Giannis Antetokounmpo

Getty Images

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks over not one but two Pacers (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Once Giannis Antetokounmpo gets rolling downhill, good luck.

The Pacers found that out the hard way with not one but two players getting dunked on by the Greek Freak. On the same dunk.

Damn. That’s not fair.

It’s also not the only highlight play for Antetokounmpo on the night.

Milwaukee was up double digits on the Pacers early in the fourth quarter, and of course, Antetokounmpo was leading the way.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo drop 38 on the Bulls

4 Comments

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo ensured the Milwaukee Bucks’ dominance over the Chicago Bulls didn’t end Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 15 rebounds, Eric Bledsoe added a season-high 31 points and eight assists, and the Bucks withstood another historic effort by Chicago rookie Coby White to beat the Bulls 124-115.

The Bucks have won seven straight against Chicago dating to 2017.

White shot 5 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to hit five 3-pointers in consecutive games. The 19-year-old first-round pick hit seven 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of a 120-102 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday night – the most in a quarter ever by a rookie. White finished Thursday with 26 points, including six 3s.

Antetokounmpo had at least 30 points for the seventh game this season for the Bucks.

Mark Cuban on load management: ‘The dumb thing would be to ignore the science’

Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
10 Comments

The idea of load management in the NBA was not the brainchild of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Rather, he was the first to see the science, recognize the value of keeping players rested and healthy (particularly as Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker got older), and implement a plan to have guys at their best entering the playoffs rather than being worn down. Popovich has the rings to back up his thinking.

The science is unambiguous. It screams that rest — or, more accurately, giving players time to recover properly — matters most when keeping players both healthy over a long season and extending their careers. The most obvious example was last season in Toronto, when Kawhi Leonard played just 60 games to make sure his quad tendon (and opposite knee) were healthy when the playoffs started. The result was Leonard being the best player on the planet in the playoffs and the Raptors throwing a championship parade.

In the wake of the frivolous “debate” around Leonard missing games for the Clippers already this season to avoid injuries — which is what happened, no matter what the league office is selling — Mark Cuban came down on the side of the science. And resting players. Here are Cuban’s words, via ESPN:

“The problem isn’t load management, per se,” Cuban told reporters in Boston on Monday. “I think teams have to be smarter about when to load manage. I’m all for load management. Worse than missing a player in a [regular-season] game is missing him in the playoffs….

“It’s all data-driven,” Cuban said. “We’re not going, ‘OK, let’s just mess with the league and our meal ticket to fans to do something just because it might be interesting. We spend so much money, not just on analytics for predictive reasons, but also for biometrics so we know how smart we can be.

“The dumb thing would be to ignore the science.”

In his latest newsletter (something you should absolutely sign up for, it’s brilliant), Henry Abbott talks about the science of player rest (and has a great story on how it extended the career of Kyle Korver, something you can only read in that newsletter).

NBA fans generally hate load management. It reminds me very much of the early days of talking about climate change. Most people would rather the science just go away…

Years ago, a study showed that players in top European soccer leagues have six times the injury rate if they play two games instead of one per week. The study might not be the most relevant to the NBA—it’s a different sport—but it’s a home run that the schedule itself causes injuries. Tired bodies don’t have the same strength, and they are more likely to move inefficiently.”

I don’t know anything about the insides of Kawhi’s knee, but I know that there are times nowadays, when “just go out there and play” is a ridiculous approach. Enough NBA players are injured already. Kawhi uses more useful language: he should play when his body is “ready.” As in ready to take on big forces without big risks. It’s a much healthier way to discuss it (except that if a coach does it, the NBA might want $50k).

In the case of Leonard missing time, the NBA scheduled the Clippers on a back-to-back with both games on national television. Everyone knew he would miss a game, including the suits at the league office and at ESPN. The backlash came because he sat out an ESPN game (rather than the TNT one, so ESPN personalities spoke up), and it was against the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, a matchup everyone wanted to see. However, from the Clippers’ perspective, it was the right move: The second game — vs. the Trail Blazers — was against a conference foe that would have a bigger impact both on seedings and potential tiebreakers down the line. That was the game the Clippers had to win, so they made sure their best player was ready for that game.

Want less load management? Reducing the number of NBA games is a start, but the problem is bigger and more holistic than just that. As Baxter Holmes wrote about in detail at ESPN last summer — and LeBron James complained about recently — the number of games at the AAU level, often in tightly compacted time frames at tournaments, is leading to problems long before guys get to the NBA. Young players are learning bad habits, not getting enough time to rest their bodies, and problems develop before guys even hit the NBA. That leaves teams at the highest level trying to clean up the mess and get the most out of their top players.

There are no easy answers. But the answer is not “you’re paid to play 82 games, so get out there.”

Three Things to Know: Red-hot James Harden off to Jordan/Wilt level start to season

Associated Press
4 Comments

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) Red-hot James Harden off to Jordan/Wilt level start to the season. Remember this quaint concern before the season tipped off: There’s only one basketball, how exactly are Russell Westbrook and James Harden going to share it and share the court?

It’s Harden’s basketball, Harden’s team, and when it matters Westbrook is going to stay out of the way. That’s how.

Harden — whose 36.1 points per game last season was the highest per-game average in the league since Michael Jordan in 1987 (37.1) — is off to a hotter start and scoring more this season.

We saw that on Monday night: Harden had a personal 13-0 run in the fourth quarter and dropped 19 in the final frame to help the Rockets put away the Pelicans, 122-116. Harden finished with 39 points, his fourth-straight 35+ point game — and not so coincidentally the Rockets are on a four-game win streak.

If you want to talk old-school per-game averages, Harden is averaging 37.3 through 10 games, the most in the last 50 years — Jordan averaged 36.9 in 1987 and 1989.

By the way, when Westbrook and Harden share the court the Rockets are +2.8 points per 100 possessions, and the team plays pretty good (league average range) defense when they are paired.

Nothing has changed for Harden. The man with the beard, motivated by losing the MVP race to Giannis Antetokounmpo last season, has not been slowed in the least by the arrival of another ball-dominant guard.

The Rockets are 7-3 to start the season, and while we can debate where they belong in the rankings of contenders in the West, we know that if you leave them off the list you’re doing it wrong. This is a good team, a dangerous one.

And good luck slowing Harden down.

2) The Day the injuries piled up: Gordon Hayward, Khris Middleton, De’Aaron Fox all out weeks. This was a depressing way to start the week, injuries to three star players that will keep them out weeks.

We knew Sunday night that Celtics’ star Gordon Hayward, off to a fast start this season, had fractured his hand. Monday we learned that he had surgery to repair the fourth metacarpal bone in his left hand (the bone that connects the wrist to the ring finger), and he will be out six weeks. That’s relatively good news, Stephen Curry is out three months with the fracture in his non-shooting hand, but Hayward will be missed. He was averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. More than just that, he’s been a critical playmaker for the Celtics.

Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with a thigh bruise but after the game said it was not that serious. Actually, it was serious. He’s going to be out 3-4 weeks with the injury. Middleton was playing at his All-Star level of a year ago averaging 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three but also finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

Sacramento’s rising star De’Aaron Fox rolled his ankle near the end of the Kings’ practice on Monday and he will be out 3-4 weeks with what has been described as a grade 3 sprain. Fox was putting up 18.2 points and dishing out 7 assists a game this season as the focal point of the Kings’ offense.

To add to all this, the Clippers’ young sharpshooter Landry Shamet had to leave the game against the Raptors on Monday night and an MRI on Tuesday will tell us how long he will be out.

3) San Antonio Spurs retire the jersey of Tony Parker, putting all of their big three in the rafters. Tony Parker was the No. 28 pick the 2001 NBA Draft. At the time there was a push from members of the Boston Celtics front office to take him at No. 21, but 84-year-old team president Red Auerbach didn’t trust that European point guards could thrive in the NBA. The Celtics took Joe Forte.

Parker fell to the Spurs seven picks later, and the rest is history. Parker went on to help the Spurs to four titles, he was named Finals MVP with one of those, plus was a six-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA player. Parker used his quickness and high IQ to break down defenses as well as anyone who played the game — the 6’2” Parker led the league in points in the paint one season.

Parker was part of the core that turned the Spurs into a dynasty. He deserved to have his number hung in the rafters with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili (and they were all there for the occasion).

Parker handled the night with the class we have come to expect from the French star.

Merci, Toni.

Enriched and entrusted, Malcolm Brogdon proving his worth with Pacers

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
1 Comment

DETROIT – Pistons guard Tim Frazier is older than Malcolm Brogdon. Frazier has more years of NBA experience than Brogdon. Frazier has played more NBA games than Brogdon.

Yet, Frazier – Brogdon’s teammate on the Bucks last season – still speaks of Brogdon with an incredible reverence.

“He’s just somebody that I even kind of look up to,” Frazier said, “to try to follow his footsteps.”

“He’s a great person. He does everything by the book, tries to do everything the right things, man. Cares for others. It’s huge.”

Brogdon – nicknamed “The President” – has earned a sterling reputation thanks to his stellar play, strong work ethic and powerful voice. Now with the Pacers, Brogdon is spreading his influence even further.

Last offseason, Brogdon was part of one of the league’s most controversial moves. Holding matching rights on Brogdon, Milwaukee signed-and-traded him to Indiana for a first-rounder and two-second rounders. The Bucks cleared playing time that might have appealed to newly signed Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver and, perhaps more importantly, stayed under the luxury-tax line. We’ll see how Milwaukee uses those picks, but that was quite the choice with Giannis Antetokounmpo headed toward his super-max decision.

Brogdon says he’s not dwelling on the Bucks’ decision. His four-year, $85 million contract certainly helps.

“It’s just surreal,” said Brogdon, the No. 36 pick in the 2016 draft. “To get paid that much, that’s what everybody dreams about.”

Most of his draft classmates must keep dreaming. The Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies four-year contracts for first-round picks. But second rounders can negotiate shorter deals. Brogdon signed a three-year contract with Milwaukee. Though he looked like a huge bargain while winning Rookie of the Year and starting deep in the playoffs, Brogdon hit free agency a year earlier than his peers.

Brogdon’s $20 million salary this season is the second-highest ever for someone in his first four seasons. Only Nikola Jokic, who earned a max salary last season, got more.

Here are the highest salaries by players in their first four seasons:

image

“There’s pressure whenever somebody gets paid,” Brogdon said. “A team pays you, because they are giving you more responsibility. They’re showing you that they like you and that they think you should play at a certain level.”

Brogdon is answering that call.

Shifted to shooting guard in Milwaukee to accommodate Eric Bledsoe, Brogdon filled his role dutifully. But he wanted to be a point guard, and the Pacers have made him their starting point guard.

“It’s been amazing,” Brogdon said. “It’s definitely a lot of responsibility, but it’s something I’m ready for and something I welcome gladly.”

He’s averaging 20.8 points and 8.9 assists per game – third in the NBA, behind LeBron James (11.0 assists per game) and Luka Doncic (9.1 assists per game).

Brogdon was once viewed as having a limited ceiling. He entered the NBA after four years at Virginia, had long-term health concerns and played a complementary style. He focused on defending, spotting up for 3-pointers and attacking closeouts

Now, Brogdon drives Indiana’s above-average offense. The ball runs through him, and he creates for himself and teammates. His increased role shows throughout his numbers (last season → this season):

  • Usage percentage: 20.7 → 27.1
  • Assist percentage: 16.2 → 39.7
  • Free-throw rate: .203 → .294
  • Plays per game finished as pick-and-roll ball-handler: 2.7 → 8.9
  • 3-pointers per game off multiple dribbles: 0.8 →2.6

Even while doing so much more, Brogdon has kept his turnovers low (though up slightly from his Milwaukee days). His true shooting percentage also remains above league average, because he’s showing nice burst to the basket and drawing fouls. An all-time great from the line, Brogdon has made 46-of-47 free throws this season (98%).

Brogdon must eventually adjust once Victor Oladipo returns. Though he’ll remain starting point guard, Brogdon will share ball-handling duties with the talented Oladipo.

That’s an issue for another day. For now, Brogdon just seems happy.

“Having the opportunity to have the ball in my hands, to make decisions, to lead a team,” Brogdon said, “this is what I wanted.”