51 Q: Can Parsons, Matthews get healthy, lift Dallas to the playoffs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons get healthy enough to lift Dallas into the playoffs?

There was a time, just a few years ago, when the answer to this question was “it doesn’t matter, they have Dirk Nowitzki.”

It’s not anymore. Nowitzki is still good — he averaged 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists a game last season — but he has slipped from the ranks of “top-5, can carry a team all by himself” status. If you watched him last season, you saw him miss more open looks than anyone remembers. According to the shot tracking stats at NBA.com, Nowitzki hit 47 percent of his open looks on two-pointers last season — when the defender was 4-6 feet away — which is well down from 52 percent the season before. He hit just 42 percent of his open jumpers inside 10 feet. He missed more of his isolation jumpers. The shots just were not falling at the same rate as they did with the Mavs title team in 2011 or the next couple seasons, and at age 37 the slide is likely to continue.

Nowitzki needs help. And that’s where the health of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons will decide the potential playoff fate of Dallas. (The health and play of Deron Williams will be the other key part of any playoff push.)

If healthy and playing near their peaks, Parsons and Matthews provide quality wing scoring and defensive options that Rick Carlisle would deploy brilliantly to space the floor and exploit mismatches. If D-Will and Nowitzki run a pick-and-pop, Matthews is spacing the floor at the arc and Parsons makes a smart cut to the basket, it’s not going to be easy to defend.

But will Parsons and Matthews be healthy enough to make that a reality?

Dallas went the full Bill Belichick on Parson’s injury, trying to keep secret what was actually done for reasons only they and the Illuminati know. It turns out to have been a hybrid microfracture surgery on a non-weight-bearing part of his knee, which is a good thing for Mavs fans. Parsons still is not cutting and jumping at full speed, but he should be able to play at the start of the season, if not very soon after.

Matthews is recovering from a torn Achilles and his timetable stretches out further. What Rick Carlisle said the other day seemed slightly misconstrued, he said Matthews will be back on the court by Christmas, but that is likely sooner. Matthews has tried to push for the start of the season, but Thanksgiving may be more realistic.

The bigger question is can these guys return to peak form quickly following their return?

History says no. Guys coming off microfracture tend to take some time to fully trust that knee again (as with other knee injuries) and they can be somewhat limited for a while. That timeline stretches out even further with guys coming back from a torn Achilles —most players are never quite as explosive or quick again, and even the few that have gotten the full measure of their athleticism back have taken a while to reach that point.

Dallas does not have much depth behind these two guys — Justin Anderson and John Jenkins are your primary backups. Williams can play some at the two if J.J. Barea is at the point (and I expect we will see a lot of guard-heavy lineups early in the season from Dallas), but none of these options are particularly threatening to opponents.

The other problem for Dallas is they are in the West — if they get off to a slow start without their two best wing players, it may be hard to dig out of the hole in the second half and get back into playoff contention.

Dallas likely will battle Utah and Phoenix for the eight seed in the West (this assumes that the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans will make it and fill in the top seven seeds in some order). It’s likely going to take 46 or more wins to make the cut.

If Dallas is going to get to that number, they need a lot of things to go right. Nowitzki can’t decline much, D-Will needs to bounce back, someone has to step up as a defensive stopper in the paint, and they are going to need big seasons out of Parsons and Matthews. I think those two will play well together and lift this team, particularly after the All-Star break when they are healthy and recovered. That should have Dallas in the mix for the playoffs in the West.

But I’ve got a feeling it will be too little, too late to earn an invite to the postseason dance by beating out younger, healthier teams.

Shaq donates a year’s rent to a paralyzed Atlanta boy

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ATLANTA (AP) — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has donated a year’s rent in a new home to an Atlanta woman whose 12-year-old son was paralyzed in a shooting at a football game.

O’Neal tells WXIA-TV  that Isaiah Payton’s family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” Shaq told the Atlanta station. “It could have been my son. It could’ve been your cousin. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in a nice area.”

Now they have a home in a good neighborhood. He says he’s helping furnish the home and will pay its rent for the next year.

Isaiah was shot through the spine in August after a football scrimmage between two high schools. Sixteen-year-old Damean Spear also was wounded and treated for minor injuries. Isaiah’s mother, Allison Woods, has said relearning how to care for Isaiah meant she had to leave her job, adding financial stress to her emotional turmoil.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.