You know the regular season is upon us when the TNT crew starts sharing their thoughts on who is primed to succeed and what teams will be most relevant in the upcoming season. Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Kerr and others had plenty to say about a number of topics with USA Today, and that’s where we’ll kick things off in today’s blog.
Story of the day:
Which team is good enough to take on the Heat this season? Barkley shared his thoughts on the matter with Sam Amick of USA Today:
“There’s a very short list of teams that can actually win the championship. I think Brooklyn is interesting. You have to wonder how much Paul (Pierce) and Kevin (Garnett) have left in the tank. I think that’s going to be a great story line to watch. I think the Pacers — the Pacers are legit. The Pacers are flat out legit. I think you’ve got to figure out how well (Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell) Westbrook is going to come back to see what Oklahoma City has. But I think the big question marks — what we’re talking about — to me is going to go down to the Dwight (Howard) story, which is fascinating, but the big key to me is going to be the Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan (story line) and how they got better as players. (The Clippers have) all the other pieces, they just don’t have inside guys who can get their own shots and dominate. That’s all they’re missing.”
Perhaps not too surprisingly, Kerr is going with the Chicago Bulls as the favorites to overthrow the Heat. Here is his logic:
Kerr: “It kind of feels like it’s all teed up for this to be (the Bulls’) year, with Derrick (Rose) coming back (from the ACL tear that kept him out all last season) and then they’ve got Luol Deng in the last year of his deal. (With) he and Jimmy Butler on the wings, you have two guys who can really guard. Guarding (Miami’s Dwyane) Wade and LeBron (James), you’ve got to have a couple of good defenders, and the Bulls definitely do. And they’ve just always given Miami trouble, just with their style of play.”
O’Neal and Barkley both chimed in on Dwight Howard with the Rockets. As usual, there weren’t a whole lot of compliments:
O’Neal: “They could be dangerous, but he’s in his what, ninth or 10th year? He’s been the same all those 10 years, so can he get better while working with (Rockets aide and Hall of Fame big man) Hakeem (Olajuwon)? Is that going to take him to the next level? I’m not sure. We’ll see, but I haven’t seen it. … (But) if he’s playing great ball and (James) Harden is playing great ball and everyone else is following them, they could be a dangerous team. But I don’t see them winning it right away.
“Everybody can’t handle that pressure (with the Lakers). You can’t do it by yourself. You’re playing with the Black Mamba (Kobe Bryant), and it don’t get no easier than that. You’re either going to be with the Black Mamba and it’s going to be easier than trying to do it by yourself, or you’re going to be with LeBron, or with Durant — the third choice — or with Derrick Rose, the fourth choice. You were with the No. 1 guy — it don’t get no easier than that. … I don’t know Dwight personally, but a lot of people can’t handle that pressure.”
Barkley: “I like Houston. I love what Houston is doing. It’s all the same thing — (a matter of) how much better Dwight is. No. 1, is he focused? I think the best thing that happened to him is he’s going to get a chance to work with (Rockets coach and former Celtics great) Kevin McHale every day, because his game is not close to where it should be. But Kevin McHale is the best player I ever played against, and teaching him every day is going to be monumental for Dwight. … He’s not polished offensively. He’s not even close to where he’s going to be offensively. He’s just got to develop his offensive game.”
This seems to be a theme with these guys every time the name Howard comes up – that he isn’t good enough offensively. Shaq has a point: Howard is going into his 10th season, and he won’t suddenly become Hakeem Olajuwon. He is who he is at this point, so why not accept him for who he is – a defensively dominant center who can get you 20 points every night.
Some noteworthy stuff from preseason action:
– With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap out of the way, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors will get the nod to show why they were the No. 3 overall picks in their respective drafts. It has always been a matter of opportunity with these two, and they are starting to show signs of coming into their own as full-time starters.
Aside from being overwhelmed by DeAndre Jordan’s athleticism against the Los Angeles Clippers (he had at least three shots sent back at him), Kanter has been efficient thus far in the preseason, which is no surprise. He looked particularly dominant in his last game against the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. We know he is effective around the basket, but it’s his ability to hit the open jump shot which will be key in how good he can be. If all goes well, he should be a clear-cut breakout candidate.
As for Favors, it’s starting to become clear that his best attributes are more on the defensive end. He has averaged 11.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in just under 25 minutes thus far in four preseason games, but just 7.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting and has looked out of sync at times with more defensive attention on him. Of course, Favors won’t be this bad when the games count, but the first month could be a struggle with Trey Burke out of the equation for a while with a broken finger.
– Jump shots. Successful backdoor cuts. Floaters. Blow-bys. Finish around the rim with contact. Constant movement without the ball. These are the skillsets of a very good guard or wing, but also happen to be all the things that Anthony Davis has been able to do with regularity in the preseason. Check out what the second-year forward has done in four games in about 28 minutes of play: 24.5 points on 55.1 percent shooting, 88 percent on free throws, seven rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2 blocks. Did I mention that he’s done all this in about 28 minutes of play? In a word, scary.
Thought of the day:
Ask Barkley and he will tell you all day that when it comes to the playoffs, you live and die by the jump shot – especially 3-pointers. Read this article about Kyle Korver’s shooting prowess by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, though, and you’ll find that Sir Charles’ logic isn’t as sound as he assuredly believes:
Among the 177 players who took at least 500 shots, Korver ranked 73rd in standard field goal percentage. But 414 (69 percent) of his 601 shots were from 3-point range. He ranked second in the league in 3-point percentage and since effective field goal percentage takes the extra point you get for a three into account, he was the most effective shooter in the league.
As a result, the Hawks’ offense was at its best with Korver on the floor, scoring 105.7 points per 100 possessions, compared to just 98.8 with him on the bench. That differential of 6.8 ranked 22nd among 256 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes with one team last season.
The Atlanta offense was even better — scoring 107.6 points per 100 possessions — when Korver was on the floor with Al Horford. Though Horford only took six threes last season, he ranked 25th in effective field goal percentage. He was both a great finisher — ranking seventh in restricted-area field-goal percentage— and a great shooter — ranking 37th in mid-range field goal percentage.
Great shooting and floor spacing is how the Golden State Warriors pushed the San Antonio Spurs to the limit in the playoffs. It’s how the Heat ultimately beat the Spurs and the reason they went and picked up Roger Mason after losing Mike Miller, who was acquired by the Memphis Grizzlies to help solve their biggest issue: spacing the floor. It’s why a guy like Mike Dunleavy will pay dividends for the Chicago Bulls. Sure, settling for a jump shot is a bad thing – if you’re not very good at it and it’s executed without a plan or a scheme behind it.
Onto other news from around the league: