The Fundamentals

» November 16, 2009 9:41 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Mike Jones of The Washington Times:  “He tried serious. Surly even. He declared Agent Zero dead and retired the Hibachi. Once the most media-accessible star in the NBA, Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas aimed to be so focused on basketball that he had to be forced by the NBA – in the form of a $25,000 fine – to speak to the media. Although Arenas claimed otherwise, the fun appeared to be gone, and on the court he mostly sported a scowl. But the new persona didn’t translate into on-court success. Aside from the season-opening 29-point, nine-assist performance in a victory over Dallas and a 32-point, seven-assist game in a win over New Jersey, Arenas largely has been disappointing. In six losses heading into Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, Arenas averaged 21.8 points but owned a .383 shooting clip while turning the ball over 5.3 times a game. Arenas did away with his angry self Saturday night, proclaiming before the matchup with Detroit that he was going back to having fun and that Agent Zero and the Hibachi would return. But aside from a buzzer-beating 33-foot 3-pointer at halftime, the Agent Zero heroics remained missing in action. Arenas recorded 19 points and 10 assists against the Pistons but made only one of three shots in a fourth quarter in which Washington blew a six-point lead and lost. The defeat dropped Arenas’ Wizards to 2-7, the new offense he is charged with directing remains stagnant and the guard is caught in an identity crisis while trying to re-establish himself and learn a new system. ‘In [former coach Eddie Jordan's] system, he just told me attack, attack, attack 24-7,’ Arenas said. ‘In this system, I have the ball so much, if I attack, attack, attack, you know, I’ll sit around and score 60; I’d just be ball-hogging. … I was a reactor. Now I find myself being a thinker. Just like the Miami game, I’m sitting there concentrating on getting assists – averaging eight assists, averaging nine assists because I want to be labeled a ‘point guard.’ ‘ That self analysis explains a lot.”

Peter Finney of the Times-Picayune:  “No one knows for sure how a coaching change nine games into an 82-game season will affect the future of the New Orleans Hornets. But I do know one thing for sure: The worst thing that can happen to this NBA franchise is losing the services of Chris Paul. I say this because the first order of business,  once the Hornets’ hierarchy was all but certain Byron Scott should be fired,  should have been having Paul called in and given the feeling he was part of ownership. Instead of being stunned by the move,  it would have been a lot smarter having your most valuable player asked to express his opinion before a final decision was made,  to feel part of the process. Have Paul sit and listen to ownership’s side,  why ownership feels Scott’s departure would be a positive move. Have him listen to team president Hugh Weber say,  ‘We found the players we felt would help us compete and yet the team is broken.’ Have ownership listen to Paul’s response, all the while making him realize how vital he is to the future of the Hornets. Face the facts. At the moment, the jury is out as to the Hornets’ immediate future.”

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:  “For the second consecutive night, the Celtics were soundly beaten by a team with younger, fresher legs, upstarts with something to prove, determined to push their aging foe to fatigue and frustration. While losing to the athletic Hawks could be considered a minor upset and the byproduct of a team emerging as an Eastern Conference threat, the 113-104 defeat by the Pacers Saturday night is cause for concern as the Celtics attempt to rest and rehabilitate before Wednesday night’s home game with the Warriors. Most disconcerting about the defeat at Indiana was the number of open shots created by the Pacers’ ball movement. Friday night, Jamal Crawford destroyed the Celtics by swishing open jumpers and Saturday Indiana scored just 32 of its points in the paint. So perimeter defense has become an issue. Indiana canned nine 3-pointers, six by Danny Granger, one of the league’s best marksmen. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the defense was ‘awful,’ and the decline is even surprising the players. ‘That’s what we live on,’ said guard Ray Allen, who scored 24 points Saturday night. ‘To not adjust to what they are doing, it’s boggling to my mind. We’re the team everybody thinks is the team to beat.’”

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:  “The Lakers’ 101-91 loss to Houston on Sunday in front of an unhappy crowd at Staples Center was their second in a row and third this season. That, in itself, is not a problem. The problem is they followed a putrid, franchise-worst second half at Denver on Friday with a ragged first half Sunday — and let that bleed into a rancid third quarter in which Aaron Brooks had 15 points and the Lakers as a team had 19. After scoring only 23 points in the second half at Denver on Friday, the Lakers were outscored, 49-37, in the second half Sunday. It wasn’t pretty. ‘If you look at the games, it’s clear these are not games we should be winning,’ Andrew Bynum said. ‘We’re going out and playing subpar basketball for this team.’ In a season that began with the goal of challenging the 72-10 standard set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, the Lakers are looking at their transition defense and finding it wanting and shaking their heads at being outrebounded, 60-38, by a team that lacked Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.”

Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:  “A year after recording their first winning season since 1998-99, the Hawks entered the season bent on improvement.  But could they have imagined this? Ten games into the season, the 8-2 Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference and were tied with Phoenix for the best record in the NBA as the Suns went into Sunday night’s game against Toronto. Among the team’s conquests are road wins at Boston, Portland and Sacramento and a home win over Denver. The start marks the team’s best record after 10 games since 1997-98, when the team started 11-0. ‘I think we can do something special,’ said forward Joe Smith, the 14-year veteran who has contributed key minutes off the bench. ‘We have to continue to get better as a group and continue to understand where we can go. The sky’s pretty much the limit for us if we believe in each other and believe in what we bring to the table.’”

Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post:  “Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings is at the top of the list, without question. Ty Lawson, however, is playing himself into any conversation there may be going forward in the race for NBA Rookie of the Year. And yes, the small-in-stature, large-in-heart Nuggets’ point guard has thought about it some. ‘I’m a rookie, of course I want to be rookie of the year,’ Lawson said. ‘But right now I’m focused on the team. We’ve got big things we can do right now, so I’m focused on the team.’ At 10.3 points per game, Lawson is tied for fourth in scoring among rookies with his former North Carolina teammate Tyler Hansbrough – although Hansbrough has only played in three games. It’s significant because aside from Hansbrough, Lawson averages the least amount of minutes of any in the top six, by a large amount. Lawson has gotten 21.8 minutes per game in a role off the bench. That’s 6.6 minutes fewer than the next lowest – Minnesota’s Jonny Flynn at 28.4 minutes per game. In addition, Lawson is among the top seven in field goal percentage (.527), 3-point percentage (.500) and free throw percentage (.941).”

John Shipley of the Pioneer Press:  “The player and coach are still smiling about it, which is a good sign. But sooner or later, Jonny Flynn is going to have to do what Kurt Rambis asks him to do. Currently, this is a sometimes proposition. There are still too many Timberwolves possessions that start with the rookie point guard looking for a lane rather than a teammate, a style that runs counter to the constant ball movement required of Rambis’ triangle offense. ‘It’s tough,’ Flynn said, breaking into an impish smile. ‘I’m just following the game plan, doing what Kurt wants. Me being a guy who likes to create off the dribble, likes to get into the lane, it’s tough coming into a system like that.’ It seems Flynn’s first instinct is to create his own shot for a quick score, as he was able to do last season at Syracuse. But this isn’t the NCAA, and though Flynn ranks third among NBA rookies with a 14.2-point scoring average, he often struggles to finish in the lane. Rambis says point guards in the triangle are supposed to score ‘on the backside of the offense,’ after a rotation, when they get the ball back after putting the ball into motion. Creating off the dribble is generally frowned upon, though Flynn believes that will change.”

Marcus Thompson II of the Oakland Tribune:  “Before Saturday’s 129-125 loss at Milwaukee, Warriors rookie guard Stephen Curry logged onto YouTube and watched some highlight clips of himself. ‘Remind myself that I can shoot the ball,’ Curry said, ‘and just to be on the attack.’ Curry was on the attack against the Bucks, finishing with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 26 minutes. It snapped a streak of six consecutive games scoring in single digits and washed away the sour taste of his New York experience. He played only three minutes against the Knicks on Friday. Curry, who said he gained confidence after knocking down his first shot against Milwaukee, wasn’t just a facilitator Saturday. He was looking to create offense. He attacked the defense off the dribble, he looked for his own shot, and he pushed the ball in transition.It’s all part of Curry’s more aggressive approach, spawned by his recent lack of play and subsequent frustration. Talk is surfacing about Curry being overrated and the wrong draft pick at No. 7, especially after rookie Jennings’ 55-point performance Saturday. But Curry said he’s resolved to play his complete game. While his shooting struggles have been well chronicled, Curry is shooting 48.4 percent from the field, including 7-of-15 from 3-point range.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:  “Everyone knows Brandon Jennings’ story now. They know about his resolve surviving the benchings and loneliness as a teenager in Italy. They know the time for NBA executives to scout him was at the practices with Lottomatica, the late nights and early mornings shooting in the gym. Everyone knows that Jennings challenged the system, defied the false gods of college basketball and pursued a trailblazing path. When Under Armour hired Kris Stone to get into the basketball endorsement game, all he did was bank his career, his credibility, on a skinny lefty kid who everyone feared would be broken overseas and an afterthought in the 2009 draft. Only, Stone always believed he had a deeper understanding of Jennings. To Stone, there’s one story that tells it all. There’s a reference to which he always returns. Three years ago, Jennings had come to New York as a high school junior to play in the Elite 24 all-star game that Stone had started, and he won the MVP over players like Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. The next morning, it was Stone’s job to drive over to the Westin Hotel in Times Square and make sure the kids were awake by 8 a.m. on the way to LaGuardia for flights home. So, Stone walked into the hotel lobby at 6, the elevator doors opened and there was a vision that brought him back to his days growing up in the Bay Area. ‘And here comes Brandon walking out with a basketball under his arm, a T-shirt and shorts,’ Stone said. ‘He had just achieved his greatest accomplishment as a high school player, and he’s running out the door to go work out with Ben Gordon. That always stuck with me.’”

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:  “Eight games into a season his team has started .500, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is still pushing buttons, playing mad scientist with different combinations of old hands and newcomers. One experiment that has seemed to work is deploying Parker and Hill, side-by-side. The Spurs enjoyed their best stretch of the 101-98 loss to Oklahoma City — a 16-2 run in the first half — with the two point guards on the floor together. When Popovich opted to sit Manu Ginobili for the fourth quarter due to a hamstring problem, the Parker-Hill pairing made a lengthy reappearance. It marked the first time this season Parker and Hill had seen extensive minutes together. It probably won’t be the last. Popovich believes Hill — whom the coach calls ‘one of the most improved players in the league’ — deserves more minutes than the 15 or so a night he’d be limited to as purely Parker’s backup. ‘We become a whole lot more athletic with another guy who can fill the lane and maybe get an easy bucket,’ Popovich said. ‘Depending on who is on the court, George can take the tougher of the two defensively and have Tony take the other guy. It gives us a lot of flexibility.’”

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:  “This is basketball’s version of a chicken-and-egg problem: A point guard can’t record an assist unless the shooter he passes to makes the shot. And a shooter is only as good as the shot a point guard creates with his pass. When it comes to the Charlotte Bobcats’ offense these days, the egg is cracked and the chicken broke its wing. The Bobcats enter today’s game in Orlando on a four-game losing streak and the reason is undeniable: They’re averaging all of 80 points in those games. Saturday, after an 80-74 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, coach Larry Brown proclaimed, ‘Our point guards have got to get people some shots.’ Brown still thinks that, but he elaborated Sunday at practice: Yes, point guards Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin need dramatic improvement in creating scoring opportunities for others. But that isn’t the sole concern for a team that is last in the NBA in scoring (82.4 points per game) and field-goal percentage (39.4 percent) and 28th among 30 in assists (17.44 per game). ‘We’re not getting easy baskets for other people,’ Brown said. ‘They don’t run pick-and-roll and we’re not penetrating and kicking.’”

Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman:  “You can’t score if you don’t shoot. Down the stretch of yet another close game, the Thunder failed to get its franchise player another shot, save a 25-footer on the meaningless last possession. The Thunder lost for many reasons. Pushed around by the bigger Clippers. No answer for LA’s two-man game of Baron Davis and Chris Kaman. Horrid shooting for much of the game. But still, the Thunder had a chance to win, even led 93-92 on Russell Westbrook’s jumper with 1:59 left. But Oklahoma City never scored again. ‘We gotta find him more shots down the stretch,’ Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. ‘We have to do a better job of finding him easier opportunities to score.’ That’s the thing. Durant was having one of those nights when he seemed capable of drop-kicking the ball through the hoop. Durant scored 19 points in the third quarter, when he went 6-of-7 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line. Yet he got no shots in the four minutes that decided the game. And while some of that falls on Westbrook’s quarterbacking, some of it falls on Durant himself, who seems content to stay within the flow of the offense.”

Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:  “To put the Heat’s reliance on Wade in perspective, consider that he is averaging 16.1 more points than the team’s second-leading scorer, center Jermaine O’Neal. Of the league’s top-five scorers, no one else faces such a huge disparity. Kobe Bryant, who leads the NBA with a 31.4 average, averages 10.7 more points than Lakers’ No. 2 scorer Andrew Bynum. Beyond that, Carmelo Anthony, the league’s second-leading scorer at 29.7 points per game, has an 11.7-point lead over Nuggets second-leading scorer Chauncey Billups. Following Wade’s No. 3 standing among the league leaders, Chris Bosh is at No. 4 at 28 points per game, just 8.4 more than second-leading Raptors scorer Andrea Bargnani. And No. 5 overall scorer LeBron James, at 27.5 points per game, is 9.1 points better than No. 2 Cavaliers scorer Mo Williams. It is among the reasons why Wade twice over the past 11 days, including Saturday, has been called upon to play the entire second half.”

Jason Quick of The Oregonian:  “When the Trail Blazers and Atlanta Hawks meet tonight at Philips Arena, the similarities between the two teams go beyond their winning streaks. And they go beyond the fact they are among the NBA’s youngest teams, both on the rise. Leading the teams are two understated stars — Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Portland’s Brandon Roy — who have forged a rather intense rivalry. Throughout the years, in exhibition and regular-season games, each has found the other brings out the best in him. The resulting competition has produced some memorable moments. But what makes this matchup even more special is the striking similarities between the two, on and off the court. Both players discovered those parallels during a bus ride in Phoenix last February after the All-Star Game when, fittingly, they were the only participants who didn’t leave with an entourage or head to an after-party. ‘After the game, everyone leaves with their entourage,’ Roy recalled. ‘And I’m the only dude leaving the game on the bus. Literally. Like, there’s some assistants and some kids, and then me in the back. And then he walks on,’ Roy said of Johnson. Johnson sat across the aisle from Roy, and soon they began to talk. ‘He was just kind of laid-back, low-key,’ Johnson said. ‘And that’s exactly how I am.’ For Roy, it was a thrill.”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “The Nets have a safety net in Newark if the Brooklyn deal falls through, an unsourced report suggested Saturday. The report stated that Mikhail Prokhorov is willing to buy the team at a reduced rate and keep it in New Jersey if the Atlantic Yards project dies, which contradicts what the team and the league have been saying since the Russian oligarch bid $200 million for a controlling share of the Nets in September. Nets CEO Brett Yormark would not comment on the report, which others in the organization say originated from the league, and not the team. Both Bruce Ratner and David Stern have stated recently that if Atlantic Yards doesn’t get under way, it’s a deal-breaker, and that Prokhorov will take his billions and go home — leaving Ratner with no other option but to seek out-of-town buyers, perhaps from Seattle. But that might have changed in the months since those assertions. One minority partner, who requested anonymity so he could speak candidly, said Saturday it is believed that Prokhorov ‘might be inclined to still buy and keep it in Jersey’ if the price could be worked out.”

David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal:  “As if playing for the New York Knicks weren’t bad enough, forward David Lee has found another, rather embarrassing way to tarnish the team’s status. Over the past three years, no player has had his shot attempts swatted away by opponents more frequently than Mr. Lee, who at 6-foot-9 is two inches taller than the average player. According to Joe Treutlein, who works for an NBA video-logging company and also runs the Web site, 11% of Mr. Lee’s shots over the past three seasons have been knocked out of the air by defenders, a whopping 216 in total. (Through Friday’s games, he’s slightly off pace this season, with only 8.8% of his shots blocked.) But Mr. Lee is hardly alone in his ability to get rejected (that is, if you call that an ability). Charlotte Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace isn’t far behind, getting 10.7% of his shots sent back to Earth for a total of 287. The common thread is that both players, along with the other players who top this list, spend ample time under the basket—where larger defenders often descend. All Stars such as Tim Duncan and Carmelo Anthony also have plenty of their shots blocked, but that’s a function of their high number of attempts. Perhaps most impressive in this study is Boston Celtics forward Rasheed Wallace. Mr. Wallace might be known for his heated temper, but in the past three years, only 1.8% of his shots were blocked, the lowest of any big man in the league.”

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