Bobcats pick-and-roll attack! According to Synergy Sports, the Bobcats notch .88 points per play for their ballhandlers in the pick-and-roll, which ranks them second in the league.

This is pretty incredible, mainly because every team in the NBA uses picks for ballhandlers. It’s the bread and butter of nearly every NBA offense.

But it’s the Bobcats with Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and any other pick users that rank second among all teams. With all the great point guards around the league, Kemba Walker (31st overall in P&R scoring) and Ramon Sessions (38th) are quietly consistent enough as scorers to have the Bobcats rank as elite in this category.

You just keep on setting screens and doing your thing, Bismack Biyombo. You may not be scoring, but your guards are.

New Orleans Hornets rookie Austin Rivers may be having the worst season ever.

I do wish this was hyperbole, but according to stat magician Kevin Pelton, Rivers has the worst WARP (wins above replacement player) rating since 1979-80, the first year with the 3-point line. That’s right — Rivers is projected to cost his team more wins than every single player who came before him for the last 30+ years.

That ranking aside, shooting 32 percent from the field is hard enough, but Rivers keeps getting worse, as he’s shot 22 percent from the field over his last ten games. The good news is that Monty Williams appears ready to hand out playing time elsewhere with Eric Gordon back in the fold. Rivers, quite clearly, is not ready for the NBA yet.

But here’s the good news in regards to Pelton’s WARP — a negative rookie season doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed:

(…) a poor first season isn’t necessarily a death knell for a player’s career. Allan Houston, Chris Kaman and Glen Rice all developed into All-Stars after rating at least three wins below replacement as rookies. And none of those players was anywhere near as young or inexperienced as Rivers at the time.

Via Kevin Pelton | ESPN.com

After all, if the Wizards can rank 10th in defense, anything is possible.

Orlando’s offense is better without Glen “Big Baby” Davis. However, the defense is much, much better with him on the floor. 

Down is up, left is right, war is peace. Glen Davis hurts Orlando offensively, but helps defensively. Who knew? Orlando posts an impressive 105.7 offensive rating when Davis is off the floor, which would be good for 7th in the league.

However, when Davis is on the floor, Orlando drops to a 101 offensive rating, which would sink them to 17th in the league.

But fear not, because Glen Davis is apparently a defensive stopper! Defensively with Davis on the floor, Orlando holds opponents to a 101.7 rating — 12th best in the league.

But with him off the floor, Orlando is a disaster defensively without their Big Baby, surrendering a 110.6 rating, which would be dead last in the league by a large margin.

With 824 minutes on the floor and 919 minutes off, the sample size is pretty substantial. The solution? If Glen Davis used less possessions and focused on tip-ins and offensive rebounds, the Magic could, theoretically, have a high ranking offense and defense. Of course, basketball doesn’t quite work like that, but it’s something worth considering when you watch Davis get the ball from now on.

Kevin Knox won over Knicks and now expects to win over their fans

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Kevin Knox took a call from someone who knew exactly what he experienced on draft night.

New Yorkers didn’t welcome Kristaps Porzingis with open arms, either.

“He asked me how the fans reacted and I told him I got the same amount of boos as he got,” Knox said Friday. “He just laughed and he said it’s all motivation and fuel to the fire, and he said just work and he said sooner or later they’ll be cheering for you.”

That’s what happened with Porzingis, who quickly won over those who loudly booed his selection in 2015 with his talent, competitiveness and work ethic.

The Knicks see the same traits in Knox, convincing them that the Kentucky freshman was not only the player to take with the No. 9 pick but that he’s ready to start and match up with the NBA’s best small forwards next season.

That’s why they decided a day before the draft they were taking Knox if he was available and didn’t waver from that even when Michael Porter Jr. was still on the board – disappointing some at Barclays Center who chanted for Porter and then booed Knox.

“I love the fact that he wanted to be at Kentucky, that he wanted to be a Knick,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “Says a lot about that kid that he wants challenges and so I think he’s going to fit exactly the way we want to build our culture.”

Beyond the 15.6 points he averaged last season while sharing SEC Freshman of the Year honors with Collin Sexton – drafted one pick earlier by Cleveland – Knox impressed the Knicks with his confidence. He chose to play at Kentucky out of Tampa Catholic in Florida and compete for playing time with the other talented players in Lexington, then agreed to play 3-on-3 in workouts when many top prospects prefer to do them individually.

And the annual outsized expectations faced by John Calipari’s teams should help Knox prepare for the pressure of New York, perhaps giving him a quicker adjustment period than Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ lottery pick last season, had after coming to the U.S. from France.

“That actually is going to be up to Kevin, what the learning curve is and how long the adjustment takes,” team president Steve Mills said. “But what I will say is that while all college basketball programs prepare guys to play in the NBA, the sort of pressure and the limelight and the spotlight you’re under when you make a decision to play at Kentucky I think does prepare you in a different way to play in a place like New York. So I think some of the things that are tougher for rookies to make adjustments to are some things that he’s already been through.”

The adjustment is likely much longer for 7-footer Mitchell Robinson, who the Knicks took with the No. 36 pick. A high school All-American in 2016-17, he enrolled at Western Kentucky but never played, instead leaving school and opting to train for the draft. He said he worked out daily, but hasn’t played competitively in a year so it’s unknown how soon he could contribute.

But Fizdale sounds ready to put Knox on the court right away on a team that used Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee as undersized small forwards last season.

“They’re both 6-5 and he’s got to guard LeBron and (Kevin) Durant and those are the 3s in our league,” Fizdale said. “So I feel like it’s a very good opportunity to have a chance to start.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

As expected, Denver’s Wilson Chandler to opt into $12.8 million next season

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Wilson Chandler played a workmanlike role for the Nuggets last season — more than 30 minutes a game (in 74 games), 10 points a night, shot 35.8 percent from three. His efficiency and value slipped from previous seasons but he still played a role for the team.

Not the kind of role that’s going to earn him a big payday as a free agent, so he will opt into the $12.8 million for next season, a story broken by Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler will exercise his player option for the 2018-19 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Chandler, 31, is opting into a $12.8 million salary instead of entering free agency this summer. Denver was notified of his decision on Friday.

Chandler’s name has come up in trade discussions in recent years, and no doubt the Nuggets would be happy to move his salary now, too. However, in a tight financial market it’s unlikely that’s happening without Denver throwing in a sweetener, and that’s not likely either. So it will be another season of Chandler in Denver.

Deandre Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

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PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.

Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans.

“It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said.

Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade.

“We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.”

All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday – Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection).

The 7-foot-1 Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday.

“I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said.

Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so.

McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.”

Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center.

“I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.”

Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team.

“It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said.

Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown.

The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant.

“We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. … We can really start a winning legacy.”

And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.

“I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation (Bahamas) I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.”

Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.”

Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.”

Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend.

“We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”

Hornets GM Kupchak: Kemba Walker focal point of franchise going forward

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — General manager Mitch Kupchak wants point guard Kemba Walker to end his NBA career right where it started — with the Charlotte Hornets.

Kupchak said Friday that Walker is “revered” in the Charlotte community, and that he and owner Michael Jordan look at the two-time All-Star as “the focal point of this franchise going forward.”

The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.

At $12 million per year, Walker well underpaid when compared to the other top point guards in the league.

But that doesn’t mean Kupchak is giving up hope the team can keep Walker in Charlotte.

“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency,” Kupchak said. “But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us – not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here.”

The Hornets don’t have much experience behind Walker at point guard.

They have last year’s first-round draft pick Malik Monk and drafted Devonte Graham from Kansas in the second round on Thursday night.

Graham said he is excited to pick Walker’s brain when it comes to basketball.

“I have never met him, but I remember watching him play when he was at UConn though,” Graham said. “I’m just excited man to learn from someone like that and just be around someone like that who is winner, and knows how to win and compete. I am looking forward to being able to learn from him.”