Tag Archives: Dallas Mavericks

Official terms of NBA’s tentative agreement

Sports Illustrated has obtained a copy of the official 8-page “summary of principal deal terms” that is being circulated to NBA owners and players this weekend.  This is the deal the players will hold a ratification vote on.

Summary of principle deal terms.

It’s much the same as initially reported Saturday, with one concession to big spenders like the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs:   They get a reduced mid-level exception of $3 million to sign a free agent every year.  Previous proposals had limited the exception to $2.5 million, then $3 million, to be used every other year.

This fuels speculation that many of the new MLE rules had been constructed to level the playing field for the big spenders, not to improve competitive balance.  The owners did concede on the MLE rules for teams at the edge of the tax cliff.

The Mavs and Heat, for example, will be able to use the full MLE without paying the double penalty of  1) Losing the full MLE and having to resort to the $3m MLE, and, 2) Paying luxury tax.  Previous proposals by the owners would have treated all teams nudging into luxury tax land the same as the Lakers and Celtics, which could have cut a large share of team options and salary for middle class payers.

Under the tentative agreement, teams can use the full MLE, go into tax territory up to $4 million and be only penalized the luxury tax amount.

The new tax rates are steep.  The Lakers payroll in 2011-12 will be about $25 million above the tax theshold, making them the lone team in tax tier 4.  In this new incremental system, the Lakers would pay about $50 million in taxes above their $95-$100 million payroll.

But the Lakers get a break:  The tax rate for the next two years will be dollar-for-dollar, meaning the Lakers will pay an estimated $25-$30 million in taxes.  Even with a prorated 66-games, the Lakers will pay over $100 million in player salaries and tax to play the season.

The player payroll cost to the Bucks 2011-12 will be about $55 million.

Before the parties can vote, the players and owners will need to withdraw their respective lawsuits, and the players must reform their union.  If approved, the owners will lift the lockout, a training camp and free agency period will open and the league will play a 66-game season beginning Christmas Day.

The NBA could, of course, lift the lockout now, and could have lifted it at any point during the 149 days of negotiations that led to this point.  

A Tale of Two Centers: Nevermind the DPOY voting, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut were the most dominant defenders of 2011

Dwight, Dwight, Dwight, hey Dwight — like the talking basketball in the playoffs commercial, 114 of 120 ballots for 2011 Defensive Player of the Year named Dwight Howard No. 1 and the Orlando Magic center became the first player in NBA history to collect three straight DPOY awards.

The odd surprise was that it wasn’t unanimous.  The true surprise was that so few of the ballots — only six — named as No. 2 the center who led the NBA in blocked shots per game, Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut.

Adding insult to small market center injury, only 14 voters deemed Bogut’s defense worthy of a third place nod, meaning that Bogut was omitted on 100 of the 120 ballots cast by the men and women in media covering the NBA.  Only one ballot omitted Howard.

West Coast bias is one factor.  Celtics love is another.  But 100 omissions of Bogut is a little scary when one considers that the people casting votes were, ostensibly, paying attention to the league they cover.  At last check the Milwaukee Bucks were still in the league, I’m fairly certain.  They appeared to be, anyway, last time I checked the regular season standings.

In watching a thousand or so hours of NBA basketball and assiduously tracking a season’s worth of defensive ratings and other statistics, as I did, one truth stands tall about the NBA’s impact defenders:  There is Superman and there is Andrew Bogut … and then there’s everybody else, Kevin Garnett and Grizzlies sixth man Tony Allen, a Celtic last season, leading the pack.

Howard this week joined Dikembe Mutombo (four DPOYs) and Big Ben Wallace (four also) as the only players in NBA history to win the award more times than Bucks should-be Hall of Famer Sidney Moncrief won it in the first two years of its existence (1983 and 1984).

Howard was again the highest-rated defender in the league (94.0 team points allowed per 100 possessions) and also led in “Defensive Plays” (blocks + steals + est. charges taken) with 3.88 per game.  He was fourth in blocked shots (2.4 per game) and hauled in 14.1 rebounds per game, finishing third in defensive rebounding rate, grabbing 30.6 percent of opponent misses.

Bogut finished 4th in defensive rating (97.3) and led the league in shot blocking (2.6 per game).  Bogues grabbed a career-best 11.1 rebounds per game and finished sixth in defensive rebounding rate at 27.1 percent.  He also took an estimated 32 charges this season, pulling in right behind Howard with 3.8 “Defensive Plays” per game.

Those “Defensive Plays” are quantifiable “stops” that disrupt the opposition and, in Bogut’s case, usually force a change of possession because most of his blocks stay in bounds and are recovered by the Bucks.  Howard, by choice, tries to intimidate opponents by rejecting shots into the expensive seats.  A quick estimate says that half of Howard’s “Defensive Plays” force possession change, compared to about 75 percent of Bogut’s.

But the quantifiable plays tell only part of the story.

Individual statistics don’t capture the number of shots a big man alters in a game, nor the number of passes he tips or forces out of bounds by denying the ball in the post, nor the number of rushed shot-clock prayers and weak side offense that result from denying the post, nor the turnovers forced by playing good help defense.

And the box score stats certainly don’t quantify how often opposing players opt for low percentage perimeter shots simply because Howard or Bogut is patrolling the paint.

Magic opponents shot a fourth-worst 43.6 percent from the field.  Bucks’ opponents shot 44.7 percent, the sixth best defensive mark in the league, and a third-lowest 33.6 percent from 3-point-land, a testament to the fact that the Bucks don’t sag too deep to the paint and rarely double team the post.  Bogut’s not given, nor does he require, defensive help.

The results showed on the scoreboard:  Howard’s Magic played the third-best defense in the NBA ( 102.1 pts.allowed/100 poss.).  Bogut’s Bucks were right behind the Magic in fourth (102.5 pts./100).

How good are Howard and Bogut?   The Bulls (100.3 pts/100) and Celtics (100.3 pts/100) play the best team defense in the NBA.  As such, there are nine Bulls and Celtics in the individual defensive ratings top 20.  There are only two Magic and Bucks — Howard and Bogut, though in January and February Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova climbed as high as 17th in the ratings.

This means that the Magic and Bucks defenses, ranked third and fourth, allowed significant increases in opponent scoring when Howard and Bogut were not on the court.  For the Magic the increase was monumental — an estimated 16+ points per 100 possessions, placing the Magic’s non-Howard defense above the league average of 107.3.

But Howard was on the court 74 percent of the Magic’s season.  Bogut played 57.8 percent of the Bucks season, with the Bucks D giving up an estimated 9.5 more points per 1oo possessions when their center was on the bench or missing 17 games.

It’s next to unreasonable to expect Superman endurance from any player, 67 percent on-court time this season from Bogut would almost certainly have pushed the Bucks into the playoffs.  As it turned out, they were within a buzzer beater in Indiana April 1 of making it with Bogut’s 58 percent playing time contribution.

Therein, however, lies the main difference between Howard and Bogut and the reason that Bogut — whom some considered the leading candidate for DPOY until the Bucks February swoon — wasn’t more seriously considered, even as a No. 2 candidate.  The Magic are in the playoffs with home court advantage against the Hawks; the injury-addled Bucks defied expectations by missing the playoffs, and Bogut this month underwent a second surgery on his mangled right arm, which was never fully functioning this season.

Yet despite the 17 missed games, it may surprise many post-season awards voters that Bogut logged more minutes (2,297) than Tyson Chandler (2,059) played for the Mavericks; and he had more on-court time than the Spurs’ defensive anchor, Tim Duncan (2,156 minutes).

Chandler had an exceptional season in Dallas but the individual and team statistics don’t lie — Bogut not only played more but had the more Howard-like impact, and it wasn’t really close.  Wilson Chandler blocked more shots than Tyson did.

In 2011 Bogut made more defensive plays than Duncan or Chandler, opponents shot a lower percentage against his Bucks and scored less.  Duncan’s Spurs allowed 4.2 more points per 100 possessions than Bogut’s Bucks, while Chandler’s Mavs allowed 5.3 more.  Those differences were big and obvious to those who watched Bogut in action in 2011.

The concern here is that many awards voters apparently didn’t see the Bucks play this season, and if they did, they were paying more attention to the Bucks (and Bogut’s) missed shots than to the center’s All-NBA defense.  (Even the reporters who cover the Bucks daily fell into this trap, though there’s no need to link here to that offensive team report.  They actually graded Bogut a C-.)

As Duncan would attest, post defense isn’t about spectacular blocks or rabid intensity during 4th quarter stands in close games, or about altercations instigated on national TV.  It’s about persistence, positioning and leverage, possession-after-possession, as well as smart off-the-ball rotations to the weak side.

Howard and Bogut persist as masters of these defensive arts in the paint, and if they sometimes make it look too easy, one can only hope the awards voters aren’t fooled.  When the All-Defensive Teams are unveiled, I hope the voters don’t make the same mistakes they made with their Defensive Player of the Year ballots.

Howard, of course, will be the first team center.  And there should be Bogut, deserving of his rightful spot as number two.  Careful!!  There are only two NBA All-Defensive teams … and that third step down for the centers is kinda steep.

Corey Maggette trade murmurs and John Salmons bombs from the Land of Ray and Reggie

With the first ever Packers-Bears NFC Championship on tap Sunday, few heads in cheesehead-land are wrapped around the goings-on of the Milwaukee Bucks.  This is not necessarily a bad thing considering the Bucks are ten games under .500, 12 games behind the Bulls and only a half game ahead of the hapless Pistons in 10th place.

Center Andrew Bogut‘s health continues to be an issue, team chemistry issues won’t go away, and, in a hapless effort in Houston on Martin Luther King Day, the Bucks lost their 10th game in the absence of injured Brandon Jennings (left foot fracture).

The Bucks looked dead in Houston, listless, out of gas, hungover, out-of-sync, bewildered.  If nothing else, they miss Jennings’ relentless energy even when shooting 5 for 16.

Tonight the Bucks are at the Bradley Center against rookie John Wall, coach Scott Skiles’ old protoge, Kirk Hinrich, Rashard Lewis, Nick Young and the Wizards. Perhaps Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will be in usual seat courtside, perhaps not.  If watching the Bucks lose at the BC has become part of Rodgers’ ritual of pregame preparation, it is most definitely working.

And if Bucks trade rumors are swirling around in winter Wisconsin, nobody is paying much attention.  The Carmelo-to-New-Jersey deal breaks down. Life in Packerland goes on. The Bucks beat the Wizards 100-87 while the Sixers and Pacers lose, and the Bucks are just a game out of the 7th playoff spot.  Packers-Bears kickoff is at 2 p.m. Central, Sunday.

There has been, however, one solid, honest-t0-Gooden Bucks related lead on the trade rumor mill:

Corey Maggette’s name has surfaced on the Dallas Mavericks “radar” in their search to replace forward Caron Butler, who popped the ligaments in his knee New Years Day in Milwaukee and is finished for the season. Butler says he plans to be back in time for the playoffs but the Mavs have been canvassing the league for small forward scoring.

ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher mentioned in a (Jan. 13) Thursday night visit with 103.3 FM’s Ian Fitzsimmons that the Mavs and Bucks have discussed Maggette’s availability. Maggette, though, is even more expensive than [Stephen] Jackson, with more than $21 million left on his contract through 2012-13 after this season. Jackson is likewise a far better fit with his ability to stretch the floor, passing eye, defensive ability and proven toughness. If Philadelphia’s younger and more versatile Andre Iguodala is too expensive, Maggette is way too expensive for what he can deliver.

OK, so Maggette’s probably a bad idea for the Mavs, in light of the availability of the Bobcats’ Jackson and Detroit’s readiness to part ways with Tayshaun Prince.  Then there’s Melo, with Dallas no longer quite the longshot in the sweepstakes that they were before the Nets nixed the deal. Apparently.

But not to be so easily discouraged by ESPN, the Bucks moved Maggette into the starting lineup Monday in Houston and Maggette scored 25 in a season-high 38 minutes.  The Mavs big need sans Butler is offense. “We Have Offense!” Maggette and the Bucks showcased in Houston.

The Mavs would prefer a good long range shooter who can create his own offense without getting in Dirk Nowitzki’s way.  That’s what Butler (15 pts per game, 48.7% efg, a career-high 43% from behind the arc) gave them.  That’s not Maggette, a career 32% three-point shooter whose m.o. is to commandeer the ball, take it to the hoop head-down and look for a foul.  32% from Downtown?  Maggette hasn’t shot above the 26% he’s currently shooting for the Bucks since he left the Warriors in 2008.

And until this season in Milwaukee, Maggette has never been accused of being anything but indifferent to defense, much less playoff intensity defense.  This is where Jackson and Detroit’s Prince become the preferred options for Dallas.

But is Stephen Jackson really the shot-creator — I should say “the shot maker” — the Mavs are looking for?  Jackson’s playoff experience in recent years has been limited to four losses against the Orlando Magic last season — four games in which he shot 35% and needed 20+ opportunities to get his 18 points per game.   Things would open up for Jackson with Dirk commanding double teams, but he’s still not a highly efficient scorer who changes a game in the playoffs. In Charlotte, he’s more the guy the Bobcats play through on the wing. In Dallas, that’s Dirk in the high post.

If Jackson’s not the guy, the Mavs don’t have to look far to find a player who fits their needs to a Texas T.  He’s right next to Maggette in the Bucks current starting lineup, and is less expensive than any of the forwards ESPN has mentioned on the Mavs radar:   John Salmons.

The Fish, it should be famously remembered, came to Chicago in a trade from Sacramento in 2009 and filled in at small forward for injured Luol Deng during the Bulls end-of-season 2009 playoff run. Salmons then shocked — and thrilled — the basketball gods by gunning the Bulls into a Game 7 against the Celtics, scoring 35 clutch points in the classic triple-overtime Game 6 in Chicago.  In that series, he guarded Paul Pierce.

After the Bulls traded Salmons to the Bucks last February, he did it again as the Bucks finished 22-8 and pushed heavily favored (and strangely out of focus) Atlanta to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.  In Games 3, 4 and 5, Salmons averaged 21 on a remarkably efficient 12.3 shots (shooting 18-19 from the line) and won his battle with Hawk All-Star guard, 6′-7″ Joe Johnson on both ends of the floor.

The edge that Salmons gave the Bucks in his matchup with Johnson enabled the Bucks, playing without injured All-Pro center Andrew Bogut, to a 3-2 series lead.  No, the Bucks didn’t win the series, but that’s the kind of edge the Mavs are looking for.

Salmons, like Jackson, is a proven 18 ppg scorer, but doesn’t require the volume of shots Jackson takes to do it.  Unlike Jackson, he’s a legitimate 3-point gunner, shooting over 40% in his last 197 NBA games, dating back to the start of the 2008-09 season in Sacramento (He’s currently shooting 42% from three).  Mark Cuban,  have you looked at Jackson’s shooting numbers? If 33% from 3-point line (Jackson’s career average and also what he’s shot in the last three seasons) can be deemed “ability to stretch the floor” in the eyes of ESPN analysts, what does 40 percent give you?

Salmons fits the Mavs other prerequisites arguably as well, if not better, than Jackson. He’s 6′-6″ and plays tough, playoff-ready defense, has ability to guard forwards (Johnson and Pierce), and he moves the ball well (3.1 assists per game).  Defensively, he did about as well as one could expect guarding Kobe Bryant in the Bucks win against the Lakers in Los Angeles last month, and he’s rugged enough to keep Ron Artest occupied.  Against the Spurs, Salmons’ natural matchup is forward Richard Jefferson, but he’s good to have around when relief is needed against Ginobili or Parker.  Kevin Durant?  Jackson might have the edge there but then, this move by the Mavs is primarily about playoff-tested offense, isn’t it?

Salmons has the edge in cost, at least over the next three years — $8 million this year, $8.5 million next year, 5 yrs – $33.16 million guaranteed, only $1 million in the final year. Jackson: 3 years – $27.77 million. Butler’s contract is a $10.56 expiring, which works straight up for Jackson but not for Salmons, which the Bucks and Mavs would have to work out.

Drew Gooden (5 yrs – $32 million) was a Mav for 46 games last season before being traded to the Wizards as part of the deal that brought Butler to Dallas. Dallas owner Cuban on Gooden:

“Damp [Erick Dampier] is having problems with his knees and requires rest every now and then, and we were in a spot without having a shot-blocker behind him. Drew did a great job. He laid it out there every game for us to try to fill in. Going into the season we thought that would work, and it just didn’t play out as planned.”

Gooden would add to the Mavs frontline scoring depth behind Tyson Chandler (who’s knees are fine) and Dirk.  Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson were also part of that trade with the Wizards.  Haywood, a true center, may have become expendable in Dallas.

If the Mavs realize that it’s John Salmons they really want, and not Maggette or Jackson — then it’s up to Bucks GM John Hammond to decide which of the deals he made last summer — signing Salmons and Gooden, trading for Maggette — were mistakes. I know, that’s asking quite a lot.

With Carlos Delfino planning to return to practice today and Maggette, Salmons, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Luc Mbah a Moute all vying for playing time, Hammond’s got to come to some decisions before the All-Star break.


Good luck trading Drew Gooden.  It’s not easy finding a team that might be interested in Bucks big forward Drew Gooden, who’s slowing down considerably as he nears 10-year veteran status.  Now ol’ Drew is telling the world that his plantar fasciitis and bad heel are hurting so bad that he can’t jump. Hard to find a taker for a 5-year-$32 million, immobile big man who can’t jump.  Dallas?  Orlando?

“radar” in their search to replace forward Caron Butler, who

The “Ginobili rules” of the West don’t put the Spurs in title contention

He took the ball on a bounce after a sloppy, tipped inbound.  He held it too long, allowing precious seconds tick away, robbing his team of any chance for an offensive rebound if his final shot missed.  He advanced then toward Luc Mbah a Moute, one of the best defenders — if not the best defender — in basketball.  He drove hard left but Mbah a Moute was there first.  He pushed Luc off with his right arm but not far enough — Mbah a Moute stayed right on him as he planted a pivot foot.  He had no time and no choice but to jump full back, with both feet — traveling — and tossed up a 20-footer that barely lofted over Mbah a Moute’s outstretched hand.

No whistles.  The jumper poured through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Spurs a 92-90 win over the Bucks.

“He” is Manu Ginobili, Charles Barkley’s second favorite player.  How about Charles’ boy this week?

“You mean that he travelled?” – Sir Charles doth speaketh.  “… That’s a travel. In all 50 states, that’s a travel.”

Not in San Antonio, Texas, on a Wednesday night in December — and not when the 10-13 Milwaukee Bucks were on the verge of pulling off a Texas sweep of the teams with the best records in the West.  Are the Spurs and Mavs truly title contenders?   Maybe.  But no, not if Boston and Miami continue playing the way they’re playing, not really.  Not if they’re struggling — and the Mavs failing — to beat the Bucks in Texas.

It’s been two-plus seasons since Ginobili, Parker and Duncan made the West Finals but the story seems to be that this summer they “banded together” for a title run in 2011. It’s an improbable story when you consider that they haven’t really been close to a title since 2007 when they last won; and it’s not a story everybody’s buying into — the Denver Nuggets certainly didn’t on Thursday night.  FoxSports “In the Paint” NBA analyst Marques Johnson this week qualified  his take on the Spurs and Mavs as “the best in the West” with a telling … “for now.” And he says it twice for emphasis.

Marques (1977-1984) was the greatest forward to ever wear a Bucks uniform, the only Buck not named Kareem or Sidney to be a 1st team All-Pro.   It’s always strange to see Junior Bridgeman‘s #2 up in the BC rafters (though they on the court together for roughly half the game, Bridgeman was Marques’ backup) while Marques’ #8 is still in circulation, worn by rookie Larry Sanders (heck, I’d wear it too if I were a Bucks rookie).  Like Barkley, Marques is more keen on the Mavs chances — probably figuring that Dirk Nowitzki is the one player whom none of his contending Bucks teams would have had a defense for.  The Spurs?  “The Spurs are the Spurs,” Johnson shrugged.

But the thing that’s going unmentioned in the NBA this week by Marques, Barkley or anybody is that neither the Spurs or Mavs looked like championship contenders against the Bucks — a concession perhaps to the idea that the Bucks have the unluckiest 10-14 record in basketball and are so-under-the-radar in terms of contention that you need sonar to track them.  The Bucks haven’t backed away from any challenges since Andrew Bogut came back into the lineup, including the Heat, but that’s not the point — nobody’s going to talk about the Bucks until they start putting the ball in the basket with more regularity, go on a winning streak and actually beat the Heat, which they’ll get two chances to do the first week of January.

The point is, the Bucks were screwed in San Antonio — no other way to put it.  The refs didn’t just eat their whistles on Ginobili’s buzzer beater, they were loathe the entire game to call fouls on the Spurs starting five.  That isn’t going to happen if and when the Spurs meet Kobe, Gasol and the Lakers in the playoffs.

Here’s the foul story: One on Manu, one on Parker, one on DeJuan Blair and three on Tim Duncan, who was guarding Bogut most of the night and basically humped his arm with the score tied 90-90 and the Bucks trying to feed their All-Star center in the post.   No fouls on Richard Jefferson.  That’s six fouls in 150 minutes played by the Spurs starters — or an astounding one foul per 25 minutes played, which means the refs were not about to whistle even 5 fouls on the Spurs starters per 120 mins of available PT in a half.

Brandon Jennings was hacked all night by Tony Parker and battered to a 4-18 shooting night.  Yet the Bucks, with John Salmons and Corey Maggette all but benched for the game and Carlos Delfino still recovering from a head injury, had the ball with the score tied at 90 and 30 seconds to play.

The following night in Denver it was more of the same for the Spurs, playing at full strength against the Chauncey-less Nuggets.  Duncan fouled out two or three times by my count but was only whistled for four, even as his counterpart, Nene Hilario, was fouled out.  Parker — who fouls everybody in sight — was caught for all of one foul playing 37 minutes.  In the end it was Manu twisting for a layup to give the Spurs the lead and then saving the game by leaping into Carmelo Anthony‘s path to draw a charge as time expired — taking the winning points off the Denver scoreboard.

Was Ginobili there, planted in position in time?   It was close, too close not to question — but it was Manu.  Of course the call went his way, whether or not what he did was to jump — leap, literally, both feet in the air from the weakside — under Carmelo as Carmelo (31 pts in the game) was gathering to lift to the rim.

But hey — it was Manu.  Tough luck, Carmelo.  “Bullshit,” said Nuggets coach George Karl.  The Spurs are now 22-3, the best record in basketball and they’re playing at full strength in December. It’s the fastest start in Spurs history.  But I watched the Spurs lose twice this week, and so did you — only to see the refs award them the wins.  No, the Spurs are no title contender — they don’t have the muscle in the paint to help Duncan and truly contend, and no amount of magical refereeing will allow the Manu and Parker and RJ show to carry them to the finals.

Call the Spurs a lucky 22-3, as lucky as the Bucks 10-14 mark has been unlucky and injury riddled.  As lucky as the Bears 9-4 record atop the NFC North (oh, that’s probably stretching it).  The luck of things in the NBA have a tendency to even out over the grueling 82-game schedule — let’s not go ahead and crown their asses yet.   Remember, against the Bucks, the Spurs were posterized in the 4th quarter by, of all people, Drew Gooden.


“I still don’t think he’s a center” — Kevin McHale on the Hawks Al Horford — who is not a center despite the Hawks insistence (under Mike Woodson anyway) that Horford is a 6’11″center.   In Boston, Horford had just hit an early 18-footer against the Celtics, and McHale noted that Horford’s improving 18-footer was the thing that “separates him from other big forwards.”  Al Horford, power forward.  Too small to start against Andrew Bogut and other centers (that task goes to Hawks big man Jason Collins), and too small at 6’9 to appear on center ranking lists.  Hopefully, commentary like McHale’s is a sign that Bogut will be making his All-Star game debut in Los Angeles in February.


Bogut since his return against the Magic Dec. 4:  19.8 pts – 14.2 rebs – 4 blks – 1 steal – 2.3 assists per game.  Add in the possessions that he turns over by taking charges and the result is a center playing better now than Dwight Howard.  Overall, Bogut leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.1) and has the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league (96.5 pts allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) behind Kevin Garnett and Howard.  That’s the sort of company AB keeps these days.

If Bogut keeps it up and continues hitting 55% of his shots (50 of 89 since tipping it off against the Magic), the Bucks should weather the current scheduling nightmare (and AB’s horrendous free throw shooting) by earning a few tough road wins in the West — and be right on the Bulls’ tails by late January.


Speaking of centers and the Bulls, Joakim Noah will be out nursing a broken right thumb until after the All-Star break.  With the Bucks in the middle of the toughest stretch of basketball in the league this season, fate (or Bulls management) has conspired to make sure the Bulls don’t run away with the Central.  The Bulls can’t and won’t keep up their 16-8 pace (and 3rd-ranked defense) without their defensive anchor in the paint having the All-Star season he was having — but the Bucks have a six game hole to climb out of while playing the toughest December-early January schedule in the league.

The Bucks play Dec. 28 and Jan. 24 in Chicago.  Noah will miss both of those, which means the Bucks won’t get a chance to see the Rose-Noah-Boozer Bulls until Feb. 26 in Milwaukee.  That’s too bad, because a Bucks-Bulls game without Joakim Noah is like playing the Celtics without Kevin Garnett — it takes the fun out of the battle for the paint.  I wonder if Bogut will miss him.

I can’t help but wonder, though, given that 2-handed push shot that Noah throws up at the rim,  what he needs his right thumb for?

All Star Voting: The four Celtics and Dwight Howard blog

I’ll get back to Ray and D-Wade and the Heat … First …

The beleaguered-yet-determined Bucks — what’s left of them — are out west, headed for Denver where who-does-what-now should decide how the lineup shakes up when Bogut is ready to come back to work.   The early returns suggest that Ersan Ilyasova has taken Drew Gooden’s starting power forward job and John Salmons may end up taking a seat soon so that he and the Bucks can figure out what ails him.

The better-than-expected arrival of Chris Douglas-Roberts Saturday and the pending return of Corey Maggette gives the Bucks some options with the Fish, who’s sluggish game thus far has made me miss Charlie Bell.  CD-R in two games has been just what the Bucks have needed — an NBA guard who can hit a shot.   (15 pts per game on excellent 61.1% eff-shooting.)

Ersan Ilyasova in Utah (18 pts on 10 shots, six tough-to-get-in-Utah rebs and three steals) continued to show that when he gets minutes, he produces.  In the 7 games that Ersan has played 25+ minutes, he’s averaging 14.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg, shooting an e-fg rate of 53.2% — that’ll win a few games for the Bucks if he keeps it up. He’s also managed 13 steals, pretty impressive for a power forward.

And no, Ersan’s not riding a six steal game or getting a bump from a 27 pt break-out — he has consistently scored and wreaked havoc on opposing offenses in each of the seven games that Skiles has given him 25+ the minutes.   All evidence suggests that Ersan has recovered from leading Turkey to a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships, and has likewise recovered from the early season benching-by-Skiles that his Turkish heroics earned him back in Milwaukee.

ALL STAR VOTING: This apparent rebooting of the Bucks has given me time to think about the All-Star ballot and mull over what’s been what in the first one-fifth of the season.  Have Lebron and D-Wade really earned a trip to the All-Star game?   Why do the Spurs and Lakers refuse to allow their centers to be listed as centers?   And who’s to stop me from voting four Celtics as the East starters?

On this last question: Nobody.  So I did.  And I probably will again until Lebron James does something truly impressive, like listen to his coach, Erik Spoelstra.  Rajon Rondo is an obvious choice to be the east starter at point guard.  I’ve seen enough Paul Pierce this season to know that he’s still knocking ’em down with clockwork regularity and leading the Celtics in scoring.  Those two selections were easy.

At power forward I would consider voting for Lebron, because the Heat don’t have one now that Udonis Haslem is hurt (note: this wasn’t intended as a knock on Chris Bosh but the word “power” just doesn’t connote the word “Bosh” in my mind.)  And I would consider voting for the Hawks Al Horford if only he were not listed as a center. Anybody who saw Dwight Howard and the Magic pummel the Hawks in four straight in the East semi-finals knows that Al Horford is not a center.  Anybody who watched the Bucks take the Hawks apart earlier this season knows the same — the Hawks don’t let Horford guard Andrew Bogut, instead starting Jason Collins at center against the Bucks.  Horford’s not big enough to tangle with Bogut, Howard, Noah, Lopez, the real centers of the East.

Dwight Howard is the All-Star starter at center, and it’s too bad Bogut hasn’t given Bucks fans a reason to vote for him … yet.  Let’s hope that changes.  Right now, Joakim Noah has the edge to be the backup center to Howard.

That leaves me with Kevin Garnett at power forward.  Sure, he backs away when confronted by guys like Bogut, but he’s still KG — love him, loathe him, he’s at least that — and his Celtics are still the team to beat in the East.  Done.  That’s three Celtics and a maybe for Lebron.  Maybe, but not now.  Did I forget Amar’e Stoudemire?  I forgot Amar””e, though he may be listed as a center, which makes him not only forgettable but irrelevant here.  I seem to have forgotten Chris Bosh, too.  Imagine that.  Bosh has not played like an All-Star in 2010, going back to last season.  (If you watched him in Toronto at the end of last season, you’d have wondered who was leading the Raptors in their bid for the playoffs.)

My shooting guard should be Dwyane Wade, shouldn’t it?  This is usually automatic.  But after two losses to the Celtics in which Ray Allen scored 55 points on him and shot 20 for 36 — see highlight reel above — it’s time to reconsider.  On the season, Ray’s shooting better than any long range gunner has a right to — 56.8% effectively, which takes into account his 44% shooting from Downtown.  Ray’s a weapon, pure and simple.  D-Wade is scoring 21.3 pts per game but it’s been a struggle to get those, and with the weapons the Heat have, his assists shouldn’t be down.  In Atlanta, Joe Jonson has also struggled to be the triple-threat that he was last season.  In Boston, Ray just lets the game come to him.  Easy, nothing but net.

One-fifth of the season done, the Celtics and Magic are leading the East at 12-4.  Punch it in: Four Celtics and Dwight to the 2011 All-Star game.

THE WEST: This is much tougher since I don’t watch the West as much as the East.  But these teams/the NBA (whoever makes the call on the ballot) don’t make it easy to pick a forward, do they?  Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan — two big men who mostly play center — are listed as forwards.  Dirk, West, Carmelo Anthony, what’s the voting fan to do?   At this point in the season, I’m punching in Gasol and New Orleans Bucks-assassin David West but that could change.  Dirk, carrying the Mavs and dropping the occasional 4o — deserve a vote.

The West guards: Kobe, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant … After Deron Williams‘ shredding of the Bucks last night, I went with Deron.  This brought to mind CP3’s expert game management in the Hornets two wins over the Bucks, so I gave the nod to Chris Paul, in recognition that the NBA is a better place with CP3 in it.   I then immediately thought of Kobe’s 30-point game in Milwaukee and how Brandon Roy’s Blazers handed the Bucks arses to them, also in Milwaukee.  Good thing Durant missed his game in Brewtown.  I may have to vote again.

Yao doesn’t need my vote at center, but he’s the only center on the ballot for the West.  There’s Haywood in Dallas, but he doesn’t start.  Tyson Chandler anyone?  Didn’t see him on the ballot.  Yao, even in his part time role, is out indefinitely with a bone spur.  Nene Hilario?

C’mon. Don’t make me vote for Chris Kaman.  At last check, Kaman says he doesn’t want “to be a hindrance” to the young Clippers. The West has not All-Star worthy center on the ballot, so I picked Yao, figuring it was the fair thing to do because he won’t play anyway and that’ll open up a spot for a deserving forward who plays center  — which will then open up a forward spot, which will help ensure that somebody like David West isn’t snubbed.  See how this works — or does it?

I’ll probably have to vote again tomorrow to see how all this settles.

Coach sees Sessions as potential playoff starter at point

I predicted yesterday that the Spurs would lose, this not being their year, and, of course, they won. Happens every time. I’m not the only one feeling the Spurs “same old same old” grind. Now, on to the matter at hand:

Ramon SessionsHow high are the Bucks on Ramon Sessions‘ potential? Much higher than many NBA observers seem to think, especially those writing about the upcoming 2008 draft.  The conventional wisdom around the league is that the Bucks are looking for a point guard in the draft, the current Bucks starting point guard of note being Mo Williams.

There’s little or no mention in draft talk of the Bucks other point guard, Sessions, who started in place of injured Mo in the final seven games and won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honor for April.  Inside the Bucks camp, however, Sessions’ is a hot topic, maybe hot enough to change the Bucks draft outlook.

How good could Ramon Sessions be?

“I could see him becoming a starter on a playoff team — that’s how good he could become,” Bucks development coach and Sessions’ mentor Bill Peterson told the Reno (Nevada) Gazette Journal in April. Though the story is a month old, it’s worth looking at again with NBA lottery and the draft order on tap tonight.

Sessions averaged 13.1 pts., 13.1 assists, 5.6 rbs and 1.7 steals in seven starts, including a Bucks franchise record 24 assists set April 14 against Chicago at the BC. That was good enough to catch the attention of the daily newspaper in Reno, where Sessions played his college ball, and good enough for Rookie of the Month. It might even be good enough to lead to some Bob Boozer Jinx conclusions, such as:

  1. The Bucks may not necessarily be looking for a point guard in the draft, but would welcome Derrick Rose finding the Bucks via some lottery luck tonight. Assuming the Bucks are looking at guards in general, moving up to the number three spot is crucial. Rose and OJ Mayo, the cream of the guards this draft, will be long gone by the 7th pick.

2) Mo Williams may no longer be the Bucks starting point guard. Put another way: If Williams is on the roster next season, refrain from assuming he’s the starter. And certainly don’t assume Mo will be on the roster.

In the Reno Gazette story, Peterson, the lone assistant Scott Skiles retained from last season’s staff, went so far as to compare Sessions to the young Steve Nash, a Peterson development project in Dallas 1998-2000.

 “If you only knew [about Nash’s struggles]. Guys don’t just start out in this league and they’re lights out. I can remember nights when Nash was booed unmercifully. There were nights when they would boo him every time he touched the ball. I told Sess, ‘Look where he is now. All it takes is hard work and dedication.’ And Sess has that.”

To put a rookie who’s only played 17 games in context with the two-time MVP is high praise. Peterson worked with Nash in Nash’s third and fourth years as a pro. Nash became a full-time starter for the Mavs in his fifth season. Peterson went on to Colorado state where he was associate head coach for seven seasons until Larry Krystkowiak brought him on staff last year as player development coach.

Peterson took Sessions under his wing when Sessions was called up February and fractured his left hand in his first practice. Together they dissected Sessions game on video while Sessions sat out four weeks with the injury. Here’s more from the Reno Gazette story:

“I can’t put into words how much Coach Peterson has helped me. Whatever I need, he is there for me. We watch game film together, he helps me during practice, we work on all the little things. Coach Peterson cares about me as a player and a person.”

Skiles decision to keep Peterson is a good sign for Sessions, obviously. Assistants Kelvin Sampson and Joe Wolf also reflect the strong development bent of the new Bucks staff, and the other three coaches — Skiles, Jim Boylan and Lionel Hollins are all former point guards. Milwaukee is suddenly a good place for a young point guard to develop. The Bucks own a one-year option on Sessions for next season.

Center Andrew Bogut has already implied whom he’d like to see playing point:

“He was a true point guard. I haven’t played with a true point guard since I’ve been here, really. I think he did a great job of trying to find teammates first and shoot second. Hopefully, he’ll keep that mentality. I think he definitely deserves everything he got.”

GM John Hammonds, in the Racine Journal Times feature from ten days ago that will come to be known as “The Lazerus Interview” after a few more blogosphere resurrections, is anticipating trade interest in Sessions:

“The way he finished the season … as we continue to work the phones (in trade talks) I guarantee you his name will come up.”

Sessions’ former head coach, Larry Krystkowiak, after Sessions’ 24-assist game:

“I think he does a really nice job of finding the open guy. He has a knack for when to advance. I think he’s got what it takes to have an impact in the league. He certainly is taking advantage of his opportunities. He could be a future piece to the franchise.”

And now some brilliant analysis from ESPN’s Chad Ford, who convinced himself that most of the teams in the lottery will want point guard Derrick Rose over Beasely in the draft because Ford thinks point guards are hot:

“Now that John Hammond has taken over as GM, he’s looking for a tough leader. Mo Williams may be entrenched at the point in Milwaukee, but if Hammond gets a shot at a franchise point guard, I think he’s taking it.”

Williams is so entrenched at point that Ford’s ESPN Lottery Mock Draft has had Texas point guard D.J. Augustin locked in at the Bucks’ most likely #7 pick for weeks. New Orleans’ Chris Paul is a dazzling player, but not so dazzling that NBA teams are convinced that the small point guards in the 2008 draft are CP3 caliber.

The Bucks could always sign Damon Jones again, or Mike James or T.J. Ford. Hammond could even see what Reece Gaines is up to these days. (See yesterdays rant about Larry Harris’ point guard candy store).

For insight on point guards, let’s refer back to the Bucks coaching staff and development guru Peterson:

 “If you only knew [about Nash’s struggles]. Guys don’t just start out in this league and they’re lights out. I can remember nights when Nash was booed unmercifully. There were nights when they would boo him every time he touched the ball. I told Sess, ‘Look where he is now. All it takes is hard work and dedication.’ And Sess has that.”