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Three Things to Know: What is wrong with the Cavaliers?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Or, what you missed yesterday while bingeing the new season of Stranger Things. For a second time.

1) What is wrong with the Cavaliers? It’s a combination of three things.
It’s early. The NBA tends to follow form over the marathon of the season and especially in playoff series. Which is to say LeBron James is right when he said, “It’s a long season. It’s way too (early to judge]).”

That said, the Cavaliers have lost games to the Magic, Nets, Pelicans, and Knicks in four of their last five games — coach Tyronn Lue called the last one to New York “unacceptable. In those five games the Cavaliers have the second-worst defense in the NBA and have been outscored by 11.2 points per 100 possessions, The Cavs are now 3-4 on the season, and after opening night they had a very soft schedule. All of this gets viewed through the lens of LeBron making his decision on where to play next season.

What’s wrong? Here are three things I see.

• They are in a malaise on defense. Defense in the NBA starts with effort, and the Cavaliers have given almost none of it. This shows up mostly on defensive rotations, if a team can move the ball the Cavaliers fail to rotate and spot-up shooters are getting great looks. But it’s more than that, it’s guys slowly jogging back in transition defense (the not-so-speedy Knicks abused them here), or not helping in isolation situations. Part of this is personnel — if you play Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Love heavy minutes it will take a toll on your defense. Tyronn Lue said conditioning — the oldest team in the NBA, plus going to the Finals three straight seasons — has played a role. Okay, but the effort is not there, and that without that nothing happens.

• The offense hasn’t been good enough to cover the D up. In recent years when the Cavaliers have decided to take a vacation from playing defense, their offense was good enough to cover it and still get the team wins. Not this time. In their last five games the Cavaliers offense has been pretty much average (18th in the NBA). They haven’t shot the ball terribly well, or gotten enough easy buckets in transition. LeBron James has been brilliant, but the rest of the Cavs? This graphic from NBA Math sums it up well (using data from before the Knicks game).

• The Cavs are still trying to integrate a lot of new faces. This is the most hopeful thing for Cavaliers fans — this team should improve as the season goes along. They are integrating Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade into the rotation, plus still getting Kevin Love used to being in the starting five. There were bound to be kinks, and some are being worked out (J.R. Smith now starting for Wade). Plus, they will get Isaiah Thomas back in January, boosting their depth and shooting. This team is going to get better and should be who we expected when it matters come the end of the season and playoffs. But now, they are off to a rough start.

2) Victor Oladipo drains stepback three to lift Pacers over Spurs. The Spurs are another power team in a little slump, they have lost two in a row on their road trip.

The latest came Sunday at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, on a Victor Oladipo step-back three over LaMarcus Aldridge — then watch Oladipo yell “This is my city” after the make.

3) Bradley Beal, Draymond Green dodge suspensions. I find it easier to predict the strike zone in Game 5 of the World Series (that thing was all over the place for both teams) than I do the NBA’s suspension vs. fine structure. I watched the fight below and thought suspensions were coming for Beal and Green.

Nope, Beal was fined $50,000 and Green $25,000. Our Dane Carbaugh estimated those salaries works out to 5.7 minutes of gameplay for Beal and 3.75 minutes for Green.

Kelly Oubre Jr. picked up a $15,000 fine for jumping into the fray.

The real punishments came down on the Wizards’ Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix, who will be suspended for a game apiece for leaving the bench during a fight. So just to be clear: Start a fight on the court, lose 4-6 minutes of salary, leave the bench during the fight get suspended for a game. That totally seems fair.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.

 

Clippers’ Milos Teodosic opts into $6.3 million for next season

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It was a lot of fun to watch Milos Teodosic play last season…

When he was healthy. He only played in 45 games for the Clippers last season.

Teodosic will be back in the NBA next season, as he has told the Clippers he will opt into a $6.3 million next season, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Clippers can buy him out by July 15 for $2.1 million, and that likely will happen. The Clippers are deep at the point guard spot (Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans) and with a lottery rookie in the fold they will want to get him run.

Expect the Clippers to try to trade him in the next three weeks. He would have value to a team looking for a backup point guard — when he did play he averaged 9.5 points per game, shot 37.9 percent from three. The fans will love his passing and play. The coach will like him too… when healthy.

Report: Suns to renounce rights to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton

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The Suns want to free up some cap space heading into July. They are not going big game hunting, but with $10 million to $15 million they could bring in some solid veterans to provide leadership to their young core — and win a few games along the way.

How they get there starts with not bringing back Alex Len or Elfrid Payton, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Expect them to renounce their rights to center Alex Len and point guard Elfrid Payton, making them both free agents. Ayton’s addition has made Len expendable, and while Phoenix still needs point-guard help, Payton’s inconsistent play last season and, more importantly, his $10 million cap hold figure, likely means he’s played his last game in a Suns uniform.

This was expected. In Len’s case, he was playing on a qualifying offer and didn’t anticipate being back with the team (especially after they drafted Deandre Ayton).

The Suns acquired Payton at the trade deadline for a second-round pick (which was just by Orlando to land Jarred Vanderbilt) and it was a good flier. The Suns need a point guard to go next to Devin Booker, Payton is a former lottery pick that had shown flashes in the past, so Phoenix rolled the dice on him. It didn’t work out, and the Suns can just move on.

Both Len and Payton probably find new homes in the NBA next season. Len is 7’1″ and can use that size to protect the paint, plus he can score around the rim. Teams can use that off the bench. Payton has shown enough in flashes, and he can get buckets, that some team will grab him, just probably as a reserve.

Markelle Fultz’s new trainer describes him as having the “yips”

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It was about this time last year that Markelle Fultz started to change his shot. As Sixers coach Brett Brown said just before the start of training camp: “Markelle has made some personal adjustments to his shot since we last saw him in Vegas, we’ve done stuff with him but really he’s been with his personal trainer over the month of August and since Summer League ended.” What followed was a chicken-and-egg debate about whether the new shooting form caused his shoulder problems or the injury forced the change, either way the combination of the two sidelined for most of his rookie season.

Fultz’s new trainer — the well known and respected Drew Hanlen, who has worked with Bradley Beal, Joel Embiid, and many others — admitted Fultz now has the “yips” and he needs to get the young player back to who he was in college. Hanlen spoke on the Talking Schmidt Podcast (hat tip Bleacher Report and Kyle Neubeck) about Fultz.

“With Markelle, obviously he has one of the most documented cases of kind of the yips of basketball in recent years, where he completely forgot how to shoot and had multiple hitches in his shot. So for me it was, ‘Hey listen, how can I get this kid that was No. 1 in last year’s draft back rolling and get him to the point where he was before, if not better?’…

“We’ve been working hard every day, working on rewiring his body and getting a kind of smooth stroke back into his shot. We’re way ahead of pace where I thought we were going to be, I thought it was going to take me at least six weeks before we had kind of a serviceable jump shot, and we’re already starting to shoot with a jump in week two.

“It’s not perfect yet, but I think by the end of the summer it will be perfect, he’ll be back rolling and he’ll show people why he was the No. 1 pick. Even though I still give him trouble on a daily basis and tell him and remind him I still believe Jayson Tatum was the best player in that draft.”

That should light a fire under Fultz.

It’s far too early to write off Fultz as some want to do, we just do not know yet what kind of player he will be at the NBA level. His rookie year was lost to the yips, and someday there will be a great 30-for-30 (or maybe just a Drunk History segment) about what happened to Fultz’s shot. It will get the full D.B. Cooper treatment.

The Sixers just want the guy they drafted back, not the one who came to camp last fall. With where he is in the process, we may not see Fultz at Summer League (the Sixers have yet to release their Summer League roster). It may be training camp before we get a good look at his reworked form.