Though the transition back to being the Charlotte Hornets in the 2014-15 season is purely superficial, it still leaves this year’s Bobcats in a strange situation. On one hand, the best thing the Bobcats can do to usher in this new era is suck. Selecting one of the many potential stars at the top of the upcoming draft is exactly what the team needs to complete its makeover. It helps that Charlotte could potentially have three first-round picks in 2014 — Portland’s top-12-protected pick, Detroit’s top-eight-protected pick, and its own first-rounder, which goes to Chicago if the Bobcats fall out of the top-10 range. On the other hand — and maybe this is a bit too romantic a notion — wouldn’t it be neat if the Bobcats’ last hurrah led them into the postseason? For the first time in nearly four years, it’s a possibility. The East is in ruin. Why not try giving this novel “winning season” concept a shot?
Rookie-scale contracts have given teams time to assess talent, but they still have to make bets on very young players, often committing borderline star money to guys who have never worked as anything close to primary options — or who have perhaps not even started for their own teams.
The Jazz made such a wager over the weekend, reportedly signing Derrick Favors to a four-year, $49 million extension (though the team has never confirmed those numbers, and wouldn't over the weekend) that will pay him a tad more than fellow defense-first extension signee LARRY SANDERS! Favors will earn about $12 million per season — in the Joakim Noah/Al Horford salary range, about $2 million less than what Favors could have earned on a max-level contract (and what DeMarcus Cousins will earn on a contract that surely hovered over the Favors negotiations).
Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons marvel at the damage Michael Jordan has done to his hometown Charlotte Bobcats, ponder the fate of Al Jefferson's gigantic $23,000 bed, and Jalen predicts that Michael Jordan will play one game for the Bobcats. Yes, he is serious. You can learn more about the feasibility of Jalen's bold prediction here.
Carmelo Anthony led the NBA in scoring this season, but not everywhere. Every player has their own sweet spots — Shane Battier loves the corners, and Al Jefferson is in love with the left block. After an entire season of play, it’s interesting to look at scoring through a spatial lens. Here’s a look at who was most productive from different parts of the floor during the 2012-13 regular season.
Basketball remains a fairly simple game. If you can regularly score close to the basket, you have a good chance of winning. It’s fitting that LeBron James, the league’s best player, is also its leading scorer close to the basket. Between his post game, his attacking, and his brilliance in transition, James creates and converts tons of opportunities at the rim. As a result, he is the most successful player within the NBA’s most vital space.
The madness is nearly over, just like that. Dwight Howard has taken his farts to Houston, finally, and may God have mercy on all our souls. The Lakers are flailing (and should probably join the deepening Tank Pool), the Thunder are still looking for some wing depth, the Clippers need a third big man who can catch a basketball (i.e., not Ryan Hollins), the Warriors need to fatten up their bench, the Nuggets are doing interesting stuff, the Hawks are Hawking, the Bucks are Bucking, the Bobcats somehow agreed to pay Al Jefferson twice as much as Atlanta paid Jefferson’s superior Jazz partner, and the Sixers should perhaps sign an actual NBA player or two, just for appearances.
Free agency only started a week ago, and executives around the league are just now popping their heads up to examine the landscape beyond their own team’s cap sheet. Still, some early themes are starting to coalesce as free agency spirals to a close:
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. Here, you'll find takes on all the big free-agency transactions of the last few days, along with some of the not-so-big ones.
“It was on the Fourth of July,” Howard said. “That’s when I felt it was Houston. I was in Colorado. It seemed like every person that I met was from Houston. It was just so ironic. I’d walk around. Someone would ask for a picture. They’d give me a business card and it would say Houston on it. I was like, ‘Is everybody in Colorado from Houston right now?’ It was unbelievable. … I was like, ‘You know what, this has to be from God.’ You pray for things to happen. You pray for signs, for God to show you things. It just seemed like, this was it.”
So this whole thing, this whole will-he-or-won't-he, and if and when he does, where-will-he … all of this got settled by one chance encounter, like something ripped from an unreleased Frank Capra movie about a giant moron who goes up a mountain to decide what to do with his life, and finds a moment of clarity with a complete stranger. Word is he had an eye patch, wore himself salty sea dog facial hair, and spoke with a lot of "ARGGHS" added to the end of his sentences. But, man, isn't it weird that there happened to be a guy walking around the streets of Aspen, just as Dwight Howard was taking his Independence Day constitutional, and these two wayward souls bumped into each other and found common ground?
"You're thinking about going to Houston? Aye! Arggh! I be from Houston, matey."
The Jazz looked dead after a dispiriting road loss to Dallas two Sundays ago, and it’s tempting to write them off again after their defense no-showed (or, alternatively, showed up in its usual form) last night against a very enthusiastic Denver team missing its best player. But it’s too early to declare the Jazz dead. The most sophisticated playoff odds predictors have them somewhere between a 50/50 shot and 35/65 underdog to overtake the Lakers for the no. 8 spot.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Chris Ryan: This is LeBron James's shot chart for this season, specifically his behind-the-arc shot chart. You see the area in the left-center, where James is 26-of-74? Isn't it weird that area isn't littered with skeletons and burned-out Cutlass Supremes and tattered American flags and crashed F-15s? I think it's weird, too. Because that's where LeBron is ending entire worlds, on a nightly basis. Statistically, it might not be his most effective shooting zone, but emotionally, narratively, this is where he likes to take opposing teams by the heart and squeeze the life out of them. It's the dramatic weight with which these shots go down that make them noticeable. There was the dagger in the Celtics the other night, and then, last night, in his homecoming game in Cleveland, he did this:
Much like their Northwest Division rival Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz are a collection of talented youngsters and productive veterans void of a superstar. Without a clear central figure, the pressure has been on head coach Ty Corbin to identify the best rotation of players that are, almost to a man, multi-talented but somewhat limited in some facet of the game.
The lineup data shows that the Jazz boast some downright awful five-man units, but they also have a few very productive ones. Injuries have forced the team into some tough spots this year, but among its roster, Utah may have the right combinations to seriously compete with the West’s elite rather than settling for a one-and-done stay in the playoffs. The main problem with that option is that it’s boring as hell.
Utah has multiple picks in next year’s first round, and and a few of those productive veterans — most notably Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap — are on expiring contracts. This makes the Jazz an ideal candidate for a big deadline move. By dealing one of their surplus big men to upgrade a backcourt in dire need of help (and making a few other small tweaks), the Jazz could become Denver 2.0 — a team that no one takes seriously as a Finals contender but that everyone wants to avoid in the postseason. To figure out how they might get there, I visited the trade machine and descended further into madness to whip up yet another ridiculous multi-team deal:
In the time of attack guards, small ball, and stretch 4’s, Big Al Jefferson’s game is unapologetically old school. He’s the kind of post player that was once so ubiquitous in the league, but now seems to be an endangered species. Like Adrian Peterson rushing as if it’s still the 1980s, Jefferson’s throwback style is strangely comforting to fans of a certain age, and the scarcity of those who play like him also offers commentary on the state of the NBA in 2013.
When you watch the Jazz offense trot down the court, chances are you will see Jefferson quickly assume his position in his native ecosystem, down on the left block. Simply stated, Al Jefferson loves the left block. If all the NBA players were on Foursquare, Big Al would definitely be the mayor of the left block. He has compiled a collection of effective pivots, drop steps, half hooks, mini-jumpers, “weezies,” and up-and-unders that are highly calibrated for the left side, not the right. This asymmetric love affair is so torrid that Big Al has become the most lopsided shooter in the NBA. No player in the NBA has a more asymmetric shot chart than Al Jefferson. Out of the 137 players who have attempted at least 200 field goal attempts this season, Al Jefferson is the most one-sided shooter.
The Jazz look to be settling in as a solid bottom-four playoff seed in the Western Conference, though with Golden State off to a surprising 17-8 start, making the playoffs at all is no guarantee for the incumbent No. 8 seed. Utah is 14-12 after an exciting road win last night in Brooklyn. Before the game, head coach Tyrone Corbin huddled up for an extended one-on-one with Grantland about Utah’s rotation, its two big impending free agents, his computer-science degree, and lots of other stuff. Below, an edited transcript of our chat.
I love the big lineup, with Paul Millsap at small forward, if only because it’s different from what most teams do. We haven’t seen it since [Derrick] Favors’s foot issues started popping up. Are you going to bring it back?
Yeah, we’ll have it in the bag when the time presents itself. We’ve gotta make sure the matchups are correct. At some point, though, we’d like to use it to force our will on other teams.
To Watch the Best Division in Basketball ...
As someone who — from the time he learned to talk to when he moved away from home — consistently referred to every single place outside of Philadelphia as "down there," be it "down" the Jersey Shore, "down" Lima, Peru, or "down" Boston, Massachusetts, I am totally down with the fact that the Northwest Division features only one team in the actual Northwestern part of the United States.
It's the best division in basketball, the only one in the NBA that four teams with winning records (Oklahoma City, Denver, Utah, Portland) call home. Hell, even its basement dweller, the Timberwolves, is the most entertaining 3-7 team that I can recall. The Thunder are clearly the class of the division (if not the Western Conference), but don't expect the rest of the Northwest to fade any time soon.