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Draymond Green’s passing unlocking new levels for Warriors’ offense

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Stephen Curry recalls Draymond Green coming to him excited before the season.

Green had been watching film, and he noticed numerous opportunities – especially on pick-and-rolls with Curry – where his passing ability could help the Warriors’ already-excellent offense.

“That just boosted his confidence,” Curry said. “…Now, that confidence has built into, he’ll get a rebound and just push in transition and become a point guard.”

Is Green a forward? That’s where he’s listed. Is he a center? That’s where he makes the greatest impact. The debate matters for All-NBA voting. Green would likely be a second-team forward behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. He could be a first-team center.

But it’s worth asking another question: How much is Green actually a point guard?

It’s not at all unusual to see him bring the ball up court, initiate the offense and make the decisive pass. Often, he does at least one of the three.

Not only does Green lead big men (power forwards and centers) in assists per game this season…

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…his 7.5 assists per game would rank third all-time among bigs, behind only a couple Wilt Chamberlain seasons:

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Curry – the reigning MVP – has established himself as a dark-horse Most Improved Player candidate largely based on his improved scoring. His points per game (23.8 to 30.0), 2-point percentage (52.8 to 55.9), 3-point percentage (44.3 to 45.6) and free-throw attempts per 36 minutes (4.6 to 5.4) are all up.

But Curry’s bigger individual numbers have come at a cost.  His assists per game are down (7.7 to 6.7) as he hunts his own shot. Why hasn’t that harmed Golden State’s offense one bit?

Green.

Essentially, Green has assumed some of Curry’s playmaking duties, allowing Curry to look for his own shot more often. Accordingly, Green’s assist numbers have soared – to the point he, not Curry, leads Golden State.

“At the end of the day, if I get them the ball, it’s up to them to knock it down,” Green said. “And our guys on our team is pretty good at that.”

They are.

The Warriors lead the NBA in shots made per game (42.6), and the rate is even higher per 48 minutes when Green is on the floor. But don’t confuse Green’s assists as merely a byproduct of Golden State’s shot-making. He does plenty to put his teammates in favorable positions.

Like Curry said, Green grabs rebounds and pushes the ball up court himself:

On the plays he studied closely over the summer, Green often sets a ball screen Curry or Thompson. As two defenders must guard those deadly shooters, Green gets the ball with a 4-on-3 advantage and picks it apart:

Green runs pick-and-rolls himself:

He posts up and finds spot-up shooters and cutters:

He throws superb entry passes:

He drives and dishes:

He stands on the perimeter and watches as the Warriors run action in front of him. Like a quarterback surveying the field, he identifies the best target and then delivers a pinpoint pass:

Those plays often feature Curry and Thompson screening for each other.

Curry is the best shooter in the NBA, and Thompson might be No. 2. Definitely, nobody can match their combination. But other teams also have two good shooters, and few can come close to replicating what the Warriors do.

When Curry and Thompson screen for each other away from the ball, it leaves defenses in impossible situations. It’s just too difficult to stick with both shooters.

But how many teams have a third player capable of delivering the pass to the open of the two shooters – at least without comprising the defense?

Green can.

He’s been training for this role for a long time.

Lou Dawkins, who coached Green at Saginaw High in Michigan, grew up a Magic Johnson fan. So, Dawkins laughed at the mention of Green’s “DrayMagic” nickname.

“Ah, you could’ve called him that too 10 years ago when he was in middle school,” Dawkins said.

By the time Green reached high school, Dawkins wanted to run the offense through the center-sized Green as much as possible.

“The old-timers – the guys that sit up in the stands and coach – they used to think that I was crazy,” said Dawkins, who’s now a Northern Illinois assistant.

Then, Green led Saginaw to two straight state titles. He advanced to Michigan State, which also made good use of his passing ability.

As much flack as Dawkins got for using Green as a point-center, Green never questioned his coach. Green bought in for a simple reason, Dawkins said:

“He sees himself as a point guard.”

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: ‘NBA has never drafted a player for defense’

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Syracuse lost to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

So, now Syracuse returns to recruiting. That means convincing prospects with NBA aspirations that Syracuse’s infamous zone defense won’t interfere with their pro path.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, via ASAP Sports:

What I do when I start out, I say the NBA drafts for one reason: Offense. The NBA has never drafted a player for defense. At any position, even at center. Like when they drafted Tim Duncan or David Robinson, or Olajuwon or Shaq, they didn’t get one of those guys because of their defense. They didn’t draft Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, go down the list. They didn’t draft one guy because of defense; they draft because of offense.
We had more first-round picks in the old Big East than any school because they draft guys based on their offense. That’s what we tell recruits and that’s the truth.

There are degrees of truth here. NBA teams generally value offense more than defense and more than they should.

But defense absolutely affects players’ draft position. Some players are drafted primarily for defense.

Maybe Syracuse’s zone helps players look good to NBA teams. But it’s a tough sell the zone actually prepares the players for the next level.

Syracuse’s first-round picks since Carmelo Anthony:

  • Tyler Lydon (No. 24 in 2018)
  • Malachi Richardson (No. 22 in 2017)
  • Chris McCullough (No. 29 in 2016)
  • Tyler Ennis (No. 18 in 2015)
  • Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11 in 2014)
  • Fab Melo (No. 22 in 2013)
  • Dion Waiters (No. 4 in 2013)
  • Wesley Johnson (No. 4 in 2011)
  • Jonny Flynn (No. 6 in 2010)
  • Donte Greene (No. 28 in 2009)
  • Hakim Warrick (No. 19 in 2006)

We can’t know how those players would have turned out if they played elsewhere in college, but that’s an extremely uninspiring list. I would not advise a recruit on track to make the NBA to pick Syracuse.

Obviously, Boeheim is strongly incentivized to spin it the other way. He has made millions of dollars by convincing good players to help him win games.

There’s something to his sentiment here. But he goes way too far, to the point he’s wrong – as per usual.

Court reverses nearly $1.5M oil-spill award to David West

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) A federal appeals court says former NBA star David West is not entitled to a nearly $1.5 million award stemming from BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Court records show West submitted a claim under the terms of a settlement BP entered after the spill to avoid prolonged litigation with those claiming spill-related losses. The claim was based on his compensation as a member of the NBA’s New Orleans franchise having dropped after the spill.

BP challenged the award, saying West earned what he was expected to earn under a “front-loaded” contract he signed years before the spill. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday that there was no loss. West’s attorneys did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

James Harden: I want to play in 2019 World Cup

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James Harden skipped the 2016 Olympics.

But he sounds ready to rejoin Team USA for the 2019 World Cup.

Harden, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Of course I want to play,” Harden said. “It’s an opportunity to represent your country, go out there and play basketball. It’s something I love doing. If that opportunity presents itself, I’ll be in. Not everyone gets that opportunity. As a basketball player, that’s one of the highest points you can get for basketball.

Harden is among 35 players listed as in consideration for a roster spot, but the MVP candidate is likely a lock if he wants to play. He won gold at the 2012 Olympics and led Team USA to another gold medal in the 2014 World Cup.

With the World Cup being held in China, where there are lucrative marketing opportunities, expect many other stars to participate. The competition for Team USA roster spots could be intense.

But Harden is good enough and has proven his commitment to USA Basketball. He’s probably safely in.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving says he’ll rest before playoffs: ‘Makes no sense’ to emphasize regular-season games

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Remember when Kyrie Irving asked whether a November 2014 Cavaliers-Bulls game felt like a playoff game?

He has come a long way since.

Before LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Irving hadn’t made the playoffs. Three NBA Finals and a trade to the Celtics later, Irving is focused on the postseason.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. “Makes no sense, the emphasis on these regular games, when you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”

Irving will probably be more effective in the playoffs with additional rest.

But will the Celtics be more effective in the playoffs if Irving rests now?

Boston is fifth in the East. If that holds, that’d mean not having home-court advantage in any Eastern Conference playoff series and likely facing the Bucks – who’ve been the NBA’s best team throughout the regular season – in the second round.

That might not daunt Irving. After all, when asked why he’s so confident about the Celtics’ postseason chances, he said, “Because I’m here.”*
*That sounded a lot like LeBron.

But his teammates might benefit significantly from a better seed. Without Irving, Boston went 10-1 at home 1-7 on the road in last year’s playoffs – a historic split.

Catching the 76ers for the No. 3 seed is probably farfetched. But the Celtics are only a half game behind the Pacers for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round.

Boston’s closing schedule is easier than Indiana’s. The teams even face each other twice. So, there’s an opportunity for the Celtics to clinch the No. 4 seed and rest Irving.

But little has gone to plan this season in Boston. If the Celtics’ seed is still up for grabs late in the regular season, will they rest Irving or keep pushing for a better record?