The Starting Five: Short supply at the point
Taking the temperature on this week’s hot topics in the NBA:
With stat-sheet-shredding point guards commanding so much attention (at least until it’s remembered that very few of the name point guards have won a championship), it’s never too early to look at this summer’s playmaker marketplace.
We’ll preface a quick look at the free-agent list by reminding everyone that Emmanuel Mudiay has returned from China and will be joined by Ohio State freshman D’Angelo Russell (a combo type who can make plays but would struggle defending the position) as high-lottery draft prospects.
After that, free agency delivers a rather light list of potential help.
The biggest name is Rajon Rondo, who is dribbling toward unrestricted status with the Dallas Mavericks. That’s pretty much it for high-level PGs without a player option or restricted tag.
The player-option list is led by Goran Dragic, whose continued insistence on waiting to see what happens in the summer has done little to convince anyone he won’t receive an acceptable, huge offer to stay with the Miami Heat.
Brandon Knight, the 23-year-old who replaced Dragic in Phoenix, leads the restricted list and (even at max-level prices on his scale) would cost the Suns less than would have been required to keep Dragic.
The other big talent at PG is Reggie Jackson, whose march toward restricted status has shifted to Detroit, where the Pistons will have Brandon Jennings returning from injury.
That’s hardly a bumper crop.
With DeAndre Jordan’s free-throw mishaps inspiring another round of intentional-foul-related debates, we have this perception from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich:
"I’m torn in the sense free throws are part of the game," Pop said. "Just like if another team doesn’t play good defense, you try to take advantage of it. If they have people who don’t shoot free throws (well), you try to take advantage of it. The goal … is to win. Does it look bad? Does it look ugly? It looks awful. There you have it."
Factoring the Clips’ average points per possession (first in the league), fouling a 40-percent free-throw shooter seems wise. But these intentional fouls almost always happen when the Clippers aren’t fast-breaking; removing fast-break scoring percentage from overall possession points makes intentionally fouling even less advantageous.
Throw in the variable of allowing the Clippers to set their defense after a free throw (made or missed), and the tactic’s efficacy is virtually nil.
By the way, Jordan has begun to come to a set position on his free throws before driving his elbow up above his eyebrows prior to the release. It could help generate more naturally accomplished arc and improve his percentage … eventually.
If you don’t believe in the potential of Karl-Anthony Towns, just watch the next Kentucky Wildcats game.
What you’ll see is a 7-foot freshman playing his way into contention (according to NBA personnel gossips) for selection with the first overall pick this June.
While Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor and his polished low-post repertoire still check in as favorites, Towns’ defensive ability and offensive versatility are making some evaluators think twice.
"I think Okafor projects as someone who can come in and score on the low block from day one — especially with the D3 (defensive three seconds) rule making it take longer for the double-team to get to him than it does in college," a personnel guy employed by a team nowhere near the top of the lottery said. "But Towns has more potential as a two-way player; it depends on which kid wants to work harder to be great."
Towns’ work for UK registers at No. 10 nationally for overall player efficiency, seventh in block percentage, second in wins shares per 40 minutes and first in defensive rating.
Despite Phil Jackson’s in-person study of Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and half of the Kentucky roster, his New York Knicks might not be ready to embrace one of the top prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft.
According to reports, the Knicks will consider moving their pick — which, if ping-pong-ball math turns out better than it usually does, could be first overall — for a more rebuild-friendly trade package.
Speaking of the Philadelphia 76ers, it has been posited that center Joel Embiid — their selection with the third pick last June — could be had with the proper, draft-oriented incentives.
Switching to the grinding gears of the NBA coaching carousel, Mike D’Antoni is very interested in returning to Denver (on purpose) to coach those pesky Nuggets. The team that reportedly broke a sideline huddle with the battle cry, "One, two, three … six weeks!" may be the next to try the offensive tactic of seven seconds or less.
With D’Antoni’s history of goosing stats for point guards and the expected TV-money hike in salary-cap limits, Ty Lawson probably wishes he only had one more year on his current deal.
Yeah, Thursday’s potential haymaker in Texas co-starring the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs is showdown enough for anyone who follows the NBA.
The Cavaliers are looking very much like a team capable of winning the Eastern Conference, while the defending-champion Spurs refuse to slow down at the toll booth of time.
But the game within this game will feature the last two NBA Finals MVPs, presumably working against each other in an end-to-end skirmish.
The defending MVP is Spurs three man Kawhi Leonard, whose rise to stardom alongside San Antonio’s big three was legitimized in a five-game conquest of the Miami Heat.
But LeBron James may be looking to provide a reminder that he was the MVP of Miami’s title run the year before by taking the battle to Leonard.
It’s interesting to note that while rave notices were bestowed upon Leonard for his work against LeBron in the 2014 Finals, James did average 28 points — making 57 percent of his shots overall, including 52 percent from 3-point range — almost 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
Neither player performed at an elite level during the Spurs’ two-point win in Cleveland back in November.
Expect much more this week.