Run or Stay DMC: Should DeMarcus Cousins remain in Sacramento?

 

For Sacramento Kings fans, their saving grace from years of relative turmoil has been DeMarcus Cousins. The 26 year old All-Star center has had his qualms with the media, and has even had conversations with past greats in an effort to help Cousins either gain or maintain focus. Whatever rift has formed between the old guard of players and Cousins or between he and the media, one question has emerged – is DeMarcus Cousins destined to languish in Sacramento?

Since Cousins was drafted out of the University of Kentucky in 2010 after only one season, there hasn’t been much to cheer about in Sactown. The team has won 34% of it’s games since then. With questionable draft picks – six of the teams’ first round picks are no longer with the team, and offseason moves that have the left the team bereft of any real players that can push the team into contention, fans are restless and rightfully so.

The Kings Organization

via USA Today Sports Images

The front office has made safe moves that ultimately seem shortsighted and hardly ever bear any fruit. The heavily dissected relationships between Cousins and his head coaches are one example of the barren moves. The Kings management hired Mike Malone in 2013, shortly after Vivek Ranadive purchased the team.

There was clear evidence that, at last, Cousins had found someone whom he could let his guard down for. Malone thought the he was the guy that could help Cousins channel his supreme talents and help make his teammates better.

Per Blake Ellington of SB Nation’s SacTown Royalty:

I’m myself. Be true to yourself and I was real. In a weird way, DeMarcus and I are very, very similar – both highly competitive, can be a little emotional at times and as I told him many times, I never wanted to change DeMarcus, I just wanted him to

via USA Today Sports

harness all that competitive fire and use it in a positive way… 

The front office fired Malone 24 games into the 2014-2015 season after having reported “philosophical differences.”

Management then decided to hire George Karl. At the time, the league saw Karl as a respected NBA coach. However, his very public discord with Cousins was very hard to ignore.

In the 2015-2016 offseason, the Sacramento Kings signed Rajon Rondo to a 1 year 9.5 million dollar contract just one season removed from his disastrous stint with the Dallas Mavericks. The move in a vacuum wasn’t detrimental to the season for the team – they only won 33 games that year. The motivation behind it, is what confusing. To trade away an asset in Ray McCallum for a second round pick, that essentially turned into a non-rotational piece, when Darren Collison is still on the team seemed disjointed. Not to mention the matter of trading away Isaiah Thomas so Collison could start a couple of seasons earlier.

DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins

With all that has gone wrong the team, DeMarcus Cousins has still managed to make two All-Star games and is an excellent community activist in the city. And that’s the thing, DeMarcus still maintains that’s he loves the city and the fans and would love to remain in town. The fans adore him and understand exactly what they have is arguably the best center in the game. Among centers that qualify Cousins is second in scoring, fifth in steals and assists and second in 3 point attempts while hitting them at a respectable 38%.

Via USA Today Sports

Only three players have posted 55+ 10+ rebound games since 1985. Cousins has one of them. He is however, the only one of those players to shoot 5-8 from three in the game. I’m also sure that he’s the only one of those players to get ejected and then un-ejected in such a game.

That’s the type of player Cousins is —  supremely talented but equally as visceral. The same intensity that fans attribute to Draymond Green and players alike is what makes them go, it’s what drives them to burn a few extra gallons of fuel that few around the league possess. That extra fuel sometimes gets Boogie into trouble as leads the league in technical fouls with 12.

Once again, is the tumult and disarray of the front office the perfect accompaniment for Cousins’ overt, harried temperament? The front office thinks so as they are reportedly planning to offer Cousins the new “MegaMax” extension worth a reported $200 million per ESPN. From Marc Stein’s column:

The Kings, as you surely know by now, are openly desperate to bring their 10-season playoff drought to a halt. Those who know Sacramento best continue to say that, as long as the West’s No. 8 seed remains within the Kings’ sights, they’ll be increasingly reluctant to part with their All-Star ‎center.

But sources also say that the Kings, at season’s end, want to pitch Cousins on a long-term partnership in the summertime, knowing he’s going to be eligible in July for a Designated Player Extension that ‎could make him one of a handful of $200 million players league wide.

The latest signals suggest it would take a monster offer to get the Kings to tweak those plans.

CSN California reports that the front office  has reason to believe that he would accept the extension.

Via USA Today Sports

There is no way to determine how Demarcus feels about the team this summer, or if he declines the extension, how he’ll feel in 2018. If he decided to leave the team in free agency or inquire the front office about a trade, there’s a good chance he ends up with a contending squad or a team that’s on the verge of contention and possess competent management.

Would that be the best outcome, to have his gifts on a world stage where all is out for the world to see. Or is the quaintness of his current situation just destiny? His flaws and valor accepted alike, hoping that one day the chips will fall and the success will come.

 

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Isaiah Thomas: The Superstar We Nearly Overlooked

Isaiah Jamar Thomas. The  60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft is having a season that no NBA fan would call irrelevant. The 5’9” guard is showing the world why executives who drafted players such as Kyle Singler, Jon Leur and Shelvin Mack before him were erroneous picks.

Isaiah Thomas

The Boston Celtic hasn’t had the easiest road to where he is now – among the league’s elite. Traded twice in his now five-year career, it seemed as though Thomas would never be valued as an elite talent.

The Sacramento Kings reportedly wanted Darren Collison to possess the starting role over Thomas, and Thomas was averaging 20.3 points and 6.3 assists at the time of the trade. Isaiah was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Alex Oriakhi and a 7.3 million dollar trade exception in a sign-and-trade deal. For context, Oriakhi has never played a game in the Association, and now has a career in the Euro League.

Isaiah Thomas

Why would any team trade a player like Thomas? Clearly he had the potential to be something special. That is a question many would ask again at the 2014-2015 trade deadline.

Shortly after signing a four-year, 27 million dollar contract in the desert, the diminutive guard was on the move again, this time to the Boston Celtics. Amidst reports of derision among the crowded backcourt in Phoenix, the Suns front office sent Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat in a separate deadline deal.

Finally, Thomas landed on a team that appreciated his services and reaped the benefits of that trust. This relationship has propelled the Celtics to be a force, not only in the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.

During that 14-15 season, Boston won 40 games and squeaked into the postseason as the seventh seed. Isaiah finished second in Sixth Man voting that year. In his first playoff series, Thomas led the team in scoring with 17.5 points and assists with seven per game. He didn’t start a game that series. The team however, lost in four to the eventual conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

In his first full season with the team, Thomas had 24.8 points almost seven assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 46% from the field and 35% percent from three. He went on to start a career-high 79 games. The team won 48 games, and secured a fifth seed in a log-jammed conference. Thomas, deservedly so, played in his first All-star Game.

This season has seen the point guard take his game to even higher heights. He’s fourth in scoring at 28 points per game, and one of only seven players to score 50+ points this season. Elite players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have yet to record a 50-point game this season. He is also in the top ten in free throw attempts at nearly nine a game. Additionally, he’s hitting them at a career high 90% rate.

Isaiah Thomas

It’s not all about individual success either. With the addition of Al Horford in the offseason and the emergence of Avery Bradley, this Celtics team currently sits third in the East and is on pace for a 50-win season.

Isaiah saw 59 other players taken before him that talent loaded 2011 draft. Of players drafted in 2011, Thomas ranks fourth in minutes played this season and leads that draft in scoring. He’s well on his way to his second All-Star appearance as he is leading his team to a great season.

For Isaiah, he relishes the opportunity he has and thoroughly enjoys it per Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

…I’m like, man, I play for the Boston Celtics. I’m the franchise player for the Boston Celtics. Like, it doesn’t make sense.”

Isaiah may not have been appreciated for what he was early on, but now we see him for what he is — the superstar we don’t deserve, but are as grateful as anyone to have.

 

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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Eastern Conference

The NBA season is inching closer and closer to the All-star break, meaning the painting of the 2016-2017 season is almost complete.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re heading in is the one they planned for prior to the season starting. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this still early part of the season.

However, the NBA season is a long one. For prospering teams, success is fleeting. It’s not a wise choice to rest on early accomplishments; always continue to grow. Conversely, a bad season can turn with one hot streak putting a team directly in the thick of the playoff race.

With the new year beginning, some teams may want to make resolutions in the new year as the competition begins to heat up. There’s no time like the present to shore up some deficiencies that can be exploited in the playoffs. When the game slows down, coaches and their staffs have time to game plan, and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at three Eastern Conference resolutions.

Boston Celtics- Get physical on the glass

The Boston Celtics are sitting pretty at third in the conference, but almost every game played seems to be a close one. The Celtics are a plus 19.5 net rating in the clutch this season in 24 such games. Isaiah Thomas is in the top five in scoring with almost 28 points per game and should be a lock for an All-Star spot in the East. Avery Bradley is having a career year across the board, along with the rest of the team contributing in positive ways.

Rebounding happens to not be one of those things that Boston is needing help in. They are bottom three in the league, grabbing 41 rebounds per 100 possessions.

In December, the Celtics were outrebounded in 13 of their 14 games, going 7-6 in those games. Opponents grab 11 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, which is the fifth most in the league. Additionally, the leading rebounder on the team is Bradley at seven per game. This squad has played in a lot of close games, and has performed well. Gaining a rebounding advantage against opponents can be the difference in wins and losses.

Toronto Raptors- Shoot more from behind the arc

With a 113 offensive rating, the Raptors are only percentage points behind the Golden State Warriors who have a team made up of hyper-efficient players. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are leading this team every night. Lowry is another Eastern Conference All-Star lock and having an incredibly efficient offensive season. His defense has also been up to the task. The Raptors are in the top five in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three-point percentage.

This is team that does everything in its power to get the ball in the hoop. Even with a stellar three-point rate, the team north of the border doesn’t take many.  Only 28% of the team’s total points come from three-point land. Cleveland and Golden State sit at 39% and 35% respectively. What’s even more perplexing is that Toronto has six players that shoot 36% or above from distance – only one of those players average more than five attempts – Lowry at 7.6 attempts per game.

Charlotte Hornets- Limit opponent open threes

Steve Clifford’s team is one of the rising teams in teams in the East. The Hornets do a lot of things very well, particularly on defense. They are seventh in defensive efficiency, have an incredible defensive rebound percentage, and their opponent free throw rate that ranks 1st in the league.

Charlotte allows 30 three point attempts a game. The Hornets allow 12 open threes a game. Opponents aren’t hitting their open shots, startlingly. Teams are only shooting 33 percent on the open threes that Charlotte provides. This could be based on the teams that they’re up against, or less likely, luck. Either way, this is one of those regular season trends that could come back to haunt them in the postseason.

After giving up a rare offensive rebound, Charlotte failed to recover to the open Nikola Mirotic — waiting for the pass. No one fully commits on the closeout and Mirotic drains an open three in important time in the game.

 

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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Western Conference

The NBA season is to the end of another calendar year. The All-Star break is closing in as well.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re headed in is the one they planned for prior to the start of the season. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this early part of the season. However, the NBA season is a long one. For prospering teams, success is fleeting. It’s not a wise choice to rest on early accomplishments; always continue to grow. Conversely, a bad season can turn with one hot streak putting a team directly in the thick of the playoff race.

With the new year rolling around, some teams may want to make a new year’s resolution as the competition begins to heat up. There’s no time like the present to shore up some deficiencies that can be exploited in the playoffs when the game slows down. Coaches and their staffs have time to gameplan and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at five Western Conference new year’s resolutions

Houston Rockets- Stop The Leak

The Rockets are currently sitting right in the thick of the Western Conference seeding and do so with an efficient offense. James Harden, a major favorite for this year’s MVP award, is leading this ship behind Mike D’antoni’s principles of the game. Houston attempts a league leading 39 three-point attempts a game and hits them at a prodigious 38 percent. This team also generates open shots behind the arc better than any team in the league at 16 per game. However, if there is an achilles heel for the highly lethal Houston attack, it’s turnovers.

The problem isn’t the amount of turnovers. Turnovers in general aren’t beneficial to any offense. The problem is the opponent’s points off turnovers. Opponents create a whopping 18 points off of Houston’s giveaways, which is fifth most in the league. I’m undoubtedly sure the team is aware of this and will be looking to patch the leak.

A turnover is costly when your team is within six points with under four minutes left in the game. After great half-court defense, the Rockets go to the pick and roll game with the shot clock running down. The defense surrounds and collapses on Harden, who then throws a wayward left-handed pass across his body. It’s then stolen by the opponent. The defense was slow getting back, giving up three points on the other end after the and-one. Those kinds of mistakes can derail a playoff run when the margin for errors is minuscule.

 

Memphis Grizzlies- Limit Fouls

The Grit-n-Grind connoisseurs are tops in the league in defensive efficiency and are one of the most successful teams in the clutch. Even with injuries to Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons and a roster many thought would lead them to the path of irrelevancy, the Grizzlies continue to impress day in and day out. The team allows the least amount of shots in the paint and are top five in steals and blocks in the league per game.

The defensive wizards, however, have a foul problem. This team allows the third most free throw attempts. Teams playing against them shoot almost 28 per game, which is five attempts over the league average. Teams at the moment aren’t making the Grizzlies pay for their fouling. Opponents are shooting 72 percent at the line. If they keep treading this dangerous line, things could get out of hand.

Oklahoma City Thunder- Become Better Free Throw Artists

The Thunder are one of the most intriguing teams in the league. With Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double, Steven Adams becoming a top flight center in the NBA, and second-year head coach Billy Donovan guiding this team to over-achievement, there’s a lot to extract from the franchise that’s still early in existence. The main worry for the Thunder, outside of being relatively devoid of shooting, is its free-throw shooting. The Thunder attempt the fourth most foul shots in the league, thanks mostly to Westbrook’s NBA-leading ten attempts per game.

The flip-side to that is the Thunder only make a near-bottom 72 percent of their attempts. Three of the Thunder’s five starters attempt less than 3 attempts per game. No player not wearing number 0 attempts more than five. The Thunder have to get to the line more frequently, and make the attempts. Free points are paramount for a team that struggles to score in the half-court.

Golden state Warriors- Limit opponent fast-break points

It would behoove NBA fans to err on the side of caution when looking for flaws in the Western Conference champion Warriors. You won’t find many. However, the Dubs do have a tendency to leave awareness to the wind and give the opponent chances to score easy points. The Warriors are bottom in the league in opponent fast break points. Part of it could be a byproduct of the offense. Playing at a high pace and getting up shots relatively quickly tends to allow room for slippage. Even after made baskets, if there is any loss of attention easy buckets on the break can slip through.

Utah Jazz- Force more turnovers

This Jazz team is one that is finally beginning to realize its potential. The identity of the Jazz has always been one of defense. Trite as that may sound, defensive aptitude is a strong suit for this team. They are top three in defensive efficiency, allow the third fewest points in the paint, and are the best team in the league at dissuading teams from firing behind the arc. Utah rarely turns the ball over, and Jazz opponents return the favor. Jazz opponents turn the ball over fewer times than any team in the league.

No turnovers also mean no points off the other team’s carelessness. They are bottom five in the league at 14 points off of turnovers per game. Those added bonuses could really come in handy in the playoffs if this team is still in the lower part of the league in points per game.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

NBA Game Preview: Lakers vs. Clippers

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers are set to deck halls this Christmas.

The 11-22 Lakers are playing the 22-9 Clippers for the second year in a row on this vaunted holiday event. Last year, the Clippers triumphed over the Lakers 94-84 in a relatively ho-hum game. This year, however, should present watchers with a more palatable contest.

Haus-Specialty: The team that’s being highlighted in today’s Matchup

Lakers vs. Clippers

Luke Walton (Photo courtesy: landoflakers.com)

In Luke Walton’s first year as head coach the Lakers have gotten better as far as on court product, are still a ways away from true playoff spot contention. However, they are a team that is beginning to find the joy in basketball again, something seemingly missing under Byron Scott.

The Lakers have had a tumultuous December, going 1-12, the only win coming against the Philadelphia Seventy-sixers who – let’s just say are not the class of the NBA. The young talent on the team is going to have to be given time to find their niche and what they can be good at as a squad. It should probably start with defense. This team is in the bottom two of the league in defensive efficiency. They allow 110 points per 100 possessions. That is going to get you beaten every night – as it has the last four of their games. The Lakers’ opponents the last four games have, on average, scored 115 points per game.

Even worse, this is a team bereft of rim protection averaging only 3.6 blocks per game. A number good for 26th in the league. Fortunately for the Lakers, the Clippers are surprisingly near the bottom of the league in points in the paint.

Nick Young (Photo courtesy: Dailymail)

Nick Young (Photo courtesy: Dailymail)

What the Lakers can hang their hat on is that Lou Williams and Nick Young seem to be having career years as far as the numbers are concerned. Lou Williams is shooting a career high percentage from beyond the arc per game on the 2nd highest attempts in his career. Nick Young is also having a career year from deep, shooting 41% on almost 7 attempts per game. The “Kids” also have some things to be proud of. Julius Randle is averaging a healthy 12 points, 3 assists and 8 rebounds per game. D’Angelo Russell is second among sophomore players is assists per game and top five in scoring. Jordan Clarkson also pitches in 1.3 steals per game, second on the team.

The Lakers have a lot of developing to do to get to the level of their Christmas Day opponent. The front office has made sound moves and seem to have found a formula has a few years of making questionable moves.

Haus-Work: Things the Lakers and Clippers must address if they want a chance to leave with a win.

Lakers

  • Get stops. Play in the open court. The Lakers are 8th in the league in transition points. The NBA game is about playing to your strengths – transition play is a strength of theirs.
  • Keep the Clippers out of the paint. This is a task easier said than done with the Lakers being 29th in the league in opponent points in the paint, allowing 48 points per game.
  • Start the game well. The Lakers are 22nd in the league in first quarter scoring. If they can match the Clippers’ almost 29 points in the first quarter that should bode well for team morale the rest of the way.

Clippers

  • Get to the free throw line. With Blake Griffin out, and Chris Paul a game time decision, the number one free throw attempting team in the league may be without two of its top three free throw shooters. Against Dallas, the Clippers shot a total of 11 free throws –four coming from Jordan
  • On the same note of Chris Paul’s health, Raymond Felton is likely to start. This means the team will have to adapt to. Felton isn’t the playmaker Paul is – obviously as he only had two assists last game. Sharing the ball and playing with a team concept will be ideal.
  • Respect the game. The Lakers may seem inept at the moment, but this league does not guarantee wins. Never play down to your opponent.

* All stats are current based on Stats.nba.com and basketball-reference.

Notable Injuries

Lakers

Tarik Black (ankle) Gametime Decision

Jose Calderon (Hamstring) Game Time Decision

Clippers

Blake Griffin (Knee) Out

Chris Paul (Hamstring) Game Time Decision

 

 

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Seven Stats or Less: Minnesota Timberwolves

The series is back and this week the stats are coming in the flavor of Minnesota Timberwolves. With the hiring of Tom Thibodeau as head coach in the offseason, the thought was that he was right man to put the young, super-talented team over the top and have them in contention for a post-season spot. That – in short – has not happened. This season is, and should have always been, about progression and development.

Earlier in the season, there were reports of Thibs becoming impatient with the season and was looking to make a trade. Ricky Rubio has struggled, and fans began to clamor for his trade. That would have been unwise. A trade with the motive of “win-now” has derailed a many franchises a la the New Orleans Pelicans. On to the stats.

  1. The Minnesota Timberwolves are top ten in the league when it comes to points from the roll man in the pick and roll. Overall, they aren’t very effective in these sets, scoring less than a point per possession. Karl-Anthony Towns is an elite mid-range shooter, and an OK 3-point shooter. Additionally, he’s more than athletic enough to take his man to the hoop and throw one down. The Timberwolves should employ the pick and roll more with KAT to capitalize more on his talents. He’s currently third in the league in points scored as the roll man; that’s something Coach Thibodeau should assess going forward.
  2. The Wolves are 24th in the league in attempts in transition. At about 10 attempts per game, the Wolves have to find a way to get the easy scores when the defense can’t get stops. The team is bottom five in defensive efficiency and transition attempts go hand in hand with defense. Shore up the D and the transition opportunities should begin to make themselves known.
  3. Zach Lavine and Andrew Wiggins both sit in the top five in the league in minutes averaged per game. From his time in Chicago, Thibs was notorious for playing his players – especially his stars – heavy minutes and that’s what he’s continuing to do in Minnesota. The large minutes load isn’t translating into team success so far. So the question for the future becomes – will the load catch up to the young stars when the wins and potential become exclusive?
  4. KAT is fifth in the league in double-doubles with 20 double-doubles. Right now, per game, Towns is averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds. He’s still only 21 years old with so much left to add to his game. The future is bright for the young, second-year pup.
  5. Ricky Rubio, in the team’s last five games, is averaging almost 10 points and 9 assists per game. Rubio is also hitting the mark from deep at a 50% clip on about 3 attempts per game.
  6. In those games, the Wolves are 3-2 with quality wins over Atlanta and Chicago – both of those games on the road. Is it Rubio related? In wins this season, he averages 9 points and almost 9 assists. So, maybe? With only two of their next five opponents over .500, it’s important for them to play well and try to snatch a few morale-boosting wins.
  7. The lineup of Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, Lavine, Towns, and Wiggins in 34 minutes played is one of the teams only plus lineups. It’s a little late in the season to use the “small sample size” disclaimer, but it might apply here. Jones averages less than 15 minutes a game – which is right about where he should be. Possibly, over playing the 2015 first round pick heavy minutes at this point might do more harm than good. However, in a season that should have been about development in the first place, and with lottery pick Kris Dunn underperforming, it might be best to some light tinkering with the lineups.

Hiding in Plain Sight: Domantas Sabonis is Found Money for OKC

Domantas Sabonis, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s rookie, is a malleable piece for the team and the Thunder are molding him into a fine player.

The much talked about trade between the Orlando Magic and the Thunder involved an undervalued component. The Thunder received the 11th pick from the Magic and Sabonis made his way to OKC. The rookie player wasn’t expected to produce much, but in his unforeseen role he isn’t shying away from the challenge.

At 20 years old, Sabonis didn’t come in wide-eyed and bushy tailed. Playing professionally for Lithuania in this past year’s Olympic Games, and of course being the son of Hall Of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, the game doesn’t seem to be too big to handle for the young forward out of Gonzaga. Not to mention, getting the starting nod from head coach Billy Donovan seems like an underrated part of his development.

Only averaging a little over 20 minutes a game, this a win-win situation for the team going forward and for Sabonis’s maturity. He’s rarely ever on the floor without Westbrook or another starter – he’s logged more than 500 minutes of his time on the floor with Westbrook, upwards of 85% of his floor time. That much time on the court with the starters helps in his improvement of good habits and poise.

He is only averaging about one turnover a game, another by-product of Donovan’s sublime deployment of Sabonis.

When he is on the court he’s effective. Sabonis is averaging ten points, two assists, and six rebounds per 36 minutes — shooting 44% from the field and 42% on three-point shots. In two years at Gonzaga, Sabonis attempted all of 14 threes. He’s had 13 attempts already in December in only six games. This further shows how the Thunder are using Sabonis’ potential to mold him into the much coveted factotum power forward.

Sabonis’ confidence in his shot and his role is steadily growing. His six shots per game usually come in the flow of what the Thunder are doing on offense. His relatively low usage percentage indicates that as such.

Interestingly, every three point shot made by Sabonis has been assisted by another player.

Sabonis, however is going to have to begin to take more shots in the post. His predecessor at the starting four spot, Serge Ibaka, never was really able to gain a reliable post game that the Thunder could go to when the offense was stale. Sabonis is taking less than one post shot a game. With 65% of his shots coming from 10-16 feet, adding an arrow into his offensive quiver would be wise.

The lefty Sabonis would also be wise to develop the ability to use either hand to some degree. It seems as if he has an obvious affinity for his left side. That can lead to a pretty simple scouting report.

The Thunder have an important piece going forward in Sabonis. With his skill set and level of potential, Domantas has the rare chance of being a special player. It’s up to the front office, coaches, and teammates to make sure that his development doesn’t hit any snags and progresses smoothly. The onus is also on Sabonis to take advantage of his potential and his opportunity to add his name to Sabonis folklore.

Victor Oladipo’s Shooting is a Welcomed Surprise for OKC

Victor Oladipo is finally starting to show Oklahoma City Thunder fans his true potential. Acquired in the offseason from the Orlando Magic, the fourth-year guard was supposedly going to create a dynamic backcourt that would aid in another deep playoff run alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Alas, Durant departed and Oladipo was left to lead a team, with Westbrook, into uncharted territory as a team that was no longer a championship contender.

The integration of Oladipo’s game has not been a smooth coalescence. Oladipo often looked tentative and struggled to find a footing in the flow of the offense. In the first five games of the season, he posted two games below 30% from the field and two games below or at 40%.

Victor Oladipo shooting

Victor Oladipo has gotten more comfortable in OKC’s offense. (Photo: Alonzo Adams, Associated Press)

The shooting percentages didn’t completely tell the story of his beginning tenure with the team. The lack of comfort and confidence was almost palpable. Oladipo, known as an attack guard, has attempted shots at the rim at a surprisingly low rate this season. His shots at the rim through the team’s first ten games were, in a phrase, consistently inconsistent. He averaged 3.5 attempts at the rim, and converted on an underwhelming percentage of 42.

This should have been expected from a player whose role has vacillated so much during his time in Orlando. From being a starting point guard to off-guard to being relegated to a bench role, nothing was set in stone for him. Not to mention various coaching changes and changes to schemes. It was always going to take some time for him to find his role in the Russell Westbrook Show.

Victor has now seemed to find his groove while also upping his play in an impressive fashion. Oladipo came to the team touted as an attack guard much like Westbrook. The question mark on his game was his shooting—mainly from the outside. But that has seemed to have subsided as he has become one of the team’s better outside shooters.

Victor Oladipo shooting

Victor Oladipo has brought a great offensive skill set to OKC. (Photo: Daniel Ochoa de Olza, AP)

At 41% from 3, this is by far the best percentage of his career. His five attempts per game are the most he’s shot from three in his first three seasons in the league. His true shooting percentage has also increased since the move to Oklahoma City as well, sitting at 56%.

The increase in shooting performance hasn’t been out of the character of the offense or an example of a player hijacking an offense. This season marks the lowest usage rate of his career. Clearly, playing alongside Westbrook, one would have expected his usage to drop. However, Oladipo has found a way to provide the team what it desperately needs to survive, while also taking a backseat to a player the likes of Westbrook.

Westbrook’s passes also seem to find Oladipo quite a bit. That brings up a certain caveat: Does this stretch mainly derive from the presence of his point guard? Oladipo is receiving more passes from Westbrook than he has from any other player on the roster by a significant margin—14 per game.

However, he has become quite the catch-and-shoot player during this stretch. His percentages on catch-and-shoot shots have him top ten in the NBA among guards.

Additionally, when receiving a pass from Westbrook for a three point shot, Oladipo is converting at a healthy 44%.

Just because Oladipo has found his stroke doesn’t mean he has neglected his interior scoring. In the last ten games, he has averaged a little over three attempts a game, but hit them at ultra-efficient 74%. Doubly so, he attempts 4 shots in the restricted area a game and converts those on a 60% clip.

Victor Oladipo is contributing at a level that is only going to help this Thunder team moving forward. As the number two overall pick in the 2013 draft, there appears to be a plethora of untouched potential embedded in his game. For now, he has looked to unlock his perimeter shot. Seemingly, the next question is what are we going to see improve next?

 

The Utah Jazz Can’t Hit That High Note

The rise to the top tier of the Western Conference for the Utah Jazz is not happening quickly or smoothly. With a 7-8 record through the early part of this season, patience is going to be a necessity for fans.

The young Jazz team came into the season with fans and pundits alike foreshadowing a leap that would have them competing for a top four spot and home-court in the playoffs. While the season is still indeed young, the clairvoyance of some is shaping up to be a bit shaky.

The progression of NBA teams is rarely a linear action. Players and coaches like to recite the hackneyed adage It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon in regards to the NBA season. However, as fans, that sentiment seems to get lost when things begin to look bright for a team that once was lottery bound but seemed to have figured some things out.

For the Jazz, it seemed they were on the upward trajectory, destined to burst through the glass ceiling. It could still happen. The season is still young and all it takes is for them to pick up a little steam and play their best basketball near the end of the season.

Things are not all bad for this team. Not even close. George Hill has been pretty darn solid for this team. His addition has gone just as planned if not better. He’s averaging 20 points and five assists per game. Hill also has a 65% true shooting percentage. He’s also hitting 43% of his three pointers in his seven games played.

Rodney Hood is still providing steady production for his team as well as offseason addition Joe Johnson.

Head coach Quin Snyder and his staff has this team playing close to elite defensive basketball. Allowing only 95 points per game has them first in the league in that regard. If the opponent can’t get points from their offense then there’s always a chance for a team such as the Jazz to keep the game close. That goes hand in hand with how well the Jazz are keeping their opponents from even having the chance to get shots up as they are top ten in shots allowed.

The key to winning games is to not beat yourself and Utah does a great job of doing just that. They are bottom five in turnovers. The flip side to that is that they aren’t turning their opponents over all that much either. The Utah jazz are last in the league in steals.

Nevertheless, as well as they are playing on the defensive side of the ball, the offense has to improve if they want to get where they want to go. Utah is middle of the pack in offensive efficiency. The consensus for this squad is that they share the ball and play unselfish basketball.

The thing is, even though they are top ten in passes made through 15 games, those passes aren’t turning into assists. The Houston Rockets are a team that ranks last in the league in total passes made but are fifth in the league in average assists. The ball can move around the half-court as many times as 24 seconds allows, however if it’s not going in the basket, then that’s not good offense.

How do you fix an offense that goes deep into the shot clock without even an attempt? Trying playing a bit faster. The Jazz find itself last in pace played. Pace does not just boil down to running up and down the court, it also encompasses how fast the team is getting into their sets, or making decisions. This also ties into their half-court defense not getting steals and getting easy transition buckets.

Getting to the free throw line would help a ton as well. Easy points raises the confidence of shooters and allows the team to set up its high ranking defense. The Jazz are in the bottom third of the league in free throw attempts at 21 per game.

The team is at the bottom of the league in transition plays and points off turnovers. Settling for spot-up jumpers 17 seconds into the shot-clock (the Jazz take 42% of their shots during that time frame and is top five in the league in spot-up jumpers) doesn’t make for great chances to score. Of players averaging more than three 3-point attempts, Utah has only two players shooting above 30% from three.

Or how about Rudy Gobert?

This squad is bottom ten in the league in points in the paint. Bringing up a player’s contract when discussing role can be trite at times (see: Enes Kanter), but the $100 million center has to find a way to get more involved in the offense. He’s averaging 10 points on 62% with about six attempts per game. The Jazz should try to incorporate more screen and roll actions. At seven-feet, 250 pounds, Gobert as an every possession roll threat would open up the floor.

I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Gordon Hayward, who is quietly not having the best of seasons. With only nine games under his belt due to an early hand injury, it’s going to take some time for him to get his legs back. The question is, how long? Hayward has shooting splits of 39/25/91. As the team’s best perimeter option the time has come for Gordon to be more efficient.

The music that Jazz fans hear isn’t so pleasant right now. The expectations were high, but the output has been low. However Jazz fans, the NBA season is a war of attrition. This won’t be the same team in February. The days of glory haven’t come yet for Utah, just be patient.

Behind the Mindset: Reintroducing myself as an NBA writer

This isn’t a basketball article. This is a writer sitting down and getting a heavy weight off his chest and trying to become a better writer. Much like the court is a refuge for an NBA player, a Microsoft Word document is the same for me. Just me and my thoughts. Between the margins anything is possible. I can create anything and form a narrative that can reverberate to a whole audience, and in it they can glean what they want from it.  On the court, in between those lines, there’s a story that the fans in the arena and at home are able to watch play out. Behind the scenes there’s a process for writers as well.

Creating a coherent article that delivers a point is the crux of the art form. It’s easy for anyone to write out an opinion and pass it off as a sound piece of work. But without context or a basis of truth then it’s not we do. What we do is take all of the information that is out there and contextualize it, and then we compose a piece by weaving our thoughts and personalities throughout it. By the time the reader is done, a couple things should have happened: something was learned and the writer’s thoughts resonated with the reader so much so that they pass it on to the next individual.

Via Flavorwire.com. Just like an in an empty gym, there is work that goes unseen.

Sometimes, however, there is an anxiety in what it is I do. It might sound conceited, but what if what I wrote doesn’t resonate with anyone. In that same breath, what if doesn’t resonate with me? What if what I’m writing becomes mundane and lacks voice? This is where the passion comes in. The passion is what’s supposed to override that insecurity and let that confidence show throughout every piece written. Not every person that reads what I write is going to find it profound or groundbreaking, but in reality that’s not why I write. I write because, frankly, I love it and I love basketball.

A common quote that I hear from players is “I’ll play this game for free” and I truly understand the feelings behind that sentiment. If you have an insatiable itch to do what you love, you’ll do it just to scratch that itch. In reality, that itch should never go away.

Via LaTimes.com. The 2001 Philadelphia Sixers team is a prime example of great team and fans relationships

That lump in my throat I get when the crowd is really in tune with the team is the reason why I watch. That symbiotic relationship between the team and the fans is the truly amazing part of the game. I want to capture that excitement every time I write. I don’t ever want to mail it in and write something that I’m not truly behind. Second guessing my ability is not going to make me any better.

It’s important for me to remember that when I open a new document, there’s a new story to tell with my familiar voice. Every paragraph is a shot, and every paragraph not written is a shot not taken.

I said at the beginning that this isn’t a normal basketball article. This was a look into the psyche of one basketball writer. I want to be elite at my craft just as your favorite NBA player wants to be elite at the game. Obviously there aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to getting the most out of your talent. It takes work ethic and the requisite enthusiasm that can push you through the lows and the self-doubt. I’m happy to have my words read by people that I have never met. I hope to create a connection with those readers. I hope to never take that for granted.

When things get tough for struggling teams they have player only meetings. This was my “Daniel Only” meeting, but I invited you in. Now let’s go watch some basketball.

 

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