Chemistry Concerns For the Pacers?
There are disappointments, and then there’s the 2016-17 Indiana Pacers.
Entering play on December 20, the Pacers have won their last two games, but are merely one game over the .500 mark. The club is currently on pace to win just 42 games, and it’s safe to say that Larry Bird would be a tad bit disappointed in that.
With the team reaching two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014, things slowly began to unravel, beginning with Lance Stephenson’s departure to the Charlotte Hornets. David West and Roy Hibbert eventually followed out the door, but the prevailing sentiment was that with new pieces surrounding him, Paul George—who seemed to have proven himself to be a true superstar—would be able to bring the Pacers forward.
So, what gives?
For starters, like a few other teams, the Pacers have found themselves with a lot of new faces. Jeff Teague was brought in as George Hill was sent away. Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Seraphin entered the mix, as well. That Nate McMillan was tapped to be the successor of Frank Vogel and needed to instill a new identity with the club was an added obstacle.
Through the early going of the season, four of the top 10 rotation players for the Pacers are among the new faces brought to the team: Teague (31.9 mpg), Young (30.7 mpg), Jefferson (15.3 mpg) and Brooks (14.7 mpg).
Those that were high on the Pacers entering this season probably looked simply at the acquisitions and figured that Teague was an upgrade over George Hill and that Myles Turner’s progression would continue with the increased minutes that he would receive after being inserted into the starting lineup. Neither assumption was unreasonable.
Those that weren’t high on the Pacers entering the season probably thought that without Stephenson, West, Hibbert and even Ian Mahinmi, the defensive-mindedness that was a staple of Vogel’s tenure would be a distant memory. Even more of a concern was the question as to how Teague, Ellis and George would co-exist on the floor. Each of the three is excellent when playing on the ball. Although George has proven to be somewhat versatile with the ability to play off of it, having three players who need a lot of touches is a tricky thing to accommodate.
Thus far, the results prove that.
Through about 30 games, the Pacers are allowing 105.8 points per game, which ranks them 21st in the league. They are yielding 106.8 points per 100 possessions, which is 15th in the association. Each of these rankings is a significant departure from last season, where the Pacers surrendered just 100.5 points per game (eighth in the league) and 102.9 points per 100 possessions (third in the league).
Of last year’s key rotation players, Hill and Mahinmi were the biggest losses. That each is a plus-defender lends credence to the fact defensive ineptitude is most responsible for the plight of McMillan’s Pacers.
An even bigger concern, however, is the growing concern over the partnership between Teague, Ellis and George. While it should be noted that George missed seven games earlier this season due to a left ankle injury, the early returns for the trio haven’t exactly been stellar.
According to 82games.com, the starting five for the Pacers—Teague, Ellis, George, Young and Turner—has a cumulative plus/minus of minus-44, which is by far the worst score of any five-man unit. Obviously, the sample size of the other units is significantly smaller, but it’s still worth noting. In contrast, the five-man unit that features Glen Robinson III in place of George, clocks in with a plus-40 plus/minus rating—an 84-point swing. The second-best unit in terms of the plus/minus rating is Teague, Ellis, George, Turner and C.J. Miles. The unit has a plus-20 rating, but such a small sample size (they’ve only played 15.3 minutes together) that it can’t be depended on in any significant way.
Another notable item to report: approximately 28 percent of opponent shot comes from “close” range against Indiana’s starting unit. A shot from “close” range is defined as occurring within 10 feet of the basket. Of the 20 different five-man units the Pacers have played thus far this season, the 28 percent mark is fifth-worst, meaning that there are 15 other five-man units for Nate McMillan’s team that have done a better job of keeping opponents away from the basket.
What the evidence suggests is that, on either side of the floor, the five-man unit that starts for the Pacers isn’t nearly as effective as many imagined they would be. With George having missed seven games, there is something to be said for the club’s still developing chemistry, but usually, after about 15 games, there is at least some evidence of chemistry developing among new pieces—if it is to come at all.
By no means is this to suggest that the Pacers won’t turn things around and find themselves in the playoffs, but Frank Vogel, Roy Hibbert and David West obviously aren’t walking through that door anytime soon.
Nate McMillan clearly has some work to do.
LeBron James Continues His Historic Climb
Several weeks ago, in an NBA Sunday column, LeBron James and his climb up the all-time scorer’s list in NBA history was looked at, in depth. Though still a ways to go, it’s worth re-visiting.
Entering play on December 20, James and his 27,408 points trail Moses Malone by a single point for eighth on the all-time list. Although James is likely to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh by the end of the season, his entering the top-five would require passing Dirk Nowitzki and eclipsing Wilt Chamberlain’s 31,419 points, which would probably take James at least another season.
So why are we even bringing this up again? Simple. When James’ climb was discussed back on November 13, he had averaged just 22.9 points per game over the first few weeks of the season. He was noticeably deferential toward Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the offensive side of the ball, and as he closes in on his 32nd birthday, it stands to reason that James will begin to show sides of slowing down. It is only his succumbing to Father Time that can stop him from continuing to pursue Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer.
As of now, though, it doesn’t appear that any demise is imminent.
In his past 13 games, James has increased his scoring output, dropping in 26.2 points per game. He’s shooting 54 percent from the field over that stretch while converting on 36 percent of his three-point attempts. In the latter stretch, he has scored 30 or more points three times, compared to just once over his first 10 games this season. The end result? Entering play on December 20, James has improved his scoring average to 25 points per game—a mark that wasn’t guaranteed and one that didn’t seem all that probable just a few weeks ago.
It’s worth mentioning again, even as LeBron continues his climb toward the top of the NBA’s all-time list of scorers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—the biggest giant of them all—will continue to be a realistic target.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.