Brooklyn: The East’s No. 2 Team?

July 13, 2013

Who needs long-term flexibility? The Brooklyn Nets are all in for 2013-14, with a collection of future Hall of Famers and a projected starting lineup that boasts a combined 35 All Star appearances. All 5 of those guys are poised to earn more than $11.5 million next season, and Brooklyn’s payroll will exceed $100 million, almost double the cap.

Look at this roster.

This summer, Brooklyn’s traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, all NBA champions; re-signed Andray Blatche, who rocked a 21.98 PER last season, for close to minimum dollars; signed 6-foot-7 backup point guard and former No. 4 overall pick Shaun Livingston for about the same; wooed Andrei Kirilenko, who declined a $10-million player option in Minnesota, for $3.1 million a year; and dumped one of the league’s worst contracts, one that pays Gerald Wallace $30.3 million over the next 3 years, on Boston.

That’s a haul.

Here’s your rotation, assuming full health.

  • PG: Deron Williams | Shaun Livingston
  • SG: Joe Johnson | Jason Terry
  • SF: Paul Pierce | Andrei Kirilenko
  • PF: Kevin Garnett | Reggie Evans
  • C: Brook Lopez | Andray Blatche

Now, add Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee.

Some fortunate circumstances.

The Nets got lucky 4 times this offseason.

* The Celtics were anxious to rebuild and eager to dump Pierce’s $15.33 million this year and Garnett’s $23.5 the next 2 years. Danny Ainge had just traded his $7-million-per-year coach to Los Angeles for a first-round draft pick. For a few extra picks, take 2 of the league’s top 30 players.

* The Wizards infamously amnestied Andray Blatche not too long after signing him to a 3-year extension. So Blatche is collecting $7.8 million this season and $8.5 next, even if only $1.4 million of that’s coming from Brooklyn. Blatche has previously made clear his desire to not let Washington off cheap — the more he signed for with Brooklyn, the less of that $7.8 million the Wizards would have to pay.

Blatche is, from a straight numbers angle, at least a $5-million-a-year guy. Per 36 minutes last season, Blatche averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on a team where he was, on a lucky night, the 4th option. His PER ranked No. 14 in the NBA and 2nd on his team behind Brook Lopez.

* Brooklyn also gets great value in Shaun Livingston, who will replace C.J. Watson as the team’s backup PG. Signed on Christmas Day by the Cavs, Livingston tallied 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 23.2 minutes over 49 appearances. Not helped by Jarrett Jack’s deal with Cleveland, the market collapsed on Livingston, who’s stayed healthy and productive whenever he’s received an opportunity since 2008-09.

That horrific knee injury is well behind him, and Shaun’s still only 27. He’s not an elite defender, but he has enough length to disrupt passing lanes. On the other end, he’s a solid facilitator and very underrated back-to-the-basket scorer, particularly against smaller guards.

* And, the most mysterious of all, Andrei Kirilenko, who’s making $6.9 million less (plus cost-of-living increases in New York!) than had he accepted his player option in Minnesota. Perhaps the incentive was his relationship with Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who, as owner of CSKA Moscow, employed AK-47 from 1998-01.

This deal seems so fishy, Yahoo! Sports ace Adrian Wojnarowski even reported some team executives are asking the NBA to investigate, wary of potential side deals between the two Russians. Unless something materializes, Brooklyn scored big-time, grabbing a former teammate of Deron’s in Utah and one of the league’s best perimeter defenders to guard the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Prokhorov may have said it best in a statement after the Pierce-KG trade became official. “Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets.”

How do they stack up?

There’s 5 frontrunners in the Eastern Conference: Miami, Chicago, New York, Indiana and Brooklyn. Miami, 2-time defending champs, return the same team and are atop the throne. But, then, all hell breaks loose.

Chicago adds Mike Dunleavy and returns a healthy Derrick Rose, but drops Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton and, most likely, Nate Robinson. Indiana returns David West and a healthy Danny Granger, adds C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, and drops Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin. New York adds Andrea Bargnani and returns J.R. Smith and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, but loses Copeland, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd … to Brooklyn!

Those are not bad offseason, by any measure, but not on par with Brooklyn’s. With the Ak-47 move, the Nets boast the deepest bench in the Eastern Conference, maybe even the NBA. Of course 2 big questions remain: How will Kidd fare as a rookie head coach, and how will these guys mesh?

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

Related: Semi-delayed thoughts on the KG, Pierce deal


East: 3 playoff players to watch

March 12, 2013

Editor’s note: After a very brief hiatus, we’re back in full force here at Armchair 3. Tonight, I give you 3 players on likely Eastern Conference playoff teams worth watching through the season’s end and playoff stretch. Tomorrow night, predictably, will be our Western Conference edition. Thanks for reading!

Player No. 1: Monta Ellis

Named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the Feb. 25 – March 3 stretch, Ellis is on a roll. The shoot-first guard who’s struggled to coalesce with Brandon Jennings has, for whatever reason, exploded as of late, scoring 22 points in 7 straight games. He’s a major reason the Bucks are 6-1 with J.J. Redick in uniform, with 4 of those wins coming on the road and 3 against current playoff teams. (In 5 games in March, Ellis is averaging an even-better 26.8 points on 54% shooting.)

Consider this: the Bucks are 16-9 this season when Ellis scores at least 20, and 7-1 since Feb. 13.

With Ellis hitting on all cylinders, Milwaukee’s an intriguing out. Should they advance out of the No. 8 seed and thus avoid Miami — they’re only 2 games behind No. 5-seeded Chicago — the Bucks have the offensive firepower to compete with any other team in the East, especially when they go small with Ellis and Jennings in the backcourt, Redick at the 3, and Ersan Ilyasova at the 4 with LARRY SANDERS! (Milwaukee’s also one of 5 East teams to enjoy a winning record on the road.)

Speculation continues as to whether Ellis, due an $11 million player option, will opt in for 2013-14, or (likely) take an immediate pay cut for long-term security. So if Monta can continue his hot stretch into the postseason, there’s also the incentive of millions to be made.

Player No. 2: Kenyon Martin

This is an obvious one. Rasheed Wallace, 38, has been out since Dec. 15 with a stress fracture in his foot, though he insists he will return this year. And last week news came down that Amar’e Stoudemire, who already missed the first 2 months of the year due to knee surgery, will miss another 6 weeks due to, you guessed it, knee surgery. This leaves Martin, 35; Tyson Chandler, 30; Marcus Camby, 38; and Kurt Thomas, 40, in the Knicks’ frontcourt.

And a lot of pressure on Martin, signed off the street less than a month ago. Martin, who averaged 22.4 minutes in 42 games on the Clippers last year, played 17 minutes against Oklahoma City on Thursday and 22 more against Utah on Saturday, more in both than Camby or Thomas. And the Knicks will need K-Mart’s size should they draw a big-heavy team like Indiana, Brooklyn or Chicago in the postseason.

But New York’s best lineup is when Carmelo Anthony plays the 4, so there’s less onus on Martin in that regard. Still, Chandler is off the floor 15 minutes a night, a time the Knicks could sorely use Martin’s defensive intensity to make up for Jason Kidd’s lack of lateral quickness, and the team’s overall weak perimeter D.

Player No. 3: Jeff Teague

Lost in the will-they-or-won’t-they-trade-Josh-Smith kerfuffle from trade deadlines past is Teague’s future in Atlanta; he’s a restricted free agent due a $3.5 million qualifying offer, though it would be in GM Danny Ferry’s best long-term interest to ink his point guard long-term. (But, should Ferry decide to give up on Teague, he has combo guard Louis Williams under contract through 2014-15.)

Teague’s quietly been a solid third option in Atlanta, averaging 14.6 points (trailing only Smith and Al Horford), 7 assists, 33.1 minutes and a respectable 16.58 player-efficiency rating. He’s a limited (but improved) outside shooter, but his scoring and assist numbers have increased each of his 4 years. And, at 24, he’s a very capable floor general. Atlanta’s a remarkable 10-2 in games Teague averages double-digit assists; their last loss in such a case came Jan. 18 in Brooklyn.

If I’m a top seed in the East, Atlanta’s still the team that scares me the least; Milwaukee’s guards can get hot quickly, Boston’s been there and done that, and Chicago’s a healthy Derrick Rose away from being Miami’s top threat. But Teague, like Ellis, is playing for dough, and Atlanta needs defenses to respect his passing skills, if only to further open up secondary Smith and Horford screen-and-rolls.

Another stat: Atlanta’s 7-11 in games Teague averages 5 or less assists, and 0-6 since Jan. 12.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: NEW YORK KNICKS

February 22, 2013

New York’s in a bit of a funk right now, having lost 3 straight and suffering a brutal 34-point defeat Wednesday in Indiana. At 32-19, Mike Woodson’s club has cooled off since its hot start, now 5.5 games behind the first-place Heat and only a half-game up on the 3-seed Pacers. The Knicks, 5-5, have struggled against division opponents and only lead Brooklyn by 1 game in the Atlantic.

A team that lives and dies by the 3 — against the Pacers, they shot 5-28 — New York’s stretch success may depend on the evolution of Amar’e Stoudemire’s role, who returned from knee surgery almost 2 months ago but is still playing limited minutes. Stoudemire’s averaging 13.3 points in his 22.7 minutes, but has not yet started in 21 appearances. From an efficiency perspective, Stoudemire’s been better than expected, even after many talking heads feared his ego would conflict with Carmelo’s upon return — he’s averaging the best shooting numbers, 55% from the field and 81.4% from the foul line, of his Knicks’ tenure, and his 21.38 PER is 2nd-best on the team and 17th in the NBA.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

With Anthony, the NBA’s 2nd-leading scorer at 28.3 points per game; Stoudemire; and Chandler, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, New York has as impressive a frontcourt as anyone, at least on paper. Carmelo’s taking the most 3’s of his career at 6.8 per game, which normally would not be a good sign, but he’s connecting on 40%, the second-best mark of his 10-year career, and making 45% of his total shots. At 37.9, he’s playing his most minutes since 2009-10 in Denver. As a pure scorer, the only player on Anthony’s level is Kevin Durant.

Chandler (20.5 PER), 11.5 points and 11.1 rebounds a night, is a strong defensive anchor, able to make up for the slower lateral speed of guards Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. In all, New York’s defense has improved leaps and bounds from the Mike D’Antoni ‘seven seconds or less’ era in Mike Woodson’s first full year as head coach, though it’s tapered off as of late. For a reasonably fast-paced team like New York — 100.2 points per game — to be 10th in scoring defense, at 96.3 points allowed, and even ahead of Miami is worth noting. (But, on a downside, New York’s 17th in rebounding differential, -1.0, even with the services of Chandler.)

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Health has been a concern, as New York’s started 10 different guys — Anthony, Felton, Chandler, Kidd, Chris Copeland, Iman Shumpert, Ronnie Brewer (since traded to Oklahoma City to make room for Kenyon Martin), Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and James White — this season, and that does not even include the team’s 2nd- and 3rd-best scorers, Stoudemire and J.R. Smith. Stoudemire’s missed 30 games, Anthony 7, Felton 12, Wallace 31, Camby 37 and Shumpert 37. Wallace and Camby, both with foot injuries, are expected to return to the lineup soon, making the Knicks fully healthy.

As Stoudemire continues to work himself back into the lineup, or at least we assume, Woodson’s starting ‘Melo at the 4, leaving Shumpert, who returned from a torn ACL in January, Kidd and Felton, 3 traditional 1-guards, in the backcourt. The spread-shooters-around ‘Melo lineup has the ability to match a similar set from Miami, when Erik Spoelstra pushes LeBron to the 4, then has Dwayne Wade, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen spacing the floor. (And New York’s been successful against Miami this year, winning their 2 matchups by 20 points, each, one of which coming without Carmelo’s services.) But even adding Smith and subtracting Kidd or Shumpert, whether such a lineup can work against Brooklyn, with the 6’7″ Joe Johnson at the 2, or Indiana, with the 6’8″ Paul George or Danny Granger at the 2, is another story entirely.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Speaking off those backcourt guys, Felton and Kidd, both offseason acquisitions, have blended into Woodson’s system nicely. At 14.8 points and 6.2 assists per game, Felton ranks 3rd and 1st on the team, respectively; as a unit, New York’s 29th in total assists, at only 19.6 per game, less than double Rajon Rondo’s pre-injury numbers. Kidd’s really remodeled his career, developing his outside shooting touch as his lateral quickness withers; at 39, he’s putting up some of the best shooting numbers — 39% from the field and 37.4% from 3 — of his 19-year career. Novak, 45% from 3, is the league’s 3rd-most accurate long-range shooter. (New York’s tops in the league in makes per game, 10, and attempts, 29, shooting a 6th-best 37.7%.)

Smith, who some say should have joined Anthony and Chandler on the Eastern Conference’s All Star team, is a Sixth Man of the Year contender; he’s averaging career-highs in points, 15.9; rebounds, 4.9; assists, 2.8; and even blocks, 0.4, all while shooting a respectable 40% from the field in his 9th year. That said, his 39.7% FG percentage is his lowest since 2005-06, and he’s taking far too many 3’s, 5.1 per game, only to convert 34%, also his lowest since 2005-06; in 33.1 minutes, he’s only attempting 3.2 free throws a night.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MIAMI HEAT

But with Smith, Stoudemire, the 28-year-old rookie Copeland, who’s averaging 6.5 points in less than 12 minutes, Novak and Wallace, a 7.2-points-a-night scorer when he’s healthy, New York’s bench is 5th-best in scoring, at 39 points per game.

Holding on to the East’s No. 2 seed, and therefore avoiding Miami in the conference semifinals, is key. Of course, New York’s a combined 1-5 against Chicago and Indiana this season, both slower-pace, defense-centric clubs capable of grinding opponents down with their size. New York, a 19-8 team at Madison Square Garden, would be a different animal at that arena in the postseason, though.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Looking ahead to next year, New York’s essentially bringing back the same team, with Smith, Wallace (nearing retirement, again) and Copeland the only notable guys not locked up through 2013-14. Smith has a modest $2.9 million player option that he’s outplayed, and very well could look for a raise in a weaker market. The Knicks are a luxury tax team through 2014-15, unless Carmelo opts out and leaves in 2014; it’s very likely ‘Melo will opt out for a longer-term deal, but given his stated desire to play in New York, it’s hard to imagine him playing elsewhere.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — LOS ANGELES LAKERS

But for now, the focus is on winning a playoff series, something a New York basketball team has not done since 2000.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL COVERAGE: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30 SERIES


30 in 30: DETROIT PISTONS

February 11, 2013

The Pistons run, one that saw them appear in an amazing 6 consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, is over. That’s not really news to most people — Detroit’s been sub-.500 the last 4 years and missed the playoffs in 3 straight, and that painful run is likely to continue this year. But the symbolism of the Pistons’ dominance officially withered when GM Joe Dumars shipped Tayshaun Prince to Memphis in a cap-saving move about 2 weeks ago. So the rebuild continues in Detroit or starts over, depending on your perspective, as Dumars starts to shed some of the bad contracts that have hampered his team’s growth since 2009.

There’s still 2 really bad deals on the books for 2013-14 — Rodney Stuckey’s $8.5 million and Charlie Villanueva’s $8.5 million player option, which he’s likely to pick up — but Jose Calderon’s $11+ million per, obtained via the Prince deal, expires this summer, as does Corey Maggette’s $10.9 million and Jason Maxiell’s $5 million. (And, in the Rudy Gay deal, Detroit dumped Prince’s 4-year, $27 million deal in its 2nd year.) Starting in 2014-15, the Pistons only have $1.1 million tied up in Kyle Singler, $3.75 and $2.6 million team options on former lottery picks Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond, respectively, and a $5.5 million qualifying offer on restricted free agent Greg Monroe, in addition to Jonas Jerebko’s $4.5 million player option.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — DENVER NUGGETS

Dumars had made his share of mistakes in transitioning out of the team’s championship era. Chief among those would be trading Chauncey Billups, the team’s emotional leader, for a troubled Allen Iverson, who subsequently struggled to fit into such a team-centric approach, and then handing out a combined $90 million to free agents Ben Gordon, since traded to Charlotte, and Villanueva in the summer of 2009. Then there was the short-lived John Kuester tenure, hired as the team’s head coach in 2009, whose players staged a walkout in the middle of the season.

Back to the team Detroit has on the floor this year. The Pistons, headed into Sunday’s games, are a far-from-terrible 20-32, better than I anticipated months ago, and 4th in the Central Division. Detroit is 6.5 games out of the No. 8 seed, with only the struggling and injury-depleted Philadelphia 76ers between them and Milwaukee. But the more important objective is growth, and the Pistons have succeeded in drafting two frontcourt players, Drummond and Monroe, they can likely hang their hats on for years to come.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — DALLAS MAVERICKS

Drummond’s 22.53 PER ranks 15th in the NBA and 3rd among Eastern Conference bigs, trailing only Brook Lopez and Amar’e Stoudemire. Drummond, a 19-year-old rookie out of Connecticut, was regarded as a project around draft time, one with a lot of potential but also one who needed refined ball-control skills. He’s averaging 7.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in less than 20 minutes a game; he’s shown he can protect the rim, though needs to work on an interior offensive game — despite his 59% shooting from the field, he’s 36% from the FT line. Monroe, 22, has improved his scoring numbers in each of his 3 seasons and also has a considerably high PER, 19.67. Add those two and a few other pieces, and that’s the league’s 5th-rated rebounding unit.

Sure, Detroit has 2 great centers — one of whom, Monroe, has a developing inside-out game, and both of whom are freakishly athletic — but the other 3 spots are question marks. The biggest concern might be 2nd-year PG Brandon Knight, 21, whose assist numbers — 4.3 a game in 31.7 minutes — are low, especially compared to Calderon’s 7.5 per in 31 minutes (in his first 4 games), as is his 40.6% FG percentage. Knight has shown flashes as a scorer and distributor, though the Pistons are ranked 24th in assists per game — and he was an all-rookie NBA first-teamer (he tied for 5th, but received the least 1st-team votes among the 7) last season — but he pails in comparison to fellow 2011 draftee Kyrie Irving, drafted 7 slots ahead of Knight.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Knight has potential, but maybe he’s not cut out to be a natural point guard, similar to Rodney Stuckey, who struggled to develop as a distributor and has since assumed more of an off-guard role. And even Stuckey’s assist numbers, 3.7 per 28.3 minutes, are on par with Knight’s, as are backup Will Bynum’s, 3.7 per 18.3 minutes. Of the 3, Bynum has the highest PER by a ways, and Knight’s 12.9 rating is well below the league’s 15.0 average. Bynum’s $3.5 million comes off the books this summer, yet it might be worth keeping him around, at the right price, as an explosive 6’0″ combo guard off the bench.

At the 3, the Pistons are a mess. With Prince’s departure, the 6’8″ Kyle Singler makes sense — he shoots a respectable 38% from 3 and demands respect as a scorer in only his first NBA season — but he lacks the lateral quickness and defensive intensity to compete with guys like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Maggette’s an afterthought in a contract year who will be playing for the league minimum next year, if he finds a team interested in his services, and Jerebko, a 4, has seen his numbers drop in each of his 3 NBA seasons. Maxiell, also a 4, has failed to develop in his 7+ years as more than an energy role player with minimal offensive polish.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — CHICAGO BULLS

The bottom line: For Dumars and Lawrence Frank to get this team back on track, there needs to be a few more draft day hits and less money wasted in free agency. Detroit, with only $35 million committed next year, could very well sign a max free agent this offseason, or they could wait it out, be bad for a few years and develop the young guys. The latter option may not be the sexiest, but it is the path they ought to travel.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

RELATED: FULL COVERAGE OF ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30 SERIES


Respect Kyrie Irving.

January 28, 2013

I’ve had this ongoing argument with some friends all season as to who’s the best point guard in the NBA. I would still give the edge to Chris Paul, if only based on seniority before anything else; after all, Paul’s third in the NBA in PER, trailing only LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And with the Clippers rocking a 33-13 record that trails only San Antonio and Oklahoma City, CP3’s very much alive in the MVP race. But, dude, that Kyrie Irving kid can ball.

What a week it was for the ex-Dukie. In three games against very capable opposing point guards — a lineup that featured Rajon Rondo (before the torn ACL, obviously) and Avery Bradley, then Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, and Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry to cap it off — Irving dropped 35.7 points per game, all while shooting a ridiculous 61% from the field. In the end, it was enough to earn Irving Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, joining LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Bernard King and John Drew as the fifth player to collect 3-straight 30-point games before the age of 21.

RELATED: MAKING THE (EASY) ALL STAR CASE FOR KYRIE IRVING

He notched 40 on Boston, the league’s No. 11-ranked defense in terms of opponent’s scoring, at The Q on Tuesday. Then, after GM Chris Grant swindled a deal for Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby from the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, Irving dropped 35, 24 of which came in the second half, on the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, helping the Cavaliers overcome a 20-point deficit and win. To finish Saturday, Irving had 32, but no 3 more important than his cold-blooded, 28-foot game-winner with 0.7 seconds left in Toronto to dispatch the Raptors.

It was the fifth game-winning shot of Kyrie Irving’s career, earning him the nickname Mr. 4th Quarter in Cleveland. For Irving, whose 24.2 points a night lead the NBA at his position, his week could very well transfer into a starting nod on the Eastern Conference All Star team, given Rondo’s injury. All this for a guy not even 21 years of age.

Beyond the scoring, his offensive game can still develop (and so can his defense, for sure), but Irving’s shooting touch, nifty handles and knowledge of the game already put him among the best the league’s seen at PG in some time. For basketball fans, he’s a blessing to watch, and for Cleveland fans like myself, hopefully an end to the post-LeBron misery.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Brook Lopez, the All Star snub.

January 25, 2013

The NBA unveiled the 7 reserves for both the Eastern and Western Conference All Star teams earlier this evening. And, of course, after every All Star roster is announced, the only logical question to ask is, “So, who was snubbed?” Cases can probably be made for Warriors’ PG Steph Curry, Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol, Brooklyn Nets’ two Joe Johnson or, if we’re forgetting defense, maybe even the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, among a host of others. But the snub, in my mind, has to be Brook Lopez.

Here’s a quick look at the reserves in the East:

  1. PF Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
  2. C Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
  3. PF/C Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
  4. SG/SF Paul George, Indiana Pacers
  5. SF Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
  6. PG Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
  7. PG Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

No Brooklyn Nets, no Brook Lopez. What gives?

Here’s a guy who was dangled in Dwight Howard trade talks all summer, before signing a max 4-year, $61 million deal this offseason, much to the chagrin of NBA pundits, myself included, who didn’t see Lopez as a max guy, especially on a team with max deals already devoted to Deron Williams and Johnson. Now, with the Lakers in free fall and the Dwight Howard experiment not working as planned, L.A. may be looking for pre-deadline suitors for its impending free agent big, and Brooklyn, contrary to when he was with Orlando, is unlikely to come calling.

That’s all due to the season Lopez is having. In 35 starts, he’s averaging 18.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a night, all while shooting 52% from the field, 2 points ahead of his career mark, and 73% from the line (if only Howard could do that) — a symbol of  consistency of a team with a coaching change and inconsistent play from its two stars, Williams and Johnson, in the past three months. He’s fourth in the NBA in PER, behind only superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, and ahead of fellow New Yorker and likely MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony.

His 18.6 points lead the Nets — I mean, who would have thought Lopez, not Williams or Johnson, would be the leading scorer on this team? And his 2.1 blocks a night, also team-leading, help anchor a solid defensive front alongside Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries, as their 94.1 points allowed per night is third in the Eastern Conference, only trailing Indiana and Chicago.

The Nets, 26-16 and 9-1 in their last 10, are thriving under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and have pulled within a game of the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks and 2.5 games of conference-leading Miami.

But it’s easy to say someone was snubbed without answering who you’re leaving off. Bosh, Chandler and Noah are the three big-man reserves with whom Lopez is competing, and Kevin Garnett was the only true big to be named, by fans, a starter. Chandler’s 19th in the league in PER, Bosh 22nd, Garnett 52nd and Noah 78th, a spot behind teammate Nate Robinson.

I don’t take exception with Chandler’s All Star nod, if only because of the defensive force he remains in the middle and how drastically his departure has killed a Dallas Mavericks team a year-and-a-half out from a championship. I also find it tough to criticize the selection of Bosh, who’s averaging 17.3 points per game and 7.2 rebounds on the East’s top team.

Noah is perhaps deserving of an All Star bid, but not over Lopez. Yes, he anchors one of the league’s best defensive units. Yes, he’s one of the main reasons Chicago is fourth in the East, even minus it’s franchise player. But his 12.2 points, a career high, and 10.9 rebounds aren’t screaming All Star at me.

Nor does Garnett’s 14.7 points, the third-lowest of his career, and 7 rebounds, the lowest since his rookie year, on a mediocre Boston squad that may just sneak into the playoffs. Of course Garnett was voted in by the fans, so that’s a whole different bag of worms. (Food for thought: Garnett’s averaging 0.9 offensive rebounds per game, easily the lowest mark of his entire career.)

All Star rosters are never perfect, but if this year’s was, Brook Lopez’s name would be included.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Folks, Chicago’s still a threat

November 12, 2012

When this happened (video below) in the inaugural game of the 2012 NBA playoffs, everyone knew Chicago was done. The Bulls were up 99-87 with barely a minute to go in their Game 1 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, but the Eastern Conference’s top seed was all but eliminated. Derrick Rose tore his ACL and MCL in the waning moments of that game, taking him out of the remainder of the playoffs and for the foreseeable future. Boston and Miami collectively exhaled.

Chicago lost that series to the 76ers, and LeBron James & Co. won the first of what some experts consider to be many rings. In the ensuing offseason, Chicago dealt Kyle Korver to Atlanta, C.J. Watson left for Brooklyn, Ronnie Brewer for New York and Omer Asik for Houston. The Bulls needed to slice payroll with millions owed to Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and a core restricted free agent in Taj Gibson, whom the Bulls recently re-upped for four years, $38 million, looming.

Six games into the season, Chicago’s 4-2 and atop the East’s Central, and weakest, division. And, folks, even though the timetable is unclear on Rose’s return, if he does return at all this year (the Bulls have $94.8 million reasons to not rush their star back), they’re still a threat.

Defense wins championships

The age-old saying is a fixture in basketball circles, and few teams play better team defense than Chicago. It’s hard to imagine a better start to a head-coaching career than the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau, who won Coach of the Year in a 62-win campaign in 2010-11, his first as the head boss. Then, he followed that up by becoming the fastest coach in league history to 100 wins in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened campaign, coming in second in Coach of the Year honors to the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich.

No one preaches team defense better than TT, and even with a guy like Nate Robinson, not exactly known for his defensive prowess, as such an important part of his rotation, the Bulls are getting it done. Chicago’s currently fourth in the NBA in overall defense, allowing a mere 88.7 points per game — of course, the schedule hasn’t been too difficult, with 5 of 6 at home and only two playoff teams from last year, OKC and Orlando (OK, they don’t really count here, right?), on the docket.

So the Bulls may not have Rose until March or April, but if they can continue to hold opponents under 90 points a game night in and night out, they’ve got as good a chance as anyone.

But can they score?

[The Bulls had a mini firesale this summer, likely to make room for some horrible contracts that won’t start to come off the books until after next season. Luol Deng, the team’s leading scorer presently at 17.7 a night, is owed $27 million over the next two years, which isn’t a horrible deal given Deng’s now the No. 1 option. But Carlos Boozer, whom the Bulls very well could amnesty this summer, is on the books for an absurd $47 million over the next three years, and Joakim Noah at $11, $12, $13 & $14 million-plus through 2015-16. So between Gibson and Noah’s deals, the Bulls have essentially tied up $88 million over the next four years in energy players. Nice. (I do like Gibson’s deal for Bulls, though.)]

Back to the point: The Bulls have little flexibility to make a move this summer, or little in expiring deals to make a splash for some backcourt scoring at the deadline.

But this is where one of my favorite offseason acquisitions comes in … Nate Robinson. Yes, Nate Robinson. He has an ego much larger than his 5’9″ frame, he’s a headcase, he shoots too much, and he’s not usually one for defense. But Nate Robinson can score. And through six games, he’s scoring 11.5 points a night in only 22.7 minutes, he’s got the highest PER (18.5) of any Bull, and he’s second only in assists (4.2 a game) to starting PG Kirk Hinrich. And he’s shooting 49% from the field! Get out!

Chicago needs a scorer off the bench, and Robinson’s giving him that … even moreso than Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer or C.J. Watson did last year. Robinson, until Boozer gets his shit together, may very well be the most important member of this team. He’s an explosive, streaky scorer, averaging as much as 17.2 points per game in his 2008-09 campaign with the Knicks.

If Hinrich can stay healthy (as he goes out with a hip injury…) this year, Chicago can keep Robinson coming off the bench, a role he’s most comfortable in. And if Carlos Boozer can up his nightly scoring to around 15, Chicago’s got enough to compete with anyone … outside Miami, Boston, LA, SA & OKC, of course. (Noah’s giving the team a solid 15 a night and Rip Hamilton another 13.5.) Once Rose returns, who knows?

One thing’s for sure — we’ll learn a hell of a lot more about this team in the next few weeks, with a home game against Boston on Monday, followed by a West Coast trip that won’t have the Bulls back at the United Center until four days after Thanksgiving.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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