Mario Chalmers, after bitter end with Heat, loving big role with Grizzlies

Associated Press

Mario Chalmers came up in trade rumor after trade rumor after trade rumor last summer.

It wasn’t difficult to see why the Heat would want to deal him. Goran Dragic had supplanted Chalmers in the starting lineup. Without LeBron James around to create open looks for him, Chalmers had slumped in his role as a spot-up shooter. And Chalmers’ $4.3 million salary was a huge liability to a team facing the first luxury-tax repeater rate in NBA history.

But when an early November report said the Grizzlies were interested in Chalmers, he said he spoke with someone from the Miami organization. (The guard declined to name the person.)

“That really made me feel like I was going to be there for a while,” Chalmers said, meaning the rest of the season.

A week later, the Heat traded him to Memphis.

Chalmers said he found out through Twitter.

“For me being there so long, and nobody had the respect to tell me that I was about to get traded, that’s how it went down,” Chalmers said.

His head spun. He had spent his entire eight-year career in Miami, and he let his guard down after getting the impression he’d finish the season there.

A phone call from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger helped ease his mind. Chalmers heard a simple message: “We need  you to score.”

That he has.

Chalmers  is pouring in points for Memphis, which has turned around its season since empowering Chalmers as a high-usage backup point guard.

He scored 29 points in 23 minutes in his third game with the Grizzlies, tied for the third-highest mark of his career and his top output in nearly three years. And he barely knew the offense at that point.

“It’s basically playing in the summer time,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers is scoring 11.5 points per game with Memphis, which would be a career high over a full season. And he’s doing it in just 19.5 minutes per game, which would be a career low.

His 21.2 points per 36 minutes dwarf previous marks:


Showing his ability to handle an instant-offense-off-the-bench role should only increase Chalmers’ stock this summer, when his contract expires.

He had already proven he can be an adequate spot-up shooter next to a major star (and that he can’t do it without one). Since his rookie year – the last time Chalmers felt so entrusted to make plays – he shot 39% on 3-pointers with LeBron on the court as a teammate and 31% without LeBron. Teams who need someone to fill that role should consider Chalmers.

Apparently, so should teams who need more of an offensive punch. Chalmers has comfortable with the ball in his hands in Memphis.

The two roles should widen the pool of suitors this offseason. That versatility might be the boost Chalmers needs as he crosses age 30 before entering free agency.

But Chalmers didn’t come to Memphis just establish his scoring bona fides. He has quickly proven a fit in the Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” ethos.

“He’s a pest,” Mike Conley said. “He gets up and into you.”

“He’s gritty,” Marc Gasol said.

“He’s very feisty,” Joerger said, “and he’ll get after you.”

Memphis was 3-6 when Chalmers arrived and has gone 10-4 since.

It’s an oversimplification to say he turned around the Grizzlies, but his work off the bench has been instrumental. Memphis’ starters were outscored by 0.6 points per game pre-Chalmers, and they’ve been outscored by 1.7 points per game since his arrival. The difference has been other lineups – many of the best ones being led by Chalmers.

The Grizzlies have scored 105.1 points per 100 possessions with Chalmers on the court (equivalent to third in the NBA) and 99.0 without him (equivalent to 23rd). And it’s not just his offense that has shined. Even when his shot isn’t falling, Chalmers gets playing time due to his defense. Memphis allows just 97.8 points per 100 possessions with him playing (fifth), down from 106.0 (28th) without him.

The Heat also quietly played very well with Chalmers on the court before trading him. That makes Chalmers the only player whose teams have outscored opponents by at least 12.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court not on the Warriors, Spurs or Thunder (minimum: 300 minutes):


All this is without Chalmers feeling fully comfortable in the system, which delights Joerger.

“I think the best of Mario Chalmers is yet to come for our team,” the coach said.

Chalmers probably wouldn’t mind if it came Sunday, when the Grizzlies visit Miami. He said he’s “definitely” looking forward to that game.

Of course, Memphis fans have already seen Chalmers at his best. At Kansas, he made a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the 2008 NCAA championship game against the Memphis Tigers to force overtime:

Memphis lost in the extra period, and Chalmers said local fans have brought up the shot “all the time” since he came to town.

“But they kind of forgive me now, so it’s cool,” Chalmers said.

They have?

“That’s what they say.”

You believe that?

“No, not really.”

A little less trusting and a lot more productive, Chalmers is finding his groove with the Grizzlies.

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

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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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
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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
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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.

Report: Trail Blazers trying to extend Grant (with no luck), open to trade of Hart, Nurkic

Portland Trail Blazers v San Antonio Spurs
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The Trail Blazers maxed out Damian Lillard last summer and promised to try and build a contender in the West around him. It hasn’t worked out that way, the Trail Blazers are 23-25 and sitting 12th in the West with a bottom-10 defense.

Which has pushed them to be possible sellers at the trade deadline — but not with Jerami Grant, who they are trying to extend, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports. Grant, however, can get more from Portland as a free agent.

Jerami Grant became eligible for a contract extension with the Trail Blazers earlier this month, and Portland has offered the athletic forward his maximum possible deal of four years, $112 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Grant has not accepted the offer, sources said, largely because the Blazers can extend him a larger contract with an additional fifth year once free agency begins June 30.

While Fischer notes that this summer the Trail Blazers could max out Grant (five years, $233 million) he’s not getting that contract either. Maybe the middle ground is in the five-year, $160 million range, but whatever the number is Grant isn’t looking to bolt the Pacific Northwest. Look what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic:

“I definitely like it here; love it here,’’ Grant said. “The guys have been very welcoming, it’s definitely a family environment, everybody is super cool, got good guys on the team, great organization — Joe, Chauncey, everything. I’m definitely enjoying it here…

“I ain’t really plan on leaving,” he said.

Two players who could be leaving — via trade — are Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic. They are drawing interest as Portland considers shaking things up, Fischer reports.

Portland has given rival teams the impression that it is open to discussing the majority of its players, particularly Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic, sources said, as the franchise remains committed to building a playoff contender around Lillard. Portland has engaged teams with an eye toward size with athleticism, plus wing-shooting defenders, sources said. Hart has become one of the buzzier names among league executives this week, as he’s expected to decline a $12.9 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Hart is a front-office favorite around the league — at least on his old contract — and is seen as a versatile role player who has become a plus defender, can hit some 3s (33% from deep this season but 37.3% last season), and can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He could fit in a lot of teams’ rotation, there will be interest, but with him on an expiring contract, the offers will not be high.

Nurkic, who signed a four-year $70 million contract last summer, is averaging 14.1 points per game, is shooting 38.5% from 3 and is grabbing 9.7 boards a night. He’s also averaging a career-high 2.6 turnovers a night (one of the culprits of the Blazers’ sometimes sloppy play), and while not a negative defender has not been the kind of anchor the Blazers hoped for this season.

Portland needs to do something. Lillard has returned from injury to play at an All-NBA level — even dropping a 60-spot the other night — but even after all their summer moves this is the same old Portland team with not enough around Lillard to threaten the top teams in the West.