Russell Westbrook

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams

4 Comments

NBA teams scored more points per possession this season than ever.

But a few players stood out for slowing the offensive onslaught.

The All-Defensive teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, voting points in parentheses):

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart, BOS (63-19-145)

Guard: Eric Bledsoe, MIL (36-28-100)

Forward: Paul George, OKC (96-3-195)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (94-5-193)

Center: Rudy Gobert, UTA (97-2-196)

Second team

Guard: Jrue Holiday, MIN (31-28-90)

Guard: Klay Thompson, GSW (23-36-82)

Forward: Draymond Green, GSW (2-57-61)

Forward: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (5-29-39)

Center: Joel Embiid, PHI (4-72-80)

Also receiving votes: Danny Green, TOR (19-28-66); Patrick Beverley, LAC (14-20-48); Myles Turner, IND (1-37-39); P.J. Tucker, HOU (1-36-38); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-24-24); Derrick White, SAS (4-7-15); Russell Westbrook, OKC (2-5-9); Jimmy Butler, PHI (2-5-9); Chris Paul, HOU (1-5-7); Robert Covington, MIN (1-3-5); Paul Millsap, DEN (0-5-5); James Harden, HOU (2-0-4); Al Horford, BOS (0-4-4); Kevin Durant, GSW (0-4-4); Malcolm Brogdon, MIL (1-1-3); Josh Richardson, MIA (0-3-3); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-3-3)
Stephen Curry, GSW (1-0-2); Thaddeus Young, IND (0-2-2); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-2-2); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-2-2); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-2-2); Derrick Favors, UTA (0-2-2); Joe Ingles, UTA (0-2-2); Jaylen Brown, BOS (0-1-1); Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-1-1); Ed Davis, BRK (0-1-1); Gary Harris, DEN (0-1-1); Nikola Jokic, DEN (0-1-1); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-1); Andre Iguodala, GSW (0-1-1); Jordan Bell, GSW (0-1-1); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC (0-1-1); Mike Conley, MEM (0-1-1); Kyle Anderson, MEM (0-1-1); Bam Adebayo, MIA (0-1-1); Khris Middleton, MIL (0-1-1); Brook Lopez, MIL (0-1-1); Terrance Ferguson, OKC (0-1-1); Damian Lillard, POR (0-1-1); De’Aaron Fox, SAC (0-1-1); Ricky Rubio, UTA (0-1-1); Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-1)

Observations:

  • This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
  • I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
  • P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
  • Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
  • It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
  • James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
  • But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
  • Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.

Paul George, Russell Westbrook have surgeries; George likely to miss start of training camp

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just four days before the playoffs started, Paul George couldn’t lift his right hand over his head his shoulder he was in so much pain.

George had injured his shoulder back in February and played through the pain, which caused his previously MVP-level play to suffer. While he refused to use it as an excuse in the playoffs, the shoulder clearly bothered him and George’s efficiency dipped (he shot just 31.9 percent from three against Portland). After the Thunder were eliminated in five games, Goerge said he would address the shoulder issue this summer and “come back next season healthy.”

Apparently, that meant surgery — both George and Russell Westbrook underwent surgery recently (and George will undergo one more on his other shoulder). Westbrook will return to basketball activities in a few weeks, George could miss the start of training camp.

Oklahoma City announced the moves, something well Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young of ESPN broke. Here are the details, via the Thunder:

Russell Westbrook underwent successful surgery to repair a ligament on the fourth metacarpophalangeal joint (MCP) of his left hand. Westbrook also had a successful elective arthroscopic procedure on his right knee in preparation for offseason training. The 2016-17 NBA MVP is expected to return to full basketball activities in approximately three weeks.

Paul George had successful elective surgery on his right shoulder to repair a partial thickness supraspinatus tendon tear. George will also address a small labrum tear in his left shoulder with a procedure in the coming weeks. An update on the six-time All-Star’s return-to-play status will be provided prior to the start of the 2019-20 NBA season.

A “partial thickness supraspinatus tendon tear” is what the rest of us call rotator cuff surgery.

Just to be clear, that is four surgeries to the two best players — by far — on the Thunder. While both players should fully recover, it is still less than ideal. We saw what happened as these two played through injuries this past season, with the Thunder losing games down the stretch and falling from the three seed at one point down to the six seed and starting the playoffs on the road.

Westbrook and George are the Thunder offense and their team identity, any delay in the return of either one hurts this team on the court. George averaged 28 points and 8.2 rebounds a game this past season. Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the third consecutive year with 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 10.7 assists per game.

 

Enes Kanter tells Nuggets to control their fans after one yelled, ‘Go back to Turkey. Oh wait, you can’t!’

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
6 Comments

Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter had his Turkish passport revoked, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has targeted Kanter for his speech.

That became fodder for a heckler in Denver last night.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Kanter:

Sparked by Russell Westbrook, the NBA is now confronting the racism players face. It’s time to stop the xenophobia, too.

Want to chant “Kanter sucks” because he knocked over a Nuggets player? Totally fine (even if Kanter got pushed into Torrey Craig by Nikola Jokic). Kanter is an antagonist who goads rival fan bases into loathing him.

But telling him to go back to his own country crosses a line. This instance is especially disgusting because the fan is mocking Kanter for having his freedoms encroached by an authoritarian.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Sixers’ defensive adjustments rock Raptors, even series

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Brett Brown made his adjustments, Toronto’s offense sputtered, and Philadelphia evens series with a win. It was just a handful of moves, but it changed everything — at least for a game.

Joel Embiid was now guarding Pascal Siakam, a guy who took 71 percent of his shots this season within 10 feet of the rim. That threw off Siakam, who shot 9-of-25 on the night, but more importantly, it let Joel Embiid stay closer to the basket and be a disruptive force.

Part of that disruption was a bigger focus by Embiid and all the Sixers in shading their defense toward Kawhi Leonard, who still scored 35 points on 13-of-24 shooting, but it wasn’t the same impact as he didn’t get to his spots on the floor as easily. Ben Simmons continues to do a respectable job on Leonard, who is going to get his anyway.

Embiid had been on Marc Gasol, who now had the smaller Tobias Harris guarding him, but Gasol shot just 1-of-6 on the night and struggled for a while to figure out how to be a better playmaker despite the size advantage.

Combine all that with a 30-point game from Jimmy Butler and it was enough for Philly to win another defensive slugfest, 94-89. The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Thursday.

It still felt near the end like Toronto has advantages in this series, it just couldn’t hit the shots to exploit them, for example knocking down just 19-of-37 from three (27 percent). Toronto seemed to figure out what it needed to do to beat the Sixers’ adjustments, it just couldn’t finish the play — the Raptors were 19-of-54 (35.2 percent) on uncontested looks in this game (stat via NBA.com… not the best judge of what is uncontested, but the point is valid).

But now the series heads back to Philadelphia where the Sixers role players may be more comfortable and step up. They also should get more out of Embiid, who was battling a stomach… oh, let’s just let him describe it.

Game 3 is going to tell us a lot in this series. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse didn’t change is rotations at all heading into this series, and after a Game 1 win didn’t feel the need. He should now, doing things like matching Gasol with Embiid (for defensive reasons). He stuck with Fred VanVleet despite an off night, expect the hook to come quicker from now on. This is a tight series, and if the Raptors are going to break out of their historic mold this is where they need to adjust and step up. As a team. We’ll see if they have that in them.

2) Nikola Jokic leads Denver offense to Game 1 win, but who will play defense in this series? The Spurs and Trail Blazers have this in common: Neither team has any idea how to slow down the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray pick-and-roll.

Usually Jokic set the pick for Murray, but they reversed that a few times, and anything they did seemed to work. Jokic carved up the Portland defense when he was on the floor on his way to 37 points, nine rebounds, six assists.

Both teams scored at will in Game 1, but Jokic — and the Nuggets defense forcing 18 turnovers that became 23 points — was enough to get the 121-113 win. Game 2 is Wednesday night.

Portland did get 39 points from Damian Lillard in this game.

However, the story of this series is on the other end. Portland defended the predictable offense of Oklahoma City well in the first round, but Denver does not have Russell Westbrook dominating the ball and missing jumpers. Denver moves the ball, moves players off the ball, and has shooters everywhere. And you better guard that Nuggets’ center out at the arc, too.

That becomes the real question in this series — which team is going to defend the best? Which team is going to get enough stops that their offense can win it?

Portland tried Enes Kanter on Jokic (credit Kanter for a good game despite playing with basically one arm, he separated his left shoulder in Game 5 against OKC a week ago and is still not right, but he was out there). Thing is, that may still be their best option. There are not good ones, Zach Collins? With Jusuf Nurkic out Terry Stotts will have to get creative.

This is a “bet the over” kind of series, but if one team can figure out how to defend a little better, it will have a significant advantage. In Game 1, that was the Nuggets forcing turnovers.

3) Houston released an audit, Steve Kerr flopped in a press conference, now can we focus on the game, not the referees? This happens in every playoff series. Some more than others, but it’s a tradition that goes back decades — Phil Jackson was a master of it with the Bulls and Lakers.

The losing team in a playoff game has the coach/players complain about a specific kind of call, trying to influence the next set of officials to call that thing more their way.

Ultimately, that’s all that is going on here. Houston relies on James Harden getting to the free throw line a lot in their offense, and he wasn’t getting calls when the Warriors defenders crowded him in Game 1. There were times fouls should have been called — in the first half Klay Thompson absolutely fouled Harden and took away his landing spots. However, Harden sells every call — he goes to the ground on jumpers, he throws his head back and flails on drives — and so he doesn’t always get the benefit of the doubt. There’s a boy who cried wolf thing here. On Harden’s final three of the game he leaped forward and jackknifed his body to draw contact, then laid on the ground to sell the call. The referee rightly didn’t give it.

The Warriors responded with Draymond Green sounding rational (“Refereeing is an inexact science. So it is what it is.”) and Steve Kerr was flopping in press conferences. Tom Ziller of SB Nation had the best line, saying he can’t wait to go to the Rockets “2018 champions by audit” banner raising.

The question is did Daryl Morey and Harden complaining get them what they wanted. Will they get more calls and will that change how Game 2 is officiated, and with that the outcome? Or, have the Rockets become so lost in their own mythology that they will not be ready for Game 2, where it’s a safe bet the Warriors will be better rested, will have adjustments, and will just flat-out be better.

Thunder GM Sam Presti: We ‘anticipate’ Billy Donovan returning as coach

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Thunder have won 47, 48 and 49 games last three years.

They’ve also lost in the first round each season.

That has sparked questions about Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

That’s odd phrasing. Donovan could technically leave on his own, but it really seems to be Sam Presti’s call. Is Presti leaving the door open for other options? Or is he intent on keeping Donovan but just nodding to the unknowableness of the future?

The Thunder already exercised Donovan’s option for next season, which could be a make-or-break year for the coach.

He has done a pretty good job, though Oklahoma City’s inability to adapt defensively to counter Damian Lillard in the playoffs was disappointing. Overall, Donovan has built a successful team despite a roster way short on shooting. Donovan’s Thunder have played sound defense and scored reasonably well considering the lack of spacing.

A team with Russell Westbrook and Paul George has a high floor. The best argument for dumping Donovan: The Thunder are capped out and unlikely to improve their roster. Changing coaches and increasing variance could be the best way to reach a higher ceiling.

But Donovan has long been Presti’s guy, and it seems it’ll stay that way.