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Justise Winslow finding his lane at point guard

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DETROIT – Asked whether point guard is his best position long-term, Justise Winslow cocked his head to the side as if he were contemplating while also nodding several times as if he were certain.

Finally, he answered

“Right now, it’s looking like it,” Winslow said, breaking into a smile.

It’s still a little strange to view Winslow – who has spent most of his career as a 6-foot-7 forward – as a point guard rather than a forward moonlighting at point guard. But the longer he covers for injured Heat point guard Goran Dragic, the more it seems Winslow has found a fit.

In 24 games since clearly seizing the starting point guard job, Winslow is averaging 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game. Miami is scoring 110.0 points and outscoring opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions with Winslow on the court during this stretch – better marks than the team posted with Dragic.

Eventually, Dragic will get healthy, and the Heat haven’t said what they’ll do then. But don’t mistake Winslow’s delay in answering about his optimal position with uncertainty.

“I’m not doubtful. I just don’t know what the future holds for me,” Winslow said. “But, right now, I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity. I love playing point guard.

“It’s whatever this team needs, but at the same time, you’ve kind of got to look out for yourself in this league and play to your strengths.”

Miami hasn’t overwhelmed Winslow with point-guard duties. Teammates – including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson (before he got traded) and Dion Waiters – sometimes bring the ball up and initiate despite Winslow being on the floor. The Heat play slow and run few fastbreaks with Winslow at point guard.

But his methodical approach works in the halfcourt. He can see over most perimeter defenders. He has the size and strength to get to spots where can find passing angles. He has made some creative finds. All that has been displayed in his pick-and-rolls:

Winslow’s 3-point percentage during this stretch (38%) is up from prior in his career (32%). That’s still on a relatively small sample (106 attempts), and he has shot better in a sample that size before. But Winslow never matched this volume of 3-point attempts earlier in his career. He is more confident beyond the arc, and he says it’s directly related to his position change.

“Dribbling it up, initiating the offense, that kind of helps me get a feel for the ball,” Winslow said. “And I think that’s kind of where the shooting percentage is coming.”

Teams still tend to go under screens against him, but with him at point guard, they can’t ignore him. It’s far easier to defend 5-on-4 with the non-threatening shooter off the ball. When he’s the primary ball-handler, you have to account for him.

Winslow remains a versatile defender, capable of guarding any position. He’s not suddenly guarding more point guards. But with Winslow at point guard surrounded by a typical 2-3-4-5 – as opposed to small forward surrounded by a typical 1-2-4-5 – the Heat can use bigger lineups with that tend to defend better.

After talking a while about playing point guard, Winslow was asked whether he had any more thoughts.

“I love to pass, man. I love to make plays. I love the easy play, the simple play. I love the reads. I love the challenges behind it. I love the responsibility of nights like this, if we don’t win, I like the responsibility and the blame, you can say. I like just the quarterbacking mindset and position of point guard. I like being in control. I like running the show. I like getting my teammates open,” Winslow said, finally taking a breath. “Yeah.”

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.

Not a ‘tattooed guy’: Larry Bird wants mural changed

Associated Press
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird likes the mural but not the tatts.

A lawyer for the former NBA star has asked an artist to remove certain tattoos from a large painting of Bird on an Indianapolis multi-family residence. The tattoos include two rabbits mating on his right arm and a spider web on a shoulder.

Artist Jules Muck painted Bird in a blue basketball uniform. It’s a replica of a 1977 Sports Illustrated cover when he played for Indiana State.

Attorney Gary Sallee says Bird “needs to protect” his brand and “doesn’t want to be seen as a tattooed guy.” Muck says she adds things like tattoos to her art to avoid creating a complete copy of a photo.

She says she’s trying to reach an agreement with Bird’s representatives.

Blazers will let fans ride 1977 championship parade route with Bill Walton

via Dane Delgado
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This upcoming year is the 50th season in existence for the Portland Trail Blazers, and as such the team has quite a bit in store for us.

The Blazers already released a first look at the court they will be playing on this season. It harkens back to the very first court that Portland played on back in 1970 during the first year of the team’s existence.

Now, the Blazers are offering fans a chance to relive the 1977 NBA championship with none other than Bill Walton.

In a release posted to social media on Tuesday, the Trail Blazers said that fans will be able to go on a celebratory bike ride with Big Red himself. The route will follow that of the original championship parade, going from Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the east side of the Willamette River and ending in downtown Portland at one of the several park blocks.

Via Twitter:

This is pretty incredible given that things didn’t end well between Walton and the Blazers organization. There was a lot of back-and-forth about Walton’s foot in 1978, and it ended with the San Diego native sitting out the 1978-79 season, eventually signing with the Clippers in 1979. Things have calmed since then, but this is still nice to see.

No word yet on what the Blazers plan to reveal, but my guess is that it will be some kind of retro jersey that features the vertical BLAZERS wordmark a la the kind Walton wore in ‘77.