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How Dario Saric’s improvement opened door for Ben Simmons and the 76ers

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DETROIT – Dario Saric emerged as a 6-foot-10 playmaker as a 76ers rookie last season. He could initiate the offense, put the ball on the floor and distribute. His size, fluidity and ball skills created mismatches. His 3-pointer was unreliable, though.

That’s the profile of a helpful player.

The only problem: Philadelphia had another – higher-upside – player in the same mold: No. 1 pick Ben Simmons.

Simmons sat out last season with injury, leaving Saric to seize that role and finish second for Rookie of the Year. With Simmons healthy this year, it was unclear how the two would coexist. Only one could handle the ball at a time. The other wouldn’t space the floor.

Saric provided a solution. He increased his 3-point percentage from 31% to 39% while launching 3s even more more often.

“That is the single thing that has made Dario different,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “It’s The. Single. Thing. that’s made Dario different.

“You need a stretch four that can shoot 3s. Europe taught us that two decades ago. And when you look at the modern-day sport, and when you look at end-of-game situations, and it’s only going to be magnified in the playoffs. Watch that position. And he can do it.”

That might be the biggest thing, but it’s not the only thing.

Simmons has become the NBA’s biggest point guard, and Philadelphia’s offense runs through him. Saric’s seconds per touch are down 17%, and his dribbles per touch are down 38%. Only Carmelo Anthony had greater reductions in both categories from last season (minimum: 1,000 minutes each season).

Yet, Saric looks comfortable deferring to Simmons. Saric is making the quicker decisions necessary to thrive as a secondary ball-handler and passer. With the ball less often, Saric has also committed to hitting the offensive glass harder.

“The way he’s been playing helps me, and me improving my game is going to help everybody,” Simmons said.

Saric’s improvements and adjustments have unlocked the NBA’s best heavily used lineup. The 76ers’ healthy starters – Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Saric and Joel Embiid – are outscoring opponents by 21.4 points per 100 possessions, best among the 28 lineups to play 300 minutes this season. That unit scores better than the league’s best offense and defends better than the league’s best defense.

Here are the league’s top lineups with at least 300 minutes, showing the spread from defensive rating (left) to offensive rating (right) with net rating listed. The gray bars represent the NBA’s best defense (Celtics) and best offense (tie between Rockets and Warriors):

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Philadelphia obviously needs an injured Embiid back to use this lineup again. The 76ers have been outscored when Simmons and Saric play together without Embiid. The star center is still so important to this team.

So are Covington and Redick, who are often involved in cross-matching defensively – a necessary product of starting a point guard and power forward of the same height. Saric’s athletic shortcomings limit him defensively, but he makes up for them with high effort.

All in all, Saric has improved from 1.0 win shares last year to 6.5 win shares this year. That 5.5 win-share increase is the NBA’s largest from a previous career high to this season.

Here are the biggest win-share gainers, with the spread from their previous career high (left) to this year (right) and the increase listed:

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Not only has Saric improved immensely, he improved in the exact ways a 76ers team with Simmons at the controls needed.

Even if he needed a season to adjust from the shorter 3-point arc in Europe, few saw this coming from Saric, who had only one good 3-point season overseas. With a massive jump of 31% to 39% from deep, how could anyone have seen this coming?

But those around him aren’t terribly surprised, either. They saw how much he improved throughout his rookie year, and – even if they didn’t know exactly how it would manifest – they believed in him.

“He’s just got that demeanor about him,” Covington said, “that he really took on everything that came his way.”

Kevin Garnett on Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor: ‘I don’t do business with snakes’

Kevin Garnett and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor
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Kevin Garnett despises Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

DESPISES.

Garnett, after retiring, planned to join Flip Saunders in the Timberwolves organization. But when Saunders died, that plan fell apart. Garnett blames Taylor.

So, Garnett keeps taking shots at the Timberwolves. Most visibly, Garnett – who’ll have his number retired by the Celtics – refuses to participate in having his number retired in Minnesota, where it’d make even more sense.

Garnett, via Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Glen knows where I’m at, I’m not entertaining it. First of all, it’s not genuine. Two, he’s getting pressure from a lot of fans and, I guess, the community there. Glen and I had an understanding before Flip died, and when Flip died, that understanding went with Flip. For that, I won’t forgive Glen. I won’t forgive him for that. I thought he was a straight up person, straight up business man, and when Flip died, everything went with him.

There’s no reason to complain. Just continue to move on. My years in Minnesota and in that community, I cherish. At this point, I don’t want any dealings with Glen Taylor or Taylor Corp. or anything that has to do with him. I love my Timberwolves, I’ll always love my guys, I’ll always love the people who [f—] with me there. I’ll always have a special place for the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota in my heart. But I don’t do business with snakes. I don’t do business with snake mu’[f—]as. I try not to do business with openly snakes or people who are snake-like.

I don’t know what Taylor promised Garnett. So, it’s impossible to evaluate whether Garnett is being fair in his grudge. Maybe Taylor lied and deserves all Garnett’s scorn. Maybe Garnett heard what he wanted to hear.

But time heals most wounds, and I suspect it’ll eventually heal this one. Garnett has too many fond memories of Minnesota to let Taylor undermine all of it. The Timberwolves will eventually retire Garnett’s number.

That said, there’s clearly still plenty to overcome first.

Fans to be refunded for Team USA-Australia games last summer

Team USA-Australia
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Russell Crowe disliked his view for the Team USA-Australia exhibition games in Melbourne last August.

He wasn’t the only one.

Many fans griped about the sightlines from their floor-level seats. Even Australia upsetting the U.S. in a pre-World Cup tune-up didn’t satiate the Boomer fans who wanted a better look at the action – and paid plenty for their seats.

But those fans will get compensated.

Jake Michaels of ESPN:

Around AU$5 million ($3.08 million U.S.) will be refunded to spectators of last year’s Boomers vs. Team USA two-game series at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium after the Australian consumer watchdog found that promoter TEG Live made false claims about its seating plan.

The 20,000 refunds will be paid out to those who purchased floor-level seating for the games. Despite a mock-up depicting tiered seating, the seats used were in flat rows, lower than the court and, in some cases, more than 30 metres from the action.

That comes to $154 per ticket – not cheap for an exhibition game.

Now, who do American fans see about restitution for their team not meeting expected standards?

2020 PBT Awards: Executive of the Year

Clippers executive Lawrence Frank with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

2. Sam Presti, Thunder

3. Danny Ainge, Celtics

Lawrence Frank gets his name called but the Clippers operate more like a team in the front office than a top-down dictatorship. Michael Winger, Mark Hughes, Jerry West, Trent Redden, Lee Jenkins, Dee Brown and the rest of the team pulled off the incredible Kawhi Leonard/Paul George double last July and around that have built the deepest, most dangerous roster in the NBA. Maybe Frank can write up a report for Jason Kidd on how he pulled all this off. Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti also deserves credit for pivoting and lining up a rebuild while keeping the Thunder a winning and competitive team on the court.

Dan Feldman

1. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

2. Sam Presti, Thunder

3. Pat Riley, Heat

Oklahoma City improved… while adding an incredible haul of future draft picks. Sam Presti had a special summer. But the game is winning championships, and the Clippers went from feisty upstart to title contender by completing an ambitious plan to add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Maybe the Clippers will never win a championship. Perhaps, the Thunder set themselves up to win multiple titles down the road. But the Clippers’ big strides took them far closer to the finish line, and I’ll reward the more-known quantity.

Pat Riley got third place primarily on two moves – improving from mediocre to quite good by landing Jimmy Butler and creating significant salary-cap flexibility in the Justise WinslowAndre Iguodala trade. That topped Nets general manager Sean Marks, who lured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but faced complications in overseeing his team’s new direction.

Keith Smith

1. Jon Horst, Bucks

2. Lawrence Frank, Clippers

3. Sam Presti, Thunder

For a second straight year, Jon Horst put together a dominant and deep team. Milwaukee lost Malcolm Brogdon, but got a first-round pick for a free agent. That’s solid work. He also re-signed Khris Middleton, George Hill and Brook Lopez to fair contracts. And around them Horst added Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Kyle Korver and Marvin Williams to fill out the roster. Milwaukee goes 13-deep in legitimate rotation players for the team with the league’s best record.

Lawrence Frank built the Clippers on the fly. When Kawhi Leonard said he’d sign if LA traded for Paul George, Frank didn’t hesitate and made it happen. Frank also re-signed Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green, while adding Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson in- season. The result is a team that is 10-deep in playoff players and one of the Western Conference favorites.

When the Thunder traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook, it was assumed that Sam Presti would eventually move Chris Paul too. Instead, Oklahoma City has been one of the league’s best surprises. All of the trade acquisitions have played a big part in that. Paul has had another great season Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari have turned in good years. And rookies Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort look like keepers too. Oh, and Presti has up to seven extra first-round picks and a couple of years of swap rights coming too.

Ben Wallace not sure Pistons would have won titles if they drafted Carmelo over Darko

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Carmelo Anthony said recently if the Detroit Pistons had drafted him No. 2 instead of Darko Miličić, he would have won two or three titles. Chauncy Billups agreed with him.

Ben Wallace isn’t buying it.

Wallace appeared on the on the 120 Watts podcast and said if the Pistons had taken Anthony the team would have developed differently and might have come together in a way that it did not win a title in 2004 or any others (hat tip to NBA Reddit):

“If we would’ve drafted Carmelo, I honestly don’t think we would have ever won a championship. Melo wanted to play right away. It would have had the potential to disrupt the team chemistry… By drafting Darko, he came in and said that he is not ready to play on this team. Who I am going to play in front of. I’m not ready, and by him doing that and accepting his role, it allowed us to build and grow and get stronger and eventually win a championship…

“If we drafted Carmelo, Tayshaun [Prince] wouldn’t blossom to be the type of a player that he way. We won that championship on the back of the best block I’ve ever seen in my life, and I blocked a lot of shots. That is the type of grit and grind that the team had.”

It’s an interesting point and Wallace is right about this: We never know how a team would have developed differently if ‘Melo had been a Piston. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked, perhaps it would have thrown off the team chemistry and softened up that elite defense.

Still, put me in “the more talent the better” camp. Anthony is a future Hall of Famer who came into the league knowing how to get buckets. That Pistons team had some of the greatest defenses the league has ever seen, but the question was always could they score enough. Anthony would have had to accept more of a role, but he fills that scoring need. And, on a team of players he respects, Anthony is willing to play his part.

Count me with the group that thinks the Pistons win more with ‘Melo than they did with Darko. Or, frankly, Chris Bosh (fourth in that draft). Or Dwyane Wade (fifth). But the Pistons made their bet and they still got a ring.