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NBA Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Indiana pacers Boston Celtics Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner

NBA Free Agency Deals – They Must Be Mad List

Salaries of NBA players in free agency were going to go up this summer. We knew this. The Salary Cap rose by over $20 million, so teams had more money to spend and the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners splits revenues about 50/50.

Most of the deals agreed to only look expensive when compared to past seasons, so don’t get your shorts in a knot over most of those big contracts being handed out, that’s just the new reality. They’ll be even bigger next summer.

However, that doesn’t mean every deal made was a good deal. This summer is no different than past summers in that respect. Some teams just can’t stop themselves.

New deals on the “What were they thinking – they must be mad” list include:

Los Angeles Lakers
Luol Deng 4-years $72 million
Timofey Mozgov 4-years $64 million
Jordan Clarkson 4-years $50 million

The Lakers headed into free agency suggesting they’d be prudent and cautious, then Mitch Kupchak lost his mind. So much for protecting salary cap space for next year’s really impressive crop of big name free agents.

Luol Deng at 31-years-old is in obvious decline. He’ll give you what he’s got and he’ll be a good veteran, but at $18 million per season …. really?

Do the Lakers know Timofey Mosgov is a career 6.9 point 5 rebound center?

The Jordan Clarkson deal is steep, but it’s for your own young player putting up good stats on a bad team, so you have to hope the GM knows what he’s doing in this case. (Not feeling all that confident right about now.)

Utah Jazz Joe Johnson 2-years $22 million

The 35-year-old Johnson’s stats have been in steady decline for 4 straight seasons – even taking that slightly better 24 game stint in Miami into account. He’s probably a nice steadying influence on a young team, but get used to the 40 percent shooting he was putting up for the Nets as that’s his reality and it’ll continue to get worse.

New Orleans Pelicans Solomon Hill 4-years $48 million

Hill averaged 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds with the Pacers last season and the only saving grace to this contract is Hill’s age. Hopefully he’ll get better – a lot better.

Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner 4-years $75 million

So the list of top flight free agents wasn’t all that long this year, but that’s no reason to spend $19 million per season on a 10 point 5 rebound 4 assist guard like Evan Turner. This veteran will help Portland, he’s not a bad player or an unknown quantity, but he’s not a front line starter either and he’s getting paid like one.

Orlando Magic D.J. Augustin 4-years $29 million

$7 million per season isn’t big money under the new salary cap, but it’s money that should still get you a solid rotation player – a sure thing and D.J. Augustin is anything but a sure thing. Augustin’s impact on NBA rosters has been up and down like a toilet seat. Solid in Charlotte, awful in Indiana, nice in Chicago, Toronto cut him, okay in OKC, nice in Denver, couldn’t shoot again in his second stint in OKC. The Magic had better hope he’s a fit in Orlando because he’s theirs for the next 4 years.

The Tempting to Dump On Them List

New York Knicks Joakim Noah 4-years $72 million

If Joakim Noah is physically okay, no one will be laughing at the Knicks for this deal. If they got it wrong again? Everyone will be – “I told you so!”

Atlanta Hawks Kent Bazemore 4-years $70 million

$17.5 million per season just seems like a lot for a solid “3-and-D” wing who’s just okay at shooting the long ball and his three-point shooting percentages have been dipping in each of the past two seasons. Is betting on a 27-year-old to take their game up another notch reasonable?

Memphis Grizzlies Chandler Parsons 4-years $95 million

The Mavericks felt a little burned after giving Parsons a max deal to steal him away from Houston two years ago. Will The Grizzlies feel the same way two years from now?

Conley, DeRozan, Drummond, Beal, Batum, Whiteside, and Fournier grab headlines because of the massive size of their pending new contracts, but these players were always going to get paid based on what the CBA permitted. The numbers are big, but no one should have been surprised.

If your team didn’t make a list, don’t worry. It’s still early in the process. However, the longer things go, the more likely any deal that gets signed will look like a good deal – for the team.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA New Orleans Pelicans Ryan Anderson

Should The Raptors Pursue Pelicans Ryan Anderson

Last year Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri stood pat at the NBA trade deadline, but when the season was over, he as much admitted that was a mistake. Although the situation is different this time around, it’s not completely different as no one is really sure just what this version of his team will produce come playoff time.

The trade pickings are suspect at this point and depending on your team’s need – thin, but there are situations like the New Orleans Pelicans where proven stretch-four Ryan Anderson is rumored to be available for the right price. Basketball Insiders Steve Kyler reports,

Pelicans sources admitted that moving Anderson was likely to happen just because of the business of the situation, but cautioned that New Orleans wouldn’t do a bad deal just to make a trade

With the NBA trade deadline set on Thursday February 18 at 3pm ET, there isn’t a lot of time left for a GM to set his sights on a target that could make a real difference to his team in the second half and in the postseason. In Toronto, with DeMarre Carroll expected to return soon after the All-Star break to fill the hole at small forward, the only real position of need is at power forward and that’s only because Patrick Patterson is back in a shooting slump.

NBA Toronto Raptors Patrick Patterson

Toronto’s “3-and-D” forward has been struggling with his shot going back to last December and while his defense remains consistent and Patterson remains a Coach Casey favorite, the Raptors have been missing his offense all too often. Maybe it’s time to consider trading Patterson?

it’s been over a year since this “3-and-D” stretch-four has enjoyed a month shooting over 34 percent from three-point range  (52.6 percent, December 2014). Two of his last three months have been in the mid-20s. (December 2015 25.8 percent, April 2015 27.3 percent).

It looked like Patterson had turned things around in the first two weeks of January when he was firing three-balls at a 50 percent clip, but since then it’s back to the mid-20s from deep and only a Raptors winning streak has kept this from becoming a problem. Ujiri has to be feeling the pressure to upgrade at this position after last season’s post All-Star break malaise.

Despite his struggles, the 26-year-old Patterson is developing other aspects of his game. His ability to drive and finish is improving rapidly and he is getting to more contested rebounds this season, but it’s his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the post continues to be the primary reason why Casey will be reluctant to lose his services. Patterson is under contract for a very reasonable $6 million next season.

At 27-years-old, Anderson is in the final year of a deal that pays him $8.5 million this season and the Pelicans are not expected to be interested in matching what he’s likely to fetch in free agency this summer and that’s if Anderson wants to rejoin a lottery team as a backup to Anthony Davis.

Primarily coming off the bench, Anderson is averaging 17.4 points and 6 boards and is shooting 40 percent from three-point range this year. He has the offensive talent to win games and has four games of 30 or more points already this season. His overall rebounding numbers closely approximate Patterson’s, although Anderson has been a lot better on the offensive glass than Patterson over his career.

While Casey might be more comfortable with Patterson’s defense, Anderson is an obvious upgrade talent-wise as described by Bourbon Street Shots Michael McNamara,

Despite just having a few months on his contract, Anderson has good value around the league. He has a skill set that opens up an offense, as he draws big men out of the paint, and can hurt opponents with a post game and offensive rebounding if they put a smaller guy on him. The Pelicans have chosen not to crash the offensive glass a lot this year, in favor of defensive transition, but in a league that is playing more small ball, Anderson could tilt a series down low.

CBS Sports Matt Moore suggests the Pelicans will be looking for players that fit with Coach Alvin Gentry’s (defensive) system for what they see as a valuable asset,

If he’s paired with a good enough defensive scheme and rim protector, you’ve got the best of what the modern stretch four can offer

As for what the Pelicans would want, you’d have to assume they want some guard depth with their lukewarm approach towards Norris Cole, and to add some defensive forwards who can also run in Alvin Gentry’s system.

Sliding Anderson in place of Patterson beside Bismack Biyombo could be just what the Raptors need to take things to the next level in April.

If the Raptors are willing to pair Patterson with a young guard like Norman Powell or Delon Wright plus a first round draft pick, the 18-29 lottery bound Pelicans will have trouble turning it down for the expiring contract of Anderson.

That would be a lot for the Raptors to give up for a player who could move on in free agency in July. However, when your season will be evaluated based on how your team performs in the playoffs and your GM has admitted he’s overstocked with developing players and draft picks, the price suddenly doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

It’s a risk worth taking and if it Anderson performs as expected, Toronto can dig into their corporate owners’ very deep pockets to re-sign him.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA New Orleans Pelicans Alexis Ajinca

Ex-Raptors Series: Alexis Ajinca Back In The NBA To Stay

When Alexis Ajinca arrived in Toronto back in January 2011 he was the typical young big man who blew teams away with his unbelievable physical attributes and let them down hard when they couldn’t seem to convince him to use them. In the end, it was three years and out for the 7’1 center with the 7’9 wingspan who the Charlotte Bobcats had drafted 20th overall in 2008.

Ajinca seemed to have it all.  His length made it easy to block shots, swipe steals and grab rebounds. His smooth shooting stroke let him sink shots out past the three-point line with efficiency. However, Ajinca couldn’t put it all together and it became apparent that coaches wanted him to play in the paint where those obvious physical attributes should have given him an advantage on the offensive glass and made him a superior rim protector at the other end. Instead he showed a love for long range twos and threes.

These tendencies made Ajinca look soft and inconsistent. He was as frustrating a player to watch as there could be because he should have been able to do so much more.

Alexis Ajinca interview,

 

“I guess when you are young, you are still learning everything,” Ajinca told Pro Bball Report. ” Now it’s been seven years, so now I know what’s going on and what to expect. I am more aware of how to work hard and stay in shape than when I was younger and when I was in Toronto.”

Ajinca played in the French Pro League before he was drafted and he returned there after his brief stint in Toronto. He had a lot to learn about himself and how to be pro.

“I went back overseas after the lockout and the main focus was being consistent, energy and everything,” Ajinca said. That’s one thing I learned, to be consistent and be a leader and stay ready no matter what the case may be.

“Just stay focused because sometimes I’d lose my focus, maybe just stay too much relaxed and that’s a big change.

“Something young players have to learn is you may have been unstoppable for four games straight, but its only four games out of 82 games, so it’s nothing yet. You have to do the whole season like that.

“Nothing that you achieve is ever enough.”

When Ajinca returned to the NBA for the 2013-14 season with New Orleans, he stuck and last summer the team rewarded him with a four year $20 million contract.

Gone were the three-point attempts. Ajinca has only shot two three-balls since his return and his shooting percentages reflect the improved discipline. He has become a reliable reserve that rebounds at a high rate at both ends of the court.

At 27-years-old, Ajinca is still young for a big man and his game still has room to improve. It’s even possible he’ll get a chance to develop that three-point shot he loved during his first go-around in the NBA if he can stay disciplined enough to keep doing the things that got him back in the NBA to stay.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

Alvin Gentry

Is the New Orleans Pelicans Season Already Over?

By Frank McLean

We are just 3-weeks into the 2015-2016 NBA’s regular season schedule and one of the big surprises is the New Orleans Pelicans. 10-games into the campaign the team is sitting dead last in Western Conference at 1-9!

Getting behind the 8-ball is a recipe for disaster in most competitive conference in the league. They are already 4-full games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and last playoff spot in the group.

Pelicans Anthony Davis

When the Pelicans took on the Raptors Friday night at the Air Canada Centre they were missing the first string. Kendrick Perkins (pectoral), Quincy Pondexter (knee), Tyreke Evans (knee), Norris Cole (ankle sprain) and superstar Anthony Davis (hip). Playing an NBA game without this group of quality talent is like taking a knife to a gunfight.

Friday night the junior varsity hung in there going to the locker room at half-time tied 40-40, but in the end they couldn’t last and lost by 19 points, 100-81. Then on Sunday they headed to New York’s Madison Square Garden to take on a rebuilding Knicks team and lost a close one 95-87. Davis was back after a 2-game absence and scored 36-points and added 11-boards, but this is a team game and the man they call “Unibrow” can’t do it by himself.

“It feels great to be back but that doesn’t mean anything,” Davis said after Sunday’s game. “We still lost. I just want to win. I can score-42, 2-points, zero points, 1-point, I just want to win. Right now we just have to find a way to do that.”

No coach ever admits that injuries are a factor to a team’s lack of success, but in this case the ever growing Pelican sick bay is the problem.

After Sunday’s game in New York, Pelican’s head coach Alvin Gentry’s post game comments were pretty much word for word the same thing he said after Friday’s game in Toronto.

“We’re the only ones that can dig us out of this,” Gentry said. “We don’t have any excuses. As I said, we can play hard and we can compete and do what we’re supposed to do and if it works out, then fine. If it doesn’t work out, then fine also. But we’re not doing that. We’re not competing at the highest level that we can from the standpoint that you get the game back workable.”

Gentry did not say the dreaded “I” word. But it’s hard to compete when four starters are gone from your line-up in the NBA on a nightly basis. It’s star driven league and when you don’t have your stars you start 1-9.

Denver has the 8th spot in the West right now. Then you have to add Memphis, Houston, Minnesota and Portland sitting 10-thru-13 as teams good enough to have a shot at a playoff spot.

Time is running out for the Pelicans to get back in the mix for a chance to play playoff basketball and the longer it takes to get a full line-up back, the more likely they can pretty well write off the 2015-2016 season.

And that’s a shame because, when healthy, this is a talented and fun team to watch.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

New Orleans Pelicans Media Day

New Orleans Pelicans Don’t Need Anthony Davis To Win

By Frank McLean

When it comes to playing the Toronto Raptors, it seems that the New Orleans Pelicans don’t need their All-Star power forward Anthony Davis to win. For the second time this season without Davis in the lineup, the Pelicans defeated the Raptors 100-97 in game they were trailing until there was less than two minutes to play in fourth quarter.

There is no excuse for how the Raptors let this one get away from their grasp. This game looked like an easy win for the Raptors. Not only was Davis missing with a sprained right shoulder, but two other regulars were scratched from the Pelicans. Power forward Ryan Anderson with sprained knee and point guard Jrue Holliday with a stress reaction in his right leg.

As the game progressed it looked like Toronto could book win number 38 of the season. The Raptors took charge from the get go as they led for the entire first half and had a comfortable 56-44 lead at the break. They started the third quarter looking good and with 7:54 left had a 13-point lead, 62-49, but coming out of timeout it all started to slip away. The Pelicans went on a 15-8 run and cut the Raptors lead to just 6-points with 2:40 left in the quarter. The Raptors led by seven at the end of the third, 74-67, but that’s when the game slipped away.

The fourth quarter saw former Miami Heat guard Norris Cole get red hot for the Pelicans, as he scored 13-points in the quarter. Forward Luke Babbit was the one who created the first lead change in the game with just 1:55 left in regulation time, hitting a three point shot to make it 94-93 Pelicans, a lead they would not give up.

Also, give credit to the Pelicans bench as they scored 55 points. Cole, Alexis Ajinca and Babbitt contributing 49 points. Missing three starters, the Pelicans used the “Next Man Up” philosophy to get a win.

This is a loss the Raptors should be ashamed of. If you are one of the top teams in the NBA, and the Raptors are based on their record, you do not blow big leads on the road to teams missing three players out of their starting five. There’s no excuse, you simply don’t do that! For the record, the Raptors biggest lead of the game was 18 points.

“I don’t even want to hear about the next team that doesn’t have a player playing,” a ticked off Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey said after the game. “I think those other guys came in and played hungry. Their bench had 50 points (55 really). That’s the worst thing you can do, play against hungry guys trying to get their opportunity in this league. That’s what they did. You talk about guys that are talented, Norris Cole and Alexis Ajinca came in and made their mark on the game.”

So that sums up a bad Monday night in “The Big Easy” for Toronto. Not so easy for the Raptors and just like “Mardi Gras” for the Pelicans.

 

 

Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

Teague Harden Nowitzki

Raptors Resolve To be Severely Tested After The Break

The 36-17 Toronto Raptors hold down second place in the Eastern Conference, leading the Chicago Bulls by 2.5 games, but you’d hardly know it from the buzz around the NBA and their resolve to hold onto that spot is about to be severely tested. Toronto starts a four-games-in-five-nights series on the road against teams with a combined winning percentage of 66 percent and they kick things off against the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

It might seem strange, but the Raptors could actually be looking forward to the trip.

“I think we do better on the road honestly,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Me and Kyle (Lowry) was talking about that one day. We feel that we are the underdogs again when we are on the road. We just feel that everybody is against us and we thrive off that pressure. It’s just us when we go out there. It’s 15 guys and the coaches against everybody in the arena.”

The Raptors get slagged for building up their record against bad teams and playing in the relatively weak Eastern Conference, but everything isn’t as it appears or maybe those disparaging the team’s record are just lazy?

Toronto, at 14-12, is one of just six teams in the NBA with a winning record against other winning teams. The others being Atlanta (19-7), Chicago (15-11), Golden State (17-7), Memphis (17-11) and Houston (15-14). The Raptors are 8-6 against the six winning teams in the East and 5-5 against the top eight in the West. Toronto has held their own against the best in the NBA this season. They have also been almost as good away (15-8) as at home (21-9) with big road victories over Cleveland, Atlanta, the Clippers, Bucks and Wizards.

This upcoming four game road trip could be described as at another level, however.

Friday in Atlanta against the 43-11 Hawks represents a test of Toronto’s early season dominance of the East’s best team. Toronto holds a 2-1 series advantage and beat the Hawks in Atlanta 126-115 on November 26, but lost the last match in Toronto 110-89. A win in Atlanta now would go a long ways to establishing the Raptors as a Conference Finals contender.

Where Atlanta plays the team game, to beat Houston on Saturday will require the Raptors to somehow, someway slow down the Association’s leading scorer James Harden. The Rockets and Raptors have identical 36-17 records and they both own winning records against other winning teams. This should be a close game.

After a day off, Toronto visits the 27-26 New Orleans Pelicans. Losers of four of their past five games prior to All-Star weekend including three-in-a-row to Chicago, Utah and Indiana, the Pelicans are at risk of sliding even further back into the NBA’s Draft Lottery (which probably isn’t a bad thing). This should be the easiest game of the four (with some trepidation.) Ryan Anderson (sore elbow) and Anthony Davis (sore shoulder) were still as questionable after the break and Jrue Holiday (right leg) is out indefinitely. The Pelicans season is about to go down under the weight of injuries once again.

The Raptors finish off the road trip in Dallas against the 36-20 Mavericks with Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo back in the lineup and newly acquired Amar’e Stoudemire expected to come off the bench. Dallas, for all of their firepower (106 points per game), has a losing record against winning teams and is obviously searching for the tweak that will make them a serious threat in the playoffs. It shouldn’t take long to find out if Stoudemire is that tweak.

As long as the Raptors manage a 2-2 split or better, the trailing Bulls, Wizards and Cavs will not be able to catch them during the road trip and an even split would represent a solid result for Toronto. However, of the four teams they are facing, only Atlanta has the better record and in the Raptors two previous sets of four-games-in-five nights, they have collected seven wins to just one loss.

Playing back-to-back games has been a Raptors strength this season. They have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. These next two back-to-back sets are going to severely test that record.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Casey close up Media Day looking downRaptors Coach Casey Reminds Doubters He’s Been Here Before

“I’ve been there before, winning 60 games, winning a championship. I know what it takes. I know a lot of people don’t believe it, but I do and probably a lot of people in here don’t believe it, but I do. I promise you,” Casey said.

 

 

Raptors bench 1 by Paul Saini FYLMMHow Tough Are The Toronto Raptors?

The Raptors have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. In the withering four games in five nights sets, Toronto has seven wins in eight games including the back-to-back overtime wins over the Nets and Wizards on the road last weekend.

 

 

Terrence Ross shooting warmups Paul Saini FYLMM

Raptors Blow Another Game At Home 95-93 To Pelicans

The Toronto Raptors fought their way back from a 14 point first half deficit to build a 12 point lead in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t contain the Pelicans down the stretch and ended up losing 95-93 on a driving layup by Tyreke Evans with 1.6 seconds left.

“We got to find a way to get jump started at the beginning of the game or find a group that’s getting jump started,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said after the game.

The struggling Terrence Ross got the quick hook in this game as the Raptors starting small forward was nearly invisible in 10.7 first half minutes going 0-3 from the field for 0 points.

“It wasn’t all T Ross’ fault, but I did think that Greivis (Vasquez) came in at his position and gave us a spark,” Casey said.

Vasquez started the second half in Ross’ place and finished the game with 16 points, 4 made three-pointers, 9 assists and 2 steals. However, he will most likely be remembered for failing to stop Evans on the final play of the game.

“We had talked about putting James (Johnson) on (Evans),” Casey said.

“Greivis did the best job, other than that last possession, of all our guys during the game and that’s why we stuck with Greivis on (Evans). He did a good job of containing him, making him score over a big body, I thought he did a good job (overall).”

Casey didn’t have a lot of other options to go to than Vasquez in this game. Ross was M.I.A. and James Johnson was having an off game as well. Johnson is the Raptors best wing defender and Casey went to him to start the fourth quarter and he promptly turned the ball over twice and picked up a technical foul in 3.7 minutes. In hindsight, Casey should have brought him back in as the Raptors lead was unraveling, but it’s pretty easy to understand why Casey didn’t believe this was Johnson’s night.

There is no time to mourn another game that got away. The Raptors are in Milwaukee on Monday to face a pretty solid Bucks team that’s a couple of games over .500 on the season.

“We are playing in mud right now,” Casey said. “Confidence-wise, we got to come out believing you are going to make a play offensively or defensively. Somehow, someway we got to get back to playing basketball and not feeling that weight of the world on our shoulders.”

Casey is now openly musing about what to do about Ross, but with the losses piling up and Ross regressing, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Vasquez or Johnson is back in the the starting lineup.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Chandler Harris YoungPro Bball Report Week in Review 01/18/15

On Pro Bball Report last week: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas DeMar DeRozan and Kobe Bryant All-Star discussions, Lou Williams struggling, James Johnson gets serious, Celtics and Cavaliers set trade market prices, the availability of Tobias Harris, Wilson Chandler and Thaddeus Young, Knicks Quincy Acy shines, Elijah Millsap signs, Larry Sanders walking away, Raptors NBA Player-of-the-Month, the Hawks dominate and more.

 

 

Nash and Holiday

Ranking The Bottom 5 Of The NBA Western Conference

The NBA Western Conference remains a tough place to play heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and there will be a few teams jealously looking East again this season.

However, most of the teams dragging up the rear will be better and win more games – the rebuilding Timberwolves being the obvious exception. Look for the bottom 5 to make life uncomfortable for franchises in the tier just above them and to bring down the win totals of the playoff bound teams in the West this season.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.

Ranking The Bottom 5

11. New Orleans Pelicans – Projected 39-43, last season 34-48
New Orleans Pelicans Media Day
The mash unit that is the Pelicans has the talent to grab a better record and possibility even challenge for a playoff spot, if – and it’s a big if – everyone comes back from injury as good as before and the injury bug doesn’t bite anywhere near as hard as it did last season.

Jrue Holiday is returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. Eric Gordon is returning from knee surgery. Tyreke Evans hopes to be returning from knee surgery and Ryan Anderson is hopeful of making a comeback from his neck problems. Now that’s a fine looking foursome in just about any team’s rotation, if they can actually play.

The potential of Anthony Davis becoming a bona fide superstar continues to give the Pelicans hope, but even he missed 15 games last season. If New Orleans can stay healthy, look out, but the only kind of luck this franchise has experienced recently has been bad luck.

12. Sacramento Kings – Projected 34-48, last season 28-54
TOR_Gay_Rudy
The Kings were a much better team after the trade with Toronto that landed them Rudy Gay. They won 38 percent of their games with the new lineup. Even losing Isaiah Thomas’ 20 points per game this summer probably doesn’t hurt them as Darren Collision and Ramon Sessions will add a badly needed level of maturity to this roster. Like last season, Sacramento will not have problems scoring points this year either.

Everyone continues to wait on DeMarcus Cousins to grow up and become the dominant center his natural ability says is in him. His time on Team USA this summer should help him, although his immaturity still showed through at inappropriate times and at 24-years-old, it’s time that stopped.

13. Los Angeles Lakers – Projected 33-49, last season, 27-55
LAL_Bryant_Kobe
It’s hard to know what to make of the hodge-podge of talent Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has put together other than this group of players should win more games than last year. A group of cast offs that other teams had believed in before – generally with good reasons – and two aging superstars returning from injuries in Steve Nash (40) and Kobe Bryant (36) could surprise people on any given night.

For the Lakers to have a good season, good as in challenge for a playoff spot, Nash needs to stay healthy and be a dime generating machine that can nail three-pointers like in the good old days. You shouldn’t be holding your breath, but it would be nice to see. Then Kobe has to be able to score like before and still have enough left to play some defense.

There is a very good chance the Lakers become an exciting enough offensive team that they are fun to watch and Bryant resembles some of what fans pay good money to see. However, it is hard to believe this collection of players can find the chemistry needed to win enough games in time to be relevant.

14. Utah Jazz – Projected 29-53, last season 25-57
Utah Jazz Media Day
The very young Jazz are another year older and wiser. Still too young and inexperienced to be a significant threat on most nights, they will win more games than last season.

The starting lineup of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will keep the opposition honest as they continue to improve.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves – Projected 22-60, last season 40-42
Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Kevin Love is gone and the Timberwolves are loaded with young exciting potential superstar level talent. If Minnesota can develop Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Deng into the players they are envisioned as becoming and can retain them long term, the future looks bright.

For this year, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic are the guys the Timberwolves will need to turn to for wins. Hopefully, Head Coach Flip Saunders doesn’t let winning get in the road of player development.

Risks and Obstacles

The Pelicans could be treading water waiting for injured players to return or just round back into form and the Lakers appear to be waiting until next season, but both teams have talent if everything breaks in their favor. Plus, everyone has been waiting for the Kings to figure things out and play up to their talent level long enough to put them into the show-me category. Now these situations are not usually a formula for success, but the teams bear watching.

The Jazz and Timberwolves are in true rebuild mode and expectations are low. However, they have young exciting talent and in Minnesota’s situation in particular, their head coach can move the win total up or down significantly.

 

Who do you think finishes last in the West? Which one of the teams in the bottom 5 will be first to overtly start tanking the season? Can any of these teams exceed expectations and make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Griffin and Chandler
Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams

 

Harden and Lillard
Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Western Conference Pack

 

 

Valanciunas and Asik

Valanciunas And Asik Battle As Lithuania Eliminates Turkey

It was a battle of the big men as the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and the Pelicans Omer Asik went head-to-head in a quarterfinal match that saw Lithuania advance to the semifinals and Turkey get eliminated at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

With the seven-foot shot blockers patrolling the paint and the referees following the no-blood-no-foul rule, this game became a three point shooting contest and Turkey just couldn’t match Lithuania’s wealth of jump shooters. Lithuania shot 10-19 from three point range while Turkey bricked their way to 3-18 from deep and the result was a 73-61 win for Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas.

Lithuania v Turkey – Post Game Press Conference – 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup (Lithuania starts at 16:00)

“Today when Asik was playing inside he concentrate under the basket and we have a lot of space on the perimeter and we did a great job on this,” Kazlauskas said at the post game press conference. “We are playing without a point guard. We are playing the whole time with shooting guards. That’s why we are making good three-point shots.”

Just before the start of the World Cup, Lithuania lost starting point guard Mantas Kalnietis in a friendly with Croatia and it looked like their tournament hopes for a medal were going to go with him.

“We lost Kalnietis, I was thinking that there was a huge problem,” Kazlauskas said. “Last season he was among the five best players in the European championships. He is everything for this team and I am very happy how we are playing without him.”

Turkey’s Head Coach Ergin Ataman was more than a little upset at the loss and laid much of the blame at the feet of the referees. He couldn’t understand how Asik only got the free throw line twice in the game.

“Asik played 28 minutes,” Ataman said. “We tried to give many balls inside. He got only one time on the free throw line (pause) only one time (pause). Terrible referees.”

Lithuania had 20 personal fouls in this game to 21 for Turkey and it could be argued the referees swallowed their whistles at times, however, they were pretty consistent.

Where Asik shot 5-10 from the field for 10 points, 11 rebounds and 1-2 from the free throw line, Valanciunas was 5-9 shooting for 12 points, 13 rebounds and 2-2 from the free throw line and Valanciunas picked up a technical foul for arguing a foul call after feeling he was stopped the same way at the other end on the previous play. There was no sympathy for the big guys inside from the referees in this game and Valanciunas had the ugly red welts running down his arms to prove it.

Turkey somewhat wasted the free throw opportunities they did get going 12-17 from the free throw line while Lithuania was an efficient 9-11.

Lithuania’s Renaldas Seibutis led all scorers with 19 points going 3-3 from three point range and he was supported from deep by Martynas Pocius (3-5) 13 points and Darjus Lavrinovic (3-4) 11 points.

While Lithuania relied on three-point shooting to win this game, they used Valanciunas to occupy Turkey’s defenders to create space and the veteran Lavrinovic twins Darjus and Ksistof could be seen encouraging their young star.

“(We said) nothing special,” Ksistof Lavrinovic said. “We are just trying to convince (Valanciunas) that he is having a great game and he has to push us to the victory. He is improving everyday with each game and we just hope that he will continue this way.”

On Thursday Lithuania will play the winner between the USA and Slovenia for the right to advance to the Gold Medal game.

“I think Spain and the US are the two best teams in the tournament” Kazlauskas said. “They are the favorites and it will be very difficult for us, but every game is a different game, we will see.”

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NOP Davis and Asik

FIBA World Cup Studs From Day 4 Omer Asik And Anthony Davis

Tuesday’s action at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain continues to provide a platform for NBA and international players to strut their stuff and a pair of Pelicans stood out. Omer Asik had a massive game but failed to propel Turkey to the win. Anthony Davis had another big outing for the unbeaten USA.

Mexico 79-55 over Angola

Mexico:
Hector Hernandez, Cancun 24 points
Hawks free agent Gustavo Ayon 17 points, 12 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks

Ukraine 64-58 over Turkey

Ukraine:
Olexandra Mishula, DC Dnipro 19 points

Turkey:
Pelicans Omer Asik 16 points, 20 rebounds

USA 98-71 over New Zealand

USA:
Pelicans Anthony Davis 21 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block
Nuggets Kenneth Faried 15 points, 11 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block

Australia 82-75 over Lithuania

Australia:
Joe Ingles, Maccabi Tel Aviv 18 points

Lithuania:
Renaldas Seibutis, Darussafaka 21 points

Slovenia 89-72 over Korea

Slovenia:
Suns Goran Dragic 22 points

Dominican Republic 74-68 over Finland

Dominican:
Eloy Vargas, Fuenlabrada 18 points, 13 rebounds, 1 steal and 4 blocks

Finland:
Petteri Koponen, Khimki 23 points, 3 rebounds, 9 assists

The big disappointments of the day:

No Show By Jonas Valanciunas Costs Lithuania Vs. Australia

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas 4 points, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers
Rockets Donatas Motiejunas 2 points, 1 rebound, 2 turnovers

After three games, the top three scorers in the tournament are Pau Gasol (23.7), Luis Scola (23) and Gorgui Dieng (22). Anthony Davis leads the USA averaging 19 points and tied for 8th place overall.

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup here.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

TOR Hansbrough and De Colo

Next Man Up Wins For The Raptors In New Orleans

Head Coach Dwane Casey keeps saying it’s next man up when injuries have hit the Toronto Raptors this season and he got big contributions from a couple of reserves when Jonas Valanciunas was unable to play because of a stiff back. Toronto started soft and finished hard against the Pelicans to pull out the 107-100 victory in New Orleans after losing an overtime game in Atlanta the night before.

The Pelicans were playing without Anthony Davis because of illness, but their guards and wings ran the ball down the Raptors throats early in this contest, building a 32-24 first quarter lead on 81.3 percent shooting and held it half way into the second quarter until the newest Raptors player Nando De Colo injected some life into a sore and tired lineup. De Colo had an assist, steal, rebound and another assist to help Toronto end the quarter down just 57-56 in a game that looked like it was about to get away from the Raptors. De Colo earned praise from his teammates for his efforts.

“(De Colo) was unbelievable,” Kyle Lowry said. “Nando hasn’t played that much, but tonight he really changed the game.”

Somehow the Raptors hung with the Pelicans despite New Orleans shooting 59.6 percent from the field through three quarters with 6 players scoring in double figure for an 85-81 lead. Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were huge for Toronto and Amir Johnson was scoring on one leg all night as he could barely put weight on the ankle he turned the night before. However, high scoring games are not the Raptors forte. Stops were going to be needed if the visitors were going to steal this one.

The fourth quarter was like a completely different game. No one was hitting shots, but the Raptors grabbed 10 offensive boards to out rebound the Pelicans 21-8 and outscore them 26-15 despite shooting just 32 percent from the field. Getting stops both ways suddenly became the norm, but Toronto’s extra possessions off the glass was the difference. New Orleans led 94-90 with 4:26 left in the game, but shot 2-5 with 3 turnovers the rest of the way. Over the same period, the Raptors shot 5-10 with 3 steals to outscore the Pelicans 17-6, Johnson with 2 put-backs and Greivis Vasquez chasing down his own miss for the layup and one.

“We just picked up the intensity,” Casey said. “A typical game off of the back-to-back. I didn’t recognize the team in the first quarter, they were shooting 80 percent. I told them they were playing like they were in a rec league in the summertime and we picked it up. This game was about mental toughness and physical toughness more so than skill.”

The Pelicans were led by Al-Farouq Aminu with 19 points on 7-8 shooting and 10 rebounds off the bench. Tyreke Evans scored 18 points on 7-10 from the field. New Orleans shot 53.7 percent for the game, but were out rebounded 48-34 and the Raptors took 19 more shots.

DeRozan lead all scorers with 31 points , Lowry had 23 points and the hobbled Johnson finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Hansbrough got the start in place of the injured Valanciunas and collected a season high 13 rebounds. Vasquez scored 9 points on his old team in the fourth quarter to help put this game away. He had 14 points total on the night.

Still in third place, Toronto returns home to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. The Raptors are 15-13 versus the Western Conference this season.

New Orleans heads to Atlanta for a game on Friday.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Check out:

Toronto Raptors Look After Nando De Colo And His Girlfriend
“She is Spanish,” De Colo said. “It’s okay, she was with me in San Antonio, so after a year and a half, she knows this kind of life. Now to come to Toronto, it is just a new life and new city and everything is different, but it’s a new experience, so it’s exciting.”

 

NOP Williams and Davis

Pelicans Will Challenge The Raptors Defensive Discipline

After giving up 121 points to Phoenix and 118 points in Atlanta, the Toronto Raptors will be challenged to find the defensive discipline necessary to pull out a win on Wednesday in New Orleans.

Toronto gave up quarters of 29 points and 31 points after the Pelicans allowed the Raptors to race out to a 31-20 first quarter lead a month ago.  The Raptors won that game 108-101, but they allowed 50.6 percent shooting from the field and only held on for the win because of their free throw advantage.

In Toronto, the Pelicans were led by Tyreke Evans off the bench with 23 points and 10 assists.  Anthony Davis was held in check by the physical play of Patrick Patterson, who started in place of Amir Johnson, but this time, Patterson isn’t available and Johnson will have the task (assuming his foot hasn’t swollen up over night after tweaking it in Atlanta).  Patterson was also the Raptors leading scorer with 22 points in that game.

It was a high scoring affair last time and these often do not turn out in Toronto’s favor.

The 27-39 Pelicans are primed for the kind of defense-optional game that gives the 37-29 Raptors problems.  They are averaging just under 113 points per game over their last 6 contests in which they have gone 4-2.  On Sunday, Davis had 40 points and 21 rebounds in a 121-120 overtime victory over Boston.

The best way to beat the Pelicans is to hold them under 100 points like the Grizzlies did a week ago, but this young team is having fun scoring, so any defensive discipline is going to have to come from the other team.  Based on how the Raptors have been playing recently, they are going to have their work cut out for them.

Toronto could also be missing the services of Jonas Valanciunas who left Tuesday’s game in Atlanta with a sprained lower back.  The Pelicans are missing Ryan Anderson, Jason Smith and Jrue Holiday.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Check out:

Hard Coaching Is Making Austin Rivers Better
“That is who (Williams) is, he is very competitive and he demands a lot which is fine because he wants the best out of all of us,” Rivers said.  “Especially because we are young – especially on the point guards, he is really hard on me and Brian (Roberts).  Which is great because he wants us to get better and he knows if we get better, this team will get better and that’s just who he is.”

NOP_Rivers_Austin

Hard Coaching Is Making Austin Rivers Better

NUXV3NKTWRFZ

Last year, Austin Rivers was having a tough time as a rookie with the New Orleans Pelicans, but he’s a lot more comfortable getting playing time and hard coaching from Head Coach Monty Williams this time around.  It’s not like the young guard wasn’t used to being told what to do and how to do it after spending a year under Coach K – Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“That is who (Williams) is, he is very competitive and he demands a lot which is fine because he wants the best out of all of us,” Rivers said.  “Especially because we are young – especially on the point guards, he is really hard on me and Brian (Roberts).  Which is great because he wants us to get better and he knows if we get better, this team will get better and that’s just who he is.  I am used to that because Coach K – he’s not – I can’t really say too much, but he’s tough on you too and that’s because he demands greatness.  It’s good though, it’s making us better.”

However, after not feeling like he progressed as he should have as a rookie, Rivers knows it takes playing time to learn the NBA game and this season, opportunity has been knocking.

“Playing time, that’s the best way to get better in this league,” Rivers said.  “You could work out 20 times a day, if a kid on another team works out one time a day, but is playing 25 more minutes than you in a game, he is going to get better, that’s just the ins and outs.  It’s all about opportunity and it’s all about the situation you fit in and this year it has worked out a lot better than last year.  Unfortunately it had to be with injuries, but nonetheless, that’s part of the game.”

Rivers has an additional challenge as he learns how to play at the NBA level.  The leading scorer at Duke in his only college season, Rivers is now trying to become a true point guard and the transition has been difficult.

“In college it was score, score, we need you to score and I was like – fine – everybody wants to score,” Rivers explained.  “Now as a point guard you got Tyreke Evans over here and Eric Gordon here, Anthony Davis right here and now it’s about getting those guys going and then if that’s not working out or if we haven’t been to the basket in a while and we need a bucket, then I try to go.  That’s the balance and it’s hard, it’s really hard.  I don’t know if you can be perfect at it, it’s just that you have to get good at it and I am getting better at it, but I’m not good at it yet – but, I’m getting there.  I am trying to get to the point where I can make plays for others as well as myself.”

The biggest adjustment is making reads for others.  As a scorer, Rivers wasn’t required to make those around him better, now that is primarily how he’s judged and Rivers is starting to feel more comfortable and look more comfortable facilitating for others.

“Last year I had trouble making reads,” Rivers said.  “All I knew how to do was score, but now I know how to score when I need to and get players open when I need to and that’s something I am still getting better at every day.  I think my I.Q. of the game is just way better – just going out and relaxing now instead of worrying about doing this and doing that.  Now I just go out there and play.”

It has all been about getting an opportunity to play, fail and learn from his mistakes.

“How you get better is going and playing in the game and failing and learning from your mistakes and then correcting them,” Rivers said.  “That’s the best way to get better in this league.”

It has been another rough year for the Pelicans.  Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith are injured and New Orleans’ hopes for a better season went with them.  However, Williams is not giving the rest of the guys the season off and there is some long term benefit from hard coaching and making the rest of the roster better.  It’s not like Rivers is complaining.

“Our coach really knows how to make us play,” Rivers said.  “We play hard.  Even when we lose and we are in the locker room, no one feels bad.  We gave our all, we just didn’t have enough, we just didn’t make those plays.

“Playing time fixes everything, it’s the cure to happiness.  You could live in Los Angeles and if you’re not playing well or not playing at all, you won’t want this city – I got to get outa here, but if you’re playing 40 minutes in Utah, I love it here, it’s great.  Nothing against Utah, I think Utah is beautiful.”

The Pelicans might just have enough next year and Rivers may have learned enough to a big part of a resurgence.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Also check out:

New Orleans Pelicans Media Day

Is the Pelicans Anti-Player’s Coach Monty Williams Loved?
“I always tell the guys we can be friends later,” Williams said. “You can get better now, so you have to figure out which one you want. We can be friends now and you suffer.”

Chicago Bulls Kirk Hinrich Is Running Out Of Shoot-A-Rounds
“It is fun,” Hinrich admitted.  “The games and being around the guys, I think that’s what when you look back on it you are really going to miss – the camaraderie, the competing with a group of guys you respect.  Some things are not as fun as they used to be.  We joke sometimes about shoot-a-rounds.  I don’t know how many more shoot-a-rounds I have in me.”

New Orleans Pelicans Media Day

Is the Pelicans Anti-Player’s Coach Monty Williams Loved?

Pelicans Head Coach Monty Williams is not a player’s coach and on a team where every player has less than 6 years in the NBA, one might think ‘kid gloves’ would be the order of the day. However, Williams says he doesn’t have time for that. He’s here to teach, like it or not and if his players want to, they can be friends later.

“I always tell the guys we can be friends later,” Williams said. “You can get better now, so you have to figure out which one you want. We can be friends now and you suffer.”

Williams believes that deep down this is what his players want and they’ll love him for it later. It is his job to be hard on them so they develop as quickly as possible.

“I am probably hard on everybody except my wife,” Williams said. “It is just the nature of coaching. Great players want you to coach them. It just depends on who you are. Some people look at it as me being hard on them and some people look on it as coaching, but my job is to make guys better and I don’t get caught up in trying to be somebody’s friend, I have to make them better. I guess now-a-days, it’s called a player’s coach and I am probably the furthest thing from that. I don’t really know what that is, I have to make guys better, so I am always demanding the things that I think they need.”

There is evidence Williams is right. Last season, Greivis Vasquez led the NBA in total assists and Williams says he was especially hard on his young point guard, but he is beyond proud of what Vasquez accomplished.

“Greivis probably don’t want to see me,” Williams said. “I was so tough on him, he probably will start itching or sweating as soon as he sees me thinking I am going to yell at him or something, but he was a bright spot for me, a big-time flagship for our P.D. (player development) program. A guy who came in and worked his tail off, had his best year with us and I was fortunate to be able to coach Greivis – another guy that I was really tough on.”

SAC_Vasquez_GreivisWhen Vasquez saw Williams standing outside of the visitor’s locker room in Toronto, however, the reaction was completely different. It was all love and hugs between the player and his former coach.

“I was just talking about you,” Williams said. “I said you were going to start itching and sweating when you see me. Hey, that was a Hallmark moment. We might have to do a commercial.”

Vasquez’s response wasn’t anything new for Williams.

“The players want it,” Williams said. “After-the-fact they like me, but at the time they are with me, they run from me. I have had a lot of players like that – that have left and they are like – ‘Coach I love you’, but when they are with me its like, ‘That dude is crazy. He doesn’t even cuss at me, but he makes me feel so small every day, I don’t like him,’ but when they leave, they realize you want to help them get better.”

Williams doesn’t let up on the Pelicans newest All-Star Anthony Davis either. At 20-years-old, Davis has a lot to learn, Williams has a lot to teach and being a nice guy doesn’t figure into it.

“There is a lot for (Davis) to improve upon,” Williams explained. “He is going to have to mentally understand that people are going to come after him every night. He has to read defenses better. He has to work on his counters. He is so good on his first move, now he has to learn how to work on his counter when teams take it away and when you are 20, you have a lot to improve upon.”

Outside of a few teams, having a wealth of older veterans to lead the rookies and young players has become a thing of the past. The job of teacher, leader and disciplinarian often falls on the coach without the benefit of a locker room presence to back him up. Williams uses his own NBA experience to try and provide what his veterans did for him as a player.

“It is a challenge, but it is what it is. I can’t cry about things I don’t have,” Williams said. “I had really good vets. I had Herb Williams, Patrick Ewing and Derek Harper, but the league isn’t that way anymore. You are not going to have 4 or 5 guys on your team that are 34-years-old, it’s just not that way anymore. My vets would tell me to shut up and you just shut up. They tell you to go get the balls and you go get them and that was just the way it was, but they were also the same guys that had you at their house at night for dinner, so it’s a different league now, so coaches have to step up and be vets on their team.”

Williams has a tough job in New Orleans and between the youth, inexperience and untimely injuries, it isn’t about to get easier anytime soon. However, players that want to be coached get better under his tutelage, even if they think he might be crazy at the time and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that players do love Williams when they realize how much better they’ve become because of him.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

SAC_Patterson_Patrick

Raptors Outlast The Pelicans 108-101

A young depleted Pelicans roster wasn’t up to the challenge of playing a back-to-back against a pair of Eastern Conference teams and after losing in Brooklyn on Sunday 93-81 they fell short in Toronto to the Raptors 108-101 on Monday.

The Pelicans starting unit looked gassed from the start of this game, giving up a 31-20 lead in the first quarter and repeating their subpar effort in the third quarter 33-21.  However, both times their second unit bailed them out and gave the Pelicans a chance to steal one on the road.  With Austin Rivers initiating the offense and Tyreke Evans taking over from there, the New Orleans reserves brought their team back to a tie at half and then brought the Pelicans back to within one point with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter.

However, when Toronto brought their starters back in to finish the game, that was all she wrote for the tired birds from the south.  In a little over 2 minutes, the Raptors had restored a 9 point lead and they coasted home despite 3 ridiculous turnovers in the final minute that made the ending a little more suspenseful than it should have been.

“For whatever reason we are losing leads with our second unit,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said.  “What it is doing is putting a lot of pressure on our starters and putting them in big minute situations.  I think we just have to get their rhythm back.  Taking Patrick (Patterson) off the second unit hurts them a bit, but still we have to get a rhythm with that second unit so we can rest our starters.”

Raptors starting power forward Amir Johnson was given the night off with a sore foot and Patterson was inserted into the starting lineup with great effect.  Patterson smothered the Pelicans newest All-Star Anthony Davis on defense while scoring a season-high 22 points on 7-11 shooting.  DeMar DeRozan also had 22 points on an inefficient 7-21 from the field, but was picked up by a strong game from Kyle Lowry with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 12 assists.

Tyler Hansbrough was a load inside and scored 12 points in 14.5 minutes and was particularly effective over the final 6.5 minutes after Jonas Valanciunas picked up his fifth personal foul.

“Tyler and Patrick both carried us tonight,” Casey said.  “I thought they were huge in their minutes.  Tyler came in and was a pro, rebounded, had 6 rebounds and 12 points.  He brings physicality to the game that we need and gets to the free throw line.”

New Orleans Pelicans Media DayDavis had 19 points and 7 rebounds, but he was held to 1-4 for 3 points in the first quarter and 1-2 for 3 points in the third quarter as Patterson did a solid job defensively of keeping him out of his comfort zone.

‘Make him shoot, get a great contest and be physical with him,” Patterson said about guarding Davis.  “Try to limit his touches around the paint because he uses his length and his size to the best of his abilities and just try to make him as uncomfortable out there as possible.  He thrives off of transition, he thrives off of alley-oops, so you try to take that away from him as much as possible.”

Davis didn’t look very comfortable while Patterson was on the court.

New Orleans Pelicans Media DayEvans, who was a mysterious DNP-CD the night before, came off the bench as an unstoppable force scoring 23 points, collecting 5 boards and dishing 10 dimes.  In stretches, Evans was able to drive to the rim at will and shot an efficient 10-14 from the field.  Whatever had him nailed to the bench in Brooklyn must have brought the best out of him in Toronto.

The Pelicans complete this 3 game Eastern Conference road trip with a stop in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

The Raptors will entertain the Hawks on Wednesday with a chance to create some space between themselves and their closest rival for third place in the East.  The Hawks will be coming in after playing the Bulls on Tuesday.

Check out our Game Info page and Pregame Report.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Also check out:

Bobcats Kemba Walker Does What Kyrie Irving Hasn’t
Surprisingly, the once beyond terrible Bobcats are fighting for a playoff spot and Walker has been stepping up as a team leader and clutch player once again.  The promise that was obvious in college is starting to show at the professional level.

“No question, I am definitely the leader of this team,” Walker said.  “I wouldn’t have it no other way.  Guys look to me.  Basically, the way I go, the team goes.  I definitely wear that hat and I am excited to.”

New Orleans Pelicans Media Day

Wings Clipped Pelicans Visit Raptors

 

It’s been a rough 2014 for the New Orleans Pelicans.   The NBA’s newest bird had their wingNew Orleans Pelicans Media Days clipped in January when Ryan Anderson went down with a herniated disc, Jrue Holiday developed a stress fracture in his right leg and Jason Smith was lost for the season after knee surgery.  On Monday they will visit the Toronto Raptors on the back-to-back after a game in Brooklyn.

The Pelicans were 14-15 at the end of December, but started the New Year on a 1-9 run that took them out of the playoff picture in the tough Western Conference.  Since then, they have gone 7-3, starting to figure out how to win without 3 of their best players.  Looking past the Pelicans at this point would be a huge mistake.

A big part of the Pelicans recent resurgence has been the play of All-Star replacement Anthony Davis.  Davis has averaged better than 20 points and 10 rebounds in 2014 and is playing over 40 minutes per game in February.  Eric Gordon has stepped up his game to average over 16.5 points in the New Year and 28-year-old sophomore point guard Brian Roberts has more than doubled his production since being inserted into the starting lineup on January 10th.

The Pelicans are 22-27 and no one would have blamed them if they had decided to pack things in after what happened in January and that is what makes these injured birds such a dangerous opponent.

The Raptors have enjoyed a relatively injury-free season after several years in a row of watching multiple key players go down for extended periods of time.  They are returning home on 2 days rest after a tough 2-3 Western conference road trip.

This team gelled after a major trade and they now sit atop of the Atlantic Division with a 26-24 record.  The Raptors may have the easiest schedule in the entire NBA the rest of the way, but they know it’s still played one game at a time.

First-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan leads the Raptors in scoring and All-Star snub Kyle Lowry leads them on the court.  Toronto has been a tough team for opponents to put away this season and that is reflected in their 14-14 road record.

Head Coach Dwane Casey has insisted from the start that this season has been all about the development of DeRozan and the sophomores Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas and with all 3 players participating in All-Star Weekend, it would be hard to argue that he hasn’t fulfilled the team’s expectations and then some.

“We want to compete every time we walk out, but the main thing is we are building,” Casey said.  “We are getting better in small areas and in some areas we are not.  My thing is competing.  You go out – compete and fight physically – and then you let the chips fall where they may.  Only time and maturity is going to help certain situations.

“Everyone is talking about success and we are still a growing team, a developing team.  Again, we got to keep that in mind.  We get upset when we get a chance to put ourselves in a position to win, but we are still a young team, a team that is still learning.”

After losing in Los Angeles to the Clippers, Casey made it clear what the goals were heading into the All-Star break – look after home court.

“I just told the guys, we got to go back and take care of home,” Casey said.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Also check out:
TOR_Casey_Dwane
Raptors Coach Casey Wins With All-Star Selections
This season started with speculation that Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey wasn’t new President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s guy and therefore, his tenure in Toronto would be short-lived.  Now with 3 Raptors players selected to represent Toronto in headline events on each day of All-Star Weekend, perhaps it’s time to stop wondering about Coach Casey’s future.

Ranking The NBA Western Conference Playoff Hopefuls

When ranking the NBA Western Conference, it is hard not to notice that coaching may have become the biggest determinate of change. The Clippers would still have doubters if Doc Rivers wasn’t running the show. It would be hard to not at least consider the Grizzlies a Western Conference Finals threat if Lionel Hollins was still there and how does an organization part with George Karl after he wins Coach of the Year?

After our top five of the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets and Warriors, there are the weakened Grizzlies and Nuggets franchises that should be able to stay in the playoff picture followed by group of hopefuls where a debate should rage about the virtue of being a one-and-done playoff team in the eighth spot versus tanking for a better draft pick in June.

Too Good To Fail?

6. Memphis Grizzlies – 56-26 last season, projected 48-34

There isn’t anything more frustrating in professional sports than watching a well-built successful franchise knock itself down a peg in order to save money. 33-year-old Tayshaun Prince is an acceptable fill-in for Rudy Gay, but he is on the downside of his career and simply can’t provide the offense Gay did for 6.5 seasons in Memphis. The Grizzlies traded Gay to save money and they moved a plethora of lesser but solid players for the same reason.

The Grizzlies still have a good roster, however and if it wasn’t for handing the heading coaching job to Hollins’ assistant Dave Joerger, it might be easier to believe this would still be a 50-win team. Memphis is going to find out just how much an experienced and successful head coach contributes to a team’s record. It isn’t likely they are going to like the answer.

It is easy to sympathize with the financial realities of operating a small market franchise, but that isn’t going to help the Grizzlies win more games this season. The question in Memphis shouldn’t be if the team can stretch to win 50 games, but rather how far below 50 wins will they end up.

7. Denver Nuggets – 57-25 last season, projected 44-38

The Denver Nuggets were a franchise in disarray this summer. The 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left town to join the Toronto Raptors. The 2013 NBA Coach of Year George Karl was fired. Free agent Andre Iguodala spurned Denver’s offer to join the Warriors and free agent Corey Brewer opted for the Timberwolves. Danilo Gallinari is still rehabbing a partially torn ACL and hopes to return sometime in December, but the Nuggets will be starting this season without 3 of their top 5 scorers from last year and a brand new rookie head coach.

Big changes in management also mean big changes in style. The Nuggets were built to facilitate the open court style of Karl and new Head coach Brian Shaw is known for the Lakers’ triangle offense he played in and was schooled in as a player and an assistant coach in Los Angeles. Perhaps this explains why last year’s starting center Kosta Koutos was traded and JaVale McGee will be given his chance to play more than the 18 minutes a game Karl thought he deserved.

There are a lot of unknowns in Denver this season, but Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried should be able to stave off disaster and keep the Nuggets from slipping too much until Gallinari returns to provide some offensive punch. The number of wins above .500 will largely depend on Shaw, but the Nuggets are still a playoff team this season.

The Fight For Eighth

8. Minnesota Timberwolves -31-51 last season, projected 42-40

This is a roster bouncing back from injuries to Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, but each of these players have shown enough to get everyone excited to see what they could do playing together for an entire season. Minnesota didn’t wait for their best players to get healthy, this summer they picked up free agents Brewer from the Nuggets and Kevin Martin from the Thunder. A team that has been suspect on the wing for some time just got stronger.

The Timberwolves have spent nine years in the lottery and have experienced more than their share of bad luck and questionable management decisions, however, they head into this season with something new, justifiable hope. Healthy and a little deeper than in the past, it is Minnesota’s turn at the postseason again.

9. Dallas Mavericks – 41-41 last season, projected 40-42

No one believes the past two summers are what Mavericks owner Mark Cuban envisioned when he blew up his 2010-2011 championship roster. Dallas has a collection of talent for the second year in a row that screams .500-team. While this group could sneak into the playoffs if other teams stumble, the only truly redeeming feature of this roster is the less than $30 million in players’ salaries guaranteed after this season.

Dallas has a group of veterans in Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis who will put on a show, but there is no reason to expect they will do any better than last year’s Mavericks. Cuban has put his franchise on hold for another season.

10. Portland Trail Blazers – 33-49 last season, projected 37-45

There is some optimism around Portland this summer. They did pick up some players who could help the team garner a few more wins than last year.

Mo Williams is a solid veteran backup point guard and should play additional minutes at shooting guard if the Trail Blazers don’t mind letting rookie C.J. McCollum languish on the bench. Robin Lopez will be the team’s best center and let LaMarcus Aldridge play at his natural power forward position. The question becomes, how many minutes does Meyers Leonard get to play this year and which of Lopez and Leonard is the team’s center of the future. Thomas Robinson is on his third team after just one season, if Portland believes the fifth overall draft pick of 2012 has a future in the league, they have to find at least 20 minutes a night for him.

The Trail Blazers are too good to be bad and need to find minutes for their young players whether that results in wins or not. This season should have a slightly better record than last year, but winning is probably going to take a back seat to player development.

11. New Orleans Pelicans – 27-55 last season, projected 36-46

New Orleans projected starting unit of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson has an average age 23-years-old. This team’s best players are young, developing and a long ways from their projected prime and that is not usually the formula for a playoff appearance.

A lot of people suggested the Pelicans were making a run at the 2014 postseason when they exchanged Nerlens Noel and a future protected first round draft pick for Holiday, but maybe New Orleans just wanted a 23-year-old All-Star and thought they got the better of the trade. It would be hard to argue with them.

The Pelicans have question marks with their depth and potentially bigger unknowns with a couple of their starters. Eric Gordon had surgery on his ankle again in May and after playing in just 51 games over the past two seasons in New Orleans, whether or not Gordon will be the offensive player he was with the Clippers is unknown. The Kings tried to move Evans from guard to small forward and it would be stretch to say the experiment was a success in Sacramento. There is no reason to assume Evans can play small forward at a high level in New Orleans either.

In New Orleans, questions should be looked upon more as opportunities. This team has acquired some good young talent and their future is ahead of them. The current starting unit may gel and produce earlier than expected or take time to develop and future moves may be required, either way, the Pelicans are on the right path.

Risks and Obstacles

Any team hoping to land one the last three playoff spots in their conference is going to have risks and issues to deal with, but with the Grizzlies and the Nuggets seemingly locked into two of those spots, the rest of this group is really in for a fight.

Dallas will be waiting to take the last playoff if other teams stumble or decide to tank for a better lottery pick. Both Portland and New Orleans are going to be developing young players and letting the chips fall where they may. The Timberwolves, however, have the talent and the motivation to grab that last playoff spot if only that dark cloud of bad luck hanging over this team can disperse for a season and they are due, Minnesota has been waiting a long time to watch postseason action again.

Who do you think takes 6, 7and 8 in the NBA Western Conference and makes the playoffs? Which one of these teams will be first to embrace tanking? Can any of these teams crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

Be sure to check out our Ranking of the Top Five NBA Eastern Conference Teams and our Ranking of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Hopefuls.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report. You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

 

Five NBA Small Forwards To Watch

This will be the season of the small forward in the NBA. Several teams have made their move to compete for now and in the future with players at the position that requires the most all round talent at both ends of the floor to be considered elite. These teams’ success or failure will be riding on their choice living up to some pretty high expectations.

Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

Rudy Gay was a 20 point per game small forward in his second NBA season and he turned his ability to score, rebound and defend into a max contract with the Grizzlies back in 2010. Many people thought Gay was being overpaid at the time, but everyone who understands the NBA knew Gay would have received a maximum offer sheet elsewhere if Memphis had decided to hold back. However, with Zach Randolph the undisputed number one option on the team, it didn’t take long for the complaints to start about how Gay wasn’t living up to his contract.

The luxury tax shy Grizzlies finally traded Gay to Toronto this past January where he was once again the best option on his team and if it wasn’t for a brief period of back soreness at the wrong time, Gay would have led the Raptors back to the playoffs last season. Toronto only finished out of 8th spot by 4 games after a 4-19 start to the season.

Gay was at his all-time statistical best in Toronto over his first 33 games. His scoring, rebounding, assists and steals per minute were the highest of his NBA career and if he can stay healthy and carry this pace forward, all the whining about his paycheck will stop. In a year where Gay can determine his own fate by accepting or declining a player option next June, he finally had the corrective eye surgery needed to actually see the basket from the three-point line and he has put on the extra muscle needed to do the heavy-lifting demanded from a go-to-guy. Gay is the small forward to be watching this season.

Josh Smith, Detroit Pistons

President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars wasted no time this July in getting the Hawks free agent forward Josh Smith’s name on a brand new 4-year $54 million contract. The 27-year-old 9-year NBA veteran defines stat-stuffer and has been an NBA All-Star snub far too often in his career. Dumars wanted an upgrade in talent for his roster and Smith provides that in spades.

The only issue for the Pistons is they already have Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe taking up the two starting big man spots in the rotation and it seems that Smith will be shuffled back to starting small forward where he has been significantly less effective and less comfortable during his career. Also, as the big dollar free agent acquisition, this season’s playoff expectations are resting largely on Smith’s shoulders even though Brandon Jennings ability to become an effective passing point guard will be the far bigger determinate in achieving that goal.

Expectations from Smith are very high and this young veteran is not being put in a position where it will be easy for him to succeed. His personal success will be affected by how his coach uses him and if the team’s new point guard can develop his own game. Does Smith have the adaptability and the maturity to deal with his situation and the pressure of high expectations?

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

Danny Granger is expected back at the start of this season after missing almost all of last year with a sore knee. He finally gave in and had surgery to remove scar tissue from his patella tendon at the end of the regular season. His rehab should be completed well before training camp and the Pacers could have two All-Stars starting on the wing for opening night.

At 30-years-old and coming off knee surgery, Granger knows his role will change with the Pacers. Paul George is the team’s star player on the wing now, but the veteran Granger could be the addition that takes this team from NBA Eastern Conference Finals contender all the way to a 2014 NBA Championship team.

There is no way to know if Granger is done as a player, a shell of his former self or the Pacers’ missing piece, but right now, Granger is someone to watch.

Jeff Green, Boston Celtics

After missing all of the 2011-2012 season with a heart condition, the Celtics signed forward Jeff Green to a 4-year $36 million contract. This year, he will be expected to play up to that big commitment.

Boston cleared the decks when they sent the last of the Big Three to the Nets and Green has the starting small forward position unopposed this year. He earned the right to start last season with an excellent bounce-back year overall and a 20.1 points per game average in his 17 starts.

Expectations in Boston are low with Rajon Rondo still rehabbing an ACL tear from last season, but that doesn’t apply to Green. Green is by far the best offensive player on the Celtics and should personally have an outstanding season regardless of whether the team struggles or not.

Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

The 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year wasn’t fitting into the Kings plans for whatever reason. A point guard as a rookie, he was forced to play on the wing in Sacramento as their roster changed and he never looked as comfortable without the ball in his hands. Still, Evans is a supremely talented young player and the Pelicans stepped up with a 4-year $44 million offer in July that Sacramento wasn’t going to entertain and a three team sign and trade deal was completed.

The Pelicans roster suggests Evans will be back in the less comfortable role of starting small forward this season and the team has a lot invested in his continued development off the ball. If he can continue to grow his game, Evans will be part of a very young and highly talented lineup that should have playoff aspirations this season and much higher expectations in the future. Evans isn’t the big star in the Pelicans rotation, but he could be the player that determines how fast this lineup sees the postseason.

Honorable Mention

It will also be interesting to watch Nicolas Batum in Portland, the impact of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in Sacramento and how Evan Turner handles the situation in Philadelphia.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

 

Five NBA Point Guards To Watch

After a summer this busy, there are a lot of NBA players to watch this season and these five point guards have something to prove. Whether it’s developing for the future or taking their team to the playoffs, how each team measures success or failure will be riding on them living up to some pretty high expectations.

Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns

Eric Bledsoe was a point guard in demand this summer and with just one year left on his rookie deal; he has a lot riding on his play this season. The Suns already have a starting quality point guard in Goran Dragic who was a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season and Bledsoe is 6’ 1.5” tall in shoes which doesn’t exactly make him a likely starting shooting guard. As the Suns may not be overly concerned about winning games this season, however, they can experiment with a two point guard lineup on a regular basis.

Bledsoe needs to continue his steady improvement with turnovers and find a way to become a better facilitator this season. He is already one of the league’s best defensive point guards and he found his shooting stroke last season. The Suns could either have their starting point guard of the future or a really valuable trade piece to build with next summer if Bledsoe performs up to expectations.

Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons

Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars picked up two big name free agents (again), but while forward Josh Smith added to a talented pair of big men already on the roster, this season’s hopes for a playoff berth will fall on point guard Brandon Jennings’ shoulders.

In four seasons with Milwaukee, Jennings produced some monster offensive games that included a 55 point performance as a rookie, but in Detroit, it’s his passing ability that is going to be tested. A volume shooter throughout his NBA career, Jennings needs to take advantage of the talent Detroit has inside and be willing to give up some of his own scoring for this roster to work. Success in Detroit means a trip to the postseason and nothing less.

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry stumbled through his first two months in Toronto last year as injuries and radically different expectations put this once All-Star snub on his heels. However, after his injuries had healed and his friend Rudy Gay arrived, Lowry became the triple-double threat Head Coach Dwane Casey envisioned when the Raptors traded for him. A team that was 4-19 to start the season played .500 ball the rest of the way.

Lowry is on an expiring contract this season and the point guard showed up in Las Vegas during Summer League for a team function in amazing shape. The Raptors are expecting a highly motivated and physically ready point guard at training camp in October. Lowry is expected to be a key reason the Raptors are back in the postseason after a five-year absence.

Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday was an All-Star last season, but the 76ers traded him anyway as they tore down their roster to go all in for Andrew Wiggins next June. Moving in the other direction, New Orleans gave up the 2013 sixth overall draft pick Nerlens Noel and their 2014 first round draft pick to get Holiday as the Pelicans stopped rebuilding and set their sights on the 2014 playoffs.

The Pelicans are very young and needed a floor general with the potential to grow with the roster. They couldn’t have done much better than Holiday. While some may measure success solely based on how far ahead of eighth place this team can finish in the West this season, a longer time horizon should be used. For Holiday, all he has to do is prove last season wasn’t just the result of being the most effective player on a bad team.

John Wall, Washington Wizards

The Wizards signed John Wall to a four-year $61 million extension that kicks in next season and the young point guard has the potential to be worth all of that and more. However, he’s been the best player on a terrible team since he was drafted by Washington first overall in 2010 and there are a long list of non-believers at this point. It’s not the personal stats, Wall is at least as deserving of an All-Star nod as Holiday by the numbers, it’s the fewer than 30 wins per season going back to before Wall was even drafted.

Aside from developing a three-point shot, there isn’t much more Wall can do on his own to impress anyone except lead his team to more wins. He has some exceptional young talent to play with in Otto Porter Jr. and Bradley Beal and if Nene and Emeka Okafor can stay healthy, the Wizards should finally break the 30-win barrier this season. That might not be setting the bar very high, but after five years of terrible basketball, it wouldn’t be fair to expect more than just showing some real improvement. The Wizards best players are very young and inexperienced. There is light at the end of the tunnel in Washington and Wall needs to be the player who is carrying it.

Honorable Mention

It will also be interesting to see how the rookie Trey Burke plays with the Jazz, if Steve Nash has anything left in the tank for the Lakers and if Brandon Knight can be the cheaper version of Jennings that the Bucks believe he can be.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors