Marcus Thornton Trade Is No-Brainer Deal for Brooklyn Nets

The Sochi Winter Olympics cost about $50 billion, proving once and for all the Russians will spare no expense in pursuit of a classy product. Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is no exception. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the organization is pursuing at least two additions to its already bloated payroll:

The Sacramento Kings are engaged in discussions to send guard Marcus Thornton to the Brooklyn Nets for guard Jason Terry and forward Reggie Evans, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Talks on the deal have gathered momentum in recent days, sources told Yahoo Sports, and are expected to continue until Thursday’s trade deadline. 

The Nets’ possible deal with Sacramento doesn’t preclude them from also completing a deal for the Los Angeles Lakers‘ Jordan Hill using the Nets’ Disabled Player Exception, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Adding Hill for a little frontcourt depth couldn’t hurt, but it’s the prospect of upgrading the sixth-man spot that should really turn heads—at least if you can still consider Jason Terry a sixth man. The 36-year-old guard is undergoing something of a career implosion. 

Averaging just 16.3 minutes and 4.5 points per game, Terry’s become an afterthought among the Nets’ big names. Even with Evans thrown in the deal, it’s hard to understand the Kings‘ thinking—and yet, by all accounts this deal is on the brink of happening.

Sacramento’s rationale probably involves the value of a veteran who can help bring along young guards like Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore. Brooklyn’s logic is easier to discern: This deal would make the Nets significantly better overnight.

Despite having an off season, Marcus Thornton is a quintessential spark plug and 10 years Terry’s junior. He’s pricier than Terry and Evans combined, but with just one more season left on his contract, there’s little risk of his cool shooting turning into a long-term nightmare. 

The upside to the deal is more than a little intriguing, especially for a team that’s still plenty capable of cracking the Eastern Conference’s top four seeds.

At the moment, Thornton is cashing in on just 38 percent of his field-goal attempts, well below his 43-percent career mark. He made over 37 percent of his three-pointers last season—now he’s making under 32 percent of them. The last time Thornton’s number sank to these levels (2010-11), he was traded from New Orleans to Sacramento.

The big takeaway is that this season has been uncharacteristic. Typically Thornton is a high-volume shooter who can absolutely light it up on any given night, and the Nets haven’t forgotten that.

In Thornton, they see a close approximation to the Jason Terry of old—a born-and-bred shooter.

While Shaun Livingston and Marquis Teague should be sufficient relievers for Deron Williams, Brooklyn also sees the need for another guard off the bench, preferably one who’s capable of scoring in chunks. And while Thornton is slightly undersized at shooting guard, he’d instantly become Joe Johnson’s primary backup.

In conjunction with Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko, Thornton would give Brooklyn one of the league’s strongest eight-man rotations. He’d also give that rotation the backcourt quickness it’s sorely missing.

Admittedly Thornton doesn’t contribute much on the defensive end, but then again, neither does Terry. This deal isn’t about adding a well-rounded All-Star; it’s about adding a specialist in his prime.

The real challenge will be finding shots and minutes for Thornton. It’s hard to see him accepting the limited role Terry’s occupied thus far this season.

Just two years removed from a 2011-12 campaign in which he played nearly 35 minutes a game, Thornton’s probably in no mood to take a step backward. Indeed, his increasingly marginal role in Sacramento just might have something to do with his declining efficiency.

When given the opportunity, Thornton’s proven he can put up around 20 points a game. In his first 27 games with the Kings (during the 2010-11 season), he averaged 21.3 points per contest. But he was also averaging over 38 minutes in those contests. 

If Brooklyn can only offer the 16 minutes they’ve been giving Terry, you have to wonder how Thornton will respond to what might feel like yet another demotion.

His odds of success in Brooklyn would be more encouraging were he capable of running the point on any consistent basis. That kind of versatility might be enough to warrant 25 to 30 minutes a night. Unfortunately, Thornton has never proven himself as a floor general. He’s averaged just 1.5 assists for his career, numbers he could put up by accident.

The good news is that Thornton should find himself playing plenty of minutes alongside the likes of Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, both capable passers who might obviate the need to have a true point on the floor at all times. Thornton might get away with playing both guard positions so long as there are enough distributors on the floor.

If the deal goes through, that becomes Jason Kidd’s challenge: finding minutes for Thornton and putting him in a position to succeed.

The even better news, though, is that this deal doesn’t have to work out perfectly. The worst-case scenarios for Brooklyn aren’t that bad. Even if Thornton continues to slump, he’s an upgrade over Terry. And if he emerges from said slump in time for the postseason, Kidd will have no choice but to give him ample minutes.

Brooklyn’s roster feels like its overpriced in all the wrong ways, but that doesn’t mean throwing a little more money around won’t yield dividends. Some risks were meant to be taken.

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Why Harrison Barnes as Sixth Man Is a No-Brainer Move for Golden State Warriors

The writing had been on the wall for months.

Shortly after the Golden State Warriors signed versatile swingman Andre Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million contract this summer, sophomore Harrison Barnes could feel his grip on a starting spot slipping.

Most players in his position might have panicked. After all, the No. 7 pick in the 2012 draft was only months removed from a breakout postseason performance. His playoff production (16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds in 38.4 minutes a night) raised his NBA ceiling after a good-not-great regular season (9.2 points, 4.1 boards in 25.4 minutes).

Not only had the numbers increased, they’d also enjoyed a rigorous spring cleaning. His shooting percentages spiked (.444/.365/.857, up from .439/.359/.758). His efficiency soared (13.8 player efficiency rating and 111 offensive rating compared to 11.0 and 102, respectively, during the regular season).

But Barnes didn‘t sound any alarms over the possible demotion. He didn‘t openly embrace the move, but told Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group that “winning the game matters more” than starting them.

He, Iguodala and sharp-shooting guard Klay Thompson were set to battle for the two starting wing spots in Mark Jackson’s opening lineup.

But that fight appears over before it ever really started. Slowed by a nagging foot injury, he’s been a limited participant or a no-show for most of the preseason.

The ailment may have ended whatever chance Barnes had to stick with the opening group. Jackson has yet to make a formal decision, but it sounds like he’s made up his mind. “Unfortunately [the injury] has got to play a factor because you didn’t really get to see those units together, no matter who it is,” Jackson told NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper.

Expect to hear a mixed reaction if when Jackson announces his Barnes-less starting five.

It won’t come from a lack of faith in Thompson and Iguodala. Both are two-way contributors, bringing major gifts to the franchise.

Thompson is a cold-blooded sniper (career 40.6 three-point percentage) and, in Jackon’s mind (via Monte Poole of the Bay Area News Group) one half of “the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game.”

Iguodala is a premier perimeter defender (small forwards posted a paltry 9.9 PER against him last season, via 82 games.com). He’s a good enough decision maker to move Stephen Curry off the ball (career 4.9 assists per game). He’s also an explosive finisher, capable of creating his own offensive chances and closing them with thunderous slams.

So, why would anyone object to putting these players alongside Curry, David Lee and Andrew Bogut in the starting group?

Because there’s a feeling that this might prevent Barnes from maximizing his potential or, at the least, delay his development.

Don’t let Barnes’ draft position or ho-hum regular-season numbers fool you. Not that long ago, the “Black Falcon” was tabbed for guaranteed greatness.

He was the consensus No. 1 player in his 2010 high school class, a group that featured hordes of NBA players including Cleveland Cavaliers‘ rising superstar Kyrie Irving. Luke Winn of SI.com called him a “Kobe Bryant/Tracy McGrady-like player.” Before playing a single game at North Carolina, he became the first freshman to be named an Associated Press preseason All-American since voting began in 1986.

His rookie effort was a little rocky, but his high points were eye-opening.

Clearly, he’s not the type of talent you want to risk damaging. But this move to the second team will bring far more benefits than harm.

If there’s one thing Warriors fans can point to as the change in Barnes from the regular season to playoff time, it was his aggression. Forced into an expanded role by David Lee’s injury, Barnes turned off his safety switch and started firing at will.

The same player that frustrated scouts by not taking over games at North Carolina was suddenly demanding touches. He fired up 10 or more shots in 21 of his 81 games during the regular season (25.9 percent of the time). He had double-digit field goal attempts in all but two of the Dubs’ playoff games (83.3 percent).

For Barnes, it seemed to be all about finding a comfort zone. During the regular season, he seemed hesitant to take aim alongside the starters. He turned down open shots to make sure that scorers like Curry, Lee and Thompson got their looks.

He bought into the NBA’s hierarchy to an extreme, ultimately damaging degree. For someone with such a picturesque shooting stroke, there was no need to keep himself in check.

Yet, he continued to defer throughout the regular season. He still made his mark as a rugged defender and high-flying finisher, but watching him in action always left you wanting more.

A move to the second team should ensure that his postseason aggressiveness carries over to 2013-14.

Gone are ball-dominant point guard Jarrett Jack and scoring big Carl Landry. In their place are more complementary pieces: veterans Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights and Jermaine O’Neal along with rookies Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic.

The Warriors should have more depth than they’ve had in decades. Summer league star Kent Bazemore (18.4 points per game in Sin City) faces an uphill battle for playing time. Sophomore stopper Draymond Green has no guarantees that he’ll see the 13.4 minutes a night that he did last season.

Jackson has options with his reserves. But he’s still searching for a focal point of his second-team attack, someone capable of leading an offense while Curry, Lee and Co. catch a breather.

Someone like Barnes.

He needs to know that he has a green light at all times, not only from coach Jackson but also from himself. He has to stop worrying about stepping on toes or matching NBA resumes; he has the physical tools to be a force if he just lets himself go.

His handles are coming along, and his mid-range game has been lethal since his Carolina days. He’s not a floor-spacer like Thompson, but he’s a lot closer to being that than being whatever you’d like to call Green the shooter (20.9 three-point percentage as a rookie).

That post isolation game that Barnes flashed during his run as an undersized 4 doesn’t need to be lost, either. Speights is a better shooter from mid-range (47.4 percent from beyond 16 feet last season) than from in close (27.9 from three-to-10 feet). If he pulls his defender away, then Barnes can get isolation chances closer to the basket.

And it’s not as if Barnes is getting banished to the bench never to return. More often than not, he’ll be a member of Jackson’s closing group.

Between he, Iguodala and Thompson, the Warriors can snuff out so many different types of offensive attacks. Andrew Bogut can handle any interior presence that’s too big for Barnes.

As for where they stand right now, Thompson is simply a better fit with the starting group. His three-point threat balances the floor, so that players like Iguodala and Curry can cause headaches off the bounce. Or for Lee and Bogut to do work on the low block.

Barnes needs some seasoning still, and that will be hastened, not hampered, by a trip to the second team. The pressure for him to perform will increase as the talent drops around him. This is his chance to prove he can lead an offense.

At some point down the line, the Warriors will likely be forced to chose between Thompson and Barnes. With Curry, Lee and Iguodala commanding upwards of $36 million combined over each of the next three seasons—and Bogut possibly putting further strain on the team’s budget—the Warriors will run out of funds long before they run out of talent.

When that day comes, I won’t envy the team’s decision makers. Both players have bright futures; forecasting which one’s brighter is extremely difficult.

But this decision is nothing like that one will be.

Barnes belongs with the second team. This one’s a no-brainer. And it didn‘t take a foot injury to that figure that out.

 

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Derrick Favors-Enes Kanter Frontcourt Is a No-Brainer for Utah Jazz

The current regime in Utah must come to an end to usher in a new beginning.

Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap each started 78 games this season at center and power forward, respectively. While they put up impressive numbers, it simply is not going to get it done.

Under the leadership of their two big men, Utah has become a middling franchise stuck in neutral. They cannot improve with so much money wrapped up in their frontcourt. Jefferson and Millsap have proven that they cannot lead this team past much more than a first-round playoff exit.

Jefferson has been a very good player for years, but his skill set is more tailored to play power forward. He has a dizzying array of post moves, but continues to resemble a black hole on offense. One on one, he is arguably the best offensive center in the game with the ball in his hands, but this doesn’t do his team any favors.

Millsap is a tough-nosed gritty player with a balanced game. However, his numbers have declined each of the past three seasons in Utah and there is little reason for Utah to open up their wallets for a 28-year-old who has already peaked.

Utah has only had two losing seasons since 1982. Winning matters to every team in the NBA, but to a rabid fanbase that bleeds purple and green, winning is a staple of this franchise.

However, this offseason is going to bring in big changes and throw a lot of questions at the doorstep of this franchise.

Luckily for the Jazz, the answers are as simple as can be. On the bench lies a pair of 21-year-old former No. 3 overall draft picks in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors.

The time is now for Utah to insert them into the lineup without thinking twice about it. After investing so much into them it is time to reap the benefits. While it may take a year or two for them to fully blossom, there is no reason to think that they are not ready to step in an make an immediate impact.

This past offseason, Kanter went on a diet with the intentions of apparently turning into The Incredible Hulk. His numbers improved as a result from his rookie year across the board. While it is an incredibly small sample size, Kanter started two games this past season and averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds per game. That is nothing to sneeze at even if it is only two contests.

Favors was brought in during the Deron Williams trade. With three seasons under his belt now, Favors is undoubtedly ready to shoulder a bigger load after playing in Jefferson and Millsap‘s shadow.

This past season, Favors improved his game in some important aspects. He upped his rebounds to seven a game and averaged a very impressive 1.7 blocks in his 23 minutes per game, good for 13th in the league. He also improved his free-throw percentage to 69.

Kanter and Favors give Utah even more size than they had with Jefferson and Millsap. Instead of having an average to below-average front line in terms of size, Kanter and Favors would put them second to none. The two of them would be able to stand up to every frontcourt in the league.

Examining per-36 minute stats helps to get a more accurate assessment of what the transition would be like. Kanter and Favors scored slightly less last season, although their shooting percentages were equal or higher and they took far less shots.

Where it is even more striking is on the boards. Favors and Kanter were first and second on the team in total rebounding percentage, respectively. On the offensive glass, their combined offensive rebound percentage was 26.4, whereas Jefferson and Millsap‘s was only 15.6. That is a sizable difference that would result in younger players having much more faith in the two young big men knowing how active they are on the offensive glass going forward.

Utah stands to lose very little if they let their two mainstays head elsewhere. Jefferson and Millsap jumping ship would put a rebuilding process into effect, and while it may be painful to stomach for Jazz fans, it is for the best.

With the 14th pick in the upcoming draft, Utah will likely be going best player available. Michael Carter-Williams out of Syracuse would be a marvelous pickup, sticking with the theme of size. If he is available, he can seamlessly replace Mo Williams in the backcourt and give the team a potential star at each position.

Worst case scenario, Utah slumps in year one without Jefferson and Millsap and ends up with a high lottery pick in a 2014 draft that is already being heralded as one of the absolute best in recent memory.

The overlying concept here is that Jefferson and Millsap have had their chance, and they have not gotten this team where it needs to be. Mediocrity is no place to be in the NBA because it leaves almost zero chance for improvement. The squad has become stagnant and needs to be shaken up.

With two stellar young big men to build around, Utah may not even lose much production next season, if any at all. The long-term success of the franchise becomes monumentally brighter if Kanter and Favors are patrolling the paint next season.

Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks also made big improvements from the wing positions this past season, even further proving the need to embrace the youth movement in Utah. Without a stagnant frontcourt, this team can achieve much more than an 8th seed.

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Joakim Noah Is No-Brainer Choice for Defensive Player of the Year

At this point in the season he should be a no-brainer for Defensive Player of the Year. With apologies to other candidates like Paul George or Tim Duncan, Noah’s defensive versatility and success make him an easy selection.

If we look at his defensive numbers alone, there is a surprisingly strong case for Noah. He is averaging 7.4 defensive rebounds, 2.1 blocks, and 1.3 steals while holding a defensive rating of just 97.

Eight of the last nine players to match or exceed those numbers won the award for the best stopper in the Association. The lone exception came when the player formerly known as Ron Artest, then with the Indiana Pacers, interrupted Ben Wallace’s string of victories. It’s a safe assessment that Wallace may have deserved it that year, but lost out due to voter fatigue.

Noah’s numbers certainly do him justice to winning the award. It’s not just what Noah is doing; it’s where he is doing it, which is basically everywhere. He’s all over the court. This was apparent in his most recent triple-double, which made him only the second center since Hakeem Olajuwon to record a triple-double with blocks and a triple double with assists in the same season.

The Chicago Bulls have one of the best defensive teams in the league, as has been the case since defensive guru, Tom Thibodeau arrived in the 2010-11 season. They rank third in defensive points per game and fourth in defensive rating.

 A large part of their team success has been because of the system, but a large part of the reason the system works is Joakim Noah and his tremendous defensive versatility.

Noah is the prototype of the new breed of center in the league. Rather than depending on Shaquillian strength and power to hold down the restricted area, the new center uses length, agility, quickness and speed to cover a wide area and keep the ball from entering the paint, and does so without sacrificing the defense of the rim.

For Thibodeau’s system to work, it is essential that type of big be in the game. It goes to the core of the philosophy of Thibodeau’s system. The perimeter players rotate to the strong side, forcing the pass to the weak side, where an athletic big man is often relied to take on elite ball handlers in isolation situations, or when the bigs are expected to close out and defend the three.

Look at this clip, where the Bulls load up the strong-side, so the Heat kick it over to the weak side to Mario Chalmers, who initially thinks about driving but, with Noah the only thing between him and the basket, gives it a second thought.

Rather than try to move past Noah, he steps back and attempts a three, challenged by Noah, which clanks off the rim.

Noah, per Synergy, has been the primary defender on 61 three-point attempts this season.

In baseball there are statistics such as “Range Factor” and “Zone Rating,” which attempt to account not only for the fielding percentage of a player, but the actual area in which he can field. A player like Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith might get assigned errors on balls no other human being would reach, so traditional fielding percentage stats can be deceptive.

The idea is to statistically measure how much of the field is within a player’s reach, and by doing so, take into account a more complete picture of what a defensive player does.

In basketball we don’t have anything like zone rating, but perhaps it’s more needed than in any other sport, as some players, through their sheer omnipresence, seem to have a massive effect on their team’s success. The Bulls surrender nearly five more points per 100 possessions while Noah is on the bench, a strong indication of his massive impact.

If there were such a thing, Noah’s zone rating would be through the roof, but we only have the eyeball test to go by. Here is an excellent illustration of it, as Noah first helps Kirk Hinrich after he gets picked to come out and stop Greviz Vazquez.

Then Vazquez dumps it off to Darius Miller, who catches Luol Deng out of position so Noah rushes back and cuts off Miller from the drive. Miller then kicks the ball back out Vazquez, but Noah comes out to the three-point line to challenge the shot, which doesn’t come close.

In fact, Noah has been the primary defender on isolation plays 116 times, only 14 fewer than George, the leading perimeter defender for the award. His success rate is nearly as good as George’s as they have both surrendered just 42 field goals in isolation.

That’s not to say that Noah is as good of a perimeter defender as George, he isn’t. He gives up .81 points per play in isolation to George’s .74. But, bear in mind; we’re comparing a center to a small forward here. That they are close is absolutely remarkable.

And Noah does all this ubiquitous defense without abnegating his responsibilities in the post. He remains one of the better defenders in the league both in the post, where he has been the primary defender on 145 plays, yielding just 0.7 points per play, and against the roll man on the pick-and-roll, where has defended 111 plays, yielding just 0.89 points per play.

In terms of numbers of plays, and rate of success, those numbers are vastly superior to Tim Duncan’s (.77 on 124 plays on post-up,  and 1.26 points per play on 76 plays against the roll man)  and slightly better than Roy Hibbert’s, (139 at 1.83 on post-up, and 101 at .86 against the roll man) who are also in the conversation.

Watch here as Noah shows his strength as he stops Duncan on the post-up play.

While much has been made of his offensive versatility, his defensive versatility is just as impressive. That Noah is comparable with the perimeter candidates on the perimeter, and at least the equal of the post players in the post, makes him a no-brainer for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. 

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Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey Is No-Brainer Executive of the Year

When an NBA player’s shot is falling, we say he’s found his shooting touch.

Daryl Morey’s shots are falling like Hans Gruber at the end of Die Hard. But in the Houston Rockets general manager’s case, it’s more accurate to say he’s got the Midas touch.

How else could Daryl Morey have possibly packed so many brilliant moves into one season?

And how many brilliant moves in a season must one man make to win NBA Executive of the Year going away?

The man absolutely blew up the Rockets this summer, making 13 moves involving 31 players and four draft picks. Only small forward Chandler Parsons remained from last year’s rotation. Few, if any, picked this team to get over the .500 mark.

Yet here the Rockets sit, a roster of young, energetic, hard-working, seemingly high-character guys, in eighth position for the playoffs, and fresh off beating one of the East’s best teams, the Brooklyn Nets, two nights after beating one of the West’s best teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Oh, and they notched both victories while shorthanded—because of another brilliant Morey trade.

How do you impress me, Daryl? Let me count the ways—if I can count that high.

I’ve raved at length in other articles about the daring game of chicken Morey played with the Rockets’ starting point guard position prior to the season—a game he won with a brilliantly constructed contract that stymied the mighty New York Knicks and netted the Rockets Jeremy Lin.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic about Morey’s selection of Parsons. To say he was a steal as the 38th overall pick is to call Jesse James a small-time hood. Granted, that was last season’s brilliance. But Parsons has improved leaps and bounds this year over last, and is now one of the league’s top 10 small forwards—at a price which makes one want to shout, “There’s a sale at Penney’s!”

I’ve commended Morey for the statistical gold he mined in handing a minutes-deprived backup center a big contract and a starting job. The result: Omer Asik is perhaps the leading candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

And finally, I’ve lauded him for his relentless pursuit of James Harden and his guts in handing him the keys to the castle offensively. Harden is not just one of the league’s top scorers—he’s one of the very best players in the NBA.

Now Morey has wisely assessed his lack of defensive production at power forward and traded for a woefully underused but massively talented Thomas Robinson, while giving up only players who, Jeremy Lin’s heavy heart notwithstanding, won’t be missed on the court within a month’s passing.

I’m shocked to have heard some critical comments about Robinson. I watched him play at Kansas, and there is a reason this guy led the nation in double-doubles the year he was drafted. He can not only rebound, but he can score around the rim.

Why the Kings had him playing so frequently on the perimeter is anybody’s guess—heck, why the Kings do anything they do is anybody’s guess. But again, Morey wins for picking such an inept and self-serving franchise to make a trade with.

This deal wasn’t as lopsided as the 2008 Pau Gasol trade, but to me it was reminiscent of it. And given time—and not much, mind you, just until the midway point of next season—I believe Robinson will be to the power forward position what Parsons is to the small forward position.

As long as he gets the chance, that is. For Morey did all of the above while, incredibly, positioning himself to be almost $20 million under the cap come summer. Which means Robinson might be coming off the bench, displaced this summer by a free-agent acquisition the likes of Josh Smith or Dwight Howard.

Morey’s bargain-basement Rockets are the stuff Brad Pitt movies are made of. This is general management almost too efficient and effective to be believed.

This is a job performance which cannot be ignored come NBA awards time.

For those voters who might be reading this article, one last note for your consideration: To pull off the Harden deal, Morey had to have two first-round draft picks to give up.

Where did he get those?

Morey managed to finagle one for Kyle Lowry, despite Lowry’s oh-so-public disgruntlement, which lowered other teams’ perception of him and thus his trade value.

Amazingly, Morey snagged the other in exchange for Jordan Hill—yes, a first-round draft pick for Jordan Hill.

Without those two quiet masterstrokes, I say the Harden deal never gets made.

I also say Morey better have space on his office mantle come May. He will be the unquestioned Executive of the Year.

And Daryl, while you’re at it, dust off two spaces.

I think you’ll need one more for the Larry O’Brien Trophy by the 2014-15 season.

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Jrue Holiday Is No-Brainer Pick for 2013 NBA All-Star Game

One of the countless contenders to become a 2013 NBA All-Star reserve is Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday. With his exceptional production but underwhelming team win-loss record, he has become one of the polarizing candidates in the league.

The truth of the matter is, Holiday is a no-brainer pick for the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves.

During his most recent outing, Holiday led the Sixers into battle with their division rival Toronto Raptors. During the game, Holiday dazzled everyone in attendance by with numbers and late-game heroics.

Holiday finished with 33 points, 14 assists, five rebounds and three steals. As the video placed below will display, he also tied the game with just 1.1 seconds remaining.

All-Star-caliber numbers and a history of clutch performances. What more do you need?

For some, this is a selection that no one should oppose. After all, Holiday is producing at a similar or higher rate than those that are classified as “elite.”

Unfortunately, there are the select few that have their doubts.

For those that are uncertain, allow the following pieces of information sink in and appeal to your unconvinced mind. Upon the realization of these truths, you will agree with the leading Rookie of the Year candidate.

Damian Lillard had the following to say:

All-Star bound or robbed of what he deserves.

 

By the Numbers: Individual

Thus far in 2012-13, Jrue Holiday has 10 double-doubles and one triple-double. Rajon Rondo is the only other point guard with at least 10 double-doubles and one triple-double.

Rondo is a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Holiday is averaging 19.0 points, 8.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. Holiday is also shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc, thus rounding off what could be a legendary season.

Should he finish the season with said averages, Holiday would be the 19th player in NBA history to average at least 19.0 points, 8.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds simultaneously (via Basketball-Reference).

Furthermore, he’d become the 13th player in league history to average at least 19.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals (via Basketball-Reference). The NBA first began keeping track of steals during the 1973-74 season.

With this in mind, one would be hard-pressed to justify excluding Holiday from an All-Star roster.

 

Lost Without Jrue

To paraphrase the master serenader Robin Thicke, the Philadelphia 76ers have been “lost without Jrue.”

Thus far in 2012-13, the Sixers are averaging 93.1 points scored and 96.1 points allowed per 48 minutes when Jrue Holiday is on the floor. When Holiday is on the bench, they’re posting 90.2 points for and 98.0 points against.

In reference to what was previously stated, the Sixers would be ‘”worst in the league’ bad” without Holiday.

For further evidence, note that the 76ers are 0-4 when Holiday does not play. Their average margin of defeat during those games is 13.0 points.

The Sixers are 17-19 when Holiday is playing.

For further perspective, second on Philadelphia’s depth chart is Royal Ivey. Ivey has career-best averages of 5.6 points and 2.1 assists.

As great a veteran presence as he may be, there is no comparison.

The 76ers may not be performing at a postseason-caliber level, but they’ve also been without Andrew Bynum for the duration of the season. In his absence, Holiday has kept Philly within striking distance of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Without him, they may be competing for the top seed in the 2013 NBA draft.

If we’re recognizing individual achievements, there are few better than Holiday. For that reason, it would be criminal for the Eastern Conference to ignore his elite-level play.

This one should be a no-brainer.

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New York Knicks Proving Letting Jeremy Lin Walk Was a No-Brainer Decision

All eyes will be on Jeremy Lin when he makes his first trip to Madison Square Garden as a member of the Houston Rockets on December 17. 

But the real story here lies not with the visitors, but rather, with the host New York Knicks and how they’ve thrived in the absence of Linsanity. The Knicks famously (or infamously?) declined to match Houston’s three-year, $25.1 million “poison pill” offer sheet to Lin this past summer, inciting incendiary reactions from fans and followers across the spectrum of opinion.

On one end: How could the Knicks let Lin go after the magical run he had? Even worse, how could they replace a 24-year-old rising star with a 39-year-old Jason Kidd, an overweight Raymond Felton and a 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni? Was money really the main concern for a franchise that practically prints its own currency?

One the other: How could Lin leave the Knicks after all they’d done for him? Why would Lin want to leave New York? Why did he take the money and run? Why did Houston offer him so much money? Why couldn’t he make it work with talented players like Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire? 

At present, it appears as though the realities of the 2012-13 NBA season favor the latter. The Knicks are arguably the league’s most pleasant surprise so far. Their 18-5 record is tops in the Eastern Conference, and they’re the only squad in basketball that’s yet to tally an “L” at home.

Replacing Linsanity with Felton and Kidd (and, to a lesser extent, Prigioni) has sparked an offensive renaissance in the Big Apple. The Knicks currently rank second in the league in offensive efficiency and are raining down threes at an all-time record pace. Moreover, New York is turning the ball over on just 10.7 percent of its possessions—the lowest mark in the NBA.

Whatever problems Carmelo Anthony had in his first season-and-a-half as a Knickerbocker seem to have evaporated as well. He’s second in the Association in scoring at 27.9 points per game, with a true shooting percentage of .592 and an similarly robust .455 from three. Anthony has adapted beautifully to the role of “stretch four” under Mike Woodson, leveraging his skills as a spot-up shooter and post-up threat with deadly proficiency.

Not that the Knicks rely all too heavily on ‘Melo’s presence. They’re 2-1 without him this season, including a 20-point road win against the defending-champion Miami Heat. According to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, Anthony may not be in uniform against the Rockets on account of a lingering ankle injury.

Nor have they been left wanting for Amar’e Stoudemire or Iman Shumpert, for that matter. Both are still recovering from their respective knee injuries and have yet to play a single minute this season as a result.

There’s some concern about the effect Stoudemire’s return may have on the Knicks’ budding team dynamics. But with the way Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton are pressuring opposing defenses and moving the ball around the floor, they should be able to lubricate the once-stodgy Knicks offense just fine with another supposed ball hog in the lineup.

All of which is to say, the Knicks are already very good and have every reason to believe they can and will improve as they roll through the 82-game schedule.

Similar praise could be heaped upon the Rockets. They’re just a game out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference despite a seismic roster shakeup over the summer and the absence of head coach Kevin McHale for a significant stretch.

And with Jeremy only occasionally rekindling the Linsanity that landed him the big contract in the first place. His per-36-minute averages this season (12 points, 6.6 assists, .483 true shooting percentage) are a far cry from those he posted last season in New York (19.6 points, 8.3 assists, .552 true shooting percentage). He’s playing more minutes and he’s taking more threes, but his free-throw attempts are way down.

The list of possible explanations for Lin’s apparent regression is a lengthy one. He’s a young player who’s still trying to find himself as a pro. He has all of 87 NBA games (48 as a starter) under his belt. He favors his right hand too frequently and doesn’t shoot consistently from the perimeter. The adjustment to a new role on a new team in a new city has done him no favors. Neither has his slow recovery from knee surgery or his need to share a backcourt with newly-acquired star James Harden. 

By the same token, many of these concerns are hardly eye-opening, at least for the Knicks. He was a streaky shooter in New York, one who didn’t have a functional left hand and was prone to giving the ball away. His struggles next to one ball-dominant wing (Harden) this season are eerily reminiscent of those he suffered next to another (Anthony) in 2011-12. He opted against suiting up for the Knicks during the playoffs while judging his knee to be about 85 percent of its healthy capacity and is still being lambasted for it.

This isn’t to say that Lin won’t improve as a player, or even that he wouldn’t have had he stayed in New York. He’d had all of 25 starts as a Knick, a number of which came without Carmelo, Amar’e or both. In time, perhaps, he would’ve learned how to play with those two, learned what it takes to be a starting point guard in the NBA. Barring catastrophic injury or complete collapse, he still has most of his career ahead of him and has shown flashes of his “old” self this season.

But the Knicks aren’t trying to develop another star. They’re not trying to wait for a youngster like Lin to “figure it out.” They already employ two highly-paid superstars and a third (Tyson Chandler) who’s probably the best center in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks have the pieces to win now—whether they fit perfectly or not—and, as such, were justified in turning to veterans like Kidd, Felton, Prigioni, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas to fill out their ranks. To date, the front office has seen its faith in its pre-existing core rewarded by a sizzling start, not to mention the ever-rising expectations that typically accompany such returns.

Lin may be the center of attention for now, but his new team will be hard-pressed to accomplish in the West anything close to what his old team may have in store in the East.

And if this Lin-less train continues to roll, it may well be the Knicks capturing the biggest headlines and attracting the most eyeballs at season’s end.

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Lakers Rumors: Delonte West Should Be No-Brainer Addition for LA

Delonte West has become a source of debate for the Los Angeles Lakers, which is surprising because there’s nothing to really deliberate—the Lakers need him.

Since being waived by the Dallas Mavericks over a month ago, after a slew of internal disputes, West has flown under the radar, to the point where he has yet to find a new home. But Los Angeles can change this.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Lakers are considering opening up a roster spot to allow themselves the opportunity to bring West into the fold.

I know what you’re thinking: Are the Lakers crazy?

And the answer to that inquiry is yes—only if they don’t find a way dress West in purple and gold.

Though West is one of the league’s most tumultuous personalities, he’s also a perfect fit for what Los Angeles currently lacks on the hardwood, and he’s a perfect fit for Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system.

Sure, he’s a perennial basket case, but Los Angeles’ performance thus far indicates that its current culture may be more unstable than West has ever been himself.

Currently, the Lakers sit at a horrid 9-13, find themselves out of the playoff picture and are fresh off an inexcusable road loss to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. They also rank 14th in defensive efficiency and are allowing 98.8 points per contest, the 12th-most in league.

To make matters worse, Los Angeles will also be without the crafty stylings of Steve Nash for at least another two weeks, and Steve Blake still has a lengthy road back to recovery as well. Toss in the Lakers 20th-ranked assists per game statistic (20.7) and you have a team desperately in need of a wide range of services—all of which West would provide.

First and foremost, the combo guard is a proven shooter. Sure, he’s averaged double-figure point totals just three times in eight seasons, but he’s also shot less than 35.5 percent from beyond arc just once. 

Though Los Angeles currently has five guards shooting better than 39 percent from downtown, West’s career clip of 37.2 percent is still valuable because he’s consistent. Outside shooters like Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Jodie Meeks, and even Kobe Bryant, however, are proven wild cards from behind the rainbow.

West’s shooting, though, is not all that makes him valuable to a surprisingly submissive Lakers team. With Nash and Blake on the sidelines, Morris still being raw and Duhon being the embodiment of ambiguity, Los Angeles is in dire need of an additional playmaker.

While West is averaging just 4.7 assists per 36 minutes for his career, he’s an efficient ball-handler who is more than capable of capitalizing off drive-and-kicks. He’s never averaged more than two turnovers per game in his career, and he’s a much better ball-handler than most people realize.

Even with Meeks and Duhon in the fold, along with the prospect of Blake and Nash’s inevitable returns, his ability to run the point is not to be discounted either.

Of all the Lakers’ backup point guard options, West would instantly become the best to eventually backup Nash, as well as fill the starting position now. Only last season he posted a 14.8 PER per 48 minutes when running the point, a mark that far exceeds what Los Angeles’ current backups are averaging at this point.

With the increasing number of setbacks that Nash has incurred, West’s ability to run an offense—and thrive while doing so—is essentially a luxury the Lakers cannot afford to pass on. 

And that holds true, even when Los Angeles’ backcourt reaches full-strength, because West is not only the most sensible option to provide an offensive spark behind Nash, but he would easily be one of the team’s best perimeter defenders as well.

Most of what West does on the defensive side of the ball isn’t reflected in the box score. He doesn’t grab a jaw-dropping number of steals (1.1 per game for his career) nor does he block shots or rebound more than most guards can.

However, West does remain one of the most suffocating defenders in the league. He’s extremely quick which allows him to defend off the dribble, he keeps opposing wings out of the paint and superior anticipation allows him to defend three different positions.

Translation?

Opposing offenses score less when he’s on the floor. Just ask the Mavericks.

Considering that the Lakers are struggling defensively to the point where they are actually giving up more points with Dwight Howard on the floor, West’s execution on that end of the ball would be invaluable.

He helps keep players outside of the paint, which would lessen the burden that falls on Howard’s shoulders. West also mitigates the need for Duhon and Meeks, defensively inept players who help allow opponents to post an offensive rating of at least 109 when one of them is on the floor.

Given what we know now and what West’s impact ceiling is, how could the Lakers pass on the opportunity to sign him?

They can’t. Not if they wish to boast the likes of a competent floor general in Nash’s stead, and not if they are serious about correcting their ever-growing list of defensive wrongs.

And especially not if they are to have any hope of turning their season around and becoming a semblance of the contender that they were supposed to be this season.

 

Stats in this article are accurate as of December 11, 2012.

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Why Taj Gibson’s Extension Makes Amnestying Carlos Boozer a No-Brainer

The Chicago Bulls thought long and hard before agreeing (via the Associated Press) to a four-year, $38 million contract extension with Taj Gibson. Their inevitable decision to eventually amnesty Carlos Boozer won’t be nearly as difficult.

When Gibson signed his extension with the Bulls just before the October 31 deadline, he secured his future by writing his name on the dotted line.

At the same time, he put the writing on the wall for Carlos Boozer.

Boozer, long the target of Bulls fans’ ire, isn’t a bad player by any stretch. In fact, he’s been an effective scorer and rebounder for a decade. But his career averages of 17 points and 9.9 rebounds aren’t the problem.

It’s about the money.

To get the clearest picture of exactly why the Bulls must inevitably choose Gibson over Boozer, we need to look at a couple of distinct areas.

 

On-Court Impact

 Offensively, Carlos Boozer should be an exceptionally efficient scorer. He has shot better than 50 percent from the field in nine out of his 10 previous NBA seasons, and last year, he ranked among the NBA elite from his pet three-to-nine-foot distance with a 53 percent field-goal percentage.

But Boozer’s declining athleticism and apparent distaste for contact have resulted in a steadily sinking rate of free-throw attempts that bottomed out last year, when he took just 2.1 foul shots per game.

Looking forward, Boozer’s high volume of tough shots in the lane and his inability to get to the line point to a precipitous drop in his overall offensive efficiency.

In contrast, Taj Gibson’s offensive game isn’t nearly as polished as Boozer’s is. But he’s murder in transition and the complete opposite of Boozer when it comes to his feelings on drawing contact.

So, unlike Boozer, Gibson’s not much of a shooter, but he drew fouls at a much higher rate. That makes him a viable offensive player with the potential to get better.

But it’s on the defensive end where Gibson really distinguishes himself from Boozer.

Gibson is an elite defender. There’s no other way to say it. According to Synergy (subscription required), he was among the NBA’s top 15 percent in terms of overall defensive efficiency. In isolation situations, he was in the top 10.

Stats aside, Gibson is a ferocious help defender who is also agile enough to stay in front of guards when switching on a pick-and-roll. He competes relentlessly on the boards and has been an extremely effective shot-blocker. Despite averaging just 23.2 minutes per game in his career, he’s swatted away an average of at least one shot per game.

Also, his weakside blocks are consistently awesome (note that it’s Boozer who Evan Turner blows by in the highlight).

Unlike Gibson, Boozer is a decidedly below-average defensive player, who Synergy ranks in the NBA’s bottom third.

All of those numbers could be criticized as existing in a vacuum, though. Unfortunately for Boozer, the context-dependent statistics value Gibson even more highly.

Per 100 possessions, Gibson made the Bulls an astounding 10.5 points better on defense when he was on the floor. Boozer, on the other hand, made the Bulls 8.6 points worse.

That’s a mind-blowing difference, and it shows just how valuable Gibson is to the defense-first Bulls.

 

The Pocketbook Hit

Speaking of value, Boozer has virtually none from a financial standpoint.

He’s owed $15 million this year and next, but then his salary grows to $17 million in 2014-15. That’s a huge amount of money for a guy whose backup—Gibson—is arguably a better overall player.

Now that Gibson has signed his extension, he’ll cost the Bulls $2 million this season and a reasonable average salary of $9.5 million for the next four years. In other words, the Bulls are committed to paying Boozer—who turns 31 this month—about $10 million more in the next three seasons than they’ll pay Gibson—who’s 27—for the next five.

Keeping both players would mean the Bulls were paying at least $25 million for two players who play the same position. It doesn’t take a financial analyst to realize that the Bulls would be crazy to do that.

From a broader perspective, the Bulls already have the NBA’s sixth-highest payroll. By extending Gibson, Chicago has now committed about $75 million in total salary next season (if it exercises its team option on Richard Hamilton), which will put it into the luxury tax. That means its hands will be tied for the foreseeable future, which will keep the Bulls out of any meaningful free-agent pursuits.

Unless the Bulls save themselves about $47 million by amnestying Carlos Boozer.

 

The Only Conclusion

 When you compare Gibson and Boozer’s on-court worth, it’s hard to say one is vastly superior to the other right now. But even the staunchest Boozer defenders—if those even exist—have to concede that Gibson is probably a little more valuable this year, and definitely more valuable as the players age over the next few seasons.

And the financial components weigh even more heavily in favor of Gibson.

For the future of the Chicago Bulls, there’s only one conclusion: They’ve got to amnesty Carlos Boozer.

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NBA Free-Agency Rumors: Locking Up Roy Hibbert a No-Brainer for Pacers

The decision took longer than it probably should have, but it appears the Indiana Pacers are going to match the offer sheet given to Roy Hibbert by the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s the right decision and one the Pacers shouldn’t second guess.

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reports the team spent an entire week weighing the positives and negatives of matching the deal, which will total $58 million over four years, before ultimately deciding to keep Hibbert once the signing is allowed on Wednesday.

It’s unclear what made the Pacers front office have any doubts, because the decision should have been made in a heartbeat. There’s a lack of post players who are capable of making a major impact in the NBA right now, so Indiana can’t afford to lose a rising star like Hibbert.

He’s made steady progress during his four seasons in the league after getting drafted out of Georgetown as a raw talent. The Pacers have handled him perfectly, slowing working him into the rotation over time before giving him a larger role the past two years.

Hibbert rewarded the Pacers by averaging 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor. Those numbers were all career highs and only scratch the surface of what he’s capable of doing.

Big men with his combination of size, skill and athleticism don’t come around often. When they do, teams can’t afford to lose them, even if it means opening up the checkbook to pay for a big contract.

The 25-year-old center still has plenty of time to develop before reaching his prime seasons. By the time he’s 28, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a dominant force in the paint worth every penny of his new contract.

One thing that’s overlooked about Hibbert, and makes the deal even more acceptable, is his durability. In an era where it seems like power forwards and centers are going down on a weekly basis, Hibbert rarely misses a game.

Knowing he will be on the court instead of on the sidelines makes the hefty price tag a lot easier to accept for the Pacers. It’s definitely a better investment than somebody who’s injury prone.

Indiana made great progress as a team last season. The Pacers finished third in the Eastern Conference, ahead of more hyped teams like the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, and gave the eventual champion Miami Heat a run for their money in the playoffs.

Losing Hibbert would have been a major step in the wrong direction as the other Eastern powers continue to load up their rosters. The Pacers have a good, young core and must keep it together as long as possible.

Luckily for Pacers fans, it seems like the front office realized that before letting Hibbert walk away.

 

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