Bernucca: Handing Out My Postseason Awards

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Image.AdamSilverTransparency is a two-way street.

For years, NBA media members – echoing the sentiments of its passionate fan base – wanted more transparency from Commissioner David Stern and his executive staff. Whether it was a lottery drawing, a suspension in the playoffs or a referee scandal, folks felt like they were entitled to an explanation. And they were.

Stern grudgingly came around. He arranged for the media to meet with referees prior to the season about rules changes. He allowed the media into the lottery drawing. He okayed press releases that admitted, Yes, we blew that call.

Since replacing Stern as commissioner less than three months ago, Adam Silver has taken the NBA’s transparency up a notch. He declared that there will be an open dialogue about officiating and is walking the walk by making internal memos available to the media.

But Silver isn’t giving away something for nothing. He is asking transparency from the media with regard to how members vote on postseason awards.

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Sixth Man Rankings: Morris and Gibson are in a Deadlock

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question markWith just one more week to go in the NBA season, it’s time for our final round of “Name That Big Man!”

Sixth Man Rankings: Championing Dallas’ second unit, Vince Carter is thriving

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As the Dallas Mavericks compete for one of the most competitive No. 8 seeds in NBA history, they’ve relied heavily on Vince Carter to provide veteran leadership and production to the team’s second lineup.

While he is the team’s sixth man by assignment, coach Rick Carlisle still considers him one of Dallas’ most important players. This is evident by Carter’s defined role in the final minutes of close games.

Carter is averaging nearly seven fourth-quarter minutes per game in 2013-2014, nearly two more minutes than he receives in any other quarter.

While his per game stats of 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists indicate that Carter’s a shell of the All-Star he used to be, it’s misleading to think that Carter is fading. When extended out to 36 minutes, Carter’s 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists show he’s still a versatile contributor.

Moreover, Carter’s playing like he embraces efficiency more than ever:

Over his last 20 games, Carter’s offensive rating has exceeded 110 points per 100 possessions.

This has done wonders for Dallas’ second unit. Reunited with former Nets teammate Devin Harris, the Mavericks’ bench has transformed from a weakness in recent years to a relative strength.

“As a whole, the five-man second unit of Devin Harris, Jae Crowder, Nowitzki, (Brandan) Wright, and Carter is scoring 117.4 points and allowing just 87.8 per 100 possessions this season, both elite marks. The unit’s 29.6 net rating — the difference between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions — is 5th-best in the NBA since Jan. 18 among lineups with at least 50 minutes played. (Jan. 18 was Harris’s season debut.)” - Per Bobby Karalla of Mavs.com

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As you can see, Carter has found his comfort zones on the court. When Carlisle puts Carter alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon in the rotation, Dallas’ perimeter threats open up driving lanes for Monta Ellis.

On to the rankings.

RANK Player RUNDOWN RECENT
1 Phoenix Suns MARKIEFF MORRIS, F, PHOENIX: ”No player has logged more minutes as a reserve. Morris has averaged 16.7 points on a sterling .617 true shooting percentage since the break, all off the bench. Phoenix has outscored opponents with him on the floor in 16 of his last 23 outings.” – Bradford Doolittle 1
2 Taj Gibson headshot TAJ GIBSON, F, CHICAGO: Gibson has earned seven starts this season and looks poised to take over the role full time next season. In those seven games, Gibson has averaged 20.6 points and 9.7 rebounds. For this season, though, he still qualifies as a sixth man. 2
3 Oklahoma City Thunder REGGIE JACKSON, G, OKLAHOMA CITY: Took a few games off with a back injury but is still shooting better than 40% from deep on the month. 3
4 SAS_Ginobili_Manu MANU GINOBILI, G, SAN ANTONIO: San Antonio’s dominance has actually hurt Ginobili’s case. He’s averaging such few minutes over the team’s recent surge that his per game numbers now fail to tell the story of his on-court efficiency.  4
5 Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014 VINCE CARTER, G-F, DALLAS: He’s shooting 45% from deep since the All-Star Break, keeping the Mavericks in the fight for a spot in the playoffs.  
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DROPOUTS: Jamal Crawford (5).

FIVE TO WATCH: Alec Burks, G, Utah; Patty Mills, G, San Antonio; J.R. Smith, G, New York; D.J. Augustin, G, Chicago; Nick Young, G, LA Lakers.

OTHER RANKINGS: Rookie | Most Improved | MVP | Power

Jacob Eisenberg is a student at Emory University, spending the spring semester abroad in Brazil, and covers the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Check out his website and click here to follow him on Twitter. 

SH Blog: Will Kevin Love return to L.A. as a Laker?

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LAKERS TARGETING KEVIN LOVE

ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin:

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 02 Arizona v UCLATimberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.

But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.

Which is where the Lakers come in.

Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.

“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”

While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.

DRAFT WATCH: RANDLE’S STOCK UP; PARKER CONSIDERING STAYING?

Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

275px-Jabari_ParkerIt would be a shocker, and the Sixers and Bucks wouldn’t like it one bit, but Duke’s Jabari Parker just might stay for his sophomore season, instead of leaving for the NBA draft this June.

“That’s what’s in the air right now, Parker staying, but we haven’t heard anything official,’’ one Eastern Conference GM with an interest in Parker’s plans said on Friday.

If he stays at Duke, the top of June’s draft will be weakened. Despite his poor NCAA Tournament game in a first-round loss to Mercer, there’s still a lot to like about Parker.

“He plays like he’s 23, not 18,’’ said the GM. “He can post and score inside, he has great hands and rebounds. He’s just not a big-time athlete. But he’s got ‘top pick’ written all over him.’’

Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:

Julius RandleRandle has been tremendous during the tournament, averaging 15.6 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field. His 23 double-doubles this season leads all Division I players, and he’s just the second freshman in NCAA tournament to have that many double-doubles in a season (the other being Michael Beasley, who had 28 in 2008). In addition to scoring and rebounding, Randle has also done a good job creating for his teammates, as evidenced by his six assists in Kentucky’s upset win over Wichita State. Rather than taking on double teams and putting up bad shots, Randle is taking what the defense gives him and making the right play more often than not.

This was the case in the final minute of Kentucky’s game against Louisville, when Randle spun into a double team and delivered a perfect pass to Aaron Harrison, who hit a three-point shot for the go-ahead score. Moments later, Randle hit two clutch free throws to seal the win for the Wildcats. After the game, Kentucky head coach John Calipari praised Randle’s decision making and pointed out that the clutch assist was an example of just how much his star player had grown in recent weeks.

With Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott among others sitting at home, Randle is the top NBA prospect remaining in the tournament. Throughout the season, Randle has been in the shadow of Wiggins, Parker and Embiid, usually being mentioned as a potential top-five pick in the 2014 NBA Draft but rarely being included in the debate over who will go first overall. The same thing happened during high school recruiting, when Wiggins and Parker were heralded as the next big things while Randle was ranked as the third best player in the class and treated as if he were a notch below the top two.

Like Wiggins and Parker, Randle is 19 years old and has a ridiculous amount of potential. Unlike Wiggins and Parker, Randle stepped up in the tournament and had some of his best games of the season while playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

VINCE CARTER WANTS TO STAY WITH MAVS

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014In three seasons with the Mavericks, Carter has seen them go from defending champions to barely making the playoffs to missing them entirely.

Neither he nor anybody else knows if this season will produce a return to the postseason. But Carter does know two things.

This team is better than last year’s. And he desperately wants to hang around to see this rebuilding project through to the end.

Or at least next season.

“I think I’ve earned the right to stick around,” Carter said.

The 6-6 future Hall of Famer will be a free agent after this season. Carter’s three-year contract he signed before the 2011-12 season has been a huge bargain, as the Mavericks paid him only about $9.3 million for those years of work.

He hopes it is a no-brainer that he re-signs with the Mavericks.

“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “Next year might be even better. We can attract some more people, more talent. Now I know my role, and I know the system, it’s second nature to me now. I know the city very well. I’m stepping out, going to SMU games and getting out and about. I’m very comfortable here.

“I like the guys. I like the nucleus we have here. With my role and the way I play and the way I go about things, it really helps guys here. And they like that. Hopefully, that’s enough so that they can still have trust in me enough to play significant minutes and help the other guys out.”

Sixth Man Rankings: Now a Starter, Tyreke Evans Looks Like a Star

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Tyreke EvansWhen the Pelicans gave Tyreke Evans a four-year, $44 million dollar offer sheet last summer, fans and analysts alike were skeptical of whether Evans had earned that deal.

After several years of franchise turmoil in Sacramento, Evans’ morale was at an all time low. The former Rookie of the Year had regressed from a prolific star in the making to a streaky enigma on one of the league’s worst teams. Committing near-max money to Evans looked like a gross miscalculation by a New Orleans organization that felt an irrational urgency to become contenders by 2014.

The initial plan was to utilize Evans’ skill sets in much the same way San Antonio uses Manu Ginobili. Evans is well-sized, positionally dynamic and clever with the basketball in his hands. With as many skilled offensive players as the Pelicans have, Evans figured to fill a bunch of tiny holes.

A natural shooting guard out of high school, Evans was talented enough as a freshman at Memphis to learn point guard responsibilities on the fly under John Calipari’s tutelage and  lead his team to a second seed in the NCAA Tournament. His court vision is better than his reputation as an inefficient scoring guard would allow you to assume. When he tries to facilitate, he usually does so effectively.

Regardless, the experiment of using Evans as the team’s sixth man was unsuccessful.

Evans, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon – otherwise known as the most disappointing backcourt trio in the league – logged a staggeringly low 256 minutes together for the entire season before Holiday went down to injury.

The Pelicans’ most star studded lineup – those three guards alongside Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis – actually outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions in the scant 90 minutes they shared the court together this season. Injuries kept the Pelicans from reaching absolute cohesion at full strength.

While injuries were the obvious problem, much of the team’s lack of success became Evans’ burden. The 24-year-old struggled to adapt to a reduced and inconsistent bench role and eventually grew restless.

Evans disclosed to us in early February that he had had virtually no communication with his coach. Sure enough, the rumor mill swirled that week suggesting the Pelicans were ready to give up on the Evans experiment.  Whichever team was willing to take on Evans’ contract would have been able to nab him. They found no takers.

Soon afterward, Holiday was ruled out for the season following surgery on his right tibia. Guards Brian Roberts and Eric Gordon then sat a few games apiece to recover from a knee scares.

Coach Monty Williams was left with no choice; he took Evans out of his sixth man role and placed him in the starting lineup.  Ever since, the Pelicans have become unrecognizably dominant.

New Orleans is 5-1 with Evans in the lineup. Several of the wins have come over quality opponents such as the Clippers, Heat and Nets. Yes, Anthony Davis is playing at a superstar level. But that has obscured Evans, who is averaging 20.7 points on 54 percent shooting with 5.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game over the streak.

To put it simply, Evans has changed his mental approach and it’s making him (and his team) significantly more efficient.

This season, Evans is shooting less than 22 percent from the arc but had taken more than 10 percent of his shots from deep. Since moving into the starting lineup, however, only 5 percent of his shots have come from deep (per NBA.com). In other words, he has cut his bad shots in half despite having more  opportunities.

More telling of his better offensive approach, Evans has spiked his season average of 9.1 points in the paint all the way up to 15.0. His fast break points have nearly doubled from 3.2 for the season to 5.8 as well.

With more of a defined role in the offense, Evans has the freedom to control the ball and make decisions previously unavailable to him. He’s driving liberally and starting to resemble the future perennial All-Star he looked set to become in 2010.

While the success Evans has experienced as a primary ballhandler has helped him find a rapport with Anthony Davis (averaging 28.8 points and 14.0 rebounds during the streak), their pairing is still analytically average.

Evans’ insertion to the starting lineup has actually had a much stronger effect on 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow. The two have outscored opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions in 72 minutes over the last six games.

Maybe when all of New Orleans’ guards return healthy next season, the less versatile (and more trigger happy) Gordon would be a better fit for the team’s sixth man role.

Evans brings more versatility to the team’s defensively challenged lineup anyway. Switching Gordon for Evans in the lineup seems like a no-brainer going forward. After all, with Evans still only being 24, it’s very possible that he’ll have earned his contract by the time it’s finished.

On to the rankings.

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