Alex Caruso

Alex Caruso
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Alex Caruso jumps Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry in All-Star voting

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Alex Caruso‘s All-Star votes caused waves when the Lakers backup ranked sixth among Western Conference guards.

Now, he’s fourth, passing Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry.

Fourth!

Ultimately, this won’t matter. Caruso won’t be an All-Star. Starters are determined by a formula that combines the votes of fans, players (who’ll barely choose Caruso) and media (who won’t at all choose Caruso). Reserves are picked by coaches (who won’t at all choose Caruso). Caruso getting so many fan votes is funny and nothing more.

Really, if his climb produces any more outrage, that’d further expose the absurdity of this whole process. He passed Westbrook (who has slipped and is no longer playing like a Western Conference All-Star) and Curry (who has missed nearly the entire season due to injury). It’s a popularity contest that only somewhat overlaps with on-court production. Caruso is among the bigger absurdities in All-Star voting, but there’s no sanctity to uphold here.

The latest update in All-Star voting provides minimal meaningful change from the previous returns.

Carmelo Anthony moved from eighth to sixth among Western Conference frontcourt players, passing Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It still seems likely LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard will snag the three Western Conference frontcourt starting spots. But Anthony – who’s highly popular among fellow players – has an outside chance if media votes (which won’t include him) are concentrated enough.

LeBron James still leads the overall voting. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Eastern Conference players, though he trails Luka Doncic. Let me restate my objection: If he has more votes than Antetokounmpo, Doncic should be an All-Star captain. Dividing by conference at the captain-picking stage – when the whole point is no longer dividing the All-Star game by conference – is a bad method.

Likewise, players shouldn’t be divided by conference when selected at all (though I understand Eastern Conference teams want to protect spots for their lesser players).

Maybe we can start by eliminating positional designations. Make the best 26 – yes, 26 – players All-Stars, and let them sort it out on the court.

Here’s the All-Star full leaderboard:

Eastern Conference

Guards

1. Trae Young (ATL) 2,066,924

2. Kyrie Irving (BRK) 1,814,618

3. Kemba Walker (BOS) 1,797,633

4. Derrick Rose (DET) 1,381,934

5. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 848,293

6. Zach LaVine (CHI) 847,632

7. Jaylen Brown (BOS) 718,355

8. Ben Simmons (PHI) 629,199

9. Bradley Beal (WAS) 609,899

10. Fred VanVleet (TOR) 546,471

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 4,474,107

2. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 2,433,411

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 2,398,743

4. Jimmy Butler (MIA) 2,046,257

5. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 1,622,635

6. Tacko Fall (BOS) 757,375

7. Bam Adebayo (MIA) 529,244

8. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 398,213

9. Domantas Sabonis (IND) 381,390

10. Andre Drummond (DET) 325,178

Western Conference

Guards

1. Luka Doncic (DAL) 4,598,323

2. James Harden (HOU) 2,934,614

3. Damian Lillard (POR) 984,140

4. Alex Caruso (LAL) 894,827

5. Russell Westbrook (HOU) 837,187

6. Stephen Curry (GSW) 819,352

7. Donovan Mitchell (UTA) 673,917

8. Devin Booker (PHO) 577,035

9. D’Angelo Russell (GSW) 491,047

10. Ja Morant (MEM) 399,703

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 4,747,887

2. Anthony Davis (LAL) 4,412,619

3. Kawhi Leonard (LAC) 2,973,076

4. Paul George (LAC) 1,171,616

5. Nikola Jokic (DEN) 889,387

6. Carmelo Anthony (POR) 784,038

7. Kristaps Porzingis (DAL) 774,056

8. Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 746,013

9. Brandon Ingram (NOP) 672,666

10. Dwight Howard (LAL) 670,643

Kris Dunn, under cascade of bust talk and Bulls demotion, mounting strong defense

Kris Dunn
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Kris Dunn‘s rookie year with the Timberwolves was glum.

Losing. Shaken confidence. Minutes on the wing rather than his preferred position of point guard.

But when I first talked to Dunn about that season, he spoke almost with a pride about the experience.

He persevered. He advanced. And he was getting his opportunity.

It was late in the 2017-18 season. The Bulls had acquired Dunn from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler trade the previous summer. Chicago was as desperate at point guard as Dunn was to play the position. The Bulls had been muddled at point guard ever since Derrick Rose got hurt. Jerian Grant, Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Cameron Payne each had turns as Chicago’s point guard du jour. As the extremely hyped No. 5 pick in the 2016 draft, Dunn looked more promising than any candidate yet.

But Dunn didn’t capitalize. He wasn’t good enough his first season with the Bulls and regressed last season. Chicago drafted Coby White and signed Tomas Satoransky at point guard last summer. Dunn said the Bulls didn’t even engage him in contract-extension talks.

Dunn looked like a bust who wouldn’t be long for Chicago.

Yet, Dunn is not only still there, he’s starting at small forward and making a real case for an All-Defensive team.

“When adversity hits,” Dunn said, “I don’t fold.”

Dunn surprisingly earned a rotation spot to begin the season. Then, when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison got hurt, Bulls coach Jim Boylen shocked even Dunn by tabbing him as the replacement starting small forward.

“I ain’t a three,” Dunn said. “But I can hold my own.

“I’m not afraid of a challenge or anything. Whatever the team needs from me, that’s what I try to do. If they say, ‘Kris, we need you at the four,’ f— it. As long as I’m on the court, I love to play the game of basketball. And I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

Dunn said he “absolutely” still envisions becoming an NBA point guard. He views his current role as merely a product of what his team happens to need.

“It doesn’t take away what I’m capable of,” Dunn said. “I’m not going to let anything or anyone paint a narrative for me. I know I’m a point guard.”

I’m more skeptical. Dunn is a clunky outside shooter (26% on 3-pointers this season, 31% career). That’s a huge demerit for a lead guard to overcome.

But point guards tend to develop later than other positions. Dunn can attack the basket, and he’s a solid playmaker. If his shooting comes around, he has a chance.

In the meantime, Dunn is playing lights-out defense.

Among guards defensively, Dunn ranks second in real plus-minus (behind Alex Caruso), first in PIPM and second in RAPTOR (behind Donte DiVincenzo). If he keeps this up, Dunn must be taken seriously for an All-Defensive team.

Though he’s nominally a small forward, Dunn often defends the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, usually a guard. Unlike the bigger Porter, Dunn can take that burden off Zach LaVine and Satoransky.

Dunn – who’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan – has also thrived in Chicago’s aggressive and flowing defensive scheme. He has stolen the ball on 3.8% of opponents’ possessions, the highest steal percentage since Tony Allen.

Allen thrived in a different environment, though. Non-shooting defensive specialists have it harder than ever.

It seems telling, when listing Dunn’s offensive responsibilities, Boylen slipped in “defend at a high a level.”

Dunn’s defensive real plus-minus is +3.72. His offensive real plus-minus is 1.38. The difference between those marks – 5.10 – is one of the largest in the NBA. Nearly everyone else with a bigger spread between offensive and defensive real plus-minus are offensive-minded players.

Here are the players with the biggest differences between their offensive and defensive real plus-minus, the highest spread first. The right side of the bar marks the better rating. The left side of the bar marks the worse rating. Better offensive players are in black. Better defensive players are in red:

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Dunn will be a free agent next summer. The Bulls can make him restricted by extending a qualifying offer – a standing one-year offer a team must tender to preserve matching rights.

The cost of Dunn’s qualifying offer will be $4,642,800 or $7,091,457, depending on his role the rest of the season.

He’d get the higher qualifying offer by starting 19 of Chicago’s remaining 41 games or averaging slightly more than 24 minutes per remaining Bulls game. Dunn is currently averaging 24.8 minutes per game.

Sometimes, restricted status can get a player a bigger contract. It forces other teams to go over the top with an offer sheet. See a couple of Dunn’s teammates, Porter and Lavine. But it seems unlikely any team would covet Dunn enough to make that type of push for him.

So, a higher qualifying offer could help Dunn in one of two ways. He’d get a larger fallback salary if no other contract emerges. Or the Bulls would be less likely to extend a qualifying offer in the first place, making him unrestricted and allowing him more freedom to find a team that’ll use him at point guard.

Dunn expects to return to the bench once Porter gets healthy. That timeline could determine Dunn’s qualifying offer, though it’s also quite possible Chicago wouldn’t extend even the smaller qualifying offer.

Either way, Dunn’s defense is earning him playing time that’s useful in developing his offense.

“I hold myself at a high standard, and I want to be really good player in this league,” Dunn said. “And I have the abilities to do it. It’s just on honing my craft.”

Dunn, who’s averaging 7.2 points per game, isn’t hijacking the offense in a last-grasp attempt to prove himself. He lets Chicago’s other guards handle the playmaking and pitches in where he can – primarily defense. He’s doing exactly what the Bulls need from him.

“The biggest thing about Kris Dunn is he has a spirit for the team and a spirit for doing the right things,” Boylen said. “When you have that, good things happen to you.”

LeBron James passes Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo in All-Star voting

LeBron James and Luka Doncic lead the NBA in All-Star voting
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LeBron James has led the NBA in fan All-Star voting the last three years. If he leads the league again this season, he’d break a tie with Vince Carter (2000-2002) for the longest such streak since Michael Jordan (1987-1993).

But in the initial All-Star voting returns LeBron trailed Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Lebron is back on top now.

The updated voting:

Eastern Conference

Guards

1. Trae Young (ATL) 1,389,628

2. Kyrie Irving (BRK) 1,351,997

3. Kemba Walker (BOS) 1,331,577

4. Derrick Rose (DET) 918,550

5. Zach LaVine (CHI) 572,022

6. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 567,896

7. Jaylen Brown (BOS) 544,361

8. Ben Simmons (PHI) 456,066

9. Bradley Beal (WAS) 447,107

10. Fred VanVleet (TOR) 351,391

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 3,259,383

2. Joel Embiid (PHI) 1,784,211

3. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 1,730,763

4. Jimmy Butler (MIA) 1,400,293

5. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 1,182,663

6. Tacko Fall (BOS) 543,352

7. Bam Adebayo (MIA) 349,078

8. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 291,608

9. Domantas Sabonis (IND) 239,639

10. Andre Drummond (DET) 228,190

Western Conference

Guards

1. Luka Doncic (DAL) 3,277,870

2. James Harden (HOU) 2,167,269

3. Damian Lillard (POR) 687,855

4. Stephen Curry (GSW) 595,913

5. Russell Westbrook (HOU) 581,500

6. Alex Caruso (LAL) 528,246

7. Donovan Mitchell (UTA) 449,835

8. Devin Booker (PHO) 381,071

9. D’Angelo Russell (GSW) 365,730

10. Ja Morant (MEM) 257,433

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 3,359,871

2. Anthony Davis (LAL) 3,124,446

3. Kawhi Leonard (LAC) 2,210,539

4. Paul George (LAC) 845,719

5. Nikola Jokic (DEN) 559,881

6. Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 545,385

7. Kristaps Porzingis (DAL) 540,603

8. Carmelo Anthony (POR) 520,021

9. Brandon Ingram (NOP) 444,522

10. Dwight Howard (LAL) 390,037

Observations:

  • LeBron, Doncic and Antetokounmpo will all be All-Stars. The overall vote lead is mostly about prestige, though it doesn’t carry as much since the NBA introduced player and media voting into the All-Star-starters equation.
  • LeBron and Doncic are competing for a captaincy, because they’re both in the Western Conference. With All-Star teams no longer divided by conference, why should one of them automatically fall behind Antetokounmpo just because Antetokounmpo is in the East? This patchwork system leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Kyle Lowry (No. 8 to No. 6) and Ben Simmons (No. 6 to No. 8) flipped spots. That could make the difference in an open Eastern Conference backcourt race. At No. 2 in fan voting, Kyrie Irving probably won’t fare as well with players and media. No. 4 in fan voting, Derrick Rose probably won’t get any media votes. No. 5 in fan voting, Zach LaVine also faces an uphill climb with media votes.

Three Things to Know: Has Michael Porter Jr. arrived in Denver?

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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.

1) Has Micahel Porter Jr. arrived in Denver? If so, he may be stretch four the team needs. Just a few weeks back, during the G-League showcase event in Las Vegas, executives from a lot of teams expected the Nuggets to be buyers at the trade deadline. At the top of Denver’s list of needs was a stretch four to put next to Nikola Jokic. The kind of player who could score an efficient 25 points, getting buckets in the paint on bunny hooks or stepping out to the arc and nailing threes…

Exactly like the game Michael Porter Jr. had for the Nuggets Thursday night against a good Pacers team.

Going into the season, there was a lot of “Michael Porter Jr. will be the difference” talk coming out of Denver, a team largely banking on continuity this season. Porter had looked like a steal at No. 14 in the 2018 draft, but back surgery and some reports of a “diva” attitude had him sliding down the draft board. The big question with Porter was, what would he look like healthy? The man has battled two back surgeries, nerve issues in his foot, and a knee sprain. However, after sitting out last season, he was ready to go this season and… nothing. His jump shot was a mess, his defense was that of a rookie, and coach Michael Malone was stingy with the minutes. Porter made little impact on the Nuggets through the first third of the season, other than to have them taking a hard look at Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Love in the trade market.

Then Porter dropped 19 on Sacramento a few nights ago, which caught people’s attention. His corner threes, then the rest of his jumpers, started falling. On Thursday night in Indiana, Porter Jr. was the player Nuggets fans had hoped for and the team has needed — a difference-maker and versatile player at the four.

If Porter can continue with and build off that kind of performance it changes the calculous for Denver. The Nuggets are 24-10 and the two seed in the West, but despite the early wins their play was not striking fear in the hearts of opponents. Lately, however, Nikola Jokic looks like himself again (he played his way into shape?), the defense is improved this season, and with Porter is playing like the missing piece they need things feel different in Denver (they have won 10-of-12).

It’s too early to say Porter Jr. has arrived in Denver, we’re just talking two good games. But if he has, if this is going to be the new norm and not a fluke career night form Porter, the Nuggets start to look a lot more dangerous.

2) Something to watch: Paul George left Clippers win with a hamstring injury. The Clippers had little trouble with a shorthanded Detroit team Thursday night in a game that followed form and was not particularly worth noting except for one thing:

Paul George left the game in the second quarter not to return due to “hamstring tightness.”

The Clippers were up by six at the half and about to get serious and take over the game, there was no reason to risk anything and play George in the second half. So they didn’t. After the game, George was not showing a limp, reports Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. That’s a good sign.

Maybe it’s nothing. Hopefully, for the sake of fans of the game, it’s nothing. But hamstrings are the kind of things that linger if not treated, so this just becomes something to watch with the Clippers and one of their two stars.

3) The first round of NBA All-Star fan voting is in, so who will the starters be? As they should, NBA fans get the largest say in who should start the NBA All-Star Game. It’s an exhibition game to promote the league, so give the fans who they want… unless it’s Zaza Pachulia. After a coordinated effort to make him the starting center in the NBA showcase game a few years ago (a lot of that out of his native Georgia), the league added a media and player vote components to make sure nothing like that happens again. Which means it’s cute that this year fans cast a lot of ballots for Alex Caruso and Tacko Fall, but they will not start.

So who will start? Let’s break down the early returns from fan voting a little and project forward with what the media and players likely do.

Here are the Western Conference starters as voted by the fans: Luka Doncic (Dallas), James Harden (Houston), LeBron James (LA Lakers), Anthony Davis (LA Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers).

I doubt that five changes. In the backcourt, Doncic is the leading vote getter in the West and second-place Harden is more than 500,000 votes ahead of third-place Damian Lillard. That’s not changing with the media/player votes. It’s basically the same in the frontcourt, where Leonard has a massive lead over teammate Paul George for the third starting spot. The media and players likely vote in the same five. This group is pretty much a lock.

The East is another story. The Eastern Conference starters as voted by the fans: Trae Young (Atlanta), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Pascal Siakam (Toronto).

I could argue that, as entertaining as Young is as a player, he’s the leader of a 7-win team and doesn’t deserve to start the All-Star Game. Except, who is going to replace him? Second-leading vote getter Kyrie Irving has missed too much time to do well in the media and player votes, so if Boston fans don’t push Kemba Walker into a starting role (he’s nearly tied with Irving already), the press will put Kemba in as a stater again. After that, could the media/player votes push Ben Simmons or Bradley Beal far enough up the ladder to start in front of Young? Maybe, but most likely the Hawks guard holds down his spot.

In the East frontcourt, Antetokounmpo and Embiid are locks. Will the media/player vote push Jimmy Butler past Siakam? Maybe. It will be close. While one could make a case Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo should play in the game, neither are starters.

Still, expect some shifts in the starters in the East by the time the players get announced for the game at the end of the month.

Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo lead first NBA All-Star fan vote returns

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It’s not a complete changing of the guard — LeBron James, James Harden, and other veterans are still drawing a lot of votes — but fans want to see the game’s young stars headline the NBA All-Star Game.

The first returns from the fan voting for the NBA All-Star Game are in and Dallas’ Luka Doncic leads all Western Conference players, while Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo tops the East. Other young players such as Trae Young and Pascal Siakam will be starting if the fans get their way.

The fans don’t get their way, completely. Fans get to help select the starters and their votes account for 50 percent of the total (and are the tiebreaker), with select media member votes accounting for 25 percent, and player votes making up the final 25 percent.

Fans want to see who they want to see. They also voted the Lakers’ Alex Caruso eighth among West backcourt players — ahead of the Suns’ Devin Booker (which is a crime people, Booker has been fantastic this season) — and the Celtics’ Tacko Fall seventh among East frontcourt players (ahead of Miami’s Bam Adebayo, among others).

Here are the starting lineups if this were this fan vote were all that counted:
Eastern Conference: Trae Young (Atlanta), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Pascal Siakam (Toronto).
Western Conference: Luka Doncic (Dallas), James Harden (Houston), LeBron James (LA Lakers), Anthony Davis (LA Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers).

The rest of the All-Star rosters are voted on by a vote of the league’s coaches.

As of now, Doncic and Antetokounmpo would be the team captains, and they would get to chose their teams “playground style” — they pick their teams from the pool of players voted as starters and reserves, making their selections regardless of conference affiliation

Voting is open through Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 20), and fans can vote at vote.NBA.com, through the NBA app, or through their Google Assistant.

The 2020 NBA All-Star Game will take place at the United Center in Chicago on Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. ET (on TNT).

Here are the top 10 vote getters in each category so far.

Western Conference backcourt
(Rank Player Votes)
1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks 1,073,957
2. James Harden, Rockets 749,080
3. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers 202,498
4. Stephen Curry, Warriors 191,149
5. Russell Westbrook, Rockets 189,005
6. D'Angelo Russell, Warriors 122,499
7. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz 108,349
8. Alex Caruso, Lakers 92,233
9. Devin Booker, Suns 91,817
10. Ja Morant, Grizzlies 77,081

Western Conference frontcourt
(Rank Player Votes)
1. LeBron James, Lakers 1,020,851
2. Anthony Davis, Lakers 955,246
3. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers 740,657
4. Paul George, Clippers 280,894
5. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves 173,129
6. Kristaps Porzingis, Mavericks 171,749
7. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets 160,934
8. Carmelo Anthony, Trail Blazers 142,292
9. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans 118,188
10. Dwight Howard, Lakers 69,785

Eastern Conference backcourt
(Rank Player Votes)
1. Trae Young, Hawks 443,412
2. Kyrie Irving, Nets 432,481
3. Kemba Walker, Celtics 432,031
4. Derrick Rose, Pistons 233,669
5. Zach LaVine, Bulls 174,991
6. Ben Simmons, 76ers 159,065
7. Jaylen Brown, Celtics 156,537
8. Kyle Lowry, Raptors 154,139
9. Bradley Beal, Wizards 149,640
10. Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets 94,618

Eastern Conference frontcourt
(Rank Player Votes)
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks 1,073,358
2. Joel Embiid, 76ers 606,534
3. Pascal Siakam, Raptors 544,302
4. Jimmy Butler, Heat 431,483
5. Jayson Tatum, Celtics 364,137
6. Tacko Fall, Celtics 110,269
7. Bam Adebayo, Heat 104,086
8. Gordon Hayward, Celtics 75,240
9. Andre Drummond, Pistons 68,076
10. Domantas Sabonis, Pacers 67,482