Dwyane Wade Should Take Back Seat to Chris Bosh for Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade used to lead the Miami Heat by example, helping the franchise fill the win column by leaving overstuffed stat lines next to his name.

During the past four seasons, though, he led by sacrifice, giving former teammate LeBron James control of everything from the biggest box scores to the key to the city. While James has bolted back to Ohio, the challenge for Wade hasn’t changed.

Miami still needs him to be in a giving mood; only versatile big man Chris Bosh will now be the one grabbing the wheel.

Bosh may not actually be a better player than Wade, but that has never been the motivation for the latter to give up control of the spotlight. During their first full season together, Wade and James sat on a nearly even plane. Both averaged more than 25 points (25.5 and 26.7, respectively) and six rebounds (6.4 and 7.5), and both hit at least half of their field-goal attempts (50.0 and 51.0).

Wade and James dominated together, and the Heat followed their lead to 58 wins and an NBA Finals appearance. As good as it was, Wade knew it could be better.

Despite clearly possessing superstar credentials of his own, he willingly signed off on a sidekick role that would ultimately better structure the franchise.

“Are we going to be good if me and him are both scoring 27 a night?” Wade said in 2012, per ESPN.com’s Israel Gutierrez. “Yeah, we’re gonna be good, but it would be too much, ‘OK, it’s your turn, now it’s your turn.’ I wanted to give him the opportunity where he didn’t have to think about that.”

With James at the controls and Wade filling in where needed, Miami claimed consecutive NBA championships in 2012 and 2013.

That ceiling no longer exists in South Beach. Optimistic projections pit the Heat as one of several teams battling for the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed behind James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and the Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls.

Still, the blueprint to reach those expectations—or perhaps even surpass them—is the same as it was with a world title on the line: Wade needs to reprise his Robin role and let Bosh take over as Miami’s new Batman.

Bosh is younger than Wade (30 to 32), more durable (20 games missed the past three seasons to 58) and more expensive ($20.6 million to $15 million). All signs point to Bosh leading this team between the lines, including coach Erik Spoelstra‘s plan to take full advantage of his center’s deep bag of offensive tricks.

“What C.B. understands is he has a lot of responsibilities,” Spoelstra told reporters, via the South Florida Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman, earlier this month. “And if we’re just talking offensive, he has a lot to do for us, in terms of facilitating, in terms of scoring, in terms of spacing the floor, and doing that from different areas on the court.”

It’s been a while since Bosh held center stage at this level.

He was the Toronto Raptors‘ focal point the first seven seasons of his career. During his final five years north of the border, he put up 22.8 points on 50.0 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds a night. Back then, he would bully his defender on the low block, shred nets from the mid-range or explode to the basket off face-up looks from the elbow.

Heat fans rarely saw that part of Bosh’s arsenal.

With the slashing and post games of James and Wade, Miami didn’t need—or even want—Bosh to be a force around the basket. Instead, the Heat carved him a finesse role that played up his shooting touch on the perimeter.

Bosh attempted 168 threes during his entire tenure with Toronto. He launched 218 last season alone and connected on 74 of them (33.9 percent).

With James out, the Heat can’t afford to leave Bosh in a specialist’s role. They need to get him back on the low block and allow him to show he can still carry the burden as a No. 1 option.

But it’s not as simple as rediscovering his old Raptors form. What the Heat really need is an amalgamation of the interior force from back then with today’s perimeter threat, a superb scorer capable of putting up points from anywhere on the floor.

Blending those two styles together won’t be easy, but Bosh told Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling that he’s ready to embrace the challenge:

I really want to do it for the city of Miami—to show my evolution and my growth, and display a different level of my talent. It’s not easy; I went from [about] 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds] in Toronto to 16 and 7 last season.

I’m a much better player than I was in Toronto, and I’ll be able to give Miami a lot more. I’m excited to really test out what I’ve done over these years, as far as leadership is concerned, as far as what’s on the court is concerned, and really put it out there.

As tough as the road ahead might be for Bosh, Wade’s could be far more difficult.

After having missed an average of 19 games the past three seasons, he can’t possibly know how his body will cooperate going forward. The Heat don’t have the depth to put him on a carefully managed maintenance plan like they did last season, so he’ll have to squeeze whatever he can out of his creaky knees.

“My focus is that every day, whether I’m feeling amazing or not, I want to come up here and practice and be available for my teammates,” he told Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick. “Give them what I’m able to give them that day, and so forth. That’s the mindset I have.”

Miami might appreciate his effort, but it obviously needs something a tad more reliable to play the role of franchise face.

It’s imperative that Wade realizes this, as well. The Heat will gladly take what he can give, but they really just need to him to find his niche spot on the team’s new pecking order. It’s going to be an adjustment and probably not the most comfortable one, but to his credit, he is trying to find his place.

“I’m still finding my way with this team and this offense,” he said, per Winderman (via ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin). “So I’m still trying to see where I fit in. I know I can get a shot any time I want, but it’s about the quality of it more so than anything.”

Wade has been selective in the preseason (9.8 field-goal attempts in 23.6 minutes) but not all that efficient (40.8 percent shooting from the field). While exhibition stats aren’t the easiest to trust, these may well reflect the struggles Wade will have in reinventing himself for the good of this franchise again.

“It took Dwyane Wade about a season and a half to really figure out how to play next to LeBron James,” Helin wrote. “Now it’s taking some time to adjust to LeBron not being around.”

It’s not just about losing James, it’s also the additions of guys like Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, Shabazz Napier and James Ennis. There are plenty of moving parts, and Wade must figure out how to fit a puzzle of which he used to be the centerpiece.

That job belongs to Bosh now, and he seems more than capable of handling it. As long as Wade respects that fact and properly assesses himself, Miami should still enter this campaign as it has the last several—strengthened by one of the better superstar sidekicks in the business.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Julius Randle’s Development Should Be Priority No. 1 for Los Angeles Lakers

Julius Randle is the only thing standing between the Los Angeles Lakers and a lost season.

The Lakers are going to make noise this year, but that’ll mainly be because they’re surrounded by more microphones than most NBA teams. The sound will signify little in terms of on-court relevance, though.

You don’t have to agree that L.A. might be the worst team in the league by season’s end, but you must concede that the playoffs feel like a long shot.

This is a stopgap period between eras. Kobe Bryant playing out two more years, short-time vets filling out the roster and Byron Scott running the show with an alarmingly old-school style ill-suited for whatever future the organization has—all signs of the holding pattern.

Because the Lakers are stuck in neutral for the time being, the only thing that should matter is the development of young players who might still be around two years from now, when they shift into drive.

That’s a short list. Randle is the only one on it.

Perplexing then, isn’t it, that Carlos Boozer is on the roster. At 6’9″ and 250 pounds, Randle is suited only for the power forward spot at this stage in his career. He’s not quick or athletic enough to guard wings, and until he flashes a reliable jumper, he must play to his strengths as an interior scorer on offense.

Yet Boozer has started ahead of Randle in every Lakers preseason game, logging 116 minutes to Randle’s 95 through five contests. This is difficult to comprehend.

Regularly pilloried for his defensive failures, Boozer is doing a heck of a job denying Randle the ball.

It takes time—years, really—to develop a prospect. So focusing on the first exhibition season of Randle’s career is shortsighted. But you’d think that if the Lakers were as focused as they should be on grooming him, Randle would be collecting as many minutes as possible in games with no consequences.

Because Randle needs reps.

A flawed but promising player, the 19-year-old Randle should be getting ample time (now, and during the season) to add to his game. Broadly speaking, he doesn’t fit the current power forward model because he can’t shoot from range and does not impact the paint on defense.

Proof: Randle made just three triples in his one season at Kentucky and averaged less than one block per contest. As his game stands now, he’s a little like Kenneth Faried with a better handle and a lower-RPM motor.

That’s not to say he can’t get better in those key areas; it’d be foolish to discount the potential for development in any 19-year-old project. It is to say, however, that Randle needs a chance to make those improvements.

He has to play.

Key figures in the Lakers organization seem aware of Randle’s importance.

Bryant has taken on a larger mentoring role than he has in the past, though the Mamba’s not-so-nurturing track record didn’t set a very high bar. He seems interested in Randle’s growth, though he expresses it in his own special way:

Scott has been rough on the rookie, though it’s an old truism that coaches are hardest on the players they believe they can push furthest:

Besides, the Lakers head coach has offered praise when warranted as well:

And Randle seems to be handling the scrutiny nicely. Either that, or he knows enough to go with the program—pressure-packed as it may be:

The Lakers must hope that attention and the tough-love treatment don’t backfire. It’s going to take years before L.A. knows what it has in Randle. And it’s hard to know whether the Lakers’ unique situation will hasten or hinder his development.

On the one hand, there’s usually value in the ample playing time and consequence-free environment of a lottery-bound team. On the other, it’s not always ideal for a prospect to form his NBA habits and identity in a losing culture.

Say what you will about the Lakers, but they have not outwardly embraced the tank.

That refusal/inability to rebuild conventionally (thanks mostly to Bryant’s contract extension) means there will be distractions aplenty this year. Scott is catching nonstop heat for antiquated offensive ideas:

And Bryant will continue to have his every word, gesture and field-goal attempt picked apart by the media.

In that sense, the Lakers will learn one thing about Randle right away: whether he can focus amid chaos.

The overall aim should be to find out much more about Randle—beyond how he responds to Kobe’s tutelage. Because, harsh as it sounds, Bryant isn’t relevant to the Lakers’ future.

Randle is.

Even though much of the criticism aimed at Bryant, Scott and the rest of the Lakers of late has been fair, it’s missed the mark. Whether pertaining to overall team construction, offensive strategies, contracts hampering progress or anything else, we’ve all been zinging L.A. from the wrong angle.

One question should color the way the Lakers view any criticism: How does it affect Randle?

The Lakers are (perhaps detrimentally) obsessed with their past, and they seem reluctant to accept the realities of the present.

They’d better do everything possible to develop the one guy on the squad who’ll be a part of their future.

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Should Tristan Thompson be suspended?

On Friday Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers took a lot of heat after kissing sideline reporter, Allie Clifton. The power forward scored 17 points with 11 rebounds in their loss against the Dallas Mavericks (102-108). Unfortunately, based on his behavior he could be fined or facing suspension. According to ESPN, following Friday night’s game Thompson was interviewed by Clifton. During the he called the reporter Tina and then winked at her. When the interview was over he leaned over and kissed Clifton on the side of her head. In response to Clifton’s inappropriate behavior Clifton handled it professionally and brushed it off. While some feel the kiss is being blown out of proportion others feel he should be suspended or fined. Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports described Thompson’s actions as sexual harassment. He feels you should not kiss anyone without their consent, especially when they are on the job!         The post Should Tristan Thompson Be Suspended? appeared first on Bask…

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Why Warriors Fans Should Expect Fewer 3s and More Wins Under Steve Kerr

The Golden State Warriors will be looking to take the next step under new head coach Steve Kerr, hoping that a healthy lineup can make waves in the Western Conference. What can we expect out of the Dubs in year one with the new coaching staff?

Matt Kolsky of KNBR joins Stephen Nelson to play a game of over/under in the video above.

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1 Reason We Should Be Pumped to Watch Every NBA Team in 2014-15

Hoops heads round the world, get pumped.

Real, live, meaningful regular-season NBA action is almost here. And it comes bearing happiness.

For everyone.

It doesn’t matter if your favorite NBA team is contending for a championship, stuck in the throes of mediocrity or tanking itself into fiery ping-pong ball-bundled oblivion. Every fan has ample cause to be rationally and irrationally amped up for 2014-15. Even Philadelphia 76ers supporters.

There are many different reasons to watch each team this season, most of which must be checked at the doorway this introduction provides. We’re not here to be imprecise. This is an exercise in specificity, during which yours truly will narrow down tune-in appeal to one unequivocal argument.

You’re welcome for such enlightenment in advance.

This one reason could be anything. It could be a player or play style, a storyline or set of expectations, a nostalgic urge or imminent milestone. Anything. Whatever would compel you to watch any given team on any given night—even if a Gilmore Girls marathon is on—that’s what it could be.

So strap yourselves in. The Charlotte Hornets are bringing Sour Patch Watermelon treats. Gregg Popovich is uncapping decades-old 96-proof super-premium bourbon. Enes Kanter is checking IDs (and for Lil B) at the door. 

Get pumped.

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3 NBA Teams Who Should Pursue Minnesota Timberwolves’ Chase Budinger

Kevin Love may not be the only veteran relocating from Minneapolis for the 2014-15 season.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that, “The Minnesota Timberwolves are shopping forward Chase Budinger in trade talks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.”

Wojnarowski cites league sources claiming that the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets are among the organizations that, “have shown an interest.”

At least one other team has emerged as a possible candidate, according to the Sporting News’ Sean Deveney:

There may well be additional suitors who emerge in the near-term, but all three of these clubs have good reason to be interested in the 26-year-old forward.

Injuries held Budinger to 41 games and a career-low 6.7 points per contest last season, but the 26-year-old still managed to convert on 35 percent of his three-point attempts. That’s an important metric for any team doing its due diligence on the five-year veteran.

For his career, Budinger has averaged 3.4 three-point attempts per game. He’ll grab a few rebounds and serve other glue-guy functions, but he’s principally a spot-up shooter—a committed role player who understands his job.

That’s translated into a career average of nine points per game and three especially productive seasons with the Houston Rockets, who acquired the 44th overall pick in 2009 from the Detroit Pistons.

So it’s only fitting that Detroit is among the teams reportedly investigating Budinger at the moment—one of at least three clubs who should add the Arizona product to the fold.

 

Detroit Pistons

There seem to be legs to this rumor.

“A league source confirmed a Yahoo Sports report about the Pistons having interest in Budinger, a 6-foot-7 forward who appears caught in a numbers game at small forward,” The Detroit NewsVincent Goodwill Jr. recently wrote. “Nothing appears to be imminent, but it looks like the Pistons are at least kicking the tires on Budinger before the season begins.”

Goodwill notes that Detroit will likely be without injured shooting guard Jodie Meeks for at least six weeks into the 2014-15 season. The Pistons also do not have much depth behind small forward Caron Butler, especially if Josh Smith spends most of his time at the 4 spot this season—which he should.

More broadly, this team also needs more shooting. It ranked 29th league-wide with a 51.4 true shooting percentage last season, according to Hollinger Stats. The Pistons also ranked 29th in three-point accuracy (32.1 percent) and 22nd in three-pointers attempted (19.3 per game).

Budinger would fill a very real need, both in terms of the rotation and in terms of the game plan.

More importantly, he and the Pistons make sense together. This is a team looking to turn the corner, one that needs solid veterans to propel a playoff push. The Timberwolves are rebuilding and looking to create playing time for young prospects on the wing such as Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

A change of scenery is probably in order, and Detroit may be a mutually beneficial fit.

 

Houston Rockets

Having spent three seasons with the Rockets, you have to believe this is something of a preferred scenario for Budinger.

It doesn’t hurt that Houston is pretty good these days and just happens to have a glaring need at the small forward position. After losing emerging star Chandler Parsons via restricted free agency to the Dallas Mavericks this summer, general manager Daryl Morey quickly snatched up Trevor Ariza to take his place.

That stopped the bleeding and ensures the Rockets an improved perimeter defense in their ongoing pursuit of a championship.

But Ariza will need help on the wing, and it’s worth remembering key bench pieces Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik were lost to trades during the offseason. There’s now a general need for experienced and reliable scoring in the second unit.

Budinger would almost certainly be asked to play an important role from the outset, likely serving as the sixth or seventh man off the bench. It’s a responsibility his health might have denied him a season ago, but things have changed.

“I’ve definitely got my confidence back,” Budinger told reporters this month. “I’m finally feeling great, and because of that my confidence is back.”

The results haven’t been lost on Timberwolves president and new head coach Flip Saunders.

“He’s starting to get his legs under him,” Saunders added. “He hasn’t had a training camp in two years, and the last training camp he had was during the lockout so it was only seven days. This is a whole process for him to get where he wants to get.”

This may be a good time for the Rockets to quietly—and economically—enhance their rotation with a guy just beginning to rediscover his rhythm. With Budinger’s value almost certainly impacted by two injury-marred seasons, Morey might get a much-needed steal here.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

At first glance, the Trail Blazers seem to have everything they need to be a championship contender.

A second glance tells a very different story, particularly if taking a good look at this second unit. Portland’s bench ranked dead last in scoring a season ago with just 23.6 points per contest, according to HoopsStats.com.

And that’s before proven veteran Mo Williams took his sixth-man services to the Timberwolves.

Now head coach Terry Stotts’ depth hinges on the development of untested prospects such as C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson and Will Barton. Steve Blake and Dorell Wright will offset that inexperience to some degree, but this is still a pretty thin set of reserves.

Budinger could help change that, teaming with Wright to handle minutes behind starting small forward Nicolas Batum.

Portland’s starting five will almost certainly continue to draw the vast majority of playing time, but a slightly more ensemble approach could do wonders for this roster’s ability to stay fresh amidst deep postseason runs. 

From Budinger’s perspective, the Trail Blazers may be his best chance to win. Despite a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in last season’s conference semifinals, this is an emergent force in the Western Conference and likely a step ahead of the weakened Rockets—who lost to Portland in last season’s opening round.

The Trail Blazers would also be an opportunity for Budinger to benefit from an incredibly talented starting lineup—particularly 24-year-old star point guard Damian Lillard. With Lillard, Batum and three-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge occupying defenders’ attention, a complementary shooter like Budinger would find his share of open looks and quality touches.

The minutes may be harder to come by in Portland, but there would be no shortage of silver lining.

 

Best Fit?

Budinger has a history with the Rockets, and there may be no team in greater need of veteran depth on the wing—or veteran depth at any position for that matter.

There would be minutes. There would be shots. And there would be just the right amount of responsibility: A potential leadership capacity off the bench and a supporting role alongside superstar anchors James Harden and Dwight Howard.

Harden’s penchant for driving and kicking creates high demand for spot-up perimeter shooting, and floor spacing tends to do wonders for Howard’s ability to operate in the paint.

Houston’s biggest problem may be coming up with the best offer for Budinger, especially if there’s an even remotely active market for his services. Morey doesn’t have many quality young assets at his disposal, at least not the types he’d give away in exchange for Budinger.

It’s also worth noting that the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen recently tweeted that the, “Rockets have zero interest in his contract.”

Maybe it’s posturing. Or maybe it’s a legitimate hurdle. Budinger will make $5 million this season and is guaranteed a player option to make another $5 million in 2015-16—a grand total of $10 million in commitments that may be too rich for Morey’s liking.

But if Minnesota and Houston can find some common ground, they should.

Striking a deal might not alter the league’s balance of power, but it would certainly return Budinger’s career to greener—and familiar—pastures.

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Kentucky Basketball: What Should Wildcats’ Crunch-Time Lineup Be in 2014-15?

By the midpoint of the Southeastern Conference basketball seasonsay, around Valentine’s DayKentucky basketball coach John Calipari will have scrapped his vaunted two-platoon system, designed to ensure that all 10 of the potential NBA draft picks on his roster receive adequate playing time to showcase their skills for pro scouts.

The roster Calipari has assembled may be one of the most talented in college basketball history, but too much of that talent is concentrated in big men most comfortable in the paint. Conversely, the Wildcats have too few players capable of attacking the basket from a wing position andeven more importantlystopping other teams’ most athletic small forwards from doing the same on the defensive end.

When Calipari gets a handle on what’s working and what’s not, two or three of his players will see more time on the bench during the crucial late-game moments that will assuredly arise during UK’s rugged nonconference schedule. The modern-day motto “succeed and proceed” will give way to the age-old truism “survival of the fittest.”

Certain players will prove themselves worthy of Calipari’s confidence during those harrowing moments when the games are on the line. Someone is bound to assert himself as a go-to player during the moments that make legends in the NCAA tournament.

Now, to use a phrase rapidly approaching fatigue, who among these Wildcats will prove themselves “clutch”?

 

The Master of March

One player who’s already put himself on “One Shining Moment” reels for eternity is sophomore shooting guard Aaron Harrison.

His late-game heroics in tournament wins over Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin, combined with a complete turnaround in his shooting fortunes from a lackluster regular season, briefly put Harrison back on the NBA’s radar and re-stoked the dying embers of his one-and-done hopes.

Lost in the sheer magnitude of his tournament shots, however, were moments that signaled his budding promise, even in defeat.

In UK’s March 1 loss to South Carolina, Harrison showed the capacity to convert in big moments, if not the consistency required to do it regularly.

His 3-of-8 shooting in the game’s final 12:36 doesn’t look impressive, but: a) It was a solid finish after a 1-of-8 start; and b) He supplemented that with a 7-of-8 run at the foul line. After the game, Harrison made a prophetic statement when he said, “We know what we can do, and it’s going to be a great story.” (h/t Kyle Tucker, Louisville Courier-Journal)

Harrison himself became the story later on in the month. The 30.6 percent regular-season three-point shooter gave way to a 48 percent assassin whose only nights below 40 percent coincided with UK’s losses to Florida in the SEC tournament final and UConn in the national title game.

So which is the real guy? With UK’s only other potential three-point threats being freshmen Devin Booker and Karl Towns, Calipari will give Harrison every opportunity to prove that he’s closer to the sniper the nation marveled at in March than the hapless chucker who struggled through the first four months.

“He’s not afraid to miss,” Calipari said to Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader. “He’s OK with (the prospect of missing). He’s comfortable in his own skin.”

Most of the best shooters have to be.

 

The “Grown-People” Guy (and His Happy Defensive Sidekick)

Experience helps during those moments when victory and defeat dance on a razor’s edge. Kentucky’s not a team typically loaded with that particular intangible, but two juniors get to repopulate a species long thought endangered around Lexington.

Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein have a quirky relationship, as UK Athletics’ Guy Ramsey explored in a profile of Poythress earlier this month. The gregarious Cauley-Stein said of the more reserved Poythress:

“I’m the kind of dude that wants to go outside and see everybody and always on the move, and he’s always the dude that’s like, I’m going to stay in the room and watch a movie and do grown-people stuff and I’m always trying to experience all the fun stuff.”

A college student needs a hefty dose of focus to concentrate on his “grown-people” stuff when there are so many pleasant diversions available, especially to a campus rock star like a Kentucky basketball player. That focus served Poythress well during the run to the national championship game.

Poythress produced 12.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per 40 minutes during UK’s six-game NCAA odyssey, shooting 68 percent from the floor and not missing even once against Louisville, Michigan or Wisconsin.

His versatile defensive presence kept him on the floor late in all six games, even if Calipari was platooning him in three. Poythress showed up on both ends against Louisville, kick-starting the Cats’ closing 15-3 run with a dunk at one end and immediately stuffing Russ Smith at the other. He put up six of UK’s points during that closing flurry.

Poythress‘ 11.8 points per game led the team in their six-game trip to the Bahamas, showing that he’s ready to shoulder some offensive load. Consider, as well, that those games were played without Cauley-Stein or Trey Lyles, allowing Poythress to spend much of his time operating as a power forward. On offense, at least, that should be where he’s expected to work during crucial moments this season.

Poythress may be the only Wildcat frontcourt player with the ability to hang against athletic perimeter players, so he’ll certainly be one of the players kicking hardest against the two-platoon’s glass boxes.

That same defensive end is also where Cauley-Stein is most dangerous, and he should also be expected to get the call when the game is on the line. While Big Willie isn’t the most polished scorer, he’s still a better option in that area than Dakari Johnson or Marcus Lee, while proving a much more effective rim protector than Lyles or Towns.

 

Who Gets the Point?

The most crucial position during the latter stages of a tight gameeven more than it is during the rest of the seasonis point guard. The Wildcats have a Mutt-and-Jeff combo at that position, one of whom is a big, experienced hand while the other is a tiny newcomer with an explosive zip to his game.

And both Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis should finish the games that UK has to win. Yes, together.

Ulis‘ 5’9″ stature will surely prove a disadvantage at times, but his quick hands and feet will allow him to victimize guards of all size if their focus wavers. Offensively, Ulis played Harrison to a stalemate in the Bahamas. I compared the pair’s stats here, but let’s bring them back for ease of reading. (Averages are per 40 minutes, not per game.)

Even more important for crunch time, the pair weren’t terribly careless with the ball. Ulis turned it over once every 10.8 minutes of action, Harrison once every 10.5.

Now, remember that earlier comment about Towns and Booker being the only perimeter shooters? It may prove false if Ulis keeps up something close to that shooting touch from the Bahamas. That 60 percent rate came from a 9-of-15 sample size, not a 3-of-5. Still a small sample, but Ulis nevertheless sounded the alarm that he could make it rain on his foes if they forget about him.

As a shooter, Andrew Harrison was actually his brother’s superior during the regular season. Andrew sank 35.6 percent from the arc heading into the SEC tournament. From there, it appears that Aaron hogged all the Wonder Twin powers for himself, as Andrew dipped to 33.3 percent during the postseason, 29.4 in the NCAA tournament.

Pairing the two point guards together and allowing Andrew to play off the ball maximizes his ability in catch-and-shoot situations. According to DraftExpress analyst Mike Schmitz‘ scouting video, Andrew produced 1.06 points per possession off the catch as a freshman, as opposed to 0.76 off the dribble (8:55 mark, below).

If the offseason has helped the Harrisons become more consistent with their shots, pairing them with Ulis and Poythress (42.4 percent from the arc as a freshman, remember) would form a deceptively dangerous offensive bunch. All four are capable of attacking the glass, three have proven capable of sinking key foul shots, and there’s the potential for hot streaks at the arc.

They’ll have to produce on the offensive end, because there’s still a question regarding Andrew Harrison on the defensive end. His focus frequently flagged in that area, particularly in off-ball situations, so playing him with Ulis will force him to guard bigger wing players and demand greater concentration. If that doesn’t come, the bench is a much more serious threat than it was last season.

 

Hey, What About…?

Karl Towns? He’s the likely next man up if anyone flags on defense or finds himself in foul trouble. As I indicated here, there’s no man on UK’s team who makes the offense as unpredictable. When every play counts, however, predictable is fine as long as it works. Towns’ versatility makes him a worthy substitute for any man in the above lineup.

Trey Lyles? Perhaps the best low-post scorer on the team, but he’s not the athlete that Cauley-Stein is on the defensive end. A rim protector is valuable in case an entry pass sails over Ulis‘ head or a penetrator charges past Andrew Harrison.

Dakari Johnson? An earth-mover inside and better conditioned this year than last, but he trails Lyles in skill level and Cauley-Stein in athleticism.

Marcus Lee? The best athlete on the team and a vicious shot-swatter, he put multiple Michigan Wolverines on posters last March (as seen above). Unfortunately, he makes Cauley-Stein look like Hakeem Olajuwon offensively.

Devin Booker? He showed signs of one-trick pony status in the Bahamas. His 6-of-14 shooting from the arc was respectable, but 5-of-18 on two-pointers with only four free throw attempts qualifies as ugly. If he’s in a game late, it’s likely one where the Wildcats need his perimeter stroke to narrow a deficit.

It’s a quintet of Ulis, the Harrisons, Poythress and Cauley-Stein that offers the right blend of offensive potential, defensive energy, experience and athleticism to overcome most matchups. If this is the lineup on the floor when the buzzer sounds on April 6 in Indianapolis, remember where you read it first.

 


Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/04/06/3182785/mark-story-aaron-harrisons-cool.html#storylink=cpy

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Should Quincy Acy Start at Power Forward for NY Knicks?

Quincy Acy didn‘t join the New York Knicks under any ill-considered illusions. He wasn’t in town, wearing orange and blue, to compete for a starting job. He was just there as an energetic role player who would scrap and claw for minutes he might not ever see.

Turns out that may have been the illusion.

To the surprise of everyone—including Acy—who doesn’t base depth-chart projections off beard length, Acy has emerged as the “leading candidate” to start at power forward for the Knicks, according to the New York Post‘s Marc Berman.

“No I didn’t plan on coming here to start,’’ Acy said. “I planned on coming here and playing hard to earn minutes. I guess I impressed enough with my defense to earn a spot. I don’t know what coach got going if I’m starting or coming off the bench or not playing, but I’ll be happy.’’

While Acy‘s busy being happy, the rest of us will sit in limbo somewhere between confused and composed.

Is this for real? Is Acy actually starting? Or are we being punked preseason-style?

 

Foundation for Truth 

This revelation doesn’t come completely out of the blue; Acy has started in the Knicks’ last three preseason games. It’s also not as if the team has a lot of other options.

Andrea Bargnani, who has been nursing a hamstring injury of late, is not the answer to anything. The Knicks would be far better off chaining him to the bench. Amar’e Stoudemire is a former star power forward, but if the Knicks value continuity, starting an injury-prone and minutes-capped player pushing 32 isn’t the ideal route.

After Bargnani and Stoudemire, there’s—well, there’s no one.

Neither Jason Smith nor Cole Aldrich can play power forward, and the Knicks are overrun with wings otherwise. Running smaller lineups will be an option throughout games, but Derek Fisher—and Phil Jackson by extension—appear hellbent on beginning with traditional setups.

Carmelo Anthony has spent the past few months under the guise that he’ll primarily play the 3 after two years of small ball, per ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk.

Indirectly naming Acy the starting power forward could be a way of trying to light a fire under Bargnani and Stoudemire, but it seems unlikely. There’s little reason to motivate Bargnani when he hasn’t even been playing, while the only things Stoudemire has going for him this side of 2010-11 are his work ethic and self-confidence. Plus, he hasn’t been given the chance to start yet.

Starting Acy has perhaps always been a more realistic option than most acknowledge given the dearth of alternatives. His endless supply of energy, meanwhile, has taken care of the rest.

There isn’t a play Acy takes off. He’s been one of the Knicks’ most active players during the preseason, running end to end, cleaning up the glass (five rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game), making his presence felt through effort and will.

And to that end, entertaining this idea is a nod to Acy‘s diligence, like NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin argued:

That has been the key — this feels a lot like how Kenneth Faried ended up a starter and key piece for Team USA at the World Cup. Injuries and defections opened the door for Faried, but his energy and rebounding turned out to be just what that team needed for glue and some inspiration.

Acy is bringing that to the Knicks this preseason —he goes all out every second he’s on the court. It’s not exactly something the Knicks have been known for in recent years. The Knicks traded for Acy this summer in a deal that was really more about dumping Wayne Ellington’s contract. Acy was seen as a slightly more efficient scorer than Jeremy Tyler plus a guy who busts it every time on the court.

Maintaing that animalistic work ethic makes Acy easy to like for coaches, players and fans. But the logic—even by the Knicks’ fluid, ever-changing standards—stops there.

 

On-Court Consequences

Standing at 6’7″, Acy is undersized for the 4. Anthony is listed as an inch taller, and the Knicks are trying to keep him at the 3.

Playing Acy at power forward further weakens their incompetent defensive attack. They finished 24th in efficiency last season, per NBA.com, and aren’t built to improve upon that mark by much, if at all.

Using Acy at the 4 actually pushes them in the wrong direction. The Sacramento Kings—with whom Acy appeared in 56 games last season—were noticeably worse with him on the floor, allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions, the equivalent of having the league’s worst defense.

Being undersized, Acy isn’t going to block a lot of shots or protect the rim. Opponents connected on 52.7 percent of their attempts at the iron against him, according to NBA.com. That put him in the bottom half of individual rim protection among players who contested at least one shot per game and made 25 or more appearances.

The 24-year-old tweener is also foul-prone. He has wandering hands when defending isolations and post-ups, and he’s not quick enough to defend off the dribble. Guarding stretch forwards will be a problem because of their range; defending conventional bigs will be trying because of their size.

On the bright side, Acy isn’t supplanting a defensive sage. Stoudemire and Bargs don’t lock it down defensively either. Starting Acy merely reaffirms what’s already been suspected: New York isn’t going to play much defense.

But the Knicks do plan on scoring. That’s what the triangle is all about. For this team specifically it’s about promising Anthony the offensive help he’s never, ever enjoyed.

“I didn‘t want to have to do it night in and night out,” Anthony said ahead of the preseason, via Youngmisuk. ”I wanted some nights when somebody else can pick up the load. Right now, with the way we’re playing [in training camp], I don’t have to do everything.”

Inserting Acy into the starting lineup doesn’t keep in theme with the concept of providing help.

Per Berman, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Iman Shumpert and Anthony, in addition to Acy, are expected to round out the starting lineup. Only one of those five players is known for his scoring, and—surprise, surprise—it’s Anthony.

Dalembert isn’t a scorer by any means. Shumpert is a defensive weapon who sometimes scores but often goes stone cold. Calderon is easily the second-best scorer of this bunch, and his first instincts as a pass-first point guard are to defer.

More complicated still, this could-be starting lineup is a floor-spacing nightmare that only accentuates problems Jackson’s renowned triangle offense creates organically.

“The triangle is a famously complex offense, with numerous Goldberg-ian variations, and I will not claim to understand it in full,” writes Grantland’s Jason Concepcion. “Still, it’s clear that in emphasising post-up play, mid-range shots, and offensive rebounding, some tenets of the system are swimming against the tide of recent NBA trends.”

Replicating triangle systems of years past has never been an option. Not play-for-play. The modern-day demand for three-point shooting dictates they adjust the triangle’s foundation, even if only slightly.

That’s what they’ve done early on. The Knicks are attempting more than 20 threes a night during preseason play. Just three of Jackson’s Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams averaged more through their regular-season campaigns.

Catering to this need for distance shooting becomes almost impossible by starting Acy alongside his expected peers. He has three-point range in that he’ll shoot, but he’s jacked just 17 bombs over the last two seasons, hitting five.

Sense of Shumpert‘s career three-point splits—30.6/40.2/33.3 percent—is found only by those who mix Robitussin into their mayonnaise. Dalembert will sooner average 35 points per game than develop a dependable three-point stroke.

Anthony and Calderon would be the only reliable shooters, giving the Knicks two. That’s not the stuff successful offenses are made of in today’s three-point packed NBA.

Even if the Knicks were to focus on post and elbow touches, they would have issues. Most of Acy‘s and Dalembert’s career shot attempts—67.1 and 71.7 percent respectively—have come inside 10 feet. Anthony is the lone member of the predicted starting lineup familiar with scoring from the aforementioned locations.

If the Knicks plan on returning to the playoffs, they’ll need an elite offense. Rewarding Acy‘s tireless spirit with a starting spot, while admirable, doesn’t help them create one.

 

Real or Make Believe?

Pretending that we can read Fisher’s mind isn’t something worth pretending.

Regular-season basketball is still a ways off. There are still preseason games left to play; there are still questions left to be answered.

One such question still lies at power forward. There’s not sufficient evidence to guarantee Acy‘s role other than his streak of three consecutive starts. That’s it.

And while starting him helps bolster the Knicks’ second-string offense by (potentially) pinning Stoudemire, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the bench unit, it doesn’t elevate the ceiling of the opening five. That alone is enough to warrant suspicion to the point of belief—the belief being New York’s starting power forward spot remains up for grabs.

 

*All stats are from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise cited.

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10 College Basketball Players Who Should Expect Statistical Regressions in 2014

It’s fair to assume that as college basketball players progress through their careers, their statistics will improve or at least hold steady. But that’s not always the case, as a variety of circumstances can impact a player’s numbers.

A year after being a team’s No. 1 scoring option, a player might find himself taking fewer shots, thanks to an influx of support. Joining a new team or having one’s school move into a new, more difficult conference can also impact the stats.

We have identified 10 players who put up solid numbers in 2013-14 who should expect to see that production decrease this season. Don’t agree? Let us know why in the comments section.

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Why J.R. Smith Should Be in New York Knicks’ 2014-15 Starting Lineup

To get the most out of the pivotal first season of the Phil Jackson era, the New York Knicks need to figure out how to control and unleash resident gunner J.R. Smith.

A humble suggestion: Start him.

If you’re finished unblowing your mind, note that so far there’s no indication the Knicks powers that be are prepared to commit to such a plan.

Per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com:

Jackson said Jose Calderon and Sam Dalembert will probably start at point guard and center, respectively. Derek Fisher has said that only Carmelo Anthony has a spot in the starting lineup at this point. He has been observing different lineups in training camp and the preseason. Assuming Fisher is on board with Jackson’s idea of starting Calderon and Dalembert, that leaves question marks at shooting guard and power forward.

Question marks at shooting guard apparently do not worry Smith, who’s bullish on the talent at his primary position, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com“I think there’s not a team in this league that has what we have at the shooting guard spot and I think that’s very unique … you should look at it as a dynamic trio like people do with running backs in football.”

Nice sentiment, but it’s pretty clear Smith should be the team’s feature back. Over the summer, he made it seem like that was his goal:

Hey, I get it; there’s a strong case for leaving Smith on the second unit. The guy earned his Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2012-13 because he was a potent scoring force off the pine. His game, which features many tough shots and few pangs of conscience, seems ideally suited for the sixth-man role.

He’s practically the model for the position.

For all that, there’s a stronger argument to be made for his fitness as a first-unit player.

Put most simply, Smith is the Knicks’ best shooting guard by a considerable margin, and it makes sense to put the best players on the floor from the opening tip. Smith’s player efficiency rating in 2013-14 (a down year for the 29-year-old, by the way) was 14.0, the highest of any guard on the Knicks roster, per Basketball-Reference.com.

His 3.7 win shares were also tops in New York’s backcourt.

If we leave the numbers alone for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll come back), we should next acknowledge that Smith just fits better with the members of the Knicks’ starting lineup already identified. In an ideal world, the Knicks should want Smith on the floor with players who can make life easier for him.

Anthony and Calderon are New York’s most dangerous offensive players, which means they’ll command most of the defensive attention—attention opponents won’t be able to spend on Smith. As the leader of a relatively punchless second unit, Smith has long been the focal point of most opponents’ schemes.

Plus, it seems the Knicks are committed to using Anthony as a small forward, which seems like a mistake but is a separate issue. The point is: Playing Melo at the 3 means one of either Andrea Bargnani or Amar’e Stoudemire will start at power forward, and neither of those players can stretch the floor.

And just to head this off at the pass, please refrain from calling Bargs a floor-spacer. Dude shot 27.8 percent from three last year and 30.9 percent the year before. No right-thinking defense views him as a perimeter threat.

Upshot: The Knicks need more shooting in the first unit—shooting Smith is best equipped to provide.

Iman Shumpert connected on just 33.3 percent of his triples last season. Tim Hardaway Jr. made 36.3 percent.

Smith knocked down 39.4 percent of his long-range tries in 2013-14.

The statistical case for Smith-as-starter only gets stronger the deeper we dive:

There’s a good reason Smith was so much more effective as a member of the first unit last year. Playing with better talent (which we’ve already mentioned draws more defensive attention) is a great way to keep Smith from giving in to his more destructive instincts.

With Melo and, in theory, Calderon on the court, Smith won’t be a primary ball-handler. He’ll still get loads of shots (note his higher usage rate as a starter last year), but they’ll be better ones. No more carte blanche to pound the dribble and fling up a 30-footer because no other options presented themselves. No more wild drives to the hole as defenses collapse off hapless teammates.

Instead, Smith can feast on spot-up shots and attack shifting defenses that have to play him honestly.

According to SportVU data provided to NBA.com, Smith was markedly better as a standstill shooter than he was off the dribble last year. He pegged 45.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot tries in 2013-14. Among Knicks who attempted as many such shots, only Melo topped that accuracy rate.

On pull-up shots, Smith made a woeful, though not surprising, 33 percent.

Summation: Smith can create shots, but he’s a lot more accurate when somebody else creates them for him.

If the concern is that the second unit might fall apart without Smith leading it, Shumpert and Hardaway were both better off-the-dribble shooters than Smith last year, per NBA.com. And while neither has the handle or strength to attack the basket as effectively, we shouldn’t expect the wheels to fall off without Smith running the show.

We’ve seen the numbers and digested the anecdotal evidence for Smith’s place in the starting lineup. There’s some compelling stuff there.

But if stats and reason don’t do it for you, let’s get touchy feely and see how that works.

So much of Jackson’s influence on the Knicks is about balance, about trusting a system and running an offense that maximizes contributions from everybody. The triangle is supposed to make a team function as a group. That’s the whole point.

Leaving Smith to his own devices as a one-man artillery unit off the bench cuts against the spirit of the triangle. It removes the sense of harmony Jackson so values. Making Smith part of a cohesive collective would be a triangle triumph—and perhaps the pressure of not screwing things up for the rest of the starters will keep him in line.

Smith needs to start. It’s the Zen thing to do.

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