Hornets’ coach says Lance Stephenson much better fit in Clippers offense

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Lance Stephenson’s season in Charlotte was a disaster. There’s no other good word for it (at least that we can publish here). He shot just 37.6 percent overall and 17 percent from three (yet he took more threes as a percentage of his shots than he had in his career), and he never fit in with the Hornets offense. He spent more and more time riding the bench as the season wore on.

The Clippers acquired Stephenson in a trade (for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes), hoping that a change of scenery — plus the leadership of Chris Paul and Doc Rivers — could find the Indiana version of Stephenson. The one that was a difference maker on both ends of the court.

Steve Clifford, the Hornets coach, told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated Stephenson will fit in much better with what the Clippers run than what the Hornets did.

And that’s where I think that playing with the Clippers, who have more perimeter shooting than we do, will help him. I mean, his game is pick-and-roll. He can drive it, and he can make all the passes, he can hit the screener, whether the screener is rolling or flaring. And he can hit all of the perimeter options, and he has great size and a great knack for making the right decision. And with us, again, because we weren’t able to find ways where he was on the floor with a lot of perimeter shooting, he didn’t always have the room he was accustomed to to turn the corner, get in the paint and get the ball going to the basket. And if you look at it statistically, the biggest difference in his game really was the number of layups he was able to attempt here versus the year before in Indiana, and those turned into pull-up jumpers, which is not his strength.

Clifford is right, the last two years he was in Indiana 37 percent of Stephenson’s shots came at the rim, but that fell to 29 percent in Charlotte. Teams packed the paint against the Hornets, who had the worst three-point shooting percentage in the league. That said, with the Clippers the ball is usually in the hands of Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford, can Stephenson adjust to being off the ball for long stretches?

The larger questions and concerns with Stephenson are in the mental aspects of the game — two teams in a row were happy to move Stephenson and get him out of their locker rooms. The Clipper locker room is unlike most any other in the league, where players’ children have the run of the locker room after games, and the atmosphere can be pretty light. But it’s also a team with legitimate title aspirations. Rivers and Paul treat players like adults and expect them to respond accordingly, to be mature and professional. Can Stephenson do that?

If so, and if what Clifford said about Stephenson on the court pans out, this could be a good move for Los Angeles.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

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Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results:

 

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

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Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

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Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.