Three Stars of the Night: Stretching Out

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The stretch big man has come a long way. I distinctly remember watching Sam Perkins play with the Lakers and Sonics through the 90’s and wondering how someone so big could shoot it from the perimeter so well. It was a little jarring to see. Perkins was 6-foot-10, about 235 pounds, and his eyes always looked half asleep — he made Tracy McGrady look alert by comparison. He wasn’t the most prolific 3-point shooter, but the way George Karl used him as a floor spacer and frontcourt partner next to Shawn Kemp was way ahead of its time.

Perkins was purely a specialist, but we’ve got a few different types of big men making Three Stars tonight. Apologies to Kawhi Leonard (more on him soon), Brook Lopez and Bradley Beal among others, but tonight was a night for big guys stretching out.

Third Star: Ryan Anderson – (31 points, 5-for-9 from 3)

If we’re talking “true” stretch bigs, Anderson should be first on every list out there. The 6-foot-10 power forward is on pace to lead league in 3-point attempts and makes for the second straight season, which is pretty incredible. We’ve talked about how big men have evolved at length here, but Anderson takes it to a whole different level. His 40 percent 3-point shooting makes him the perfect offensive pair next to more traditional bigs like Robin Lopez or Anthony Davis, and you have to give him credit for accepting a bench role after signing a big contract.

Although the Hornets’ place in the standings will almost certainly keep him from serious consideration, Anderson at least warrants mentioning for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He was a nightmare tonight in the pick-and-pop game, helping the Hornets to a big time blowout with his game-high 31 points.

Also, New Orleans? Love those Mardi Gras jerseys. It’s like watching three teams on the court instead of two.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgYTze1JdQ%5D

Second Star: Byron Mullens – (25 points, 18 rebounds, 4-for-5 from 3)

Byron Mullens is a pretty awful shooter. Any other 7-footer who shot 37 percent from the field on 12 attempts per game would be told to go directly to D-League jail and not collect 200 dollars, but Mullens occasionally goes off for huge nights. Tonight was one of those nights, as Mullens scored Charlotte’s first ten points all by his lonesome. The artist formerly known as B.J. has gone for 24 and 27 points already this season, but his 18 rebounds were a season-high and helped snap Boston’s winning streak sans Rondo. That’s really the interesting thing about Mullens — the Bobcats are one of the only teams in the league who are in the position to ride out his brutal shooting nights so long as he can help elsewhere.

It may be tempting to tell Mullens to stop shooting so dang much, but what do the Bobcats really have to lose? If Mullens can develop from a 30 percent 3-point shooter to a 35 percent 3-point shooter, he’ll be a pretty useful guy to have around. Nights like this against one of the league’s best defenses will certainly buy him some time to see if he can become that.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUz6UxwH-LA%5D

First Star: Josh Smith – (26 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4-for-5 from 3)

The universal frustration with Josh Smith for taking so many long jumpers turned into laughter tonight, as just about everyone watching this game couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Smith has a lot of the other qualities of a stretch big man. He’s a good passer from the top of the key, and he understands floor spacing pretty well. But that jumper. Oh, that jumper. Smith is shooting 29 percent this year from 16-to-23 feet — an atrocious number made even more hideous by the fact that he’s launched 179 attempts from that range. A max player he is not, unless you locked a GM in a dark room and made him watch highlights from this game on a loop.

Smith is consistently a great defender and a strong rebounder, but it was the J that led the way against the Mavs. Smith channeled the spirit of Dirk Nowitzki in a closely contested road win by connecting on 7-of-9 shots from beyond 17 feet en route to a game-high 26 points. Check for a blue moon in Dallas.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6Gkwz5UiTs%5D

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).