J.J. Redick

Jasear Thompson/NBAE via Getty Images

Who nutmegged better, James Harden or Trae Young? (videos)

5 Comments

J.J. Redick helped with preseason-level defense, but this was so audacious.

Trae Young dribbled straight through Redick’s legs in the open court for a layup:

But that wasn’t the only great nutmeg last night.

James Harden did much more creative ball-handling against a better defender, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, then went through the Raptor’s legs:

Which play was more impressive?

J.J. Redick warns Zion Williamson not to kill his playoff streak

Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
7 Comments

J.J. Redick has never missed the playoffs. Thirteen seasons in the NBA, 13 trips to the postseason. Whether in Orlando or with the Clippers or the past couple of seasons in Philly, the team always made it.

That streak is in jeopardy this season. Redick is on a promising but young New Orleans team playing in a stacked Western Conference. Vegas oddsmakers have the Pelicans ninth in the West (based on title odds) and most pundits see New Orleans being competitive but just out of a playoff chase where it’s likely going to take somewhere close to the 48 wins it did last year to make the postseason.

Reddick wants none of that, he expects to make the playoffs and doesn’t want No. 1 pick Zion Williamson screwing it up — and Reddick told him that. And he didn’t use the word “screw” either.

The Pelicans got this right: Reddick and Jrue Holiday are exactly the kind of veterans you want in the locker room around Williamson his rookie year.

Can Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram thrive in New Orleans?

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
1 Comment

This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

New Orleans is buzzing.

New Orleans is usually buzzing in one definition or another, but when it comes to sports it is a Saints town through and through. Other teams, including the NBA’s Pelicans, were more of an afterthought.

Zion Williamson has changed that.

Alvin Gentry, now about to enter his fifth season as coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, said he has never seen the city buzzing about basketball and the NBA like this before. Williamson has that kind of magnetism — he was even on NBC’s Football Night in America before the Saints game Sunday talking about the city. Zion has the Big Easy excited about fast-paced, high-flying Pelicans team that will be League Pass darlings this season.

It’s the perfect platform for Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, a clean slate to turn around their underachieving reputations.

Can they seize the opportunity?

Ball and Ingram were at the heart of a trade package that brought Anthony Davis to the Lakers, giving the Pelicans two recent No. 2 picks to go alongside Williamson and veterans such as Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick. Ball and Ingram both were up and down in Los Angeles, showing stretches of potential but also struggling to adapt to the NBA then to playing with LeBron James (something a lot of players have struggled with).

New Orleans gives Ball and Ingram a chance, outside the glare of the Lakers’ spotlight, to prove they were worthy of those lofty picks and expectations. That also comes with pressure because they are playing for their next contracts — Ingram will be a restricted free agent next summer, and Ball will be extension eligible.

The pair will get plenty of opportunities — Ball likely starts at point guard, next to the veteran Holiday at the two, and they will share shot creation duties. Ingram probably will start at the three, next to Williamson at the four. The question isn’t will they get minutes.

The big question is can they stay on the court?

Ball has played in just 99 games over two seasons, or 60.4 percent of the Lakers’ games, due to injuries. His season ended last March due to an ankle injury he was not recovering from as expected, and he has battled a host of injuries over his couple of NBA seasons.

Ingram has missed 53 games over the past two years due to injury, including playing in just 52 games last season, and his season was shut down in March also for the potentially more serious blood clotting issue called deep venous thrombosis. That diagnosis has teams cautious about him; if it is chronic it could cost him his NBA career. He’s also just thin (officially listed as 190 pounds at 6’9”) and the physicality of the NBA wears him down and leads to injuries.

If one or both have their season again shortened by injury, it will be a red flag to teams (including the Pelicans, which just upgraded its training staff considerably this summer).

There are reasons to believe Ball and Ingram can breakthrough.

They will also be in an up-tempo style that suits them — the Pelicans played in the second-fastest pace in the NBA last season and coach Alvin Gentry wants to speed things up, not slow them down.

That should be great news for Ball, who does his best work when playing on instinct in open space, more of a playground style. That’s when his look-ahead passes find targets, where his creation is at its best (he’s improved at thinking the game in the halfcourt, but that is still a work in progress). Ball, however, needs to be a bigger threat to score in transition to open up those passing lanes, he scored less than a point per possession on shots in transition last season. He improved as a finisher at the rim, although he’s pretty average there still, and force him into the midrange or a pull-up three and the defense wins. Ball has to change that.

Ingram got 18.8 percent of his shots in transition last season and score an impressive 1.22 points per possession that way.

Ingram played his best ball in the middle of his sophomore season, when the Lakers put the ball in his hands and made him their primary scorer. In February 2018, he was aggressive and attacked the rim, averaging 18.6 points per game shooting 54 percent overall and better than 50 percent from three for the Lakers through 10 games. He seemed to be breaking out, then ankle and knee issues essentially shut him down. The next season the ball was in LeBron’s hands more, and Ingram was slow to adjust.

Ingram can put up numbers — he averaged 18.3 points and 5.1 rebounds a game while shooting a career-high 49.7 percent overall last season — and nobody questions his athleticism, he just tends not to be efficient, shooting just 33 percent from three last season (after 39 percent the season before). When he’s aggressive and attacks the rim he gets to the line, but shot just 67.5 percent of free throws. He simply does not get easy buckets

Ball has skills that teams like — the court vision and passing, plus he is an excellent defensive point guard. Around the league, Ball still has fans in front offices watching as he cleans up some fundamentals (funky shot, taking off on the wrong foot on shots at the rim, etc.). He just needs to become more of a scoring threat. Right now defenses tend to treat him like Rajon Rondo and back off, he needs to develop a floater, and a more consistent three-point shot (he hit 32.9 percent last season, but let him set his feet and have space and he can hit it).

The trade gives Ball and Ingram a chance, an opportunity. That’s all they can ask for. Now it’s on them to grab it.

Doc Rivers almost quit six days into Clippers job

Associated Press
3 Comments

This story is one of seemingly a thousand (some public, some not) that illustrate how chaotic things were when Donald Sterling owned the Clippers.

Doc Rivers is NBA coaching royalty, a championship coach (one of six now currently on an NBA sideline), a former NBA coach of the Year, and the kind of guy players — specifically Kawhi Leonard — love and want to play for. He’s a guy who played a big role in turning the Clippers around.

However, Rivers almost didn’t last six days on the Clippers job.

Rivers told the story to Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times. It begins when Sterling tried to stop an already agreed to sign-and-trade to bring in J.J. Redick to Los Angeles. The Clippers’ coach explained what happened

“I was on the job for six days and I quit,” Rivers said. “The deal went through and everyone said it was a great deal. I flew back home to Orlando for a couple of days and I got a call from [former Clippers president] Andy Roeser saying Donald Sterling decided he didn’t want to do the deal. I said, ‘What do you mean? The deal is already done. JJ is a free agent. He backed out of a deal to sign with us. If we don’t do this deal we’ll never get another free agent. It’s our word.’”

“I got on the phone with Donald and he was telling me how great his word was,” Rivers said. … “I was in the airport parking lot screaming, ‘No, no, no, no! You’re not going to do this! This is my reputation!’ He just went on and on about his reputation and how great it was…

“Finally at the end of it I said, ‘If you don’t do the trade, I quit.’ He said, ‘You can’t quit, you signed a five-year deal, I’ll make sure you don’t coach anywhere!’ I said, ‘I’m fine with that. I’ll find a job…

The next morning, Roeser told Rivers the deal was done. “I still have no idea what happened,” Rivers said. “I guess Donald just changed his mind, but I had quit.”

Rivers was part of a wave that came in and worked to change the Clippers’ culture. Blake Griffin played a vital role in that — he not only was an elite talent, but he also has an incredible work ethic and Neil Olshey, among others, pushed the Clippers to start matching it off the court on the basketball side. Change did not come easy, something Rivers talks about in the L.A. Times story, which is why you should read it.

If you’re up for a deep dive into the sleazy world of Donald Sterling, check out the podcast series Ramona Shelburne of ESPN did on him, it’s nothing short of brilliant.

 

 

 

Pelicans emerge from gloomy end to Anthony Davis era with Zion Williamson, bright future

Allen Berezovsky/WireImage
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Pelicans hired a lead executive with a championship pedigree. They deftly handled a superstar trade request, securing a massive return. They made savvy additions through draft, trade and free agency.

But the very best thing to happen to New Orleans this offseason was the bounce of ping-pong balls.

Despite holding just a 6% chance, the Pelicans won the lottery. They of course used the No. 1 pick on Zion Williamson – a generational prospect whose potential, age and contract status makes him even more valuable than Anthony Davis, both generally and specifically to this team.

This is my third year, grading offseasons. Before this, I hadn’t reckoned with how to account for lottery results. The Kings have been big risers the previous two years. In 2017, they jumped five spots to the No. 3 pick, but because of a previous pick swap, had to move down closer to their original slot. Last year, Sacramento jumped to No. 2, but pick a player (Marvin Bagley III) I ranked lower, anyway.

This wild lottery demanded a judgment on whether to include the drawing.

Ultimately, I’m grading teams’ offseason results, not the teams’ offseason decision-making. So, I am including lottery results in the grade.

That’s a big reason the Pelicans perform so well. T

heir decision making was also excellent, though.

They secured maximum return from the Lakers for Davis. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick, two future first-rounders (including a deferment right on one) and a first-round swap rights another year? That’s a dream package.

New Orleans compounded the return by flipping the No. 4 pick, a late second-rounder or two and Solomon Hill‘s burdensome contract to the Hawks for the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks and a potential future first-rounder. That’s such great value for the Pelicans.

No. 8 pick Jaxson Hayes and No. 17 pick Nickeil Alexander-Walker both looked good in summer league. (No. 35 Marcos Louzada Silva will spend next season overseas.)

New Orleans instantly formed a deep young group to grow around Williamson.

The Pelicans still have a prime Jrue Holiday, who I deemed worthy of All-NBA last season. If even a couple of the youngsters make a leap, New Orleans could compete for the playoffs next season.

To that end, New Orleans added a couple quality veterans. The Pelicans signed J.J. Redick to a two-year, $26.5 million contract. They also traded just a couple second-rounders for Derrick Favors, whose unguaranteed salary the Jazz had to unload.

Darius Miller re-signed for $7.25 million next season with a $7 million unguaranteed salary the following year. That’s a high number for him, but that contract could be more useful in a trade than if he were making less.

New Orleans is well-situated for the present and future with a variety of possible paths forward. That’s incredible considering the malaise Davis’ trade request instilled.

Getting Williamson changed everything. The Pelicans are doing their best to make the most of the addition.

Offseason grade: A