Examining the Western Conference All-Star Landscape
The starters for the 2015 All-Star game were announced on Thursday evening, and this morning Lang Greene discussed how the fans did voting for the Eastern Conference starters, and what that now means for the East reserves to be selected soon by the league’s 30 head coaches.
That of course leads to a conversation about the Western Conference All-Stars, which already has proven to be very interesting with Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup (for now) and Kevin Durant out of it.
Did the Fans Get the All-Star Voting Right for the West?
As is typical every year, the All-Star voters put together an interesting mix of highly-intelligent voting and borderline silly omission, with this year’s most egregious error coming in the form of 36-year-old Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, selected to start in the backcourt alongside MVP candidate Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, is not having his finest season by a longshot. The Lakers, for starters, are among the worst teams in the NBA, and the statistics show that they’re actually a more efficient team when Bryant is off the floor than when he is on it. Their offensive efficiency is 4.1 points lower when Kobe’s on the floor, while their defensive efficiency is actually 9.8 points better when he’s on the bench. Bryant is 74th in the league in PER and 361st in win shares.
In short, he’s not having a landmark season, but Rockets shooting guard James Harden is. Harden is currently leading the league in points per game and win shares, is second in PER and third in real plus-minus. By nearly every advanced metric, he’s a candidate for MVP of the entire league, so fans failing to vote him in as one of the five best players in his conference seems a little ridiculous. He should have started alongside Curry rather than Bryant, without question.
This, of course, is what will likely happen now that Bryant is reportedly out for the rest of the season due to his torn rotator cuff. The Lakers haven’t announced that Bryant will undergo surgery, but multiple reports have indicated that he will and his 2014-15 campaign is over. Harden seems like the no-brainer replacement for Bryant. Even still, it’s just odd that the same millions of fans who acknowledged Curry’s MVP-caliber season by making him the leading vote getter overall also failed to acknowledge Harden’s MVP-caliber season with at least enough votes to top Bryant.
As far as the frontcourt is concerned, it’s hard to argue with Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis rounding out the starting lineup. All three guys earned their votes. Although it’ll be interesting to see who has to play some small forward since all three are big men.
Who Are the Likely Reserves?
Who else will get onto the Western Conference team as a reserve? Here’s a look at the likely choices:
It’s interesting that Bryant was popular enough through a down season to earn a starting nod, but Durant, the reigning MVP and easily one of the league’s most beloved and marketable superstars, was not. While it’s true that Durant only has 19 games under his belt, those 19 games have been played at an MVP level and the fans could have easily voted him in.
The question now is whether the coaches will think Durant has put in enough work to make the 2015 All-Star team. Back in December, Basketball Insiders staff did not unanimously include him among their picks for reserves; only three of the five voters put him among the final seven spots on the Western Conference squad.
Since late December, however, Durant has gotten his minutes back up and looks like the dominant guy he’s been his entire career. Chances are pretty good he gets a nod as a reserve, even with so few games under his belt this season. He’s a cornerstone of the sport, so to exclude him would make the event feel empty somehow, especially with the momentum he’s built for himself the last few weeks.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
For all of the reasons listed above, Harden is a shoe-in. The fans didn’t vote him in, but the coaches absolutely will.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Clearly in the midst of a breakout season, Cousins is averaging career-highs with 24 PPG, 12,7 RPG and 1.7 BPG. That puts him fourth in the league in scoring, third in the league in rebounding and 11th in the league in blocks. There’s no way this kid doesn’t make his first All-Star appearance this winter.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are having an outstanding year, leading the Northwest Division by a wide margin, and with LaMarcus Aldridge now sidelined for six-to-eight weeks with an injured thumb, Lillard is the obvious choice to represent them in the All-Star game. He’s having an All-Star season anyway, averaging 22.1 PPG (10th in the NBA) and 6.2 APG (15th in the NBA), so while it seems like there are half a million elite point guards in the West, Lillard has been good enough this season to stand out among them.
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
Still one of the best point guards in the NBA, Paul is third in the league in assists (9.8 APG) and has a way of making All-Star games incredibly fun. For the sake of the game, let’s hope he gets in over an amazing crop of Western Conference point guards this year. Guys like Mike Conley and Tony Parker are plenty deserving, but Paul has done nothing to rescind his perennial All-Star crown to either of those guys.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
The honorary aged veteran spot could just as easily go to Dirk Nowitzki, who’s helping lead an awesome resurgence in Dallas, but the ageless Duncan gets a slight nod for no particular reason. He is averaging 14.7 PPG and 10.0 RPG (his highest average in five years), but flip a coin. It could be either guy here, especially considering Dallas is having the better season.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
The last wild card spot is nearly impossible to fill considering the remaining players who could all reasonably put in that spot, but based on the Warriors’ success and the incredible breakout season by Thompson, who is averaging career-highs essentially across the board, he’s the big winner over some undeniably deserving competition. What a tough vote in the West this year. So many good players aren’t going to make it in simply because of math.
Who Are the Likely Snubs for the Western Conference?
And, as always, there are deserving players left off of the team. It’s worth noting that two of these players could be added to the team as injury replacements (select by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver) for Kobe Bryant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Here are the nastiest snubs should the aforementioned players end up being the ones voted in by coaches:
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Speaking of Aldridge, there’s actually a chance that he gets voted in over Duncan based on merit, despite the fact that he won’t actually play in the game and Duncan will likely take his spot eventually anyway. He’s sixth in scoring and 11th in rebounding for a killer Portland team, so the only way he doesn’t make it in is if the coaches consider the injury. Hopefully he’ll get the honor, even though he’ll likely have to miss the game due to the injury.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Some point guard has to lose out here, and while Westbrook is doing all the same stuff he always has, Oklahoma City just isn’t getting two guys in this year with all the talent involved, particularly not two guys that have each failed to play at least 30 games to this point. The reigning MVP Durant will probably be the Thunder player representing OKC this winter, which leaves Westbrook out in the cold.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
It’s such a shame because Conley is having an unbelievable individual season for a good Memphis team, but like Westbrook, he may not make it because there are just too many good point guards in the mix this year. Throw Tony Parker and Monta Ellis into this category, too. So many good players with just no shot at making it in.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
If Duncan’s out, Nowitzki’s likely in, but we’ll be talking about one of these guys as a snub once the reserves are announced. Like Duncan, Dirk keeps getting older but still remains relevant. It will be interesting to see which player starts to slow down first (if they ever do – it’s possible these guys are robots).
Who do you expect to make the Western Conference team as reserves? Hit up the comments section or keep the conversation alive on Twitter. The actual reserves will be announced on Jan. 29.
Seattle Mayor Thinks Team Isn’t Coming Any Time Soon
The annual storyline of Seattle getting an NBA team back somehow is a beacon of hope for those living in the Great Northwest, but according to Seattle mayor Ed Murray, it doesn’t sound as though this particular beacon should remain lit, at least not for the next few years.
“[The NBA’s] official line, and I think they’re being straightforward with me, is a city grabbing a team or a new [expansion] franchise at this point is not, in their mind, something they see happening,’’ Murray told the Seattle Times following a meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Monday. “They actually expressed to me that they felt expectations in Seattle had been raised that weren’t consistent with what they had been sharing about a path to get there within the next few years.’’
That’s not great news for Seattle since the Chris Hansen ownership group has a memorandum of understanding with the city to help fund a new arena that could potentially run out by the time some team does look ready to relocate.
“I worry that it may not happen,’’ Murray said. “I worry that both councils will not go the full way toward approving this [arena] if there is no team. If it’s two or three years away, this will run out in 2017 and the whole thing will have to start over again.’’
That doesn’t necessarily mean that basketball will never return to Seattle, but it does appear as though Silver isn’t under the impression any team will be moving to Washington state in the near future. Also, it doesn’t look like Silver is interested in going the expansion route either, as it’s very unlikely the current 30 owners would enjoy splitting revenue with another team or two.
In short, the Seattle think isn’t on the horizon at the moment, and it might be a few more years before it is.
NBA Daily: Biggest Disappointments — Central Division
Basketball Insiders’ Biggest Disappointments series continues as Drew Mays explores the struggles of the Central Division.
Basketball Insiders has looked at some of the biggest surprises and disappointments to start the new season. And, now, four weeks in, the shift in perception from “The sample size is too small” to “Maybe this is just who this team is” has begun. While there is plenty of time left to justify the former, the latter has looked far more truthful for much of the disappointments in the NBA’s Central Division.
Confused in Chicago
The Chicago Bulls’ postseason hopes were widely known. And it wasn’t just speculation – the Bulls themselves talked playoffs from media day until the beginning of the season. But, sitting at 4-9, each passing game bears a striking resemblance to last year’s 22-60 team, one that was talented but unable to sustain any consistency.
The numbers paint Chicago’s struggles in an even more confusing light. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls take a slightly above-average number of threes and have the most rim attempts in the league. They’ve shied away from the mid-range, while they get to the free throw line and turn the ball over at standard — not great but not terrible — rates. The offense must be clicking, right?
Wrong. Chicago sits at 28th in points per 100 possessions (they’re 14th in points per 100 defensively). Their half-court offense has been stagnant, with a lot of side-to-side action but nothing much in the way of getting to the basket. The league-high rim attempt percentage is clouded by poor decision-making in the paint, where the Bulls often force shots or flat-out miss kick out opportunities.
Lauri Markkanen, arguably Chicago’s most important player, has yet to get going. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, but he’s shot just 37.7 percent from the field and 28.2 from deep. He’s scored over 20 points only once, on opening night in Charlotte.
There is reason for optimism. Markkanen is getting good looks; he should start hitting them eventually. Wendell Carter has been excellent in the middle. The Bulls’ shot chart lends itself to success. Outside of Milwaukee, the rest of the division is vulnerable. Chicago held their own against the Bucks and even the league-leading Lakers, controlling much of the game versus the latter. If not for some fourth quarter collapses, the Bulls might have a winning record.
There’s still time to turn it around. But thus far, 2019-20 has been a disappointment in Chicago.
The Last Two for Cleveland
The Cleveland Cavaliers are frisky!
They’ve beaten two division foes in Chicago and the Indiana Pacers, and they’ve held their own in games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics over the last two weeks.
Kevin Love and Tristian Thompson are both averaging double-doubles. Collin Sexton has upped his scoring and lowered his turnovers this season. Darius Garland has shown some serious flashes as a young rookie.
Defense is the toughest thing to learn in the NBA. Younger teams are usually really bad on defense – especially teams with a starting backcourt made up of a sophomore and a rookie. However, Cleveland has managed to remain in the middle of the pack on defense, ranking 15th in points allowed per 100 despite being in the bottom third in effective field goal percentage allowed.
They’re even 16th in the league in Basketball Reference’s adjusted net rating, which estimates a team’s point differential every 100 possessions adjusted for strength of opponent. There is a lot to be excited about for the future.
However, after defeating the Knicks and losing by one to the aforementioned 76ers, Cleveland was steamrolled in both first halves against the HEAT and the 76ers at home. They were outscored by 48 in the two halves, looked utterly outclassed and outmatched and, ultimately, lost by 11 and 19, respectively.
Growing pains were expected, especially for the young backcourt. And even after an encouraging start, two straight blowouts where the Cavaliers never had a chance is still disappointing.
The bad news with Cleveland is the same as the good news: they still have a lot of growing to do.
Detroit’s Free Fall
After starting off the season 4-5 (about what we’d expect from the perennially middling team), the Detroit Pistons have gone cold.
Their most recent loss was on Friday – Blake Griffin needed 19 shots to get to 19 points, Derrick Rose turned the ball over six times, and the Pistons fell 109-106 to Charlotte, dropping them to 4-9 on the year.
The disappointing thing for the Pistons has surprisingly been their defense. Detroit’s usual pattern has been to plod on offense and use their top-10 defense to put them in a position to win. But the script has flipped this year – Detroit ranks 9th in points per 100 possessions and 3rd in team effective field goal percentage, but they’re just 26th and 28th in those respective categories on defense.
Their biggest offensive struggle has been turnovers. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Derrick Rose are averaging almost 12 per game between the three of them, leading to Detroit’s 28th ranked turnover percentage.
The other problem for Detroit is that they’ve faced a relatively easy schedule thus far. That SOS is middle of the pack the rest of the way. If they plan on returning to the postseason in 2020, they’ll need to end this losing streak sooner rather than later.
Khris Middleton’s Left Leg
Khris Middleton is out for the next several weeks after suffering a left thigh contusion November 10 in Oklahoma City. He was averaging 18.5 points and 5.3 rebounds on a career-best 59.9 true shooting percentage before the injury.
Milwaukee cruised to a 2-0 record last week without their second banana, defeating both Chicago and Indiana. The Bucks will have to navigate at least the rest of November with Giannis and Eric Bledsoe as the only real playmakers on the roster.
Luckily, they’re built for this – questions continue to surround Milwaukee as to whether Khris Middleton as the complement to Giannis is even enough to win the East – the bench will be able to fill in around Giannis. All of the wings will see increased minutes, and Bledsoe will be tasked with a higher usage rate.
Any time your second-best player goes down, it’s disappointing. But Milwaukee has the system in place to continue winning, even without Middleton.
Again, it’s still early for all of these teams. They have played just 13, 12, 13 and 12 games each. But as 13 moves towards 20 and 25 games in the coming weeks, these disappointments are no longer early struggles – they are identities, and what the team may be left with for the rest of the season.
Melo A Match For Offense-Starved Portland
The Trail Blazers’ problems are widespread on defense, but Carmelo Anthony represents an offensive fix more than anything else. Douglas Farmer writes.
The Portland Trail Blazers did not have a choice.
With Jusuf Nurkić, Zach Collins and Pau Gasol all sidelined by injury, and with Moe Harkless now in Los Angeles and Al-Farouq Aminu in Orlando, the Trail Blazers had nowhere else to turn.
Portland had to call Carmelo Anthony.
The Blazers do not even have a G League affiliate to raid, instead shipping specific players back-and-forth to the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks’ affiliate, this season.
This is what it took for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer to find himself on a roster. Two young stars, Nurkić and Collins, needed to be sidelined for months by leg and shoulder injuries, respectively. A veteran, Gasol, needed to be sidelined by his own foot injury, in addition to years of mileage. A $145 million salary sheet needed to prevent Portland from stocking its bench with suitable forwards during the offseason.
And the options on its bench had to struggle immensely on both ends of the floor, torpedoing a season with title hopes into one that elicits headlines like “Is This Damian Lillard’s Lost Season?”
More than an eventual criticism of Anthony’s contributing prospects, this is a harsh reality of the Blazers’ supporting options as constituted.
Skal Labissière has spent three years in the NBA without offering much reason to think he could be a reliable resource off the bench now, and his 49.0 effective field goal percentage fits that past evidence.
Anthony Tolliver has gone from being a three-point specialist to a three-point liability, currently hitting 24.2 percent of his shots from deep. Mario Hezonja is, well, Mario Hezonja. This year that means he is shooting 33.3 percent from 2-point range. Lastly, Rodney Hood simply cannot bang with power forwards while carrying only 208 pounds on his 6-foot-8 frame.
Portland has no forward option better than Carmelo Anthony at this point, so it had no choice but to call him despite his year off of active rosters. The team needs someone to take the pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. As well as Anfernee Simons has played — and the second-year guard has, averaging 19.3 points per 36 minutes with a 55.9 effective field goal percentage — relying on him comes at the expense of Lillard and McCollum, not in conjunction with them.
Someone needs to take the defensive focus away from the Blazers’ backcourt duo, at least nominally. That was, in some respects, supposed to be Tolliver. When he could shoot from deep, a defender at least had to stay near him, giving Lillard and McCollum space to operate. With that ability seemingly stolen away by Space Jam’s Monstars, Tolliver’s defender now freely ranges away from him.
In theory, and that theory will not be proven until Tuesday at the New Orleans Pelicans or Thursday at the Milwaukee Bucks — after Anthony passes his physical — Anthony can at least knock down open shots from deep. Even as his career began to spiral, he could always shoot. In his final three seasons, Anthony shot 35.6 percent from 3, including 32.8 percent in his aborted Houston Rockets stint in 2018.
The concerns around bringing in Anthony, even on a non-guaranteed contract, come on defense. The concerns around Portland’s 5-8 start also hinge on defense, where it ranks No. 19 in the league with a 109.3 defensive rating, as of Monday morning.
In Anthony’s 10 games with the Rockets to start last season, they were outscored by 63 points with him on the court, even as he averaged 13.4 points per game. In those 294 minutes, Houston’s defensive rating was 112.2.
Some of that obviously stemmed from other issues with the Rockets then dealing with their own personnel problems — as well as newly-implemented, and soon-abandoned schemes. But some of it was undeniably because of Anthony, never exactly known as a defensive ace.
Maybe in that respect, Anthony fits the Blazers both in need and in ethos. Portland’s appearance in the Western Conference Finals did not come from outstanding defense; it relied upon Enes “Can’t Play Him” Kanter, after all. The Lillard and McCollum era has long been defined by offensive deluges surrounding moments of defensive worry.
Anthony should fit that perfectly, if he chooses to. Shooting strokes are one of the last skills lost with age. Even at 35, he should still demand attention in that respect. That alone will be an improvement for the Blazers and make life a bit easier for Lillard and McCollum.
A defensive rating of 109.3 can be survived when the offensive rating is third in the league at 113.7, as Portland enjoyed last season, part of the recipe that produced a 53-29 record. It cannot be survived when the offensive rating is No. 13 at 108.4, where the Blazers sit currently in that category.
Portland did not call one of the greatest individual scorers in league history to fix its defense.
The Blazers have no choice but to hope Carmelo Anthony can aid their offense.
NBA Daily: Walton Working Smart In Attempt To Land Role With Clippers
David Yapkowitz speaks with Los Angeles Clippers point guard Derrick Walton about his different experiences around the NBA and how playing overseas helped provide him with wisdom necessary to his growth.
Every season, multiple players come into NBA training camps with non-guaranteed contracts. For many of these players, being cut is just a mere formality. Most teams already have their rosters set, and these players are little more than practice bodies or potential G League assignees.
But for some of these players, a coveted NBA roster spot is an actual possibility. Some teams have a spot or two open, and the few players whose contracts aren’t guaranteed battle it out in training camp for the right to remain on the team going into the regular season.
Derrick Walton Jr. is no stranger to that battle. Following a strong four years at Michigan in which he was named the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player his senior year; he went undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft.
He played with the Orlando Magic that year in summer league and had an impressive outing to the tune of 10 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. Despite needing some help at point guard, the Magic opted to look elsewhere.
After spending the 2017-18 season with the Miami HEAT on a two-way contract, Walton found himself again looking for a team at the end of that season. He was in camp with the Chicago Bulls last year, but was ultimately cut during preseason.
This year, he came into camp with the Los Angeles Clippers on an Exhibit 10 contract, meaning he was likely destined for the G League. He had a decent showing in the preseason with 7 points , 3 assists and 1.6 rebounds per game. The Clippers opted to convert his contract to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, essentially solidifying his place on the opening night roster.
Having been through this before, it wasn’t like there was anything particularly different for Walton.
“It was pretty normal to me, just competing every day for the most part,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Nothing out of the extreme ordinary, I was just trying to pick up on things as fast as possible and implement them in games for the most part.”
Heading into the season, the Clippers were a little bit thin at point guard. Patrick Beverley was the incumbent starter, with Lou Williams capable of sliding over if need be. But after that, the point was where the Clippers didn’t have as much depth as they did elsewhere.
That appeared to leave a potential opening for Walton to grab the 15th and final roster spot. Despite the seeming need for the Clippers to strengthen their point guard corps a little bit, Walton wasn’t always sure that he had a good shot at making the team.
“It wouldn’t be truthful for me to say yeah, but I’m always silently confident about everything,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Nothing is ever for sure until it actually happens, so I would be lying if I said yeah. Now I’m just ready to build on everything for the most part.”
Although Walton initially started his NBA career with the Magic, it was the HEAT that gave him his first real shot in the NBA. Miami has had a history of success with undrafted players, including Walton’s current Clippers teammate Rodney McGruder. While Walton was on a two-way contract, injuries to Miami’s rotation during the 2017-18 season forced him into some immediate action.
He did spend a good portion of that season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the HEAT’s G League affiliate, but he was around the team enough to pick some things up here and there. He saw playing time in a total of 16 games in Miami and shot 41.2 percent from the three-point line. Miami ended up extending a qualifying offer that summer, making him an unrestricted free agent, but ultimately withdrew the offer.
The HEAT have been something of a standard-bearer in the NBA for being a professional organization, and Walton definitely learned some things that have helped in his professional career.
“I think just being a professional about everything overall. It’s always being ready,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Working hard is always the status quo at this level, but I think working smart and being a professional for the most part is what I learned.”
This past season after being cut by the Bulls, Walton opted for something a little bit different. He headed overseas and joined Zalgiris Kaunas in the Lithuanian Basketball League. He had some success and put up 8.4 points and 4.4 assists per game while in Lithuania, but left the team this past February and joined Alba Berlin in the EuroLeague.
Walton had heard stories about playing overseas and the possible hardships that may have come with it. But he didn’t quite understand it until he experienced it in person. It helped him grow as both a player and a person and helped toughen him up.
“I think it made me grow up a little faster. Overseas, I got to see some things, experience some things that you can only experience in person. Word of mouth can’t make you experience it,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Going through that type of stuff, I feel like it gave me a lot of wisdom overall. I feel really battle-tested like nothing fazes me at this point.”
And now, Walton is back stateside trying to carve out a role with the Clippers. He’s already been assigned to their G League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers, but was recently recalled due to injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley. In a win over the Atlanta Hawks, Walton played seven minutes and hit his only shot, a three-pointer.
Barring any major injuries, it’s unlikely that Walton sees much playing time with the Clippers this season. But in any case, he’s staying ready and is confident in what he can bring to the team should his number be called at some point.
“I think I can space the floor of course. I can make big plays and be like a coach on the floor,” Walton told Basketball Insiders. “Overall, just be a pest defensively and just try to make an impact on the court anyway possible, I’m one of those guys.”
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