Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering if you really should cross a goat and a sheep…
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks. When you pass Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson on a list, you are entering rarified air. With a catch-and-shoot 17 foot jumper from the elbow area early in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki passed Robertson for 10th on the NBA’s all time scoring list. Nowitzki now has 26,714 points in his career after his 21 on Tuesday. The German machine will go down as one of the great scorers to ever play the game — a 7-footer with three point range, an ability to stay balanced in awkward situations, and he has that ridiculous one-legged faraway. He’s a future Hall of Famer, the greatest European player ever in the NBA. When he’s gone in a few years the league will just feel a little emptier.
Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers. With a smart little outlet pass late in the first half that led to a Jodie Meeks dunk, Steve Nash passed Mark Jackson for third on the NBA’s all time assists list — Nash now has 10,335. He did not get to that number thanks to his incredible physical gifts, rather he did it with hard work and an almost psychic feel for the game. He made himself a good shooter so teams just couldn’t lay off him and dare him to shoot. Nash is one of the best ever at just keeping his dribble alive, probing and once he sees an opening making the defense pay. For a guy whose career is ending on a literally painful note it is good to see Nash securing is spot in history.
Atlanta Hawks. They lost to the Pistons, who recently lost to the Sixers. Yet Atlanta is still almost certain to make the playoffs — thanks again Eastern Conference. Even after this ugly loss the Hawks have a 1.5 game lead over the Knicks. The Hawks magic number is still three (combination of their wins and Knicks losses). The Hawks four games left are a back-to-back with Boston and Brooklyn, then they close out with Miami and Orlando, you’d thick there are three wins in there but who knows with this team. Yet they will make the playoffs and in the first round and likely face the Heat (for Miami that will be kind of like when Florida State football program’s home opener is against The Citadel, it’s just a glorified practice round).
James Harden, Houston Rockets. Yes, it still counts if you do it against the Lakers “defense.” Harden had 33 points — 18 of those in the third quarter when the Rockets pulled away — on just 15 shots, plus he dished out 12 assists as the Rockets get the win. Houston put up 140 points on 57.7 percent shooting, and Harden was the focal point of that. The Beard looks playoff ready.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 24-year-old MVP playing in Milwaukee and heading toward a super-max decision that could have him hit 2021 unrestricted free agency.
Big-market teams are licking their chops.
That probably has something to do with the Lakers adding his brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo.
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Kostas Antetokounmpo was the last pick in last year’s draft. He spent the season on a two-way contract with the Mavericks, who just waived him. He’ll remain on a two-way deal with the Lakers. The 21-year-old was alright in the NBA’s minor league, but he’s not a tantalizing prospect.
Except for his connection to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis Antetokounmpo said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. But maybe he’d change his mind if someone close to him has a positive experience there. That must be the Lakers’ hope, at least.
It’s worth a shot, and the Lakers aren’t the only team trying this angle. The Bucks also signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo this summer.
It was the question everybody asked about 30 seconds after they heard Russell Westbrook had been traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul (after the initial shock of the deal wore off):
Do Westbrook and Harden, two of the most ball-dominant, isolation heavy players in the NBA, actually fit together?
Harden says yes. Of course, what else is he going to say, but he was earnest about it in comments to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle at the Adidas and James Harden ProCamp event last Friday.
“When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”…
“It works,” Harden said. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”
That is essentially is what Mike D’Antoni said, and what Rockets GM Daryl Morey is betting on.
Will Westbrook, and to a lesser degree Harden, be willing to make sacrifices and adjust their games? It is the question that will define the Rockets’ season.
My prediction: The duo works it out on offense and becomes one of the hardest teams to stop in the NBA. They will work it out. However, having to play Harden and Westbrook together on defense for extended stretches will cost Houston in the playoffs earlier than they planned.
For players on the fringe of the NBA, there is a choice to be made at some point:
Keep the NBA dream alive and close by making less money (the base salary for most is $35,000 a year) and play in the domestic G-League, where teams have ties to NBA organizations and scouts are watching. Or…
Go overseas, where the money gets better (six figures for most, seven figures for the best) and they will be one of the best players on a team, putting up big numbers and playing a starring role.
George King, who spent last season on a two-way contract with Phoenix — but played just six total minutes with the Suns — has chosen overseas.
George spent most of last season in the G-League with Northern Arizona, where he averaged 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists a game. He was on the wrong end of a numbers game on the wing with the Suns at the start of the season, but when injuries hit he had not earned enough trust with the coaches to get a real opportunity.
So he went where there is an opportunity.
Same with former NBA player Tyler Cavanaugh, who spent most of last season with the Salt Lake G-League team and is now headed to Berlin.
Plenty of players spend time overseas then come back and are ready for the NBA — Patrick Beverley was in the Ukraine and Greece before coming to the NBA, for example — while others find a very good career playing overseas.
It’s around the time of summer when NBA players (and coaches, and college coaches, and a whole lot of other people) are holding youth basketball camps.
I went to them as a kid (John Wooden’s was the best) and like me, these youth will have the memories of a lifetime, even if they move away from playing hoops someday. Especially this boy, who will forever be able to look back at this video from camp of James Harden breaking his ankles. (Via Houston Rockets Instagram)
Meanwhile, over at Dwyane Wade‘s camp, he was reminding some young children he is the best shot blocking guard of all time.