Just three games last night, but there’s lots to talk about… I’ll keep it short, though, since there’s a lengthy feature underneath this.
Chicago impressed me on both ends last night in its 110-98 win over the Blazers. Fun stats from hoopdata: The Bulls shot 14-26 from 16-23 feet and Luol Deng got his 40 points (!) on an 83.9 TS%. Insane. Thibodeau has the defense looking very, very good. I couldn’t believe how invisible Brandon Roy was.
The Kings are soon going to learn what the Blazers learned yesterday: they can’t afford to rely on late-game comebacks. Sacramento started off its 111-108 win over the Raptors playing the most porous defense I’d seen since… the beginning of the Kings/Cavs game on Saturday. The Raps should have won the game, but they only really played well defensively in the first quarter. They masked their poor D with good O for most of the game, but in the fourth the Kings played better and the crowd got louder and they Raps threw the game away. It was lots of fun to watch Reggie Evans grab 39282489 rebounds and DeMar DeRozan aggressively attack the rim, though.
I haven’t got a chance to watch much of last night’s Cippers/Spurs game yet, but I’m LOVING Richard Jefferson’s resurgence. I knew he coudn’t be as bad as he was last year again, but the guy’s averaging 17 points on 71.5 TS% (!!!!) right now. That won’t hold up, but still. And even though the Spurs won the game, Eric Gordon won the night – holy crap. One last note – Craig Smith, I know you didn’t MEAN to viciously take out George Hill last night, but you fully deserved your flagrant-2 and you can’t be high-fiving fans after a play like that. BAD RHINO!
Okay, before I get to today’s feature: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Matt Moore’s rant on the ludicrous Mike Conley extension is brilliant. I am going to read it a thousand times.
The 2010-2011 All-OTN Team
Last year, I thought it’d be fun to follow a team full of underdog types through an NBA season. The plan was to pay special attention to them in games – not difficult because I only picked guys I’d pay attention to anyway – and keep track of their progress throughout the year. If someone wrote about one of them, I’d link to it. If one of them had a great game or a spectacular play, I’d excitedly share the news. The idea was to feel a part of any success these guys had, the way you do when you follow the careers of the guys on your hometown team.
Instead of picking guys who are trying to establish themselves as role players, this year I’ve picked second-year players who are looking to make the leap from role player to more than that. I went with sophomores because last year’s rookie class is full of examples of why I love the NBA. This was meant to be a weak class. Picks weren’t worthless, but they were meant to be worth less. After Blake Griffin went down in the last game of the pre-season, we were supposed to hand the Rookie of the Year award to Tyreke Evans and be done with it.
Obviously, it didn’t shake out that way. Evans did win the award, but Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, and Darren Collison proved themselves to be major contributors capable of running NBA teams. And, in what might have been even more of a surprise, the draft turned out to be DEEP. There were rookies all around the league making an impact. Look at all the relevant names on this list.
So, I’ve decided this year’s All-OTN team will be full of sophomores. The guys I’ve chosen are all full of energy and enjoyable to watch. They’re definitely rotation-worthy players. I think they’re starting-quality, but none of them have a starting spot guaranteed this year. Only the power forward managed to even crack the All-Rookie Second Team last season. Here we go:
Point Guard: Ty Lawson
Heading into the 2009 draft, the stats loved Ty Lawson but NBA GM’s didn’t. He was the ACC Player of the Year, he won an NCAA championship, and some very smart people forecasted NBA success, but he slipped all the way to the 18th pick. You know the story: the Nuggets bought the pick from the Timberwolves in order to acquire him. This move was at least partially influenced by Dean Oliver, Denver’s director of quantitative analysis.
In his first NBA game, Lawson put up 17/6/4 in 26 minutes and he was on the court in crunch time. At halftime, coach George Karl started writing “Ty” on his board instead of “Rookie.” It immediately looked like Lawson’s numbers and skills translated to the pro level. We saw him get to the rim, set up teammates, hit the NBA three, and compete defensively despite his small stature. And we saw him enter the “dunk of the year” discussion less than a month into the season.
When Chauncey Billups got hurt, Lawson filled in more than capably as a starter. It was clear to those paying attention that Denver had found its eventual successor to Chauncey Billups. Still, he was left off the roster for the Rookie Challenge. And later in the season, he inexplicably lost his spot in the rotation to veteran Anthony Carter. With Adrian Dantley running the show toward the end of the year, Denver had lots of problems. The easiest one to fix would have been giving the far more productive Lawson the minutes allocated to Carter.
Thankfully, Lawson was plugged back into the rotation once the Nuggets were in the playoffs against Utah. And even though they retained the services of Carter, Lawson will continue to get his minutes with George Karl back at the helm in 2010-2011. He’ll be expected to follow his strong summer league performance with an improvement on his rookie success. He’s proven he’s capable of scoring at this level; now he needs to call his number more often. He’s proven he can play alongside Chauncey Billups; now he needs to make sure his aggressiveness and production give him some of the minutes otherwise allocated to Arron Afflalo and J.R. Smith. And with the Carmelo Anthony situation hanging over the franchise, he might need to do more than that.
We know Carmelo wants out, but we don’t know how the Nuggets are going to deal with it. They’re under no obligation to trade him and if they go through the season as presently constructed they have a chance of being a dangerous playoff team. But if they DO trade him, it’ll likely be for young talent and draft picks. If they trade him, it’ll be the start of a rebuilding plan that will feature Ty Lawson as a key piece. If Melo goes elsewhere in 2009-2010, don’t be surprised if Chauncey Billups does as well. And boy, that would be a great opportunity for this point guard from UNC.
“He plays at a high speed but he’s under control. Most people that play at his speed lose control or lose vision or lose something but he doesn’t lose anything. People don’t understand how strong he is. He could be a running back in football.” – George Karl
“He’s small in stature, but he’s stronger than people think. You can’t just knock him around. He’s low to the ground, like a pit bull. But a lot faster than a pit bull.” – George Karl
“I got a real big chip on my shoulder. Every time I play against a team that passed me up in the draft I want to go out there and play well and prove that they should have picked me. I’m going to have that chip probably until I’m an All-Star. I want to keep proving a point every night.” – Ty Lawson
“Lawson plays like a veteran with sound decision making, has a 6th gear like nobody else in the league, has court vision that leaves me in awe, attacks the basket like he’s made of metal and the rim is a magnet, looks to get his teammates involved, has the desire to play defense and has a reliable shot from just about everywhere on the floor.” – Nate Timmons, Denver Stiffs
Lawson played on an AAU team with Kevin Durant called the D.C. Blue Devils. Here’s a video of them playing against Athlete’s First, featuring Blake Griffin.
There’s a documentary about his draft journey entitled “The Crossover with Ty Lawson.” It was never distributed, but you can watch the trailer.
Shooting Guard: Rodrigue Beaubois
In his first Summer League game, Rodrigue Beaubois scored 34 points, shot 7-12 from three, and dished out eight assists. Oh, and he picked up nine fouls. So began Roddy’s NBA experience, characterized by incredible promise and tons of questions.
He began the regular season at the end of the bench, but was a starter less than a month in. That’s when people started asking about the little guy who was catching alley-oops. It was easy to get excited about Beaubois in November, seeing this young kid play with such quickness and aggressiveness on both ends. He’d make mistakes and some nights his shot was off (which caused him to lose his spot in the starting lineup), but the overall production from this long-armed kid from Guadeloupe demanded playing time and your attention.
After November, though, he had little of either. With only DNP’s and very limited garbage time minutes until March, the only people talking about Roddy were bloggers and Mavericks fans. It took a Jason Kidd injury to get Beaubois back on the floor. He wasn’t rusty, scoring 17 points on 9 shots against Minnesota when Kidd sat out on March 3. He followed that up with 22- and 24-point performances to cement his spot in the rotation. And, like another rookie guard, he came to national attention on a Saturday night against the Warriors. In Golden State, he exploded for 40 points on 22 shots. I don’t care how terrible the Warriors were, this should have proved that he was too good to keep sitting.
Yet, he sat again. Less than two weeks after he put on his 40-point show, he was in the doghouse. He didn’t play much as the regular season ended and played a total of 10 minutes in the Mavs’ first five home games against San Antonio. Down 19 in the second quarter of Game 6 and down 3-2 in the series, coach Rick Carlisle decided to give Rodrigue a shot. He led the team back, scoring 8 points in 6 minutes. He raised that total to 16 in the third quarter and gave Dallas the lead, before being benched in the fourth quarter. This was a baffling decision and the Mavs lost the game.
Since then, Beaubois has had a shaky Summer League and suffered a broken foot before he was supposed to play for the French national team in the World Championships. He’s still in a walking boot, so we might not see him play before December. Safe to say, his summer could have gone better. But still, I think he’s poised to break out this year.
Even with the two veteran Jasons needing minutes, J.J. Barea shooting those odd runners and taking charges, and the draft selection of Dominique Jones, Beaubois should get his proper playing time this year. It would be ridiculous if he didn’t. There’s a reason why I’m not the only person to put him on a must-watch list, Jason Kidd said he’d be okay with coming off the bench for him, and Mark Cuban expects him to be an All-Star. Dallas is a very good team that needs a boost to become great. The Kidd/Terry/Butler/Marion/Dirk/Haywood/Chandler group is solid, but they’re not improving at this point in their careers. Dirk’s still one of the very best in the game, but he could use another knockout offensive player to take some defensive attention away from him. Rodrigue Beaubois represents the Mavs’ only real hope to get better this season without making a significant trade.
All that said, it’s still up to Carlisle. Even if he has the best intentions, we don’t know if he’ll stick with Roddy if he goes through a slump. It’s easy for me to say that he should throw him out there and let him play through mistakes so the team is better in the long-run – my job isn’t on the line if the Mavs go on a losing streak. We just have to hope that Beaubois doesn’t let this year’s high expectations get to him. I don’t think he will, can’t wait to find out. Get better soon, Mr. Beaubois.
“I think he’s the future for that team.” – Brandon Jennings, after Beaubois held him scoreless in overtime.
“Stevie Wonder can see that this kid deserves to be on the floor.” – Derek Harper, after the 40 point game.
“He’s more mature than the average 22-year-old. He’s a great listener, a great learner, and I think the best way to put it is he has an unusual capacity for a young guy to grasp things. He got a lot under his belt last year. We’ve got to get him through the injury thing and then we’ll be right back on track.” – Rick Carlisle
Beaubois was so good as a rookie that the Mavs have no choice but to play him, even though they don’t have a rotation spot open for him… If he just takes better care of the ball, he can be a devastating scoring option at either guard spot – John Hollinger, from his Mavericks player profiles
He’s good at eyebrow dancing.
Jason Kidd calls him “Boo Boo.”
Small Forward: Omri Casspi
I’m going to link to numerous articles and videos in this section. Unsurprisingly, the lovable young King inspired lots of great journalism last season. But if you’re going to click one, PLEASE make it “Omri Casspi: The King of a Nation” by Noam Schiller. The definitive Casspi piece could only come from a hoops junkie in Israel and, luckily, the basketball blogosphere has Noam.
Since the “what he means to Israel” bit has been covered so well elsewhere, I’ll keep my focus on-court. Casspi started out strong as a rook, but faded toward the end of the regular season. The biggest surprise about his game early on was his excellent three-point shooting – unfortunately, after the All-Star break, his shot was extremely streaky. All the media attention and off-court demands placed on Omri amplified the difficulty of adjusting to the relentless NBA schedule and he hit the rookie wall harder than most. Because energy and enthusiasm define him, it was obvious when exhaustion set in.
So, in the summer, as well as meeting Israel’s President and connecting Israeli and Palestinian kids through basketball, he worked on his body and his jumpshot with the hopes of locking down the starting small forward spot. We saw some of the results in the summer when he played for in FIBA competition. If we’re lucky, in 2010-2011 we’ll see the all the good things we saw at the beginning of last year hold up all the way through. And he’ll be armed with the knowledge and confidence that comes with a year’s experience.
And after a week? He is starting at small forward over Donte Greene. He led the Kings to a win on Saturday in Cleveland, scoring 20 and shooting 6-7 on threes. Then last night, in Sacramento’s home opener, his two fourth quarter threes keyed a win over Toronto. One gave the Kings their first lead; one capped an 11-run which put them up 8. We know Paul Westphal can do strange things to his rotations, but it’s looking fantastic for Omri right now. It’ll be interesting to see if he can avoid slumps, start the entire year, and earn a bigger role in the offense.
“I love the game of basketball. I’m one of those guys that would play basketball no matter what. I’ll play hard every time I get on the floor, I’ll play as hard as I can; I play with all my heart.” – Omri Casspi
“When we lose, I’m miserable. That’s just who I am. I don’t want to change. Nobody (from Israel) has ever done this, you know? I have to do well.” – Omri Casspi
“He can piss some people off, and I love that about him.” – Francisco Garcia
“[Energy is] his specialty. Energy in the N.B.A. is a real talent.” – David Thorpe
“Everywhere I went, there was a life-size poster of this guy. I’d go to every store, and he had his own Nike shirts. Casspi is definitely a big deal over there.” – Dionte Christmas, who played for Hapoel Afula last season.
I think that it transcends religion. I think that Omri, because of his tenacity – you can see it when he plays on the court – endears himself to any basketball fan. He has this desire to succeed.
-Rabbi Reuven Taff [Read more about Taff, who took 21 members of his congregation from Sacramento to Israel and visited Omri’s childhood home]
“We both show how we feel. I don’t understand what everybody was saying about his attitude. In Israel when I was 15, 16, they said the same bad things about me. That I didn’t listen, wasn’t coachable, was not a good guy. Then people get to know you, and they realize that you just care very much.” – Omri Casspi, comparing himself to another favourite of mine, DeMarcus Cousins
Videos you must watch
This clip includes the reaction at Casspi’s house when David Stern called his name.
Omri dunking all over Danilo Gallinari at MSG. The Garden was full of people cheering him on, including his brother and his father.
Power Forward: DeJuan Blair
Like Lawson, the stats indicated that DeJuan Blair was better than NBA General Managers thought he was when they let him slip to #37 in the draft. Or, more accurately, the stats outsmarted the GM’s because the stats weren’t afraid of his injury history. Executives must have known that a) rebounding numbers translate from college to the NBA better than any other stat and b) DeJuan was an absolute rebounding machine in college. They just didn’t want to take a risk a guy with no ACL’s.
The Spurs are thankful they were given the opportunity to take that risk. DeJuan was a fixture in the rotation from day 1 and played all 82 games in his rookie season. Fans fell in love with him quickly and statistical analysts were proven right – he was better on the offensive glass than anyone except Jon Brockman. Every time he was given major minutes, he responded. When he started in place of Tim Duncan against the Thunder in January, his 28 points and 21 rebounds didn’t even seem surprising. In the Rookie Challenge, usually not a place where physical interior players shine, Blair’s 22 points and 23 rebounds were enough for Tyreke Evans to share his MVP award with him. And, although his minutes decreased in the playoffs, his advanced stats actually got better.
If you’ve watched the Spurs this season, you’ve probably noticed that DeJuan has lost a lot of weight. You’ve also noticed that he’s currently their starting center. The questions, as the year goes on: Can he and Duncan be a good defensive duo all season? Can he increase his minutes significantly from last year and hold off Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup? Can he keep up his insane rebounding rate at his reduced weight? Will his work in the summer with Chip Engelland translate into an ability to score from beyond three feet from the basket? I can’t answer any of these things right now, but I’ll be watching.
“For the vast majority of people, not having an A.C.L. and playing basketball don’t really go together.” – Dr. James Gladstone, chief of sports medicine in the department of orthopedic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
“He’s amazing, man. He’s a rare rookie, I would say. It seems like he has the experience already, has been a rookie. He has come in and been very humble, willing to learn. He’s been great. When you’re a rookie in the NBA and you want to learn, you’re only going to get better. You don’t usually get that. You get rookies coming in thinking they’re the man, they’re going to destroy the league. DeJuan is humble and the sky is the limit for him because of that.” – Antonio McDyess
“I love guys like that. All coaches love guys like that. There’s no maintenance to them other than just go out there and get me five offensive rebounds and be physical and hit the boards and hit people and set screens.” – George Karl
“If the coach had any brains we’d be playing him more. The guy is like a stat machine and I still haven’t figured out how he does it, how he scores. He has no moves on the post. He’s not a shooter. I don’t get it. And he figures out a way to get to the hole and get to the line, blocks shots. He guards people I don’t think he can guard whether they are quicker, bigger or whatever.” – Gregg Popovich
“I’m just going to keep putting him in the game, and whatever he does, he does. Because, honest to God, I don’t know.” – Gregg Popovich
“I always say I’m blessed. That’s why I take advantage of every day and try and smile. I’m in the N.B.A. and without A.C.L.’s and with the Spurs. Doing my dream. I’m blessed. It’s amazing.” – DeJuan Blair
“I see (DeJuan) play at 21, and sometimes we are too demanding on him, which is natural, because we want to win. But he’s got such a long career ahead of him and so many things to learn and improve. He’s doing it quick and well. It’s remarkable.” – Manu Ginobili
“Watching Blair makes me want to have my ACLs removed.” – John Hollinger
Dick Stockton unwittingly gave him one of the best nicknames in the league, DEJUAN BEAR!
Center: Serge Ibaka
Serge was on the team last year and I’m too big a fan not to keep him around. I want to start this by directing you to this Daily Thunder piece. How hilarious is it that he was grouped in with Byron Mullens? How ridiculously conservative do those “optimistic” projections look? And this was all completely reasonable at the time. Ibaka turned 20 the day that was posted. He’d only been playing organized basketball for a few years. I’d watched his highlights on YouTube and thought he had loads of potential, but in no way thought he’d contribute in his first year in the league.
His hustle and athleticism straightaway earned him some playing time, inexperienced or not. And as the year went on, he was given more minutes and responded with increased production (check his splits) His activity level meant you meant you couldn’t miss him on the floor and he became everyone in the blogosphere’s favourite player. If you somehow didn’t know who he was by the time the playoffs started, you were given quite the introduction. In Game 2 against the Lakers, his SEVEN blocked shots kept the Thunder in the game. The voices endorsing Ibaka as Oklahoma City’s big man of the future got louder.
In this piece, Bethlehem Shoals argues that this “monster-in-training” has made Jeff Green expendable and refers to him as “Amar’e with a conscience.” And, indeed, November 1st has come and gone and Green is without a contract extension. This is no surprise – I’m not going to definitively say that Ibaka is a better player than Green, but the team performed significantly better on both ends with Ibaka on the court last season.
This year, through three games he’s averaging 3 blocks a game and he’s averaging more minutes than starting center Nenad Krstic. Also, he’s got more confidence in his shot and his English has vastly improved. These are good signs, people.
“Let’s say Sam Presti resigned, OKC hired me to run the team, David Stern announced that the league was adding 10 more teams, and there was a mega-expansion draft coming in June in which I could protect only three of my players. (I know, this isn’t the most likely scenario. Just bear with me.) I would protect Durant, Westbrook … and Serge Ibaka. It’s true.” – Bill Simmons
“He’s a fearless competitor. He’s serious about getting better every play. We all like what he brings to the team … a protect-the-basket-block-shots-alter-shots mentality. And he just gives up his body.” – Scott Brooks
“There are a lot of guys who played AAU ball and up who don’t have his basketball IQ. He understands the game and he understands what we want.” – Scott Brooks
“I’m not even sure I can corral Serge’s development for next year into a definitive structure because he apparently has no true ceiling–and if you put one on him, he jumps right through it and past the vertical leap test device’s highest setting in the process (true story, Ibaka did that).” – J.G. Marking, Daily Thunder
His full name is something like “Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka.”
He speaks Congolese, French, Spanish and English.
He posts cooking videos on YouTube.
You can buy your Air Congo shirt here.