Three things we learned Monday: Westbrook now averages a triple-double for the season

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Here’s what you missed on an entertaining Monday night around the NBA, while you were busy dressing like a ninja to fight for, the homeless.

1) Russell Westbrook now averages a triple-double — for the season. It’s not even December yet and already we’re starting to run out of superlatives to pair with Russell Westbrook. On Monday night, angry Russ was just one assist away — let’s say Joffrey Lauvergne knocked down an open jumper — from having his third-straight triple-double by halftime. He easily got his eighth of the season, finishing the night with 27 points, 18 assists, and 14 rebounds leading the Thunder to a 112-103 win against the Knicks.

What is stunning is Westbrook is now the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double this far into the season — Robertson finished the 1962 season with a triple-double, and after Monday night Westbrook is officially at 30.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. Anyone who doubts if he can keep it up hasn’t watched the unleashed fury with which Westbrook is playing this season, now that Kevin Durant moved west.

Here’s what makes Westbrook’s accomplishment even more impressive: The Thunder play at a pace of 99 possessions per game, back then Robinson’s Cincinnati Royals played at 124.9. That is 26 more opportunities a night for shots, assists, and rebounds that Robinson had.

Westbrook was 9-of-23 shooting Monday night, which isn’t very efficient, but he got some help from Enes Kanter who had 27 points on 17 shots off the bench and helped lead a second unit that sparked a second quarter comeback and held the fort down in the fourth while Westbrook got some rest.

That’s three straight wins triple-doubles and three straight wins for the Thunder, who improve to 11-8. The question about Westbrook winning MVP — and we’re a long way off from that discussion on that topic — was would the Thunder have enough wins for some voters’ tastes. The question wasn’t going to be production, but how far he could lift the team (Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and others didn’t win MVP in their best statistical seasons because the team wasn’t good enough). The last three games Westbrook has shown he can lift this team up, the only question is how far he can carry it.

2) Warriors have won 12 in a row, and they beat the Hawks with defense. In its 11-game win streak heading into Monday night, Golden State had won its games by an average of 19.1 points per game. They haven’t just been winning, they’ve been blowing teams out.

Which is what made Monday night interesting — Atlanta made them work for it. Atlanta got off to a fast start this season to a great part thanks to their defense and they protected the paint well all night: The Warriors were only 12-of-20 at the rim all night. It took a few things for the Warriors to get the win, such as Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala sparking a 21-7 run from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth that gave the Warriors the lead for good, or the Hawks helping out by shooting just 7-of-29 from three (Kyle Korver had just one).

But the real key for Golden State was their defense once they got that lead late. Draymond Green had just four points on the night (2-of-9 shooting) but was tremendous on defense in the fourth quarter — he blocked Dennis Schroder then Kent Bazemore on drives, and he was the key reason the Hawks shot chart looked like this in the fourth, when Atlanta shot just 27 percent.

Hawks fourth quarter chart

After a tough defensive start to the season, the Warriors are now eighth in the NBA defensively and playing well on that end.

Green — with the help of his coaches and teammates — has already started to wage a campaign for Defensive Player of the Year. He has come in second in the voting twice, he wants it. Much like with Westbrook and the MVP race, it’s far too early to have a serious discussion about end-of-season awards when we’re not even to December, but this is these are the kinds of plays DPOYs make — and if you make them, you can dance.



3) DeMarcus Cousins was again a beast. Again the Kings lost anyway.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Kings went into this season with high playoff aspirations, but they keep suffering losses in games they should win — despite the play of their star.

On Monday night DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings in points (36), rebounds (20), and assists (4). He was the guy who drove in isolation and got past Marcin Gortat for the final two Kings buckets in regulation to tie the game, then contested John Wall’s potential game winner that missed as time expired. Boogie was fantastic.

But the Kings lost, 101-95 in overtime, and fall to 7-11 on the season. There were a few reasons Washington won, and it give the victors and their stars credit — Bradley Beal had a strong night with 31 points, while John Wall finished with 19 points and 11 dimes. However, the biggest difference was the benches. It was a tight game at the end of the third when Cousins and Rudy Gay went to the bench for some rest, and pretty soon Washington went on a 10-0 run. Cousins helped dig his team out of the hole, but that was all he could do. Washington leaned heavily on its starters (they played 24 minutes together and were +5), but their bench made plays.

And with another loss, the vultures — in the form of other teams’ GMs — continue to circle Sacramento, looking to pick off Gay, or Omri Casspi, and eventually Cousins himself. Go ahead and argue the Kings are just two games back of the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West right now, but unlike Los Angeles, Sacramento doesn’t look like a playoff team.

As expected, Kevin Durant reportedly opts out of contract with Warriors

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I can give you 6.7 million reasons this was going to happen, no matter what Kevin Durant decided to do this summer.

Durant has opted out of the $31.5 million final year of his contract with the Warriors, clearing the way to sign a $38.2 new max contract with the Warriors or someone else in July, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Durant had to do this to maximize his earnings. Since coming to the Warriors, he has always signed short deals, both to give himself options and leverage, and to keep making the new, higher maximum when the salary cap went up.

While Durant tore his Achilles that dynamic didn’t change. He still has multiple teams lined up to offer him max contracts, and whether he signs for four years with another team or five with the Warriors, or takes another shorter deal, his new starting salary will be $38.2 million.

Durant, along with Kawhi Leonard, will be one of the franchise-changing players whose decision will shape both the balance of power in the NBA and this summer’s free agency. All season long, most around the league thought he was going to be a New York Knick, but that dynamic seems to have changed. He could re-sign with the Warriors (although there appears to be some issues in his camp, and maybe with Durant, on how the Achilles injury went down after Warriors’ doctors told him all he could do was re-injure his calf). Brooklyn has emerged as a possible destination, and the Clippers were always in the conversation on some level. Durant’s camp is playing this close to the vest right now and may take multiple meetings.

Durant is going to be in the spotlight again this summer, as he was a few years back when the Warriors players and management went to the Hamptons to convince him to come West. Opting out of his contract was just the first step in making that happen.

Don Nelson says suggestion to trade Patrick Ewing for Shaq cost him Knicks job

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Don Nelson’s tenure as the Knicks’ coach was short. It lasted nine months. He took over for Pat Riley at the end of the 1994-95 season, coached the team to a 34-25 record, and was given the boot mid-season for Jeff Van Gundy.

Why? Nelson says it’s because he told owner James Dolan and the rest of management to trade Knicks’ icon Patrick Ewing for Shaquille O’Neal.

Nelson, now living happily in Hawaii, was on  HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” this week and talked about what went down.

Gumbel: “Did you really suggest trading Patrick Ewing?”

Nelson: “Yes. It cost me my job … I said, ‘You need to trade Patrick Ewing. And you need to trade him right away. There’s a guy by the name of Shaquille O’Neal that’s available, would love to come to New York. And we can jump in there and beat the Lakers out and get this guy. And we should do it.” And of course it got back to Ewing, and I was done. I was toast (laughing).”

Gumbel: “Why’d you wanna trade him?”

Nelson: “I didn’t think he had very much left in the tank. And he was one-dimensional. He was, you know, he was interested in rebounds and points. And that was it. And I thought that we could do better.”

Gumbel: “What’d Dolan think when you said that?”

Nelson: “He listened. But I got fired about a month later. So somebody didn’t like it.”

By the 1995-96 season, Ewing was 33 years old but averaged 22.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game, and while his efficiency was starting to slip he was still an All-Star with a PER of 20.1. He would play five more seasons in New York and helped the Knicks reach the 1999 NBA Finals.

Shaq, however, was a 23-year-old dominant force just coming into his prime. In the summer of 1996 he left Orlando and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, where he and Kobe Bryant would eventually go on to rack up three rings together.

What would have happened if Nelson got his way? That’s for the writers of fan fiction, but it would have been a very different NBA. And Nelson would have stuck around in New York longer than nine months.

Cam Reddish looks to make new home with Hawks

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ATLANTA (AP) — Cam Reddish is looking forward to playing for the Atlanta Hawks after he was hampered by a groin injury during his one season with Duke.

The 19-year-old Reddish joins a promising young core with Atlanta that also includes Trae Young and John Collins after he was selected by the Hawks with the No. 10 pick in the NBA draft. Former Virginia star De'Andre Hunter also is headed to Atlanta once its draft-day trade with New Orleans becomes official next month.

“It’s truly a blessing and a dream come true,” Reddish said Monday at the Hawks’ training facility. “The city of Atlanta is so beautiful. I’m just really happy to be here.

“I think it’s a perfect fit in a way.”

Reddish was one of college basketball’s top prospects heading into last season. But his stock slipped a bit after he averaged 13.5 points on 35.6 percent shooting with the Blue Devils, filling a supporting role behind fellow freshmen stars Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.

Reddish’s commitment level was called into question during the run-up to last week’s draft. But the 6-foot-7 swingman from Norristown, Pennsylvania, said he has a laid-back personality and was bothered by a minor groin tear during his short stay at Duke.

The injury shelved Reddish for the Blue Devils’ preseason Canada tour last summer. It also kept him out of an NCAA Tournament game.

“It was kind of nagging me the entire season,” Reddish said.

Reddish recently had surgery to address the issue. He will miss the NBA’s upcoming summer league while he recovers from the procedure.

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said he felt Reddish fit what they are trying to do after watching him for years.

“We’ve had the opportunity to see him many times playing for USA Basketball, playing on the AAU circuit and then playing at Duke last year,” Schlenk said. “So, he’s a guy that we’ve seen for several years. We’re looking for guys that are multidimensional, multi-positional.”

Coach Lloyd Pierce envisions Reddish taking pressure off Young as a ballhandler. On the other end of the court, Pierce is looking forward to incorporating Reddish’s 7-1 wingspan into a defense that last season was one of the NBA’s least efficient.

“I think defensively is where you get excited … The more playmakers and facilitators you can put on the floor, the better your team is, and we saw the amount of attention Trae will get,” Pierce said. “We saw it late in the year, and we’ll see it more next year.”

Reddish thinks the Hawks can make the playoffs after finishing with the NBA’s fifth-worst record last season at 29-53.

“I definitely feel like it’s a possibility. It all starts with our chemistry,” Reddish said. “(Young is) a phenomenal, phenomenal player. Just talking to him made me feel really good.”

 

Report: There is mutual interest between the Knicks, Julius Randle

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The Knicks priority this summer is big game hunting: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kyrie Irving (if one of those first two come). They have the cap space (or can get to it easily) and the lures of New York and Madison Square Garden. They want to be players.

Whether they land a superstar or not — and right now “not” seems the more likely outcome, reading the tea leaves around the league — they will need to round out the roster with good players to fit next to rookie R.J. Barret and young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Enter Julius Randle.

From Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

Other free agents on the Knicks’ radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources.

“We are going to have the opportunity to meet with the guys we want to meet with,” [Knicks president Steve] Mills said without offering details or confirming names.

Randle, just 24, has seen his stock go up in recent years and averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season. His game is a throwback, he uses his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. He also shot 34.4 percent from three, forcing teams to respect him from the arc.

Randle could fit well with the Knicks. The question, as always, is at what price.

As for the others mentioned in the report, DeAndre Jordan may well land wherever Kevin Durant signs (they are good friends). Cousins and the Morris twins are second-tier players, meaning once the stars make their picks teams will be looking to round out rosters and those guys will start getting more and more calls. (The Warriors can only offer Cousins a little more than $6 million to return, another team will likely come in higher, but what worries teams more is the years, he very well may not get more than two.)