The Fundamentals

» December 2, 2009 9:57 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle:  “It is at times fun and at times frustrating to watch the Trevor Ariza transformation. You watch him disappear for a while, and you wonder what’s wrong. But you almost can’t help but root for the kid. Nice guys can jump. On the ‘kid’ thing. Yeah, he is 24 and in his fifth NBA season, but he is still growing. Ariza is a work in progress, and his growth this season is about as important to the Rockets’ fortunes as any possible Tracy-McGrady-for-a-healthy-body trade general manager Daryl Morey might be trying to make. Ariza says he is the same guy he has always been, though he is averaging 18.2 points a game and his career high before this year was 8.9. He went from being the fifth or sixth best player on a championship team to being one of the two or three best players on a team that hopes to squeeze into the playoffs. He is being asked to do things no one has ever asked him to do, but they are things he thinks he has been capable of doing all along. Ariza loves his new role: lead scorer. He just has to learn what a lead scorer is.”

Steve Adamek of the Bergen Record:  “Jared Jeffries leads the Knicks in charges taken. And deflections. Both by a lot. He leads them in moans, too, from the Garden crowd every time he touches the ball in a position where it looks like he’s going to shoot by a lot, as well. The latter, of course, is somewhat understandable, for Jeffries, from the time he got to New York until now, has barely been able to shoot a lick. And there’s no doubt, people around the Knicks say, it’s in his head. He hears the groans every time he catches the ball in a place where he can launch a shot. Not exactly good for the confidence. But we come here to defend Jeffries because, simply put, he does something many of the folks who comment in this space and elsewhere seem to want from Mike D’Antoni’s team. He defends. Tuesday, Jeffries’ contribution got dwarfed by Danilo Gallinari’s 27 points in three quarters, Larry Hughes’ eight first-quarter assists (en route to 12 overall) and the Knicks’ ‘what universe are we in?’ performance. But teams that win games such as Tuesday also get things such as the five offensive rebounds. His four assists and a steal. And his defense that helped limit Amar’e Stoudemire to 14 points and former Knick Channing Frye, suddenly Mr. Three-Point Guy, to five. If the Knicks are going to win some day, they’ll need guys doing such things.”

Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee:  “It wasn’t the first time Tyreke Evans has felt appreciated in his new workplace, but the praise wasn’t always this obvious. When the Kings rookie guard arrived at the team’s practice facility Tuesday morning, he heard applause from his teammates and surrounding staff. He was named the NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month, and the individual accolade was more than enough reason for the Kings to celebrate collectively. The organization, which has experienced its darkest stretch in recent seasons, hadn’t had one of its rookies win the award since Brian Grant in 1995. For the team’s owners to the media relations employees (who routinely petition for such honors), the rejection was a byproduct of the losing that became the norm. It isn’t just the Kings’ rookies who have been ignored. The last monthly award given to a Kings player was in January 2005, when Chris Webber was named Player of the Month. A Kings coach hasn’t been deemed Coach of the Month since January 2004. Even the weekly honors largely eluded them, as Brad Miller’s Player-of-the-Week award was the last of its kind on Feb. 4, 2008.”

Tom Enlund of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  “The realities of life in the National Basketball Association are slowly setting in for Milwaukee Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings . . .  On and off the court. After a terrific start – on Tuesday Jennings was named the Eastern Conference rookie of the month – his production has tailed off in the last week. Still, coach Scott Skiles thinks that has as much to do with the adjustments Jennings is trying to make to life in the NBA as it does with anything the opposing defenses are doing to stop his flow. ‘I think that, more than anything else, it’s just his own personal adjustments,’ said Skiles after practice Tuesday. ‘He’s never been through anything like this. This many games in this period of time. Playing at this high a level with as many big bodies and athletes. There’s a lot of little things. Eat right and manage his time and his sleep. All the stuff that you learn how to do at this level.’ In the first 11 games, Jennings averaged 25.3 points on 47.9% shooting. In the past five games, he has averaged 14.2 points on 29.8% shooting.”

Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:  “A year ago, this is where life as a rookie starter essentially ended for Michael Beasley. The open of the Miami Heat’s first western swing of 2008-09 also came in Portland, where the prized No. 2 overall draft pick would make his 15th start in as many outings. Start No. 16 would not come for more than four months, when Udonis Haslem, his replacement as the starting power forward, was sidelined in April. Now, a year later, Beasley is a fixture in the Heat’s lineup, while Haslem is playing as a sixth man. Beasley made his 17th start in as many games late Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden and is expected to be right back in the starting lineup when this four-game trip continues Thursday in Denver against the Nuggets. ‘I haven’t thought otherwise,’ coach Erik Spoelstra of Beasley being entrenched in the lineup. ‘He’s been more alert defensively. And offensively, he’s doing some of the things we saw in college.’ To Beasley, the sting of last season’s benching still resonates, to have someone tell him that he wasn’t good enough to remain an NBA starter, after one of the best statistical college seasons ever, at Kansas State.”

Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY:  “Marc Gasol was a footnote in the multiplayer trade that propelled the Los Angles Lakers to consecutive NBA Finals appearances and the 2009 title. He is the other Gasol brother, whom the Lakers traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for Pau, the missing piece in Los Angeles’ title hopes, in the NBA’s only sibling-for-sibling trade. It seemed a lopsided deal. ‘We got hammered on it,’ Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said. ‘Our end of the deal was going to get rolled out over time. The Lakers’ end got rolled out immediately.’ Almost two years later, the trade doesn’t look so bad. Marc Gasol, 24 and in his second NBA season, is averaging 15.4 points, 10 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots and is shooting 63% from the field. He set a franchise record with 15 consecutive field goals spanning games Nov. 14-18 and has made 60 of his last 81 shots (74%).”

Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press:  “Corey Brewer is spending less time looking at the floor these days. There were times earlier this season when the Timberwolves small forward would look at his feet before firing up a jump shot. It was Brewer’s way of remembering his new shooting mechanics, a makeover implemented by Wolves coach Kurt Rambis. Rambis has been working on Brewer’s shooting technique, starting with his footwork to make sure his body is balanced as he takes aim. Brewer is shooting only 38 percent (80 of 210) through 17 games, but he can tell he’s making progress — his body is straight and he no longer has to double-check his alignment before shooting. ‘It’s a lot more natural for me now,’ Brewer said. ‘I’m able to keep my feet squared. I can tell when I’m about to miss a shot. I can feel my body leaning to the right or left.’ The more Brewer maintains proper posture when he shoots, the more the Wolves (2-15) believe they will have a consistent scorer from a vital position. As a 6-foot-9 perimeter player, Brewer gets a huge number of open shots in the Wolves’ offense. Teams are double-teaming Al Jefferson in the post or collapsing on point guard Jonny Flynn when he drives to the basket.”

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:  “Rasheed Wallace has eight technical fouls in 18 games, which would equate to 36 over a full season. That number is astronomical, of course, especially since the NBA suspends players one game for each technical after the 16th. Wallace has a career high of 41 in 2000-01 with Portland, and he collected 19 last season with Detroit. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his mercurial forward is going to have to reduce his propensity for technicals. Wallace picked up his third in three games in the second quarter of last night’s 108-90 win over the Bobcats. After being replaced by Kendrick Perkins, Wallace walked by official Derek Richardson, whispered some words, and received a technical before reaching the bench. He appeared to still be upset about being called for a foul on Flip Murray about a minute earlier. ‘I’m concerned, but there’s nothing I am going to do about it, I’ll tell you that,’ said Rivers. ‘I could talk to him until I’m blue. Clearly, it’s going to come to that number and he’s going to get suspended and we don’t want to lose him for games. His teammates are on him. We talked to him about it. But at the end of the day, he is going to have to solve that on his own.’”

Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle:  “Watch carefully as you examine the Warriors under Don Nelson, returning to the bench for Thursday night’s home game against Houston, after a week under interim coach Keith Smart. However the players respond – and you can bet a few of them won’t be thrilled – nothing really changes in the big picture. This isn’t a team anyone would love to coach. Not that it was Smart’s fault, necessarily, but with the Lakers in town Saturday night and the Oracle crowd ready for action, the Warriors came out completely flat. They played a terrible first half against Indiana two nights later, before Monta Ellis decided he’d just win the game by himself. At least one thing has changed since Nelson took leave. Ellis became a full-fledged, unstoppable star. The man is sheer poetry on the drive, his outside shot is improving, and his 45-point performance against the Pacers was capsulized by that astounding spin-into-a-reverse-lefty-bank answer to Danny Granger’s tight defense. He would have had 50 points in that game, easy, if he hadn’t fouled out with about six minutes left. Everyone knew Ellis had it in him; is this his way of telling Nelson to get lost? He’s having too much fun to admit that, and even if it were true, it would be a pretty sad story if Ellis backed off his resurgence in any way.”

Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:  “The Clippers (8-10) have won four of their last five games, but they might have to play the Houston Rockets tonight at Staples Center without shooting guard Eric Gordon, whose left hamstring tightened up in the final minutes of a come-from-behind victory over Memphis on Sunday. Gordon did not practice Tuesday and his availability for tonight will be a game-time decision. Gordon said the most impressive part of the Clippers’ game-ending 22-0 run against the Grizzlies was the zero side of the equation. ‘We played really good defense,’ said Gordon, who made a key steal during the spurt. ‘That’s what really won the game.’ The Clippers are 2-1 since Gordon returned from a sore left groin that sidelined him for the previous eight games. Though he poured in 29 points against Memphis, his defense was every bit as important to the comeback. ‘Defensively, he’s so good that he forces tough shots and turnovers by the other team,’ Coach Mike Dunleavy said. Said Gordon: ‘I try to put points up on the board, but my main thing is to stop guys from scoring.’”

Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News:  “The Lakers aren’t the league’s best defensive team so far in 2009-10, but they are No. 1 when it comes to holding opposing shooters in check. After all, they were giving up an average of 95.9 points (ninth in the NBA) and limiting opponents to 42 percent shooting (first) going into Tuesday night’s game against the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center. Their fine defensive play has been a source of great pride for the Lakers. Coach Phil Jackson ran down a checklist of the reasons for their success. ‘Some of it is height; some of it challenging shots and contesting shots; some of it is the time left on the clock to operate and how hurried teams are; and some of it is getting guys out of (their preferred) position on the floor,’ he said. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but the Lakers have ways of luring opponents out of their comfort zones. Mostly it involves double-teaming the dribbler and forcing him to make a more difficult pass than he would like to make.  ‘Most teams have shooting spots or territories that they move through in warm-up drills or pregame shooting drills and what your defense tries to get them in positions that aren’t normal spots for them to shoot,’ Jackson explained. ‘A lot of it for us is to push them into what we call baseline or sideline push, where we aggravate the dribbler because he drives into a double team. So now he has to pass out of it and guys have to move out of their (favorite) spots to relieve the pressure.’”

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:  “The Suns’ record speaks for them. They can tiptoe around stating the benefits of Shaquille O’Neal’s absence, but the change in success, speed, spirit and synergy is undeniable. The Big Cactus was fun but made for a prickly presence because his size – and personality – can be overwhelming. … ‘With how Channing (Frye) is shooting the ball, it opens the court for everyone and gives a chance for everyone to play their roles,’ Stoudemire said. O’Neal, who recently returned from a shoulder injury, is shooting a career-low 51 percent and is averaging 11.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. But the Cavaliers were aiming at the postseason with O’Neal.  ‘He gives them a much better chance against Orlando,’ Suns General Manager Steve Kerr said. ‘We needed to get younger and more mobile on the front line. I didn’t expect to be 14-3 (entering Tuesday’s game). It is really what (coach) Alvin (Gentry) and I envisioned when we were discussing our players. Mobile (big men) lead to better pick-and-roll defense and a better style for (point guard) Steve (Nash).’ It also became Nash’s team again, so much so that he ripped into it in a way he had never done after a loss at New Orleans. Nash chastised his team’s lack of focus, and four blowout wins followed.”

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:  “Fifteen games into the season, taking the Spurs’ offense back to its basics has been an unqualified success. With seven new players to teach, coach Gregg Popovich tore entire chapters out of one of the league’s thickest playbooks before opening training camp. Then he entrusted point guard Tony Parker with more offensive leadership than at any time in his career, an act of faith for someone not easily given to ceding control. … The simplification has been relatively easy for Popovich to implement. For the most part, so has his plan to allow his point guards to run the offense with minimal input from the bench. Most often, he has remained in his seat, fighting the urge to flash signs like a third-base coach each time his team heads into the frontcourt. ‘I’m really trying to make an effort to call fewer and fewer plays and let Tony run the show and let the flow of the motion and the reads they make dictate most of the offense,’ Popovich said. ‘I get more involved after timeouts, and that kind of thing, but I’d really like them to read the situations on the court and play without my orchestrating much of anything.’”

Jason Quick of The Oregonian:  “The Blazers (12-8) have lost three in a row, including two at home, and none of them has been close. After trailing by 29 to Memphis and 27 at Utah, the Blazers on Tuesday trailed by as many as 17 in the fourth quarter before a meaningless rally made the final score palatable. To say the Blazers are in a rut is an understatement, but coach Nate McMillan said this is no time to pout. ’The only way to get out of this is to work our way out, and work it out together,’ McMillan said. It doesn’t take much to see what the Blazers’ problems are — the defense is slow and tentative and the offense is indecisive and decidedly off with its shot. And besides Greg Oden, who recorded another solid game with 13 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, there isn’t one Blazers player who is performing at a high level. But the biggest problem, and the one that is finally beginning to be vocalized in the locker room, lies between the ears of the players. The Blazers, quite frankly, are thinking too much.”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “‘Why Kiki?’ Thorn asked during his introductory remarks. ‘I think Kiki because of his knowledge. I think Kiki because of his personality. I think Kiki because of his ability to work with young players, to get the best out of young players. He’s a natural for this job. I think he will be an excellent teacher and coach for this team.’ Vandeweghe emphasized his talent for skill development. He learned the jump shot at age 14 in Jerry West’s driveway — his dad, the legendary Ernie Vandeweghe, was the Lakers’ team doctor at the time. He learned everything else from the game’s seminal teacher, Pete Newell, over a 30-year friendship that ended with the Hall of Famer’s death last year. And Vandeweghe gets results. As the personnel director in Dallas in 1999 and 2000, his work with Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash changed the direction of the franchise. As a GM in Denver, he worked tirelessly with Carmelo Anthony on his jumper and transformed the Nuggets forward from a so-so shooter (.426 in 2003-04) to a brilliant one (.481 in 2005-06) in just two years. ‘I just enjoy being in the gym,’ Vandeweghe said. ‘And this affords an opportunity to be on the floor.’”

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:  “The Orlando Magic entered Tuesday with the Eastern Conference’s best record. But the team leads the entire NBA in a different category: the number of individuals fined by the NBA since training camp started in late September. Matt Barnes, Dwight Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy each have been punished by the league office for separate offenses. They are expected to pay a total of $70,000. That’s not to say the Magic are bad guys. In fact, the number of fines assessed to various teams likely will even out over the course of the 2009-10 season. ‘I don’t think it’s been anything crazy,’ Van Gundy said Tuesday. Yet the frequency of the Magic’s fines since Oct. 16 — the date the first punishment was announced — naturally has raised questions here in Central Florida about how the fine process works. How does the NBA collect information about potential offenses? How does the league determine the dollar amount for each fine? Where does all the money go?”

(Photo by Bill Baptist NBAE/Getty Images)


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