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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams

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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.

David Griffin on possibility of keeping Anthony Davis: ‘We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George’

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New Pelicans lead executive David Griffin wants to sell Anthony Davis on staying in new Orleans.

Even with the Pelicans landing the No. 1 pick and ability to draft Zion Williamson, Davis reportedly still wants to be traded.

But New Orleans doesn’t have to acquiesce. No matter what Davis wants, he’s still under contract next season. The Pelicans can keep him and spend the season trying to convince him to re-sign in the summer of 2020.

Griffin, via Zach Lowe of ESPN:

“We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George,” he said. “We can hold onto [Davis] and let him see what we really are. [Winning the lottery] changes how quickly he can buy into it. It gets us closer. Every day, maybe he believes a little more. As much as elite talent likes to play with elite talent, I can’t imagine any elite player in his prime looking at our situation and saying to himself, ‘There’s a better grouping to play for’ than ours.”

George had his eyes on the Lakers when the Thunder traded for him in 2017. But he enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City and re-signed.

The big difference between George and Davis: Davis requested a trade from the team trying to keep him. George didn’t.

In fact, George didn’t even request a trade at all. George merely told the Pacers he wouldn’t re-sign the following year. Obviously, he knew that made them more likely to deal him. But he was content playing out the the final year of his contract in Indiana or anywhere else.

Davis told New Orleans he wanted out. He’s not coming to a new team, let alone with an open mind.

Still, the Pelicans have changed significantly since Davis’ trade request. Griffin and Williamson significantly improve the the franchise’s outlook. Depending what offers he receives for Davis, Griffin keeping the superstar and attempting to change his mind throughout the season could make sense. New Orleans can always deal Davis before the trade deadline if it’s not working, though trading him later likely lowers the return.

Of course, Griffin could have no intention of keeping an unhappy Davis. Saying he might only increases Griffin’s leverage in trade negotiations.

But if they truly want to keep Davis and pitch him throughout the season, the Pelicans are facing a much steeper hill than the Thunder had with George.

Ranking the biggest NBA draft lotteries of all-time

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The 2019 NBA draft lottery appears particularly important.

Where does it rank all-time?

Here are the five biggest lotteries, based on what we knew entering the drawing:

1. 1997 (Tim Duncan)

Duncan looked like a ready-made superstar coming out of Wake Forest, where he played for four years. That gave NBA teams plenty of time to salivate over him.

The Celtics tanked their way to a 15-67 record and traded Eric Montross to the Mavericks for another lottery pick. Boston had a 36% chance of getting the No. 1 pick and treated it as a likelihood.

Instead, the Spurs got the top pick and built a dynasty around Duncan. Boston settled for and made little use of the No. 3 pick (Chauncey Billups) and No. 6 pick (Ron Mercer).

2. 1985 (Patrick Ewing)

The NBA’s first lottery came just in time. Ewing looked like a generational prospect at Georgetown. Teams would have tanked hard for him.

At first, every lottery team had an equal chance at each pick in the lottery. So, this was an important experiment for determining how, and how not, to structure the drawing.

The Knicks won the lottery that sparked a thousand conspiracies, and Ewing manned the pivot in New York for a decade and a half. Every team saw the importance of getting a high pick – and just how fickle attempting to land one could be.

Ewing was the clear prize, but the next few picks – Wayman Tisdale, Benoit Benjamin, Xavier McDaniel, Jon Koncak – retroactively made clear the importance of getting No. 1 this year.

3. 2012 (Anthony Davis)

Davis was a special prospect, but at this point, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also impressive. At least everyone was right about Davis, whom New Orleans got. (Kidd-Gilchrist went No. 2 to Charlotte).

In addition to the big name at the top, a couple protected picks had lasting ramifications.

The Warriors, with the No. 7 lottery seed and a top-seven-protected pick, stayed at No. 7. They used that pick on Harrison Barnes, who became a starter on their 2015 title team and 73-win team the following year.

On the other hand, the Nets stayed at No. 6 and conveyed their top-three-protected pick to the Trail Blazers. Portland took Damian Lillard and have since built a conference finalist around him. Brooklyn soon entered a dark period it’s now just escaping.

2003 (LeBron James)

LeBron was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school… as a junior. The hype was palpable, especially with his hometown team – the Cleveland Cavaliers – having the best odds of getting the No. 1 pick.

But by the time of the lottery, Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony had emerged as great consolation prizes. Chris Bosh was working his way into an impressive fourth prospect. The draft appeared to remain deep throughout the lottery with a strong group that’d later be headlined by Dwyane Wade. So, as coveted as LeBron was, it was also important just to have a pick in this lottery.

That’s why two protected selections loomed so large.

The Grizzlies kept their own pick only on the 6% chance they got No. 1. So, it was LeBron or bust. Memphis busted, though its conveyed pick – No. 2 to the Pistons, who took Darko – was also the rare bust in this draft.

The Hawks, the No. 8 seed in the lottery, owed the Bucks a top-three-protected first-rounder. Atlanta stayed at No. 8 and gave Milwaukee the pick used on T.J. Ford.

5. 2019 (Zion Williamson)

See here.

Honorable mention:

2007 (Greg Oden and Kevin Durant): With two projected superstars in the draft, it didn’t feel as essential to get the No. 1 pick over the No. 2 pick – slightly lowering the perceived importance of this lottery. Oops.

2009 (Blake Griffin): Griffin stood alone as the top prospect, but Ricky Rubio was a highly rated second prospect – who surprisingly fell to No. 5.

1987 (David Robinson): As great as Robinson was, there was too much uncertainty about when he’d jump to the NBA from Navy, including whether he’d actually join the team that drafted him in 1987.

1992 (Shaquille O’Neal): Shaq looked awesome and became the (correct) No. 1 pick, but eventual Nos. 2 and 3 picks Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner softened the blow of not landing the top pick, at least in the theory of the time.

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

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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.

 

Damian Lillard has apparently integrated ’emotional intelligence’ training into his workouts

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Damian Lillard is as calm and cool as it gets. The Portland Trail Blazers star stood in stark contrast to Russell Westbrook as the two went head-to-head in the first round, the latter constantly talking and the former playing stone-faced.

Obviously we all know how that series ended, with Lillard hitting an incredible 37-foot shot to send the Oklahoma City Thunder home with a first-round loss once again.

Lillard has been working his way toward that playoff success for some time. In a new profile by the Washington post’s Ben Golliver, it was revealed that not only was the Blazers star working on his strength to expand his range, but his mind as well.

According to Golliver, Lillard has been working on his “emotional intelligence” as a means to have the mental acuity and calmness that’s needed to succeed in those big moments.

Via Ben Golliver:

Both coaches have also tried to shape what they call Lillard’s “emotional intelligence.” Beckner has spent years building Lillard’s confidence by “speaking greatness into him” through setbacks, such as multiple all-star snubs and a string of 10 straight postseason losses.

Kenyon has keyed in on Lillard’s self-control and leadership, recommending two books by author Ryan Holiday: “Ego is the Enemy” and “The Obstacle is the Way.”

“The best of the best stay composed when their team is down 15 points, or they’re in foul trouble, or when [Blazers center] Jusuf Nurkic breaks his leg and it feels like the world is ending,” Kenyon said. “No matter what, [Lillard] keeps his composure and leads by example.”

We have heard of sports psychologists for some time, but getting mindfulness training during a shooting and strength routine is the kind of next-level, integrated workouts we should probably start to expect in the NBA from here on out.

Lillard obviously came to playoff prominence with his 2014 shot over Chandler Parsons with 0.9 seconds left to send the Houston Rockets home. Things have been sort of rocky for Lillard from there, particularly after last season’s sweep at the hands of the lower-seeded New Orleans Pelicans.

But the Blazers are moving forward and are taking on the Denver Nuggets in the second round. They have a chance to move to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, and Lillard is a huge reason why.