Welcome back to The ‘Shop for another week of hoops talk. Our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene will continue last week’s point guard discussion with a few new players, take a look at how some of the youth movements from around the league are going and examine hometown fans actively recruiting opposing players.
Jabari: Good to be back in the mix with you, Lang. I wanted to continue with one of last week’s topics because I’ve really noticed a shift surrounding the top point guard debate. I won’t ask you to necessarily to rank a top-10, but has James Harden ascended to the best at the position?
Lang: Happy New Year, JD! Good to be back in the ‘Shop my man. Personally, I still consider James Harden a shooting guard but what he’s doing is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. I can’t think of another player that takes the volume of shots he does and still functions as a high-level playmaker. Stop and think about that for a minute. Someone asked me on Twitter a few days ago who my early season MVP candidate is and right now I am rolling the Beard. I know what Russell Westbrook is doing in Oklahoma City is insane, but Beard has the Rockets with the FOURTH-best record in the league.
Jabari: What’s crazy about it is this is absolutely NO disrespect to the Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving (or any other top player at the position) – it’s really just a testament to how incredible Harden and Westbrook have been this year. Folks may not be in love with his style, but at a certain point, 28.4 PPG, 11.9 APG, 8.2 RPG while shooting 45/36/85 from the floor/3pt/line simply has to be acknowledged for as great as it truly is. Shout out to my guy Kofie Yaboah (SBNation) for pushing the “Harden is the best point guard” narrative from the start.
Speaking of great point guard play, let’s take a moment to circle back to John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Like Harden, Wall was the Kia Player of the Month for December. Beyond putting up impressive numbers, his Wizards seem to have finally gotten things going in the right direction, having just completed their first 10-win (10-5) month since December 2014. Not only did Wall drop 52 (career high) in Orlando, but he shot 49.1 percent from the field and 81.4 percent from the free throw line over that stretch.
His Wizards are also now tied with the Bulls in the loss column for what would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, so I have to ask if your thoughts on what they should be looking to do moving forward have changed? Not to be the downer of the week, but shouldn’t they should STILL be looking to upgrade or make significant changes to that roster? Part of me feels like we’ve seen how this story ends, but could I be wrong about it THIS season. Might these Wizards be able to maintain this pace (6-4 over the last 10) and make another serious push for the playoffs come April and May?
Lang: My view on teams close to the playoffs might differ from a lot of folks. My view is if you’re close to the playoffs, then push the gas and try to secure a seed. I think making the playoffs, even as an eight seed, is better than eating popcorn on the couch watching the festivities as a fan. I use the Atlanta Hawks as an example. Do you know how many times over the years I’ve answered the question on whether the Hawks should just blow things up? Remember, this team was at one point led by Joe Johnson, then Josh Smith and then Al Horford. Joe is battling Father Time, Josh is out of the league and Al is no longer in Atlanta. The team has adjusted on the fly and have kept up the winning, and could be staring at 10 consecutive trips to the playoffs.
Back to your Wizards question. I think they should go full speed ahead, but I do have my doubts on the Bradley Beal and John Wall combination winning at a high level together. At first, I thought they complemented each other well … Beal’s shooting to Wall’s prowess at slashing, but if I’m Washington I would entertain trades for everyone on that roster not named John Wall (and maybe Marcin Gortat).
Jabari: I can definitely appreciate where you are coming from and would like to see them eventually find a way to be competitive (together) again. Otto Porter Jr’s breakout year has been great to see, and while I’ve doubted Coach Brooks’ ability to make in-game and in-series adjustments in the past, his track record in helping with the development of young players is impressive.
We’ll keep an eye on their progress of course, but let’s shift gears and take a look at some of the progress of the youth movements from around the league. I’ll throw a few quick-hitters at you.
I absolutely love the fact that Joel Embiid has finally been able to get on the court and show all that he can do. All the social media stuff has been fun these last couple years, but it’s great to see Embiid go to work. He’s still every bit as entertaining on Twitter, but the man is also putting up 19.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 46/38.9/77 from the floor/3pt/line in 25 minutes per contest. Is he your leader in the Rookie of the Year race at this point?
Lang: There’s no other rookie worth mentioning at this point. The guy is averaging almost 20 and 8 on sheer athleticism and energy alone. Just imagine when he really knows how to play the game- when he’s really learned how to use his size, to gain that extra leverage and to work the refs. The kid is an absolute beast and I am very happy for the Philadelphia fan base who had to endure enough over the past few seasons. Now it’s time for the Sixers front office to surround their big men with some talented perimeter players. That is the area that Philadelphia is severely lacking. No offense to Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless, but those guys aren’t going to get the Sixers over the hump. They need some young gunners out there handling the rock.
Jabari: Keeping it rolling…The Lakers appear as though they are figuring it out after a rough stretch (1-11 after a 10-10 start) that followed a rash of injuries. Julius Randle continues to impress (second triple-double of the year vs the Grizzlies), Brandon Ingram is developing and Nick Young is back to doing this:
The question mark for me remains whether either one of the young players can ascend to being an All-Star player at some point?
Lang: I’m impressed by the Lakers’ young core. The kids are maturing before our eyes, even if the wins aren’t there. If I had to bet my bottom dollar, at this moment, I’m going with D’Angelo Russell becoming the All-Star out of the trio. It’s tough to get a read on Brandon Ingram at times because offensively there are possessions when he gets the rock and doesn’t even look at the basket for a shot … even as a bluff. Julius Randle is starting to put up some monster stat lines, but you have to wonder if a healthy Larry Nance Jr. would be stealing some of his time like last season. And that brings me back to Russell. There’s no reason on this Lakers squad that he shouldn’t be averaging 32-34 minutes per game. The fact he’s still below 30 minutes, like we discussed in last week’s edition, is truly a head scratcher.
Jabari: I still think the limited minutes for Russell are a result of the staff trying to even things out with that core 8 or 9 guys (when Larry Nance Jr. is healthy), but we could always see more from him over the next 45 games.
The Denver Nuggets (14-21) are currently just a game out of the 8th seed in the West in the loss column, and while we’ll tackle the suddenly easier path to the Western Conference postseason in an upcoming week, let’s take a moment to talk about the stretch their 21-year-old big man is on. Although the streak started about 15 games ago, over his last 5 games, Nikola Jokic is averaging 20.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists with shooting percentages of 58.6/44.4/81.8. The Nuggets may have lost their last three games, but prior to that Denver had won six of nine. Can the Nuggets make the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13?
Lang: I love Jokic, man. But one thing the young fella has to get under control is his penchant for fouling. Just check his Per 36 minute foul rate. My goodness. But the more I see him, the more it looks like the man is going to cause havoc on the interior for a very long time.
To your question on playoffs …everything is in play out West. The Nuggets have some solid pieces but their issue of consistency. How long can Jokic stay on the floor? Can Emmanuel Mudiay cut down on the turnovers and improve his efficiency from the floor? What are the Nuggets going to do with Kenneth Faried come trade deadline? Do I think they can make a run? Yes. Do I think they secure a berth? No.
Jabari: We’ll end on a fun one: did you see what happened in Boston when the Jazz came to town earlier in the week? Did Jae Crowder have a reason to feel disrespected by the crowd in Boston for showering Gordon Hayward with so much love in that game earlier this week?
Lang: Hell yes. The Boston Celtics aren’t some team struggling and looking for a lottery pick. So for the fans to go all googly-eyed about a guy like Gordon Hayward who hasn’t led the Jazz to the playoffs, I believe is disrespectful. It is absolutely disrespectful and I believe Jae Crowder should feel some type of way, especially since Hayward plays the same position as him. If this was something like the Philadelphia 76ers, devoid of talent, then I would understand the fans trying to do a little early recruiting. But since the Celtics are ready to win to a certain degree then I believe what the fans did there was a bit out of line.
Jabari: I can actually see both sides on this one. For one, I do understand Crowder’s disappointment. It has to be tough to hear the crowd (essentially) openly recruit someone to replace you. Ultimately, paraphrasing a great 21st-century philosopher named Omar Little (The Wire), these players know “it’s all in the game” when it comes to these situations. Hopefully, as appeared to be the case the other night, Crowder can simply use these slights as motivation to play his best basketball. If he continues to play at a high level, whether in Boston or somewhere else, someone will appreciate what he can bring to the table moving forward. Word to Andrew Bynum and his bank in every city. That’s all for this week, folks.
We continue to appreciate all of your feedback and topic ideas. Feel free to shoot them our way via Twitter (@JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene) or right below in the comments section!
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.
Sooner or Later, Everyone Will Realize LeBron Is Chasing Kareem
If LeBron continues at this rate, it’s only a matter of time before he surpasses Kobe, Karl and Kareem.
As he stood at half court, the shot clock ticked downward from 10.
His nimble center set a high screen for him, and he wisely utilized it.
With Al Horford guarding him, LeBron James sized up the big man before taking a step back three that had just too little muscle behind it.
With the Celtics trailing by three points, rookie Jayson Tatum grabbed the rebound and wisely handed the ball off to Kyrie Irving, who instinctively (and surprisingly) tossed it ahead to Jaylen Brown.
As Brown brought the ball up the floor, he noticed that he had the numbers—there were three Celtics and only one Cavalier.
LeBron, however, was the one Cavalier.
In a split second, Brown took inventory and wisely decided to take his chances with a pull-up, game-tying three pointer.
Brown’s three was a tad long and James, who was out of position, couldn’t stop Horford from tipping the ball out. As it caromed off the rim, it made a beeline toward the courtside seats. Poetically, magically, the ball ended up in Kyrie Irving’s hands.
Irving turned toward the basket to fire the shot his team needed, but, to nobody’s surprise, James was in his face.
Irving necessarily took one escape dribble to his right and forced an off-balance three-pointer that caught nothing but air.
In 41 minutes, James scored 29 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had nine assists and two blocks. During the game’s final 20 seconds, he was everywhere he needed to be and everywhere necessary to thwart everything the Celtics tried to do.
And to think, he had the nerve to call himself out of shape.
* * * * * *
Sure, the 102-99 victory that the Cavs earned over the Celtics on opening night is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it serves as a stark reminder as to just how truly dominant James can be. As he enters his 15th season, its beginning was quite appropriate.
As written about in this space before, as James attempts to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive year, the arguments over his place among the game’s greats persist. Some say he’s one of history’s top five players, while some say he’s the greatest ever.
Others don’t think he’s better than Kobe Bryant.
Regardless where you stand on LeBron, something that was written in this space last season warrants revisiting: if he continues to be as durable, as skilled and as talented as he has been over the course of his career, we may eventually be calling James’ name not alongside Kobe or M.J., but Kareem.
Entering his 15th NBA season, James had accrued 28,787 total points—seventh in history.
He trails only Dirk Nowitzki (30,270), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Michael Jordan (32, 292), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), who rank sixth to first, respectively.
What has been most startling about James’ climbing through the ranks of the game’s best scorers, though, has been that he’s seemingly done it naturally.
All six of the greats ranking ahead of him were deemed “scorers” more than anything else. Meanwhile, James has always ranked behind the likes of someone—Kobe, Carmelo, Durant, Curry or Harden—when the deserver of that title was argued.
Meanwhile, slowly but surely, James entered his 15th season on Tuesday night trailing Kareem by 9,571 points. Most would deem him too far away from to be able to challenge for that top spot, but if LeBron stays healthy, he will have a serious shot.
Through 14 NBA seasons, James has played in 1,061 of a possible 1,132 games—93.7 percent. As the only other contemporary player to crash the top five, it is Bryant who remains his measuring stick.
Through his first 14 NBA seasons, Bryant played in 1,021 of a possible 1,116 games—91.5 percent. During those 14 seasons, Bryant scored a total of 25,790 points. James scored 28,787.
What made Bryant special was that he was able to continue to be an elite scorer right up until he tore his Achilles tendon at the age of 34. The miles eventually got the best of him, and during his last three seasons, he managed to score just 18.9 points per game.
Consider this about the top three scorers in NBA history, though: Kobe and Kareem each played 20 seasons. Malone played 19.
James’ first 14 seasons have resulted in more total points than Bryant, and only about 150 less than Malone’s (28,946).
Unsurprisingly, through 14 years, Kareem was far away from James, having scored about 1,100 more for a total of 29,810, but over the final six years of Kareem’s career, he averaged just 18.2 points per game.
Kareem turned 34 years old right as his 12th season ended. From there, he showed his age and began to slow down considerably.
To this point, LeBron has done no such thing.
* * * * * *
The discussion as to where James truly belongs in the eyes of history will persist.
Those that see the glass as half-full will reason that the mere fact that he’s been able to sustain his greatness for so long—much less the fact that he has made it to the NBA Finals eight times—will resonate.
Others will point to his record in those Finals (3-5) as evidence of his inferiority to the likes of Jordan (6-0) or Kobe (5-2).
Those are arguments for a different day.
What is fact is that seemingly without even trying, LeBron is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the NBA. And if he manages to play 19 years like Malone or 20 years like Kobe or Kareem, at the end of the day, he’ll be the greatest one of them all.
Whether he continues to score the 27.1 points per game he has over the course of his career, scores 25 per night from here on out or, for some reason, becomes merely a 20 point per game scorer, it’s only a matter of time.
And as we saw on opening night, particularly in the game’s final 20 seconds, LeBron still has plenty of it.
NBA PM: Frank Kaminsky’s Massive Opportunity
The potential frontcourt pairing of Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard should make for an exciting season in Charlotte.
With both highs and lows to account for, it’s been an incredibly eventful offseason for the Charlotte Hornets. From trading for Dwight Howard and drafting Malik Monk to the news that defensive stalwart Nicolas Batum would be out for the foreseeable future, the Hornets will start the 2017-18 season off looking considerably different. Still, it’s difficult to see Charlotte stepping into the conference’s upper echelon alongside the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, among others, without some major internal growth.
Down those lines, there may be no better candidate for a breakout season than Frank Kaminsky, the team’s modernly-molded stretch big man. Heading into his third NBA season, Kaminsky struggles at times but has generally affirmed why the Hornets passed on the Celtics’ huge offer and selected the former collegiate stud with the No. 9 overall pick back in 2015. Combined with the more defensive-steady force of Cody Zeller, the Hornets quickly found themselves with a solid, if not spectacular 1-2 punch at the center position.
Unsurprisingly, Kaminsky’s best nights statistically last season came when he hit multiple three-pointers. There were games like his 5-for-9 barrage from deep en route to 23-point, 13-rebound effort against the Sacramento Kings in late February, but his inconsistencies often got in the way just as much. In 2016-17 alone, Kaminsky tallied 41 games in which he converted on one or less of his three-point attempts — and the Hornets’ record? 13-28. Perhaps a tad coincidental for a franchise that finished at 36-46, but the Hornets ranked 11th in three-pointers with an even 10 per contest, so when Marvin Williams (1.6) Marco Belinelli (1.4), Kaminsky (1.5) and Batum (1.8) weren’t hitting, it was often lights out for an ultimately disappointing Charlotte side.
With his 33.1 percent career rate from deep, there’s certainly room to improve for Kaminsky, but his 116 made three-pointers still put him in a special group last season. Of all players at 7-foot or taller, only Brook Lopez made more three-pointers (134) than Kaminsky did — even ranking four ahead of Kristaps Porzingis, one of the league’s most talented unicorns. Once that category is expanded to include those at 6-foot-10 or taller, the list gets far more crowded ahead of Kaminsky, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
On that lengthier list of three-point shooting big men is Ryan Anderson, one of the strongest like-for-like comparisons that Kaminsky has today. Drafted in 2008, Anderson has been an elite three-point shooter for quite some time and his 204 makes last season ranked him ninth in the entire NBA. In fact, Anderson’s 2012-13 tally of 213 ranked only behind Stephen Curry; the year before that, his 166 total topped the rest of the field for a first-place finish. Coming out the University of California, Anderson was solid late first-round pickup by the New Jersey Nets and he knocked down one of his 2.9 attempts per game as a rookie.
Then, Anderson was traded to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2009 and found out that true basketballing nirvana is playing on the same team as prime Dwight Howard. For three seasons, they were a near-perfect fit for each other as Howard averaged 13.9 rebounds and Anderson hit two three-pointers per game over that stretch. Howard deftly made up for Anderson’s defensive shortcomings while the latter stretched the floor effortlessly on the other end.
Although Howard is now considerably older, he’s never recorded a season with an average of 10 rebounds or less over his 13-year career. Howard’s impressive rebounding rate of 20.8 percent — the third-highest mark in NBA history behind Dennis Rodman (23.44) and Reggie Evans (21.87) — has made it easy for his partners to stay at the perimeter or bust out in transition. Other power forwards that have flourished next to Howard also include Rashard Lewis (2.8 three-pointers per game from 2007-09) and Chandler Parsons (1.8 in 2013-14), so there’s some precedent here as well.
Simply put, Howard still demands attention in the post, and Kaminsky is the Hornets’ best possible fit next to him. As Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Williams will likely slide up a position at times to help navigate Batum’s injury, throwing Kaminsky into the fire seems almost too logical.
An improved sophomore season for Kaminsky saw rises in every major statistical category outside of his percentages due to an increase in volume. However, that 32.8 percent mark from three-point range is considerably lower than the league average and it’ll need to improve for somebody that spends much of the offensive possession ready to fire away. Regardless, Kaminsky’s 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 2016-17 are a bright sign moving forward, but with Howard, he’s about to be gifted his best opportunity yet.
Whether he’s operating in transition, out of pick-and-pops or catch-and-shoots, Kaminsky has the tools to join the elite stretch forwards in the near future and stay there permanently. Kaminsky’s growing chemistry with All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has made the pair difficult to defend out on the perimeter. From the aforementioned pick-and-pops to a slightly more complicated dribble hand-off, trying to guard the two three-point shooting threats is enough to make your head spin. When he’s not firing from behind the arc, Kaminsky has also exhibited a soft touch and an ability to score among the trees as well.
As he continues to grow and expand his skill set, Kaminsky just needs to find some much-needed consistency as a shooter. If Kaminsky can raise his three-point percentage up closer to the league average this season, he’ll be an invaluable asset for the Hornets as they push for a playoff berth. Over his two full NBA seasons thus far, the Hornets have never had somebody like Howard to pair with Kaminsky and past results for those shooters playing with the future Hall of Famer are promising. Of course, head coach Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded leader — Charlotte’s defensive rating ranked 14th in 2016-17 at 106.1 — so Kaminsky will need to improve there to take full advantage of the available minutes. Fortunately, Howard’s savvy rim protection should make it a palatable experience on both sides of the ball.
When the Hornets rebuffed the Celtics’ massive draft day offer in order to select Kaminsky two years ago, it would’ve been impossible to predict Howard falling right into their lap as well. Between his expanding game and the new frontcourt combination, there’s potential here for Kaminsky to take the next big step in 2017-18.
If and when they do indeed pair him with Howard, the Hornets will be both maximizing his talents as a perimeter threat and minimizing his weaknesses as a defender. While Clifford leaned on Zeller in the past, Howard’s decorated history surrounded by court-stretching shooters should make the decision even easier. Kaminsky’s got all the workings of a modern offensive big man, the faith of the front office and the perfect paint-clogging partner — now it’s up to him to put it all together and become one of Charlotte’s most indispensable players.