Who Faces More Pressure to Perform This Season: Carmelo Anthony or James Harden?

Carmelo Anthony and James Harden are two superstars who have polarized the league over the course of their careers, and both face a different challenge this year as the 2014-15 NBA season approaches. Which All-Star faces the most pressure to perform?

Howard Beck and Ric Bucher join Adam Lefkoe to debate that topic in the video above.

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Can Carmelo Anthony Follow Superstar Blueprint in NY Knicks Triangle Offense?

The triangle offense did great things for superstars of the past like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Now, Carmelo Anthony hopes to be the next in line.

The New York Knicks are looking for a franchise-wide turnaround this season, and President Phil Jackson’s influence is the main agent of change. Already, he’s brought a sense of calm to the typically tumultuous organization by installing a widely respected (if untested) head coach in Derek Fisher and somehow convincing owner James Dolan to spend more time music-making than meddling.

The most intriguing of Jackson’s many influences—as far as Anthony is concerned—is the introduction of the triangle offense.

On its face, a scoring system predicated on ball movement, positional flexibility and unselfishness would seem to cut against much of what we know about Melo‘s offensive predilections. Isolation attacks are last resorts in the triple-post offense—not top options.

In every season of his Knicks tenure, Anthony has used isolation sets more often than any other play type, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). He’s always been far more effective in those situations than most players, and it’s only fair to note that the Knicks’ biggest problems since Melo arrived have not been on offense.

Nonetheless, isolation sets are still less efficient (both in general and for Anthony in particular) than most other play types—which you can see when comparing Melo‘s overall offensive output against his isolation plays.

Regular viewers of New York’s contests over the past three years would also acknowledge it frequently failed to add flow and pace to an otherwise stagnant attack.

We could forgive Anthony for resisting the triangle. He could rightly point to others as the source of New York’s past recent struggles and argue that taking shots away from him (especially after his last two terrific individual seasons) isn’t the way to fix the Knicks.

But Anthony isn’t complaining.

Just the opposite, actually, per Ian Begley of ESPN.com: “I’m going to be all over the floor in the triangle,” Anthony said. “It makes it hard to guard, it keeps all eyes off of you. I’m looking forward to it, I’ve been saying it all summer. I can’t wait.”

History says Melo is right to be excited.


Proven Success

Jackson and the triangle offense he favors have never turned anyone into a superstar. Instead, they take already existing superstars and push them to another level—both individually and in terms of team success.

Michael Jordan was the first.

Though Tex Winter, the real architect of the modern triangle, had been with the Chicago Bulls since 1985, Jordan didn’t play in that system until Jackson showed up for the 1989-90 season. In an effort to save Jordan from the routine beatings administered by the Bulls’ nemesis, the Detroit Pistons, he installed a system that turned MJ into a moving target.

Instead of isolations, Jordan got the ball in spots all over the floor, frequently on the move. He was much harder to flatten when his positions and angles of attack became less predictable.

It took the Bulls until the 1990-91 season for the ultimate payoff—a championship—but Anthony would do well to note that in that 1989-90 season, Jordan’s usage, effective field-goal percentage and shots per game all increased over the previous year.

Clearly, the triangle doesn’t rob superstars of scoring chances. Basically, it substitutes high-percentage opportunities for low-percentage ones.

Jackson brought the triangle to the Los Angeles Lakers next, and all he did there was win three rings in his first three seasons—due largely to Kobe Bryant’s increased effectiveness in the system. In his first triangle season, Bryant’s volume and efficiency increased across the board, as did his contributions in non-scoring areas.

You might attribute those developments to other factors; having a prime Shaquille O’Neal on the roster never hurt anybody’s productivity, and Bryant’s natural aging curve meant he was bound to get better in his fourth season at age 21.

The undeniable fact, though, is this: Both Jordan and Bryant took their games and teams to new levels shortly after the implementation of Jackson’s triangle offense.


History Repeating?

Anthony could be next but perhaps not for the reason you’d expect.

Yes, Melo should see more open shots and be harder to guard next season. He’ll probably get a chance to showcase his underrated skills as a passer and spot-up shooter as well. Overall, he won’t have to work as hard for his offense, but he’ll still get copious chances to score—just as Jordan and Bryant did before him.

But the most important thing the triangle may do for Anthony and the Knicks is create a situation in which the supporting players are of more help to their superstar teammate.

Per Chuck Klosterman of Grantland:

The real advantage of the Triangle is what it does for players with less ability. Most NBA sets are static; they require perimeter players to create their own shot, usually off the dribble. The Triangle’s relentless off-the-ball movement allows standing jump shooters to contribute within their own preexisting skill set. This is why it worked so well for John Paxson and Steve Kerr, and even for guys like Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. You don’t need four or five athletic scorers to make the Triangle work. Two is plenty, because it amplifies the value of role players.

So when we hear Anthony say there are “six or seven” other Knicks already working on the triangle with him this summer, per Begley, that’s more than a good sign for New York’s offense. It’s a symbol of exactly why the triangle could unlock a new level in Anthony’s game: With role players becoming bigger threats because of a new offense, Anthony’s job gets easier.

And if Anthony’s production over the past few seasons is any indication, defenses should be terrified of anything that makes offense easier for him.

There are potential problems, of course.

Jackson not being on the sidelines to directly preach triangle principles is one. The troubling unsuitability of many players on the roster is another.

Jackson told Klosterman: “The problem with the triangle is that you have to teach the most basic, basic skills: footwork. Where you stand on the floor. And if you have the kind of player who wants to attack and score every time he touches the ball, he will hurt this offense.”

Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith, two Knicks who figure to play huge roles this season, sound exactly like the types of players who could ruin the triangle with their shoot-first mentalities. Andrea Bargnani might not fit in any system.

So if we see Anthony deviating from the triangle’s principles this year, we probably shouldn’t be so quick to assume he’s being selfish. Instead, he might just be reacting to an offense already derailed by selfish teammates.


The Stakes

It won’t be easy, but if Melo embraces the triangle (and his supporting players pull their weight), he and the Knicks could enjoy serious success. More than that, Anthony could answer some of the main concerns that have dogged him throughout his career.

He can prove his willingness to be part of a system, that winning matters more than the glory of individual achievement.

He can change the narrative about him, silence critics and justify his decision to stay with the Knicks over alternatives that offered, it seemed, better chances of immediate success.

The knock on Anthony has always been that for all of his obvious individual talents, his particular style of play put a ceiling on team achievement because it precluded the kind of reliable, consistent system necessary for playoff success.

He’s got that system now—one that has led to tons of postseason wins—and the pressure’s on.

Because nobody wants to be remembered as the one superstar who couldn’t win big in the triangle.

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Carmelo Anthony thinks he influenced LeBron to go back to Cleveland

You know why LeBron James decided he wanted to return home to Cleveland and attempt to finish what he started? Carmelo Anthony inspired him. How do we know this? Carmelo said so. During a recent chat with Michael Strahan for AdWeek, Anthony was asked if LeBron’s decision to return to the Cavaliers influenced him to […]

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Kenneth Faried’s and Anthony Davis’ Motors Are Redefining Team USA

With a little help from big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, the United States looks to have forgotten it’s playing without a handful of the NBA’s top superstars, including 2014 MVP Kevin Durant and runners-up LeBron James and Blake Griffin.

Team USA remained perfect in FIBA World Cup competition with a 98-71 victory over New Zealand on Tuesday, improving the club’s overall record to 3-0 in group play.

As is typically the case in international competition, the Americans operate as an ensemble cast in which heroes are few and far between. Appropriately, each member of the 12-man roster scored at least one point against New Zealand, highlighting the kind of depth on which head coach Mike Krzyzewski can rely.

Through three games, however, he’s relied on Davis and Faried to do a little more than all the rest. And given the promising results, that probably won’t change anytime soon.

Davis and Faried are plenty skilled to be sure, but they’re principally changing games with superior energy and athleticism—with motors running like they’re already knee-deep in the NBA playoffs.

“I just love to play basketball,” Faried told reporters after besting Turkey. “Every time I step on the basketball court, you never know it could be your last game, so I like to play my hardest in every game. When you love the game like that it tends to reward you back.”

That kind of passion has translated into tangible gains. After tallying 15 points and 11 rebounds on Tuesday, Faried is averaging 14.3 and 8.3 rebounds in tournament play.

But it was Davis who led all scorers with 21 points against New Zealand, bringing his averages through three games to 19 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest. The 21-year-old center was instrumental in turning around a five-point halftime deficit against Turkey, scoring all 19 of his points in the second half on Sunday.

“I tried to come out in the second half and just be a different player, just be the player I’m used to being,” Davis told the media after the win.

Faried was similarly pivotal against Turkey.

Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Johnson noted, “On Sunday, his energy, hustle, close-range finishing and activity on the offensive and defensive glass jolted Team USA to life following a lackluster first half”:

After Turkey took a five-point lead into the break, Faried scored eight points in the third quarter and made a number key plays on both ends, including an opportunistic swipe of Asik, followed by a dunk, with under a minute remaining in the period to give the Yanks a six-point lead. All told, Faried finished with 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Those kind of numbers tell a tale of unmatched interior activity. For all the talent on Team USA’s roster, the story remains its hustle and physical tools.

The kind of assets that lead to plays like this:

The Davis-Faried partnership is blossoming at just the right time.

Fresh off exhibition play, NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman noted, “Though many expected Team USA to use a stretch 4 next to Davis—and maybe it would have if Kevin LoveKevin Durant or Paul George remained on the team—the Davis-Faried combo proved to be a real force.”

Indeed, both Davis and Faried do most of their damage in and around the basket. While Davis is a capable mid-range threat, his world-class ups make him a target of choice in the painted area—primed to catch lobs and hit the offensive glass.

Thanks to his rare combination of imposing size and mobility, Davis is getting touches with his back to the basket and in pick-and-roll situations.

Though smaller at 6’8″, Faried‘s hops similarly position him to overwhelm the opposition with point-blank dunks, layups and tip-ins. Though we won’t see many plays called for the Morehead State product, he thrives on broken plays, run-outs, missed shots and any other opportunity to collect some hustle points.

While Faried‘s offense isn’t always by design, it remains highly efficient.

“The Manimal came into [Tuesday's] game shooting 14-of-17 in the tournament and then made all five shots in the first half while also grabbing six rebounds,” writes the Associated Press’ Brian Mahoney (h/t ABC News). “He finished 7-of-9 from the field and is shooting 81 percent, Krzyzewski calling him the Americans’ ‘biggest and best surprise.’”

But it’s Faried‘s seamless chemistry with Davis that’s truly yielding dividends—especially against international competition that’s slower to the ball, more constrained by gravity and unable to keep up with their lightning-quick second and third jumps when vying for rebounds.

“Scoring in a variety of ways, Davis and Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (15 points, 11 rebounds) continued to terrorize opposing frontcourts in Spain,” NBA.com’s Jim Eichenhofer wrote on Tuesday. ”Davis was featured often in USA’s halfcourt offense, particularly in the second half, while also feasting on his usual assortment of finishing plays around the rim. Davis threw down four dunks, part of a 7-for-13 performance from the field.”

Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans’ No. 1 overall pick of 2012, is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign in which he averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. His electric summer performances could be a hint of things to come.

The Kentucky product’s former coach John Calipari is predicting big things.

“Right now, you look at (Davis) and say, ‘Man, in five years, he could be the best player in the NBA,’” Calipari told USA Today‘s Sam Amick. “And this USA Basketball stuff pushes that date sooner. Again, here’s what it does for him: how to work, new things to add to his game, and confidence like, ‘These are the best in the world, so I’m all right.’”

For his part, Faried may be on the verge of taking another step toward stardom. The 24-year-old had his best season yet for the Denver Nuggets in 2013-14, averaging 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

But for the moment, Davis and Faried are focused on giving the United States an edge en route to what may be a gold medal in Spain.

“Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried continue to pace the U.S., combining for 36 points and 20 rebounds,” NBA.com’s Sekou Smith noted of Tuesday’s game. ”The Americans overwhelmed New Zealand inside and went to the free-throw line 34 times. New Zealand was just 4-for-7 from the line.”

The perimeter shooting will come and go, but Davis’ and Faried‘s aggressive interior play will remain the United States’ bread and butter. Together, they accounted for 11 of those 34 free-throw attempts. While Krzyzewski’s rotation boasts plenty of strong shooters, the relentlessness of its inside options has emerged as the club’s primary competitive advantage.

Opposing teams have no hope of containing these guys’ size, physicality and talent.

That said, the competition will stiffen up after Team USA makes short work of Group C and advances to the round of 16 on Sept. 6.

Forcing the ball inside for the duration of the game will become more necessity than luxury. The kind of slow start that hindered the United States on Sunday can’t become a habit.

“I think we didn’t come ready to play in the first half and we can’t afford to do that if we want to win a gold medal,” Davis told reporters after the comeback win over Turkey. “So we’ve got to come out ready to play no matter who we’re playing against.”

After pursuing high-percentage shots early and often against New Zealand, perhaps a lesson has been learned, one that could prove invaluable given the tests ahead.

No test looms larger than a Spanish team featuring a front line that rivals Team USA’s. Through three games, Pau Gasol is averaging 23.7 points and 6.7 rebounds for Spain. Brother Marc is doing his part with 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.

And in just 38 minutes of action (through two games), power forward Serge Ibaka has tallied a total of 23 points and 13 rebounds.

It’s the kind of trio that could give the United States trouble, countering its inside presence with veteran size with a proven track record in the NBA.

The good news is that Davis and Faried aren’t likely to back down. With youth and above-the-rim theatrics on their side, even Spain could struggle with Team USA’s newfound winning formula. For good measure, it doesn’t hurt that Krzyzewski and Co. can call on the beastly likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond off the bench—to say nothing of much-improved Duke product Mason Plumlee.

The United States’ starting duo is stealing headlines for good reason, but the depth behind it could prove pivotal soon enough.

Team USA needs all the inside help it can get to make that gold medal a reality.

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Why Anthony Davis Will Become the NBA’s Best Pick-and-Roll Defender

At only 21 years old, New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is already one of the top players in the NBA and Team USA’s most important player at the FIBA World Cup. His combination of length, athleticism and touch is rare for an NBA center, and it’s a scary thought that he has barely scratched the surface of his potential. 

In only two years in the league, Davis has already established himself as a high-caliber shot-blocker with uncanny timing and savvy post-up defender. But it’s in pick-and-roll defense, the bread and butter of nearly every NBA offense, that Davis has excelled the most. 

There are plenty of great shot-blockers throughout the NBA: Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, to name a few. They’re taller, stronger and technically sound in the restricted area, capable of properly sliding their feet and contesting vertically without fouling.

This area within five feet of the rim is their domain. Rarely do they venture away from it, and it’s why they’ll always guard the opposing big who presents the least threat on offense. It allows these shot-blockers to hover as a helper, willing to ignore their primary assignment to act as the final line of defense.  

So how do opponents draw them out of their comfort zone? By attacking them in pick-and-roll situations, forcing pursuit of assignments away from the paint and closer to the perimeter. 

Ball-handlers have an easier time finishing around rim-protectors when these giants are on the move and away from the rim. Slicing through the lane is much easier when the opposing big is backpedaling and off-balance as opposed to lying in wait in the restricted area.

In recent years, the chess match has continued with a greater portion of NBA teams switching to a “drop” pick-and-roll defense, in which big men stay at home while the defensive guard fights over the screen.

Here’s an example involving Davis from this past NBA season, when he and Pelicans teammate Austin Rivers  defend a pick-and-roll against the Atlanta Hawks. As Hawks point guard Dennis Schroeder slips around the screen from Elton Brand, Davis retreats while Rivers chases from behind.

The pressure on Schroeder’s hip from Rivers prevents an easy pull-up, squeezing him closer into the looming Davis. While it might seem counterintuitive to force an offensive player closer to the rim, any Schroeder-Davis encounter near the basket is likely going to lead to an altered or blocked shot.

With nowhere to go but forward, Schroeder flips a quick floater over the outstretched Davis because he knows he can’t lay the ball up with any type of ease. Though the shot he takes is a mere eight feet from the basket, it’s one of high difficulty.

Not only does he have to drop it into the net with precise touch, he has to float it over the high hand of Davis. It comes as no surprise that the shot misses badly. 

Utilizing this kind of deeper drop is how most NBA teams protect their bigs from becoming too extended and vulnerable. It’s also a neat analytical trick in that it generally pushes offenses into mid-range shots, whether of the floater or pull-up variety.

Mathematically, these are the worst shots on the floor.

By design, the defense is giving up a solid chunk of real estate right inside the three-point line. The guard trailing from behind prevents a three-point shot and the big man takes care of drives to the rack.  

Sometimes, however, teams can get burned by giving up mid-range shots too willingly. The San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers gave up the second- and third-most shots from 8-16 feet last year (according to NBA.com) while ranking fourth and first in defensive rating, respectively. 

The Portland Trail Blazers, however, didn’t experience similar success. Despite allowing the fifth-most shots from 8-16 feet, they ranked 16th in the league in defensive rating.

The key difference? Opponent field goal percentage from 8-16 feet. 

Indiana’s 37.9 opponent field goal percentage from that crucial range was fourth best, San Antonio’s 39.1 was seventh, and Portland’s 40.4 was tied for 19th. The percentage difference might appear small, but that’s a few buckets per game over the course of a season.

In a league with such small margins of victory, that’s the difference between winning and losing. 

None of this matters if that perimeter guard is able to battle his way around the screen and bother the ball-handler from behind. It’s when he gets caught up in a powerful screen that a defense can be exposed, leaving a ball-handler wide open to pull up. 

This is what happened to Portland far too often, leading to jump shots without a whiff of a contest: 

A great big man can mask this liability by closing the gap on such shots, but only the longest and most athletic stand a chance. Most bigs will get beaten off the dribble if they creep out too far. 

Davis is one of those players, however, that doesn’t get burned. 

Check out this pick-and-roll defense against LeBron James when Al-Farouq Aminu gets drilled by a Chris Andersen screen. Davis is in a deep drop, and James decides to pull up for the seemingly open shot. 

Except it’s not that open.

The second Davis sniffs out the jumper, he springs forward with remarkable quickness and extension to get a hand up against James. In less than a second he closes a ten-foot gap, to the point that James is actually falling away on his follow through to avoid getting run over by Davis. 

Remember that the deep drop is a compensation against slow foot speed. One of the drawbacks is that it can lead to a two-on-one situation, with the roller rumbling down the lane and the ball-handler able to attack the basket or drop it off to his teammate. 

Even more common is the offensive big man popping, leaving the dropping defensive big completely out of position to guard against an open catch-and-shoot jumper. 

If the weak-side defense doesn’t push over to help, big men find themselves in trouble like Hibbert does here against the Minnesota Timberwolves

Davis provides a unique luxury in that his drops can be more aggressive, which is to say higher up the floor. Because there’s less danger of him getting beat off the bounce, he can confront the ball-handler earlier.

If Davis’ original man pops, he’s now close enough to get back and contest. If he rolls to the rim, Davis’ elevated position essentially allows him to guard two men at once and deflect potential bounce passes. If the ball-handler thinks he can squirt by Davis and get to the rim, he’s sorely mistaken

And if he has to switch in a pinch, Davis can handle himself just fine. New Orleans head coach Monty Williams is already recognizing this, admitting as such earlier this summer on the Pelicans.com daily podcast:

One thing people haven’t seen is he can guard a lot of smalls when you switch pick-and-rolls. He’s put some good muscle on so he’s a lot stronger around the basket.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Davis, but he still has a ways to go to capitalize on his potential. For all his freakish athleticism, he’s still learning the finer points of when and where to unleash it. 

He gets caught in the air by pump fakes. He jumps out on ball-handlers a bit too quickly, and crafty players are able to draw fouls against his constant aggression. He goes for the swat too often when verticality is the safer play. 

Despite these flaws, Davis is still an elite defender as is. The nuances will come with time and coaching, and there’s no reason to think he won’t develop the necessary discipline for pick-and-roll defense sooner rather than later.

When he does finally put it all together, we’ll be looking at the league’s best pick-and-roll defender by a mile. 

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Klay Thompson Finds Anthony Davis for One-Handed Alley Oop vs. Turkey

After a close first three quarters, the United States began to pull away from Turkey in their FIBA World Cup matchup on Sunday in the fourth quarter thanks to some impressive plays.

With around seven minutes left to play, Klay Thompson found Anthony Davis for the impressive one-handed alley-oop.

The U.S. won going away, 98-77.


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WATCH: Anthony Davis throws down sick one-handed alley-oop

During USA Basketball’s beat down of Turkey at the 2014 FIBA World Championship, Anthony Davis threw down a sweet one-handed alley-oop jam courtesy of Klay Thompson, who found him while he was cutting. Coach K’s squad didn’t quite score 100 points, but they did win 98-77 after surprisingly trailing by 5 at the half. [@cjzero] The post Anthony Davis Throws Down Ridiculous One-Handed Alley-Oop Jam Against Turkey appeared first on Diehardsport.

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Anthony Davis through the years



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Timberwolves Wise to Double Down on Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett Pairing

It was a good move, from acquiring an elite prospect like Andrew Wiggins to securing Anthony Bennett as a buy-low throw-in. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t winning with Kevin Love, anyway. 

Of course, the typical skeptic will argue against dealing established talent for guys whose appeal is strictly tied to long-term potential, given the uncertainty that comes with it and the time it takes to reach. 

Then again, if Wiggins does hit his stride and Bennett eventually figures it out, the Wolves will likely look back on the trade as a huge success, considering the ugly position the organization was put in. 

And based on the current setting in Minnesota, you have to really like their chances.

Offensive freedom, no expectations, built-in camaraderie—Wiggins and Bennett, whose relationship dates back to their days playing AAU ball for the Canadian-driven CIA Bounce, are looking at a no-pressure environment with unlimited opportunity. 

The Timberwolves will get to develop these guys under fairly ideal conditions—as long as management and fans can sit tight while each prospect works out the kinks in their respective games.

Arguably the biggest knock on Wiggins as a college freshman was his tendency to drift or disappear. Playing amongst fellow star prospects and veterans at Kansas, he’d often go long stretches without taking a shot. The only real question that scouts continuously asked was whether or not they were looking at an eventual No. 1 scorer or a complementary weapon. 

Wiggins won’t find a better stage to develop his go-to scoring repertoire on than the one he’s got lined up in Minnesota. What better way to ignite a prospect’s confidence than to consistently give him the rock under nothing-to-lose circumstances?

As a rookie, he’ll be getting the green light he’ll hope to have as a top option for a playoff team three to four years down the road. Consider this upcoming season valuable on-the-job training. 

The Timberwolves offer Wiggins a chance to fine-tune his offensive arsenal (step-backs, pull-ups, fall-aways, drives, floaters) on an every-game basis alongside guys like Bennett, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad—other rookies and sophomores also at early stages in their development.

The fact that Wiggins will be going to a team where he’ll see familiar faces, each looking at similar hurdles, should help raise his comfort level as a 19-year-old newcomer breaking into the league.

“It’s been a crazy summer, really up and down. Kind of lost, not really knowing where I’m going,” Wiggins told the Associated Press, via ESPN. “But I wanted to play for a team that wanted me. I felt the love as soon as I got off the plane at the airport, so it’s all good now. I’m excited for this season.”

The move was good for Bennett as well, as it gives him a chance to start fresh and shake off the bricks he threw up and the boos that followed.

Last season, we’d see Bennett alternate 20-minute games with four minutes cameos and the occasional DNP. And when he actually did get time, he was never really able to get his footing or gain any stability—like a fatigued water polo player struggling to make plays in a deep pool.

But the water is shallow in Minnesota, where Bennett will have a more defined role and a better shot to nail it. 

Like it should be for Wiggins, the young roster and unestablished chemistry should be good for Bennett, who won’t have to try too hard to fit in or think about living up to the hype. 

“I’ve been hearing all the talks for a while now,” said Bennett. “So me being here in Minnesota, it’s a great (state). It’s a great fan base, great team coming up where everybody’s young. We have some vets, too. I’m just here to learn from everybody.”

With Love essentially forcing his way out, the Timberwolves turned a bad hand into one that could pay off big time later on. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post actually rated this the best superstar trade (in Minnesota’s favor) of this era.

You’re never going to get direct equal value in return for a superstar on the trade market. But in Wiggins, the Wolves managed to reel in a rare talent with a ceiling that technically exceeds the height of the hot shot they just dealt. If it clicks for Wiggins, Minnesota could be looking at one of the game’s top two-way wings as a dynamite scorer and lockdown defender.

In Bennett, Minnesota gets a project. And he’ll need work. But at 21 years old, he’s not broken. There’s still some untapped offensive game bottled up inside him somewhere.

Hopefully, pairing the two together on a team with other guys their age will help create a more favorable environment for each to really flourish.

I’m viewing this trade and move as a positive for both Wiggins and Bennett individually, and in turn, a surprise win for the Timberwolves as a franchise.

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Who Will Step Up as Anthony Davis’ Wingman Next Year for New Orleans Pelicans?

Burgeoning New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is ready for everything.

Ready to be the NBA‘s “next in line,” as he was christened by reigning MVP Kevin Durant in the media. Ready to be Team USA’s “main guy” like coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters he would.

Most importantly, Davis is ready to put the Pelicans on his back and flyif he can find a co-pilot on this roster.

The front office has tried to deliver one. Several of them, actually.

Last summer, the Pellies parted with a pair of first-round picks to swipe All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday away from the Philadelphia 76ers. A three-team trade brought over former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans shortly thereafter.

With potential sidekicks Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon already in place, New Orleans appeared to have built something that had a chance to be special. How strong that chance is remains a mystery, as a brutal rash of injuries prevented the Pelicans from getting a clear look at their roster.

All five players lost at least 10 games to injury, and combined they racked up 151 absences. That number was higher than the minutes this quintet logged together (90).

Lessons weren’t learned last season—other than the fact that Davis’ hype is real, warranted and still not as high as it should beand the only problems discovered were physical. Holiday (right tibia), Anderson (spine), Gordon (left knee) and Evans (right knee) have all gone under the knife since last hitting the hardwood.

Before the Pelicans can worry about Davis’ wingman, they need to field a healthy roster around him. It sounds like that hurdle has either been cleared or is in the clearing process now:

That shifts the focus over to finding Davis’ Robin, a steady supporter who consistently makes life easier as the league’s next superstar.

Forget what the Pellies‘ 34-48 record suggests. There are a number of intriguing options to consider.

Outside of Davis, Gordon might have as much talent as anyone on the roster. He has a pair of 20-plus-points-per-game scoring averages on his resume and has averaged at least 3.3 assists in each of the past four seasons.

There’s a reason he’ll be collecting the highest salary on the team next season ($14.8 million).

Then again, there’s also a reason Grantland’s Bill Simmons ranked Gordon’s contract as the seventh-worst in the league last season.

After missing four games his rookie year, he’s missed an average of 32 games since. His old explosiveness has left his legs, and his formerly top-shelf (or somewhere near it) talent may be gone as well.

“The Eric Gordon of old is likely no more,” wrote Joe Gerrity of Bourbon Street Shots, “and the Eric Gordon of new is hardly worth a fifth of his currently salary.”

There’s a chance the new Gordon is no longer even worthy of a starting spot. The buzz about the topic is loud enough that it’s been brought to his attention, but he (predictably) said he wants nothing to do with the idea.

“I won’t get into that because I thought they brought me here to lead and set the tone for the team,” he told John Reid of The Times-Picayune. ”I’ve got a lot to prove in my career and I’m still young (25). So the more durable I am will really show what I’m capable of.”

If Gordon comes out of Monty Williams’ starting lineup, Evans could find his way in.

The 24-year-old had a hard time finding his niche early on, but he broke out in a big way when injuries forced him into the opening lineup. For the first time in what felt like forever, he looked like the transcendent talent who once put up historically significant averages as a rookie.

Those numbers won’t be easy for Williams to look past and might be enough for Evans to get in with the starters.

They aren’t, however, convincing enough to declare him ready for the wingman role. He has had extreme difficulty with repeating success—his scoring average has dropped in each of his last four seasons—and his lack of a reliable three-point shot (career 26.8 percent) can plague his production on any given night.

Davis’ wingman won’t come from the frontcourt, either. It’s not that the players around him (Anderson and newcomer Omer Asik) are poor fits, but the two might work so well in tandem that it could be hard for either to stand out.

New Orleans’ three-headed monster in the middle could be as ferocious as any in the business.

Asik is 7’0″ and 255 pounds of physical interior defense and bone-rattling screen-setting. He’ll wage some of the wars down low that Davis had been fighting on his own, providing some relentless rebounding (career 13.3 average per 36 minutes) in the process.

Anderson brings something entirely different, namely his reliable three-point cannon (38.6 percent for his career). With the 6’10″ sniper spreading defenses thin, the floor is then open for the wildly productive pick-and-roll game that Davis already seems to have mastered.

Of course, someone will need to work that two-man game with the single-browed baller. And that someone just so happens to be the best bet for a two-way sidekick, Holiday.

“I think he’s an elite point guard with size and strength,” Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said of Holiday, via Reid. “I think he’s going to be good for us for a long time.”

Holiday is built perfectly for a Robin-type role. He can blend his game however the team needs on a nightly basis, and his talent extends to nearly every point on the stat sheet.

Only he and Washington Wizards All-Star John Wall have averaged at least 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds in both of the last two seasons. Holiday can run an offense, and his career 37.6 three-point percentage allows him to threaten a defense away from the ball.

For all of his offensive talent, though, his best work might come at the opposite end of the floor:

Holiday could be the key to the Pelicans bringing everything together.

As long as this roster stays healthy, the offense should take care of it itself. But this defense needs to make significant strides after finishing tied for 25th in efficiency last season.

That ranking should really improve with Holiday back in the fold. New Orleans allowed just 103.3 points per 100 possessions with him and Davis on the floor last season, which would have pushed the Pellies up from the bottom tier and into the upper half (would have ranked 13th).

Now that Asik has joined Holiday and Davis, New Orleans should climb even higher:

Davis is New Orleans’ ticket to wherever it can go, so his supporting cast will be graded on well it can complement him.

No one will receive higher marks than Holiday. As Bourbon Street Shots’ Michael Pellissier observed, Holiday’s well-rounded game should help him check off nearly as many boxes as Davis:

Anthony Davis is often referred to as a unique superstar because he is able to make an impact on the game without scoring a point. Jrue is similar, though clearly to a much lesser extent. Jrue’s versatility allows him to make an impact as a scorer, facilitator, rebounder, or defender. Very few NBA players are immune to poor scoring nights, and it is of paramount importance to be able to make an impact elsewhere. Jrue can.

The Pelicans didn’t have the chance to find an identity last season.

They were explosive offensively some nights and razor-sharp at the opposite end on others. More often than not, they fell somewhere in between, neither an unstoppable force nor an immovable object.

They were fortunate enough to employ one of the game’s premier rising stars, but circumstances denied this club the opportunity to follow his lead.

If this team can stay healthy, good things should come in its future. But with a talent as tantalizing as defense, good isn’t good enough.

Davis needs help for this franchise to find greatness. He needs Holiday to fill the critical wingman role.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.

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