What's on the Menu? "mmmmmm . . . Basketball!!!!"

Friday, January 30, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 24. Utah Jazz

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  11-21, fourth place Northwest Division, 13th Place Western Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 96.1 (23rd)
  • Points Allowed: 100.2 (17th)
  • Team FG%: .454 (19th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .472 (27th)
  • Team FT%: .744 (19th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .334 (25th)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.9 (19th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 39.1 (2nd)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.0 (17th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 11.4 (29th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): Gordon Hayward (19.2)
  • Rebounds per game:  Derrick Favors (8.3)
  • Minutes per game: Gordon Hayward (35.3)
  • Assists per game:  Trey Burke (5.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Rudy Gobert (.619)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Alec Burks (.820)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Gordon Hayward (.458)
  • Steals per game: Gordon Hayward (1.3)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Rudy Gobert (1.7)

Worst of the Class: +Dante Exum 
Some may consider this unfair to call him a flop considering he is just 19 years old; however, after being selected fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, people were correct to expect far more than Dante Exum has given up to now.  This guy was touted as the next great player of his generation along with +Andrew Wiggins and +Jabari Parker, but thus far he along with all the other so called superstar prospects have far from lived up to their expectations.  After all, wasn't this supposed to be one of the deepest and most talented draft in NBA history?  Unfortunately, so far these rookies have been a complete letdown save for a few exemptions as none of the top picks have made their projected impact.  Hopefully Exum in time will live up to the hype that came with him upon entering the league because he certainly has the tools to be a star with his size, skill set and athleticism; however, right now he has made numerous Utah Jazz fan scratching their head wondering if their team made a mistake in picking him so high.      

First of the Class: Gordon Hayward
For those who thought that signing Gordon Hayward a max level contract was a bad idea, they certainly must be eating their words, as Hayward has proven thus far that he is well worth the money.  Along with leading his team in scoring, Hayward also has proven to be an excellent all around player showing leadership on the offensive not only putting points on the board, but also getting his teammates involved with his nearly five assists per game.  Defensively, he has also stepped in front of the line leading his team in steals per game, while providing a solid presence on the boards averaging five rebounds per game as well.  To think that some people even questioned the idea that he belonged in Utah, even going as far to allow him to head off to the +Charlotte Hornets before the Jazz stepped up to match the offer sheet he signed with them.  Not only has he proven to be well worth the money and the length of his deal, but with his current play, he has proven himself worthy of being the face, heart and soul of this franchise for years to come.  

Although they currently rest at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and they may not see the post season for quite a few years, who cannot love the Utah Jazz?  Despite their rather grim outlook as they take their first steps out of the Jerry Sloan era with a new head coach and a roster than can be considered more of a daycare than an actual basketball team, there is still plenty to be excited about.  Here is a team that has arguably one of the deepest treasure troves of young talent in the NBA and so far in spite of their record, they have still been quite entertaining to watch. Even those they have won just a third of their games, they have keep all their games rather close falling by an average of four points while at the same time have played rather disciplined and efficient basketball in spite of having such a young and inexperienced team.   Their defense leaves little to be desired, but much of that has to do with the previously mentioned immaturity and lack of experience; plus, their defensive woes have been compensated in some regard by their rather impressive offensive execution that can rival even the most seasoned veteran team in the league.

Much of the credit has to go to the team's rookie head coach Quin Snyder who took a team in which the majority of players have yet to reach the age of 25 and turned it into a rather cohesive unit in spite of the trappings in which numerous young team's fall into.  With a young team consisting of primarily top 10 draft picks, there may be a case for conflict as each of these players share not only the same age, but also the desire to be the one in charge forsaking the team and focus on their individual statistics.  Yet, upon looking at the statistics, there seems to none of that as the team's overall field goal percentage is rather high while their field goal attempts per games rank among the lowest in the league thus giving the assumption that the Jazz as a whole are not only very selective, but also very responsible with the shots they take.  On the flip side, Utah, in spite of allowing their opponents to shoot better than .470 from the field, have also been able to limit the amount of shot attempts that they take as the Jazz rank fourth overall in the league in opponents' field goal attempts per game.  Overall, Snyder has had this team running in sync and efficiently like a well oil machine assuring that every shot attempt taken is a quality shot and that every possession is utilized to its potential for the best result.

In terms of offensive execution, it should also be noted that for such a young team as the Jazz, they have managed to keep their turnovers in check falling in the middle of the pack among the lead leaders in turnovers per game at around 14 per game.  That seems to be the median amount of turnovers in the league as they range between 14 and 15 per game which puts Utah in the same company such as +Brooklyn Nets, +Washington Wizards+Phoenix Suns and +Golden State Warriors--teams who, unlike the Jazz, are currently in the midst of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences.  In an ironic twist, there is also a intriguing contradiction that despite it ranking near the bottom of the league in opponents' field goal percentage, they rank among the top teams in blocked shots per game, so they do in some respect provide a strong presence at the rim regardless of what the numbers say.  Their top ten ranking in blocked shots per game certainly shows that defense is certainly a priority regardless of what the statistics say, although it does still has quite a ways to go until it reaches at the same level with their already impressive offensive execution.  All sign points to the Utah Jazz heading in the right direction in terms of developing their young players and returning themselves to playoff contention one day; however, that is easier said than done as they find themselves in a rather oppressive Western Conference.

In a conference where seven of the eight playoff spots have been spoken for essentially for the past five or so years, it leaves a young aspiring team like the Jazz with little or no chance to climb up the ladder with little or no room to maneuver.  Already, all eight spots have been taken up with four of those teams coming from the same division--namely the +San Antonio Spurs+Houston Rockets+Dallas Mavericks and +Memphis Grizzlies of the Southwest Division--with two more being held by the Pacific Division leading Warriors and +Los Angeles Clippers.   Other than the +Portland Trail Blazers, who currently have a lock on first place in their division and one of the top four records in the West, the entire Northwest Division has essentially been blocked out of having any chance of making the playoffs.  Even the +Oklahoma City Thunder, a Northwest Division team that has seen plenty of playoff success for the last four or five years is on the outside looking in as it is one of three teams which not only include the Suns, but an upstart +New Orleans Pelicans team that are fighting tooth and nail for the eighth and final available playoff spot.   Such a prospect of having little to look forward to being stuck in such a cold and repressive system such as the Western Conference is certainly not very motivating considering that the Jazz may be resting at the bottom on the pack for quite some time; however, with every dark cloud there is a silver lining and for the Jazz, their silver lining probably shines the brightest.

Thanks to the wealth of young talent--many of which have not reached the age of 25, the Jazz can simply wait for father time to slowly deteriorate their foes while their rather green roster continue to gel and grow stronger with each passing season.  As these young guns grow older and continue to improve their feel for their game, they will improve incrementally with every losing season building on an already solid foundation based on smooth, efficient offensive execution and a developing defensive game.  Utah already has a core of three all star caliber talent in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and +Enes Kanter  to build upon and right now they sort of resemble a the greatest front court tandem of all time--one that not only sported three hall of famers, but had also made five NBA Finals appearances winning three NBA Championships.   Gordon Hayward has already shown signs into developing into a near facsimile of +Boston Celtics  legend +Larry Bird with not only his scoring ability, but his rebounding, passing and overall basketball IQ while his two front court mates look to emerge as future superstars themselves. Since being drafted at the age of 19 years old, Derrick Favors has slowly been developing into one of the league's top big men while Kanter, who has been often overlooked, has been silently putting up strong numbers which have continued to improve with each passing season.

Together Hayward, Kanter and Favors have the potential to become this generation's Bird, Parish and McHale; Plus add along complementary pieces such as the super athletic Alec Burks, as well as a sharpshooting Trey Burke in the back court, the Jazz have the makings of probably the most dangerous starting five than has ever been seen in the NBA.  One can argue that this starting five have the potential to possibly eclipse the starting lineups led by the historic dynamic duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone because unlike the Stockton and Malone duo where the offense focused primarily on them, this current incarnation of the Jazz have five devastating weapons instead of just two.  Right now all the pieces seem to fit well together with Burke and Hayward facilitating the offense by not only scoring, but also getting the ball to either Kanter or Favors in the paint while finding a slashing Alec Burks either heading  to the basket or waiting at the corner to shoot the three.  Add the fact that along with an iron clad starting five, the Jazz also boast an exceptional supporting cast consisting of players who would more of less start for any NBA team had they not been previously picked up by the Jazz.

Backing up Gordon Hayward is the high flying Jeremy Evans who with his athleticism and physical style of play reminds many of a young Gerald Wallace, a player that went from being a mere role player on the bench of an extremely deep +Sacramento Kings team to becoming one of the premier rebounding small forwards in the NBA.   Evans is followed by another blue collar big in Trevor Booker, who has built a sterling reputation as a bruiser in paint while playing for the Wizards and has spent the season being the primary backup of both Kanter and Favors.  Despite coming off the bench in limited minutes, Rudy Gobert has proven himself to be quite a presence in the paint as he is fifth in the league in blocked shots per game while at the same time leads the Jazz in field goal percentage and is the third best rebounder on the team behind Favors and Kanter averaging over seven per game.  Last and certainly not the least are two young rookies who have been touted as future stars in Rodney Hood and fourth overall pick Dante Exum, who at 22 and 19 years old respectably have plenty of years ahead of them and might just live up to the expectations tagged upon them.   Altogether the Jazz look to be a roster that is more than ten players deep and the question will no longer be whether or not Utah will make the playoffs sooner or later, but whether or not the front office will be able to keep such a young and talented team together.

Although they already have Favors and Hayward locked down for the next our to five years, both Gobert and Kanter will be in high demand once they become free agents and they both will command very high pay raises with their size, skills and potential.  It is a shame that Utah may have to make a choice between keeping a physical shot blocking blue collar beast in the paint or the multifaceted Kanter who can basically score from anywhere one the court and at just 22 years old has a limitless ceiling. Nonetheless, there is plenty of talent to be had and very few teams have the luxury to have so many players who are not only young, but also have limitless upside and give them a few years together, they will certainly emerge into something special; however, as it stands now, they will have to settle with being on the outside looking in for quite some time.  Nonetheless, if they continue to maintain their solid and efficient offensive execution and continue to develop their defense which is strong in rim protection, but lacks a strong perimeter presence, the Jazz might just surprise us all and emerge as a playoff contender far earlier.  For now however, all anyone who is loyal to the Jazz can do is just enjoy the effort that their exciting young team has given them thus far, win or lose.   


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

SDH Presents Oklahoma City Thunder Shootaround: Scott Brooks (1/28/2015)

Head Coach Scott Brooks addresses the media at shootaround prior to the +Oklahoma City Thunder game in New York against the +New York Knicks on Jan. 28, 2015. Catch more in-depth coverage of the +Oklahoma City Thunder as well the other 29 teams in the +NBA right here on +Slap Dog Hoops.  Also, please be kind enough to share this post by simply clicking the Facebook, Twitter, G+, and Pinterest buttons below.  It would be greatly appreciated; Thanks!   

SDH Presents Oklahoma City Thunder Shootaround: Steven Adams (1/28/2015)

Center Steven Adams addressed the media at shootaround prior to the +Oklahoma City Thunder game in New York against the +New York Knicks on Jan. 28, 2015. Catch more in-depth coverage of the +Oklahoma City Thunder as well the other 29 teams in the +NBA right here on +Slap Dog Hoops.  Also, please be kind enough to share this post by simply clicking the Facebook, Twitter, G+, and Pinterest buttons below.  It would be greatly appreciated; Thanks!   

SDH Presents The Starters –January 27th

+The Starters discuss how the +Los Angeles Clippers  and +Cleveland Cavaliers  have got it together, if the +Phoenix Suns  should be sitting guys for getting techs, and whether or not a Joe Johnson for Lance Stephenson trade makes sense. Watch The Starters weekdays at 630ET on +NBA TV, get more of them on their website: http://nba.com/thestarters or listen to the podcast on iTunes: http://bit.ly/1ENHFcKVisit nba.com/video for more highlights and always keep up with all 30+NBA teams right here on +Slap Dog HoopsAlso, please be kind enough to share this post by simply clicking the Facebook, Twitter, G+, and Pinterest buttons below.  It would be greatly appreciated; Thanks!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 25. Charlotte Hornets

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  10-22, fifth place Southeast Division, 12th Place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 95.7 (24th)
  • Points Allowed: 100.3 (18th)
  • Team FG%: .429 (25th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .462 (24th)
  • Team FT%: .737 (22nd)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .322 (28th)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.2 (15th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.0 (19th)
  • Turnovers per game: 10.7(1st)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.4 (24th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): Al Jefferson (18.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Al Jefferson (8.0)
  • Minutes per game: Kemba Walker (35.7)
  • Assists per game:  Kemba Walker (5.6)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Bismack Biyombo (.582)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Gerald Henderson (.880)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Marvin Williams (.373)
  • Steals per game: Kemba Walker (1.4)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Bismack Biyombo (1.3)

Worst of the Class: Steve Clifford
By all accounts, Steve Clifford should be fired for the poor mishandling of a team that stocked full of talent which made the playoffs last season, but has thus far under-performed and rest at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.  Too make matters worse, at the end of December, his team rests near the bottom on both the offensive and defensive end which is considered unfathomable considering the tools at his disposal.  He has one of the league's top scoring big men in Al Jefferson as well as an up and coming young star in Kemba Walker returning to lead the team, plus the team added one of the best two way players in the league last season in Lance Stephenson.  By all accounts, a team with a core of talented player such as Walker, Stephenson and Jefferson along with one of the deepest and most balanced rosters in the league should fare rather well in what many consider a rather weak Eastern Conference; however, that is far from happening.  If things do not improve soon, not only will the Hornets will miss the playoffs, but Clifford himself will also be looking for a new job.  

First of the Class: Lance Stephenson
In the eyes of most Hornets fans and the media that show their games, Lance Stephenson has been portrayed as a major disappointment since coming over as a free agent last Summer.  Many expected him to come out of the gates posting bigger scoring numbers than he did playing with the +Indiana Pacers last season; however, looking at that aspect is rather unfair considering what other facets he also brings the team.  For starters, despite his uncharacteristically poor shooting, Stephenson has been integral to the team's offensive execution bu helping push the tempo and find the open man in transition.  Plus, let us not forget that he also ranks among the top shooting guards in the league in assists and rebounds per game where at one point, he actually led the team in both statistical categories.  So in spite of not living up to the lavish expectations of the Charlotte media and team fan base, Stephenson has provided so much more than he has been given credit for complementing the team's two stars Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson while at the same time compensating for his shooting slump with intangibles that are rarely recognized in stat sheets.     

After having reached the playoffs last season followed by a rather successful off season which saw their team bolster itself to be even stronger than before, basketball fans in Charlotte must be wondering "what the (expletive) is going on with their Charlotte Hornets?"  After all, they came into the season with arguably the deepest and most balanced rosters in the league that had an already strong returning crew along with some very high profile additions to boot; yet, instead of making waves in the regular season, they have been actually swept by the waves of others falling at the bottom of the standings at the start of the season.  The Hornets started well enough looking rather respectable as they won four of their first nine games, but that all fell apart when they finished the month of November and went into December losing their next ten in a row.  Charlotte managed to bounce back winning six of their next ten and it looked as if their season was headed on an upward swing; however, that all came to a halt as they finished 2014 on a rather sour note losing their last four games.  Now Charlotte will enter 2015 with a record that is thirteen games under .500, resting at fourth place in the Southeast Division and the fourth worst record in the Eastern Conference leaving folk from Charlotte along with the rest of the basketball fan all over the world scratching their heads in confusion and bewilderment.

How can a team that had that had so much going for it with a perfect blend of size, talent, athleticism, veteran experience and roster depth suddenly fall out of grace so quickly after an impressive playoff run the previous season?  To be fair, much of those losses were quite bittersweet as they lost ten of those 23 games by five points or less and had the ball bounced their way in the last few seconds, the Charlotte Hornets would be riding high with a 23-10 record instead of looking down a 13 game hole that they had done for themselves.  Yet with every heart wrenching loss, there were games where the Hornets looked absolutely horrendous such as the two game pounding at the hands of the +Portland Trail Blazers (11/15/2014) and the +Dallas Mavericks (11/17/2014) by a whopping total of 52 points.  Then after a three game stretch where they narrowly lost to the Pacers (11/19/2014), +Orlando Magic (11/21/2014) and +Miami HEAT (11/23/2014) by a grand total of just eight points, they would simply get abused by the +Los Angeles Clippers  (11/24/2014) as they crushed the Hornets like cockroaches beating them by 21 points.  Had they held on against such teams as the +Memphis Grizzlies (11/1/2014), +New York Knicks (11/2/2014), Blazers (1/11/2014), Heat, Magic, Pacers--all games that had been lost by just one basket--then humongous blowouts by the Mavs, Clippers, +Golden State Warriors (11/15/2014), +Atlanta Hawks (11/29/2012), +Brooklyn Nets (12/13/2014), +Denver Nuggets (12/22/2014), +Oklahoma City Thunder (12/26/2014) and the +Houston Rockets (12/31/2014) would not have stung as badly as they do now.

One possible reason for the Hornets' current predicament is the fact that their defense has not been up to snuff as it was last season thus making it more difficult to hold onto those hard fought close games and allow themselves to get battered by 20 to 30 points in others.  Last season, Charlotte only allowed their opponents to score 97 points per game, which was fourth in the league and held them to a respectable .442 shooting from the field; however, now that has gone out the window with the Hornets ranking near the bottom in both categories.  In the 33 games they played thus far, Charlotte held their opponents to under 100 points in twelve of them where they posted a respectable record of 6-6; however in the other 21 games, they did not fare very well as they just won four of those games--two of which went to overtime, while the others were by a slim margin of just four points.  In the other 17 games in which they both allowed their opponents to score 100 or more points, the results varied from marginal decent to absolutely dreadful as nine of them were by ten points or less while the other eight ranged from 15 to 30 points margins.  While Charlotte allowed their opponents to hit over the 100 point mark, the same cannot be said about them as they failed to hit the century mark in 11 of those aforementioned 17 games, thus showing not only that their defense has all but collapsed this season, but their offensive production has not been up to snuff, either.

Even last season, the Hornets were not the shining beacon of offensive production ranking near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage; however, even with the new faces that were supposed to change that, the Hornet's offense has become markedly worse.   Last season, although they ranked near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, at least they managed to match the same shooting proficiency whereas now there is a nearly five percent gap between the percentage they shoot and the percentage that they allow against them.  To make matters worse, not only do they allow their opponents to out shoot them by a pretty big margin, but they also let them out-rebound them, albeit at a far slimmer one; nonetheless, it is that slim rebounding margin that may have been the difference between winning and losing a game in the final seconds.  Charlotte was already at a disadvantage coming into games and not being able to shoot the ball as well as they opponents, but to allow themselves to be out-hustled on the glass is downright shameful because the Hornets needed the rebounding to at least compensate for their poor shooting.  As a result, Charlotte no longer looks like the team that bounced back from a league worst seven win season three years ago to become a playoff contender; instead, they have shown themselves a team that has yet to find itself despite coming off such a strong year last season.

Much of the problem may have to do with the loss of a key player from last season's playoff team who not only help spread the floor on the offensive end, but also provided a solid defensive presence in the paint as well.  Last season, +Josh McRoberts, who is now with the Heat, provided such an integral piece of Charlotte's playoff puzzle as he gave them solid outside shooting with his .361 accuracy from beyond the arc plus provided the team with an excellent passing as well with his 4.3 assists per game which was second on the team.  What was great about McRoberts was that, unlike his higher profile teammates Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, he did not need the ball in his hands to be effective and was an excellent complementary player who allowed Kemba to focus more on his scoring rather than having to facilitate his teammates while spreading the floor enough to give Jefferson room to work down low in the paint.  With him out of the picture, the Hornets lack that glue player which may not have shown his impact on the stat sheets, but still made his presence felt by doing much of the little things that usually go unnoticed.  As for the one the team's front office had signed to replace him in Marvin Williams, he has yet to prove worthy of the two year 14$ million dollar deal that it signed him to as he has been practically a no show for much of the season.

Similar to Williams, Charlotte's other high profile addition, Lance Stephenson, has failed to live up to the expectations of the local fans as well as the media mainly due primarily to his offensive struggles upon suiting up as a member of the Hornets.  Last season he was not only the second option behind Paul George while playing for the Pacers, he was also the team's leading rebounder, leading assist man as well as steals to go along with him being the league leader in triple doubles. When he spurned the extension offer from the Pacers' +Larry Bird choosing instead a shorter contract with Charlotte, many thought this was the coup of the off season as Charlotte acquired a bonafide all star talent and would greatly enhance their already strong core of Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson.  Unfortunately, Stephenson's introduction to the Hornets has been rather rocky as he came onto the court shooting ice cold and while he has still provided the team with plenty of assists and rebounds, it was his ability and potential to become a elite scorer that both the fans and media primarily anticipated to see.  Fortunately for Charlotte, his all around play has compensated for his current streak and as the season progresses he will regain his shooting touch because he is simply too talented and smart of a player to allow such a cold spell to continue.

The same can be said for this Hornets team as they too have come off a very rough start, but with 49 games left in the regular season, there is plenty of time to bounced back from their current slump and return to playoff contention once again.  Despite the Hornets predicament, the Eastern Conference is still rather wide open and save for the top four spots that are currently held by the +Toronto Raptors, the Hawks, Wizards, and Bulls, the other four playoff spots are still up for grabs.  Teams such as the +Cleveland Cavaliers, +New York Knicks, Miami and Brooklyn who were expected to make huge stride have thus far failed miserably in living up to expectation, with Cleveland barely hovering over .500 for much of the season, the Knicks completely falling apart and both the HEAT and Nets barely hanging on to what little leverage they have left.  Even teams that have been essentially written off for the season such as the +Boston Celtics, Magic, and Pacers have a slim, yet still solid chance of  making a late run at the post season so with all this uncertainly, there is still a chance that Charlotte to not only return to the playoffs, but maybe even improve from their 43 wins last season.  So cheer up Hornets fans and do not panic because there is still a lot of basketball to be played and as it was said before, your team is simply too deep and too talented to not make the post season, especially in a rather weak Eastern Conference. 


Friday, January 23, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 26. Los Angeles Lakers

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  10-22, fifth place Pacific Division, 14th Place Western Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 102.3 (12th)
  • Points Allowed: 109.2 (30th)
  • Team FG%: .436 (23rd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .478 (29th)
  • Team FT%: .746 (17th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .365 (9th)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.6(14th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 45.0 (28th)
  • Turnovers per game: 12.2 (7th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 13.6 (17th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): Kobe Bryant (24.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  Jordan Hill (7.9)
  • Minutes per game: Kobe Bryant (35.2)
  • Assists per game:  Kobe Bryant (5.2)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Ed Davis (.630)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Nick Young (.900)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Jordan Clarkson (.455)
  • Steals per game: Ronnie Price (1.5)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Ed Davis (1.3)

Worst of the Class: Byron Scott
So what do you have to say for yourself Coach Scott? You came into your former team with all smiles promising a new day, with a renewed devotion to defense and new culture of accountability; however none of that has happened thus far.  As of now the Lakers rank near the bottom of the league in points and rebounds allowed as well as opponents' field goal percentage thus making them arguably the worst defensive team in the league.  On the offensive end, the team has looked confused and out of sync as he has chosen not to commit to a particular set making it absolutely impossible for his players to find any kind of rhythm thus forcing Kobe Bryant to put more on his plate than he has already has.  Although many Lakers fans as well as the media have given him the benefit of the doubt, it will all be for naught as Scott will prove once again what so many people have already discovered--that he is a complete fraud and hopefully he will expose himself as one once and for all. 

First of the Class: Kobe Bryant
Many pundits and sports analysts had written off Kobe Bryant at the start of the regular season due to his injuries that had him sit out two seasons and the fact that he was getting paid more than any other player in the league despite that and the fact that he is 36 years old to boot.  Nevertheless, despite all the talk from his detractors, Kobe has silenced all of his doubters as he bounced back to post an excellent season thus far leading his team in scoring, assists and minutes played per game.   Even while his team struggles, he has shown the same poise and confidence as if he were on a championship team never showing any signs of frustration or has any way lashed out on his coach or teammates.  What's even more impressive is that despite his team's dire situation, he has still managed to add to his already everlasting legacy as he surpassed his idol, +Michael Jordan, to become the third all time leading scorer in NBA history.  Even though this season can be chalked up for a loss, no one can ever doubt or deny the greatness of the Black Mamba as he continues to prove that he is still one of the greatest players to have ever walked on a basketball court.  

This was supposed to be a year of redemption as the storied Los Angeles Lakers looked to bounce back from their franchise worst 28 win season as they came into this one with a new coach, new additions, and a healthy roster.  There was plenty of excitement for this season as the Purple and Gold welcomed the man who should be credited for saving the league four years ago in +Jeremy Lin  as well as two time All Star +Carlos Boozer, who had a proven winning history while playing for both the +Utah Jazz and +Chicago Bulls.  Fans also welcomed back Mr. Swaggy P himself, Nick Young, who had helped carry last season's struggling team leading it in scoring as well as becoming a favorite both to fans and the media.  The same can be said for other fan favorites such as Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, and Robert Sacre--players who stepped up playing in bigger roles than they have ever experienced or expected to experience earning them the respect of not only the fans, but also the media as well.  Together with the anticipated return of the "Black Ma Mamba," as well as the welcoming a Laker alumnus and former champion Byron Scott as the team's head coach, it looked as if the Purple and Gold would once again  return to relevance making that unsightly blemish on their pristine legacy last season a mere aberration and one time affair; however, upon the start of the 2014/2015 regular season, last season looked less like an aberration, and more like an unfortunate sign of things to come.

The Lakers came into season looking for redemption, but instead found tragedy and pain as they would get steamrolled in their first five games losing by an average margin of fifteen points allowing their opponent to drop an average of 116.8 points while shooting nearly .500 from the field.  To make matters worse, this team which welcomed an influx of young talent and veteran experience looked completely amateurish and quite unbecoming of one that made what many considered at the time as rather impressive moves during the off-season.  LA managed to stop the bleeding with an impressive win against the +Charlotte Hornets (11/9/2014) and despite losing the two games that followed against the +Memphis Grizzlies (11/11/2014)  and +New Orleans Pelicans (11/12/2014), the Lakers still put up a solid effort losing by just five against Memphis and by seven against the Pelicans.  Unfortunately, any signs of that effort being signs of a steady improvement were dashed when the would lose rather convincingly against the +San Antonio Spurs  (11/14/2014) and get trampled by the +Golden State Warriors, who managed to score 136 points on them (11/16/2014).  The Lakers would then finish the month of November winning just three of their last seven games beating the +Atlanta Hawks (11/18/2014), +Houston Rockets (11/19/2014) and +Toronto Raptors (11/30/2014), but would allow the +Dallas Mavericks to crush them by 34 points and allow them to score an unfathomable 140 points (11/21/2014).

It was awful enough to witness the Lakers start the +NBA season winning just five games, but what made things even worse was the fact that in all of those games, they only held their opponents under 100 points three times--two of which they lost.  Los Angeles also allowed their opponents to score more than 110 points in nine of the 17 games that they played in November thus showing a complete disregard to any effort on the defensive end whatsoever--something which incoming coach Byron Scott declared would be remedied; however, that has certainly not happened.  In fact, one can go as far to say that the defense is just as bad if not worse that it was last season when Mike D'Antoni coached the team and at least he had some sort of excuse as the Lakers were severely depleted due to injuries to a point where in one game, a player was allowed to play despite having fouled out due to a league rule that stated that a team has to have a minimum of eight players to play.  On the other hand, Scott virtually has no excuse for the team's shameful display of defense considering he inherited a far deeper and more talented and experienced lineup than his predecessor Looking at the poor state of the team, one has to ask whether GM Mitch Kupchack made the right choice in hiring Scott--a coach whose success has been attained not so much by his coaching skills and ability to get through to his players, but the fact that he had the luxury of having future hall of famers in Jason Kidd and +Chris Paul playing for him.

The Lakers seemed to show signs of life in the month of December as they started it winning four of their first seven games; however, as with everything else that has happened, the Lakers would win the first game against an equally dreadful +Detroit Pistons team (12/2/2014), but then lose horrifically against the +Washington Wizards (12/3/2014), +Boston Celtics (12/5/2014) and the Pelicans by an average of 16 points.  In those three massacres, the Lakers allowed their opponents to not only score 109 points but also shoot .504 and out-rebound them by an average margin of 15; nonetheless, the Purple and Gold managed to redeem themselves with three impressive wins against the +Sacramento Kings (12/9/2014), in a rematch with the Spurs (12/12/2014), and a hard fought road win against the +Minnesota Timberwolves (12/14/2014).  Unfortunately, the thrill of victory was quickly snuffed out by the +Indiana Pacers (12/15/2014) as the Lakers allowed one of the lowest scoring and worst shooting teams to score 110 points and shoot .482 from the field--which is pretty sad considering that Indy finished 2014 averaging just 94.5 points and shot just .431 from the field.  LA would lose the two games that followed, but at least those losses were far more respectable with one of them being a one point heart breaker versus the +Oklahoma City Thunder (12/19/2014) and Sacramento by just seven points (12/21/2014); however, they did manage to nab an early Christmas present with a win against the league's best Warriors (12/23/2014), but had the holiday magic stomped out of them with a 20 point blowout at the +United Center at the hands of the Bulls on Christmas Day.  At least LA ended the year on a high note with a road win against the +Denver Nuggets (12/30/2014) after losing the previous two against the Mavericks (12/26/2014) and +Phoenix Suns (12/28/2014).

Nonetheless, it is pretty obvious that after the first three months of the season, the Lakers will not only repeat that dreadful performance from last season, but might actually end up far worse than the previous team despite having greatly upgraded during the off season. Both Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin--two players who were expected to have major impacts and bring the team back to respectability--have failed miserably to live up to expectations and have lost their place in the team's starting five.   Lin has been the biggest disappointment not only Lakers fans, but to those who have religiously followed him hoping that he would return to the level he played that garnered him so much acclaim and a humongous pay raise thanks to Houston Rockets.  Now instead of justifying the lucrative contract and possibly giving himself a chance to possibly earning himself another one, he is now viewed as a dead weight expiring contract and will probably never see that sort of money again or even be signed by another NBA team.  The same can be said for Boozer, who instead of showing how much of a mistake it was for the Bulls to choose +Pau Gasol over him letting him go via the league's amnesty provision, has only justified Chicago's position as both his production and his value as a player continue to slide.

As for the rest of the team, they have essentially also been either missing in action or completely null and void as neither the newcomers or the returning ones from last season have really stepped up their games to provide adequate support for the team's aging star, Kobe Bryant.  Nick Young continues to maintain his status as fan favorite and darling of the local media, his contributions on the court have been marginal at best with his poor shooting despite him being second on the team in scoring.  Wesley Johnson, who many expected to have a breakout year, continues to prove how much of a draft day bust failing to live up to his being selected fourth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft, while at the same time fellow castaway turned contributor Xavier Henry, stopped playing after nine games and was subsequently waived.  Robert Sacre also went from being a player who  showed plenty of promise last season to becoming a complete non factor on both ends of the floor while Ryan Kelly, a player who earned a place in the heart of the Lakers faithful due to his hustle and gritty play, has also found himself shunned due to his less than stellar play.  Rookie and future fixture of the franchise, +Julius Randle, fractured his tibia in his first game and was lost for the season while Jordan Clarkson, the other highly touted rookie who was considered a draft day steal when the Lakers grabbed him in the second round, has played very sparingly thus far  spending most of his freshman year in the +NBA D League.

The only players who are even worth mentioning other than Bryant are big men Jordan Hill and Ed Davis as they have been the only players on this dysfunctional Lakers team that have played at a high level on both ends of the court while earning coach Scott's confidence and trust.  Davis has certainly made his presence felt as a banger and physical presence in the paint earning him a spot on the team's starting five replacing Boozer, who has seemingly fallen out of favor with the team. At the same time, Hill, who may be a free agent at the end of the season if the team decides to rescind their option to keep him next season, may be the sole player worth salvaging out of this sad crew as he has thus far posted career highs in both points (12.0) and rebounds (around eight) per game.  As always, Kobe continues to be the team's focal point and continues to prove his skeptics wrong; however, despite him leading in points, assists, and minutes played, his game has fallen at the waist side as well with his less than stellar field goal percentage that went from .404 in October to .348 by the end of December.  His effort and desire to play even a modicum of good defense has also continues to disintegrate making his presence on the court more of a hindrance than a help; nevertheless, let us not forget to mention that Kobe has really nothing else to play for as he already has shattered every milestone cementing his place as not only the greatest Laker of all time, but also one of the greatest who has ever played the game of basketball.

With all that has happened thus far in the season and if their performance can be seen as a sign of things to come, it is safe to say that the playoffs are by now absolutely unreachable at this point and this season can be written off as a lost cause for the Los Angeles Lakers.  Coming into opening tip off, it looked as if there would be a chance to see the Purple and Gold rise again, if not to the post season then at least bounce back from that embarrassment of a season and finish somewhat respectable by season's end.  Unfortunately, that has not come to pass as this once proud franchise that had so much promise and hope coming into the regular season completely fell apart upon stepping onto the basketball court with the future looking even more bleak with each passing game. In a Western Conference that is practically clogged from the bottom to the top, Laker fans may have to wait far longer for their team to return to the stature it once enjoyed and may have to endure more heart-wrenching seasons such as this one.  At least through the turmoil, they can hold solace in the fact that once this season finally comes to a close, their team will have the high draft picks and the salary cap space to come back stronger than ever; for now, however, they will have to grit their teeth and endure watching their team continue to fall from grace until they inevitably hot rock bottom.           

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SDH Presents Oklahoma City Thunder Shootaround: Kevin Durant (1/20/2015)

Forward +Kevin Durant  spoke to the media at shootaround prior to the +Oklahoma City Thunder's game against the +Miami HEAT on Jan. 20, 2015. Catch more in-depth coverage of the +Oklahoma City Thunder as well the other 29 teams in the +NBA right here on +Slap Dog Hoops.  Also, please be kind enough to share this post by simply clicking the Facebook, Twitter, G+, and Pinterest buttons below.  It would be greatly appreciated; Thanks!   

SDH Presents Oklahoma City Thunder Shootaround: Scott Brooks (1/20/2015)

Head Coach Scott Brooks spoke to the media at shootaround prior to the +Oklahoma City Thunder's game against the +Miami HEAT on Jan. 20, 2015. Catch more in-depth coverage of the +Oklahoma City Thunder as well the other 29 teams in the +NBA right here on +Slap Dog Hoops.  Also, please be kind enough to share this post by simply clicking the Facebook, Twitter, G+, and Pinterest buttons below.  It would be greatly appreciated; Thanks!