This Just In: Chris Paul is Still a Passing Wizard

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Since the beginning of his career, Chris Paul has annually ranked among the league’s best finishers in assist-to-turnover ratio. Entering this season, Paul had completed 4.09 assists for every turnover he committed, a truly elite rate.

This year Paul is taking his mastery of the Clippers’ offense to another level: he’s at 6.33 assists for every turnover. When he’s been on the floor this season, the Clippers score 113 points per 100 possessions, good for the second-highest rate in the league (behind the Dallas Mavericks at 115.9). When he’s off the floor, the Clippers are down to 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which would only rank 18th overall in the league. Even with other gifted offensive players like Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Spencer Hawes, and J.J. Redick on the team, Paul is the difference between an elite offense and a below-average offense. In other words: Paul is absolutely worth the $20.1 million the Clippers are paying him this year.

Registering 6.33 assists…

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Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin still has some growing pains

The Los Angeles Clippers improved to a record of 8-5 overall Monday night, defeating the Charlotte Hornets on the road by a score of 113-92. Star power forward Blake Griffin led the way for the Clips putting up a near triple-double with 22 points, 16 rebounds, and 9 assists. It’s the type of stat line that makes Griffin one of the most tantalizing players in the NBA, but also one of the most frustrating.
Through the first 13 games of the season, Griffin’s game on offense is essentially the same as it was last year. Although Blake has improved his mid-range jumper significantly from last season, Griffin still clearly has some growing pains on the offensive side of the floor.
Blake Griffin still has some serious work to do in order to improve his low-post game
Question’s about Griffin’s offensive game concern themselves not so much with how much Griffin scores, but rather how he tends to do it. While Griffin’s absurd athletic ability lends him to be the most dangerous big man in the game in transiti

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Monday notes: Anderson recalled from Austin, Spurs still interested in Allen?

Monday the San Antonio Spurs recalled rookie Kyle Anderson from the Austin Spurs, where Anderson scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and threw six assists in 41 minutes, in the Spurs’ 110-105 win over the Santa Cruz Warriors on Sunday. With Marco Belinelli returning to the lineup, and when Cory Joseph fully heals from his […]

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Butler still predicts Bulls championship

USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick breaks down the Bulls’ injuries and future prospects.

      
 

 

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Cavaliers Still Searching for the Right Combination of Closers Alongside LeBron

WASHINGTON D.C. — Joe Harris came to Cleveland pure of heart and free of mind. Even prior to the Cavaliers‘ celebrated infusion of proven talent, the soft-spoken second-round pick from Virginia hadn’t been presumptuous enough to set definitive expectations for playing time in his rookie season. 

“I was just trying to come in and get better every day, soak up as much as I could from all the veteran guys,” Harris said. “I knew I was going to come in and play as hard as I could, every day in practice, every day in our training camp, every preseason game, and then whenever I had an opportunity in the games, whether it was for a minute, for 10, for 20, I was going to try not to make a whole lot of mental mistakes and try as hard as I could.” 

So, no, he didn’t see Wednesday coming either. 

Down the stretch of a tight game against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, Harris had an opportunity of unforeseen and rather unbelievable length. The surprise wasn’t necessarily that he played 27 minutes; he had logged between 19 and 24 minutes in four appearances since getting his first chance on Nov. 10. The surprise was that he played all of the final 19 minutes and 28 seconds, from 7:28 left in the third quarter to the final buzzer of a 92-90 loss.

That’s something that superstars aren’t typically assigned to do, and neither LeBron James nor Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love did Wednesday. So, while it is a significant feat for Harris to earn the trust of David Blatt so soon, it also suggests that the coach is lacking some confidence in other members of the Cavaliers’ supporting cast. Starting lineups and position designations may not mean much to Blatt, as he has pointed out multiple times, and as is consistent with the thinking of many other NBA coaches.

But closing lineups in close contests?

Those indicate whom the coach believes he can count on. 

You knew that the trio of James, Irving and Love would be in the regular quintet, barring injury or disqualification, just as you knew—in Miami from 2010-11 through 2013-14that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be among the final five.

The trickier part for Erik Spoelstra in Miami then, and Blatt in Cleveland now?

Choosing the other two.

The Heat entered the 2010-11 season touting Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem as part of a closing “Big Five,” but neither could stay healthy, forcing Spoelstra to mix and match in late-game situations all season, often at a deficient at two spots on the floor. It wasn’t until the Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls that he could successfully spring his “Big Five,” but, even after he did, the Heat didn’t stand pat. The next two offseasons, Pat Riley added Shane Battier and Ray Allen, respectively, and they typically split the final two spots with Mario Chalmers throughout the rest of the Heat’s four-year run. 

The Cavaliers will also evolve in terms of their personnel; their GM, David Griffin, has made that quite clear, and he has some assetssuch as a trade exceptionto achieve some improvement. But, as this season started, it seemed safe to assume that they had enough talent on hand, with Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson up front, Shawn Marion as a defender, Miller and James Jones as shooters, and Dion Waiters as a slasher, that Blatt would have an abundance of enticing options.

But he actually relied early on someone much less heralded: Matthew Dellavedova, a second-year guard from Australia by way of St. Mary’s University. It was Dellavedova, and not Miller, Jones or any of the big men, who got the call for the final 5:22 of the opening night loss to the Knicks, as part of a three-guard lineup that also included Waiters. Then Dellavedova played the final 3:22 of regulation, and the entire five minutes of overtime, in a win in Chicago, as Waiters gave way to Thompson as the fifth man in a more physical lineup, with Thompson earning the time with his impressive exhibition on the offensive glass.

“Good decision-maker,” Blatt said of Dellavedova after that win. “Very, very, determined defender. He’s the kind of guy who can fit with anybody, any lineup. He just helps the team to function easily and normally without pressure.” 

Then something happened to increase the pressure on Blatt: Dellavedova hurt his knee in a blowout loss to Portland.

With a “a significant rotation player” out, and Waiters struggling to fit as a starter, Blatt moved Waiters to Dellavedova’s backup point guard role and slid Marion into the opening lineup. Still, Miller, Thompson and Varejao got more time than either Marion or Waiters near the end of a two-point loss in Utah.

Marion and Waiters did help the Cavaliers’ star trio finish off the Nuggets in Denver. Then Harris, in his first NBA game, replaced Miller with 5:35 left and the Cavaliers leading the Pelicans by just three, and helped Cleveland pull away as Thompson got most of the minutes as the fifth man. Blatt chose Harris and Marion as the complementary pieces for a comeback one-point win against Boston, with Thompson entering in place of Love for the final defensive possession.

Following garbage time finishes (a win against Atlanta, a loss to Denver), Harris was the constant in the competitive struggle against San Antonio, and not just for the final five minutes, along with James, Love, Irving (for all but possession) and Varejao. He was the constant for the final 19:28, as Waiters, Thompson and Marion also got some run. And while he didn’t score during that exhausting stint, missing two shots, committing one turnover, recording one assist and getting beat by Manu Ginobili on a critical backdoor play, he didn’t embarrass himself either. 

So while Blatt’s closing lineup is certainly subject to change, as he has promised to adjust to circumstance, his light overall usage of Miller (101 minutes, three made baskets) and his more targeted usage of Waiters (charged with spearheading the second unit) seem to mean that he will be choosing largely between a fresh face (Harris) and an old head (Marion) on the perimeter, while deploying Varejao or Thompson as the closing big, depending on who has been giving better activity. 

Marion, 36, and Harris, 23, are both cheap by NBA standards, combining to make about $2.3 million this season, or roughly what James gets paid for nine games.

The similarities end there, of course.

While Marion is not as vertically explosive as in his early years, the UNLV product still has the same long arms, and he’s refined his defensive technique over time, as was illustrated Wednesday, when he cornered and smothered Ginobili, who fell backward and passed into a 24-second violation. While the four-time All-Star isn’t widely regarded as one of the greats of his day, some of the statistics suggest otherwise. Check out his Basketball-Reference page, and his closest comparison, in terms of combined offensive and defensive “win shares,” is Scottie Pippen, with Adrian Dantley, Dominique Wilkins and Paul Pierce among the others on the list. 

While he doesn’t necessarily believe he’s been overlooked, he is proud of his pliability, noting that “everywhere I’ve been I had to change my game.” That includes changes during his tenure in Phoenix, before and after the “seven seconds or less” speed-ball era. 

“I made my first All-Star Game not playing that way,” Marion said. “I’ve been able to adjust my game throughout my career and be very effective and efficient. I just know how to play the game. I think the game all the time. I anticipate so many different things. That’s why I am able to fill up the stat sheet, you know.”

He attributes his basketball intelligence partly to his NBA upbringing, playing with Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway, and learning what was required to compete at their level. And now, at his own advanced NBA age, he knows that stat-stuffing isn’t what’s required. “I’m just trying to fill in and do the little intangibles to help us win, you know?” he said. That means serving as a mentor, the way that older players did for him. 

Mostly, he’s teaming with James to get his new teammates to communicate better, especially on defense. 

“It’s huge,” Marion said. “We don’t talk to each other. That’s one of our biggest Achilles’ heels. First, we’ve got to get comfortable with what the system is. And it’s coming, slowly but surely. I think we’ve got to take one game at a time. That’s the hardest thing to do. We’re great communicators off the floor—everybody laughs and jokes with each other off the courtbut as soon as we get on the court, everybody’s just quiet with each other. And that can’t happen.”

Not even in practice. 

“We go through shootarounds, [LeBron's] yelling out the pick-and-rolls louder than the bigs are yelling it out,” Marion said. “Which is not good. Because he’s not guarding the ball. That tells you how much we got to go a little bit further, we got to come along and get comfortable with each other on the floor, and talking and communicating on the floor.”

Marion said he’ll “yell when it’s time,” even though he typically goes with the flow. That applies to his career as well. He is on a season-to-season plan now.    

“Actually, I don’t feel bad at all right now,” Marion said. “When you get to this point of your career, you’ve got to stay in shape. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You’ve got to stay in shape as much as possible.”

Harris is at a different point. A native of Washington state, he was a four-year starter at Virginia, averaging 12.6 points, shooting 40.7 percent from three-point range, and earning a reputation as a determined defender and a willing listener. He exhibited the latter attribute at halftime Wednesday, as James, Miller and Jones spent part of the warmup period collectively giving him instruction, talking about how San Antonio “likes to load up on the strong side,” and pointing to places he can get his shots. They again emphasized how he should sprint to the corners on fast breaks, to clear space for James and Irving. 

“But they were also talking about some of the different defensive rotations, and spots that I should have been, stuff that I might have miscommunicated in the first half,” Harris said. “They’re always talking in my ear. Even before I was even playing any minutes, I would go out and work with James and Mike beforehand, and before and after practices, we would also shoot together as well. They are really good veteran guys, they’ve been really helpful.”

As he’s helped himself to an occasional spot in the Cavaliers’ unexpected but ever-changing final five. 

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‘The Butler Way’ still a work in progress for Stevens’ Celtics

The Butler Way isn’t being tossed out the window: It’s simply making its transition into the NBA.

      
 

 

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Cavaliers are still a work in progress

USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt recaps the latest Cavaliers’ loss and what it means.

      
 

 

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Are The Thunder Still A Playoff Team?

Tweet The Oklahoma City Thunder have been considered one of the NBA’s elite teams over the past couple of seasons. They’ve made the postseason 5 years in a row, averaged 54 wins across these seasons and have won 4 division titles. Last year Kevin Durant won the league’s MVP award and the Thunder advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
This year has been quite different, with the Thunder off to a pretty bad start. They rank amongst the league’s worst in points and have suffered an incredible number of injuries. Superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both injured. Durant has a fractured foot that will sideline him until December – possibly even into 2015. Point guard Russell Westbrook is out for the next month or two with a fractured right hand. The tandem of Durant and Westbrook combined made for an average of 54 points per game last season. It’s no surprise then that their presence has been sorely missed.
In addition to the injuries to Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder’s supporti

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Horford still finding legs as Hawks take flight

Al Horford has been up and down upon returning from chest surgery, but the Hawks are playing well.

      
 

 

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Thomas Robinson Still Searching for Place Among His NBA Peers

There was some debate at the time of the 2012 NBA Draft as to how much upside Thomas Robinson offered, but I’m not sure anyone had him pegged as a bust clinging to an eight-minute-per-game role three years later. And on his third team no less.

What happened?

Robinson was a monster his final year at Kansas, having averaged 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds on 50.5 percent shooting. Athletic, energetic, gradually on the rise—he possessed qualities that typically lead to NBA success. 

Unfortunately, his strengths from college haven’t held strong enough in the pros, while his weaknesses never improved and have ultimately weighed on his effectiveness.

Offensively, it just hasn’t happened.

Despite shooting a mediocre 35 percent on jumpers the year before was drafted, it seemed reasonable to think Robinson’s stroke would eventually come around. He had taken nearly four times as many jumpers that season, per DraftExpress‘ Walker Beeken, and his free-throw percentage spiked to 68.2 percent from 51 percent.  

But since then, his shooting stroke has actually regressed in a league that practically requires its forwards to carry a threatening jumper in their arsenal. 

On 147 mid-range attempts since being drafted, Robinson is shooting 29.9 percent, per NBA.com.

Robinson hasn’t quite given off the impression he’s much of a back-to-the-basket scorer either.

Actually, he doesn’t really appear to have any go-to route for offense at all. And that really crushes his ceiling while limiting his purpose on the floor. 

The Portland Trail Blazers even chose not to pick up his option for next season. 

At this stage, Robinson’s margin for error is tiny. If he wants to generate some interest on the free-agent market next summer, he’ll have to make something happen in the limited minutes that come his way the rest of the season.

And it’s a possible feat, as long as he recognizes his limitations and milks his strengths for all their worth. 

For the most part, those strengths center on his blend of physical tools—6’9″ size, 7’3.5″ length—and explosiveness, which at the of the day, fuels most of his production and activity.

Robinson’s ball skills might not have developed, and that’s led to a minimal offensive impact, but his presence under the boards has been pretty steady over the years. 

In 147 games, he’s got a strong 18.05 percent rebounding percentage. This season, it’s at 23.5 percent, and though he’s only played 55 total minutes, that number actually ranks fourth in the NBA.

But the activity shouldn’t stop at rebounding. Apparently, based on his career 13.5-minute-per-game average, pulling in boards in limited action isn’t enough.  

Tip-ins, tap-backs, rejections, deflections, buckets off running the floor—these are the types of plays that need to become Robinson’s bread and butter. They’re the types of plays powered by energy and athleticism, something Robinson offers a ton of.

“[Coaches] just want to see me do that over and over,” Robinson said of being a “spark off the bench,” per Jabari Young of CSNNW.com. “Every time I touch the floor, just go like a wild animal pretty much and be a dog, so that’s what I have to do.”

It’s time to forget about the No. 5 overall label attached to Robinson’s name, along with the offensive production expected to follow it. 

Robinson’s value now comes in the form of activity—not necessarily points. 

His best shot at turning his career around is really as a specialist contributor—a forward who specializes in making plays without needing the ball in his hands. Because it just doesn’t look like he’s got much to offer with it. 

Robinson will have to accept his new NBA purpose, which is to focus solely on injecting the lineup with baseline-to-baseline energy.

When that motor is revved, he’s capable of making special plays above the rim. Hopefully Robinson gets the chance to continue making them and ultimately restore some of his lost credibility. 

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