Celtics acquire Bynum from Pistons (Yahoo Sports)

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Celtics have traded center Joel Anthony to the Detroit Pistons for guard Will Bynum.

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Kelly Olynyk’s Destiny Will Be Determined from Downtown

The Boston Celtics are starved for three-point shooting, which makes everything about Kelly Olynyk‘s offensive skill set all the more exciting. Several key players on the team possess limited shooting range, which will hurt Boston’s spacing and prevent the team from running a productive offense. 

Olynyk is not one of those players. Instead, the second-year 7-footer has the potential to become one of the best shooting centers in the league. It’s a tool so impressive that it almost drowns out his other weaknesses. It may also transform him from a trade chip to a legitimate building block, an integral part of Boston’s future.

Knocking down outside shots is obviously important, but so is “where” those shots come from. The corner three is a tremendous weapon, and its use among bigs throughout the league is growing by the season. Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka are the most notable bigs to evolve their shot placement over the past couple years, but others, like LaMarcus Aldridge, will soon join them.

Spacing a defender all the way to the corner is a luxury, but it isn’t quite as valuable as doing so above the break. When it’s a center that’s shooting the ball, it’s here that defenses have so much more ground to cover, and offenses are able to stretch previously restricted boundaries on the floor. What makes Olynyk special is his ability to knock down these threes, too. Here’s his shot chart from last season. He was league average above the break:

According to NBA.com, seven centers attempted more three-pointers above the break, and Olynyk was more accurate than four of them.

When he has the ball behind the three-point line—either on the wing or in front of midcourt—it inverts how defenses typically operate. An opposing center needs to respect Olynyk’s range and stray from the paint, creating a gaping hole in the lane that allows cutters to knife their way towards the basket. Driving and passing lanes loosen dramatically.

The effect is even more threatening when Olynyk doesn’t have the ball. Say Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are running a pick-and-roll on the right side of the court, while Olynyk is just hanging out on the left wing. The defensive rotation to stop Rondo and Green would normally come from a lumbering big on the weak side. But if that player is out above the elbow sticking to Olynyk, the room Rondo and Green have to operate is that much wider. 

In five preseason games, Olynyk has made half of his threes, attempting a robust 3.6 per 27.6 minutes. A majority of these shots have come above the break, wide open against defenses that are willing to let Olynyk fire away.

That type of accuracy isn‘t sustainable, especially with such a high volume. But Olynyk‘s value comes as someone capable of making life easier for others. When defenders begin swarming Olynyk like moths to a light (which they eventually will), opportunities will arise elsewhere on the floor. Especially if Olynyk can consistently make the right decision in the face of a close out.

Olynyk doesn‘t finish on this particular play, but it’s important to note how he’s able to put the ball on the floor and create offense when a defender solely focuses on taking away the three ball. Here’s Olynyk‘s teammate, Avery Bradley, speaking about the impact Boston’s second-year big should have this season (via The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn):

[Olynyk] can handle the ball, he’s very smart, he can pass the ball, shoot the ball, create for others. He’s a good player. It’s going to make it hard for other teams to guard us because they not only have to guard the guy with the ball, especially when Rondo gets back. You’re going to have Sully popping [off screens], Kelly popping. We’re just going to spread people out. It’s just going to open up everything.

Olynyk will start at center for the Celtics this season, but it’s not his natural position. He can’t protect the rim as a full-time starter, and he won’t provide the type of impact on the glass for 30-plus minutes that teams need from frontcourt contributors.

What he can do is flatten out defensive schemes and create driving lanes either for himself or others. Olynyk has the potential to be an incredibly useful and rare weapon this season; it’s a skill set any offense in the league would love to add.

 

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, Fox Sports and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.

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Winners, Losers from Week 2 of Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA Preseason

As the end of the Los Angeles Lakers’ second week of preseason basketball approaches, it behooves us to look at what went right and what went wrong.

It has been a bit of a bumpy ride in the land of purple and gold. There have been tears, sprains and spasms (more on that to follow), along with dead legs and some atrocious transition defense.

But that’s what training camp is all about—getting into condition and working out a myriad of kinks as players get acclimated to new coach Byron Scott’s way of doing things.

When asked Oct. 15 about some of his observations thus far during preseason, Scott answered, per a Lakers.com post-practice video:

The good is the fact that the guys have the effort, and that they’re trying their best, which I think is great. And their attention span is right there and they want to do all the right things… The bad is the transition part. We have to do a better job as far as locating guys, picking them up, stopping the ball and communicating.

It’s all in a week of preseason basketball.

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Winners, Losers from Week 2 of Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA Preseason

After two weeks of NBA preseason action, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had their share of ups and downs. 

Injuries have become a recurring theme in the early part of the team’s 2014-15 campaign. The bad news started just before training camp, when center Kendrick Perkins suffered a strained quad. A few weeks later, rookie Mitch McGary suffered a fracture in his foot. Not long after that, Kevin Durant experienced a foot fracture of his own. 

On top of that, Serge Ibaka, Anthony Morrow and Nick Collison are all dealing with minor ankle issues. Guard Reggie Jackson is also day-to-day with a right wrist contusion. The effects of being short-handed were on display in the team’s most recent preseason showdown, when the Thunder suffered a 120-86 beating at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans

The loss brings the Thunder’s preseason record to 2-2. As the team prepares for the third week of exhibition action, here are the winners and losers from Week 2. 

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Toronto Raptors: Lessons from the First Half of the Preseason

For the first time in years, analysts believe that the Toronto Raptors camp has started with stability

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan lead the group of returning stars, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and the revitalized bench is still intact, and Dwane Casey’s coaching staff is unchanged.

But don’t let that fool you. The Raptors preseason is filled with intrigue.

Where will the newly acquired Lou Williams fit in to the Toronto Raptors rotation? 

Can the Raps maintain last year’s stingy defensive play?

Who will secure the final roster spot—Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton, or Greg Stiemsma?

Let’s take a look at what we have learned about these Raptors as they move towards the beginning of the 2014-15 NBA season.

 

Lou Williams: The Leader of the Bench

The Toronto Raptors acquired Williams and Lucas Nogueira in the offseason deal that sent John Salmons (and his expiring contract) to the Atlanta Hawks

Lou Williams suffered through an awful season last year, as he worked his way back from offseason knee surgery. He shot only 40 percent from the floor and scored a career-low 10.4 points per game.

With his role as a Hawk uncertain, Williams was excited for the move to the Raptors. 

As per Alex Kennedy at BasketballInsiders.com, Lou Williams said:

I’m excited to get in the gym with these guys. I’m excited to build with them. I always like competing with guys that love competing. Based off of talking to DeMar, Kyle and Amir, they want to win and they feel like guys don’t take them seriously. So I’m excited to get it started.

Though his preseason started slowly, Williams started as Kyle Lowry sat on Monday night. Williams dropped 21 points on the New York Knicks.

If Lou Williams can continue to define a prominent bench role, he and Greivis Vasquez will form a dynamic duo coming off the bench to keep starters Lowry and DeMar DeRozan fresh throughout the season.

This is exciting for Toronto Raptors fans.

 

Raptors Defense Still on Summer Holidays

Sure, it’s just the preseason. Teams aren’t starting regular-season rosters. No one is watching the standings. 

But don’t tell that to Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who has openly lamented the state of his team’s defensive intensity.

As Ryan Wolstat for the Toronto Sun reported, Casey said:

We’re not anywhere near the defensive intensity we need. We need a better focus, a better interest in playing defence and I don’t see that as a team…I don’t expect us to be in February form, but we have to get out of the summer league, summer-time, one-on-one, no-interest-in-playing-defence mindset.

Maybe Casey sounds like an old grouch nagging his young stars about defense in games that don’t count. 

More likely, it’s Casey’s intensity regarding attention to detail that has helped propel this young team to the top of the list of Eastern Conference contenders.

The Raptors players would be wise to heed their coach’s advice before the games are for real.

 

The Final Roster Spot: Cherry, Hamilton, or Stiemsma?

As the preseason wears on, there is only one true roster battle for the Toronto Raptors. With 17 players in camp, the Raps will need to cut two players to satisfy the roster limit. 

Point guard Will Cherry has had a yawn-inspiring camp, posting per-game averages of 12.9 minutes, a 1.67/1.33 assists-to-turnovers ratio, and 3.67 points.

With Lowry, Vasquez and Williams ahead of him, Cherry’s chances are slim.

Forward Jordan Hamilton has averaged 9.75 points in approximately 16 MPG, which is a solid rate.

However, Hamilton plays at a postition of strength for the Toronto Raptors. With DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, James Johnson and others playing in the same spot, Hamilton will need to be spectacular throughout the rest of camp to earn a bench spot with this team.

Don’t count on it.

Finally, center Greg Stiemsma seems to suit an organizational need. Averaging 1.25 block per game throughout his career, “Steamer” would help the Raptors who do not have a true shot-blocker.

Stiemsma has been sluggish throughout camp, but Jonas Valanciunas is the Toronto Raptors’ only true center. 

The smart money is on Stiemsma earning the last bench spot, though the remaining games in training camp will help Masai Ujiri in selecting which of these players will remain with the club.

 

Looking Forward

Partway through the preseason schedule, the Toronto Raptors are fitting an important new piece into their rotation, searching for defensive intensity and deciding on a key bench reserve player to provide the depth needed for a playoff run.

Maybe camp isn’t quite as stable or meaningless as some analysts think.

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Miami looking for leadership from K-State transfer (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2014, file photo, Miami NCAA college basketball guard Angel Rodriguez gestures as he speaks with members of the media before the team's official first practice in Coral Gables, Fla. Rodriguez says he no longer gets recognized in the grocery store, as he did when he was at Kansas State, but the transfer is happy with his new role as a point guard and leader for the Miami Hurricanes. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Now that junior transfer Angel Rodriguez plays point guard for the Miami Hurricanes instead of Kansas State, he does his grocery shopping unrecognized.


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Preseason College Basketball Rankings 2014: Takeaways from 1st Coaches Poll

The results of the first coaches poll of the 2014-15 college basketball season are in, and to the surprise of no one, Kentucky will open the year ranked No. 1.

Equally not-shocking is Arizona, Duke, Wisconsin and Kansas rounding out the rest of the Top Five.

In fact, very little about the Top 25 was a surprise to anyone who has been following along during the offseason. Maybe VCU is a little too low, and perhaps some team other than Iowa deserved the final spot in the rankings. But things shook out about as expected.

So what can we take away from this initial poll, and what does it tell us about our beloved sport that finally returns in four weeks?

We’ve listed seven observations, but make sure to add your own in the comments.

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5 teams that will keep UK from going undefeated

The Wildcats’ non-conference basketball schedule is riddled with challenges.

      
 

 

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Photo from 2007 LeBron James Skills Academy Is Flooded with Future NBA Stars

Former Memphis Tigers guard/forward Wesley Witherspoon shared this photo from the 2007 LeBron James Skills Academy as a Throwback Thursday, and it’s flooded with future NBA stars. 

A quick glance at the photo reveals a number of familiar faces. On the far left, we see Charlotte’s Kemba Walker standing next to former North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland. Of course, James is in the center, standing next to…Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson (funny how the two would go on to develop a strange rivalry of sorts).

Behind Stephenson stands Detroit’s Greg Monroe. Sitting on the floor are Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.

In case you’re interested, here’s a short write-up of the event from Bob Gibbons of All Star Sports, via ESPN Deportes. One line stands out in particular as rather prophetic.

“Stephenson has outstanding potential, but throughout this event, he wanted to dominate the ball and constantly tried to slash to the hoop,” Gibbons wrote. “He made some spectacular plays—and some that were less than spectacular.”

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Winners, Losers from Week 2 of Chicago Bulls’ NBA Preseason

The Chicago Bulls turned their preseason around this past week, winning two consecutive games to even their record at 2-2.

In the two wins, there were a few encouraging performances and, unfortunately, some undesirable showings.

Chicago’s backcourt is starting to come along and settle into its own. With all the doubts about Jimmy Butler’s scoring, the four-year guard looks like a brand new version of himself and could potentially turn into a fierce two-way player.

There is still a lot of work to be done offensively, but Chicago’s rookies have shined in that area. Both Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott posted double-digit scoring nights against the Denver Nuggets.

Chicago turned it around this week after an 0-2 start, so let’s review the players who stepped up and the ones that struggled.

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