News, notes from Summer League Tuesday: Okafor vs. Porzingis was matchup of the night

9 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Tuesday was the final day of the round-robin play at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, which only matters if you care who wins the game. And let’s be honest, not many people do (even the teams, up until the title game). To paraphrase Drew Carey from “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” Summer League is where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

Still, there were interesting things to see and take note of before the tournament play portion of Summer League begins. Here are things we saw in Las Vegas. (Notes are from Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin.)

• Maybe the most entertaining matchup on Tuesday: The Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis matched up against the Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor. As you would expect the stronger and more polished Okafor won the matchup — he had 18 points on 18 shots — but Porzingis had a couple blocks and a quality shot over Okafor.

“He’s a five man, I’m a four man, so it was a bit of a mismatch,” Porzingis said. “He’s really strong, he’s really good player. Very skilled with the ball, so he’s hard to defend. I just tried in the second half to play more aggressively (fronting him), trying to keep him from receiving the ball. But it’s really hard to stop a player like that.”

Against other Knicks Summer League bigs Okafor seemed to have his way. He just gets to where he wants to be on the court and has an array of moves and shots. He was able to muscle to the rim and score on Porzingis too, but he also had shots blocked and altered — the length of Porzingis bothered Okafor a little.

“I think you could see early on Jahlil is a bigger, stronger player but as the game went on I thought Kristaps made the adjustment and used his activity level and his length and impacted him,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said.

“(Okafor) is a big strong guy, doesn’t mind using his body, any time you’re going to go against length you’ve got to attack the body first, and that’s just a teaching lesson for him right now,” Sixers Summer League coach Lloyd Pierce said. “He’s got great footwork, he’s able to spin out, it’s just creating that initial separation rather than playing to a shot blocker’s strength.”

This is not a matchup the Knicks will want much in the future, but Knicks fans had to love the fight in Porzingis. There’s some real potential here. (KH)

• On another note, Pierce was happy with Okafor’s defense through the summer, although that is still a learning process.

“(Defensively) I thought he’s done a great job,” Pierce said. “He’s never been a big-time shot blocker, the way we’re going to try to use him is to keep him between the ball and the basket, make them score over his size, his length.” (KH)

• Noah Vonleh has been impressive in the Blazers’ first three Summer League games. He’s shown off his athleticism, ballhandling skills and three-point range, which give him an intriguing skillset for a big man. He had 20 points and 8 rebounds in Portland’s 79-75 loss to San Antonio on Tuesday. (SH)

• The more I see Jerian Grant play, the more I like his game. He attacks the paint off the dribble, has fantastic court vision and gets the right guy the rock. He can finish inside and hit some jumpers. Knicks’ coach Derek Fisher was talking about him as a guy who could see a lot of minutes when the season starts if he improves at taking care of the ball.

“We really enjoy having his playmaking out there, his vision, his comfort level with handling the basketball,” Fisher said. “That’s one of the things that really excited us when we drafted him at the number we did (No. 19, a trade with the Wizards) because of that ability. To play the guard in our system, both guards need to be able to make plays, and Jerian gives us a little versatility that way, where he and Langston (Galloway) can play together, he can play with Jose (Calderon), a lot of different combinations we can put out there.” (KH)

• Another Knick playing well in Vegas is Maurice Ndour. If you’re not familiar (and a lot of people weren’t) he’s a power forward/center from Senegal, played his college ball at Ohio (not State), and he went undrafted. But when the Knicks needed buckets late in a close game against the Sixers he had six straight points. He’s got good footwork, hustles on defense and uses his length to be disruptive, he can score in around the basket, and he plays with constant energy.

The problem? The Knicks may not have a roster spot to give him — they have a pretty packed roster, and that includes along the front line.

“I don’t know if there’s any more he can do,” Fisher said of Ndour making the Knicks roster. “I think he’s doing everything that’s at least in his control to be a guy that — whether it’s our team, hopefully so, but there are 29 other teams — he’s giving teams a look that he can play at this level and be pretty good at it.”

Ndour is going to be playing in the NBA this fall. Somewhere. (KH)

• One guy who again looks good in  Summer League — T.J. Warren of the Phoenix Suns. It’s not hard to see why, he thrives in transition, in chaotic games, and that is the definition of Summer League ball. He had 16 points on 13 shots for the Suns on Tuesday. (KH)

• Dallas big man Jeremy Tyler had 15 points and 10 boards, he had a good day out there. (KH)

 

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

0 Comments

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
0 Comments

Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
0 Comments

Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.