NBA Shootaround: Coffee Is for Closers

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images George Melo

So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back 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.

This Garden Belongs to Paul George

Chris Ryan: Is Paul George the third-best player in the NBA right now? Did Paul George walk into Madison Square Garden and guard the Knicks’ best player (both on the perimeter and in the post)? Did he match Carmelo’s 30-point night with a 35-point turn of his own? Did he go into the visitors’ locker room, see a glass case marked “Break in Case of Fourth-Quarter Emergency,” think about the people who had came before him who had broken things at Madison Square Garden, laugh, shatter it, and score 12 in the final period of regulation and 13 of the Pacers’ final 18, including three free throws to send the game into overtime? Did he punch Shump’s layup off the backboard? Did he walk off the court like the legend in the making that he is and get dap from celebrities in the making like A$AP Rocky?


Climbing Up That Hill

Jared Dubin: George Hill might just be the most overlooked player in the league. Despite hailing from Indianapolis and attending IUPUI, Hill is somehow seemingly the least-popular player in the Pacers’ starting five.

There’s Paul George, the emerging superstar and possible MVP candidate. There’s Roy Hibbert, the Defensive Player of the Year front-runner, Parks and Recreation guest star, and summer workout wonder. There’s the bruising, consistent David West, who you absolutely do not want to mess with. And there’s Lance Stephenson: possible actual crazy person, rising two-way stud, and Triangle All-Star.

Then there’s Hill. He’s not a dynamic off-the-dribble creator. He doesn’t make flashy passes. I can’t really remember the last time I saw him dunk. He’ll probably never sniff an All-Star team.

But he’s an elite defensive point guard in a league where elite defensive point guards don’t exist anymore. He doesn’t have quite the same defensive effect as George or Hibbert, but his ability to use his preposterously long arms, surprisingly quick feet, and acute knowledge of angles to direct ball handlers exactly where the Pacers want them to go is subtly important to the schematic success of Frank Vogel’s system.

Hill’s spot-up shooting prowess is a great fit with the low-post-centric offense the Pacers like to run, and his comfort level playing off the ball has allowed Vogel to shift a bunch of ballhandling responsibility to George and Stephenson — a huge part of each player’s rise this season.

That’s Amar’e

What the Hell Happened to the Mavericks?

Andrew Sharp: The funniest tweet of the offseason was also the saddest tweet of the offseason:

Because, Dirk’s sarcasm aside, this was his life. Dallas missed on Dwight Howard, and it was stuck adding guys like Devin Harris. Then the Mavericks signed Monta Ellis to come take 20 bad jumpers a game, and Dirk’s dystopia got a little darker. The Mavs weren’t going to tank, they weren’t going to contend; they were just going to waste away the final years of Nowitzki with Harris and Ellis and an eighth seed full of sadness.

That’s the Mavs team we got for most of the first three quarters last night. Howard had his best game of the season (33 and 11), Houston led by eight to 10 points for most of the game and then 14 going into the fourth quarter, and it was exactly the kind of sleepy losing game the Mavs were supposed to play all year. I folded some laundry during the third quarter and spent 20 minutes figuring out how to pay a bill for renter’s insurance. It was a pretty crazy Wednesday night with the Mavs.


Dirk and Monta set the fourth quarter on fire, and by the end the Mavs gave us one of the most exciting wins of the season. Then you look up and see the Mavs are 8-4 and they’ve been better than anyone realizes this year. You see Kirk Goldsberry is officially a kingmaker and Monta is royalty now, and … what the hell is happening here?

You have Dirk, the New Popovich

… and a whole bunch of guys we all gave up on three years ago, and somehow it’s working. How can you not love this team?

There are no title expectations, no season-long scrutiny, and … I’m just saying, maybe they got the wrong DH, but right now this looks like a lot more fun.

Monta Ball!

Kirk Goldsberry: “We’re really just playing off of him. He’s been aggressive, he’s been shooting the ball well, but what’s been great is that he has been making plays for others. He’s making all of us better. We run about 100 screen-and-rolls for him. I don’t know how he does it, but he gets everyone involved and it’s been fun to play with him.”

That’s Monta Ellis who Dirk’s talking about, you guys.

The Marion Corner 3

Jason Gallagher: You know that cool Jordan commercial in which Craig Sager asks Chris Paul about some incredible combo move to win the game? Well, I’m planning on shooting the same commercial with Shawn Marion. I’ve been watching the guy for years and have the same reaction every time he shoots the ball, no matter what. Below is my first draft, based on this crucial shot against the Rockets.

Me: Shawn, great game tonight, especially against a divisional opponent.

Shawn: Yeah, it was a good win.

Me: Can you explain that corner plant, wide open, anticipation, catch the dish, pull up from the 3 … wait a sec … lift the ball … oh god … please don’t … flip the wrists … what the hell … low release, from the waist … that’s your shot? No way … ah my eyes! All is lost, call the cops, hide the kids, so gross … why would you? Throw my drink, leave to cry, admit my sins, make love to a woman, cry some more, ugly shot that … swished?

Check the stats: 47 percent from 3 on the year, 57 percent from that spot on the year. So efficient. Who knew? Screw me … great shot. Apologies. Get buckets. In particular, that bucket to put your team up and ultimately win the game?

Shawn: Can you explain that thumb ring?

[Music: “Yeeeeeah”]

So Which Avenger Is San Antonio?

Don’t Make Me Get UConn on You

Chris Paul Gets All the Coffee

Steve McPherson: The problem with navigating the concept of clutch is that part of the idea’s appeal is dependability, when in fact our perception of clutch is itself undependable. You know, 60 percent of the time it works every time. But tell Brian Fantana to shut up for a second so we can talk about Chris Paul’s fourth quarter against the Timberwolves last night. It’s not like he was rancid through three — there were 10 assists, five rebounds, and four steals to offset his 2-for-9 shooting — but all in all it had been a forgettable game on a night when he was poised to set a record for points-assists double-doubles to open a season.

Then, halfway through the fourth, he let his emotions get the better of him, and those emotions were, roughly, “You call yourself a salesman?” and “Put that coffee down.”

He was animated, emphatic. He stared down the Wolves’ bench, stared down Ricky Rubio, stared down — I think — the guy hawking mini-doughnuts. And he didn’t put it away by barreling into the lane or icing the game from the arc. He did most of his murdering from the NBA DMZ of midrange.

This wasn’t the biggest moment on the biggest stage. This was the first game of an early-season road trip against a team on the second night of a back-to-back. It wasn’t THE moment, but it was A moment, and maybe that’s what clutch is — furiously singular, temperamental and volatile, the act of willing a moment into existence even when the circumstances are kind of meh. On a different night, under different lights, he could falter. But last night he was closing like Ricky Roma, like Semisonic, like Kyra Sedgwick, like Beowulf.

Stevens and Pop at the Movies

Ryan: “I gotta tell you, we saw it in IMAX, which is really the only way you can see it. I haven’t been moved by a science fiction film in so many years. But maybe that’s the thing! Maybe it’s not sci-fi! I think Cuarón films are like church … there’s an ecclesiastical glory to those tracking shots. What did you think … Wait a second, here comes Sager. Pretend like we’re having an awkward conversation in which I’m not talking.”

Burn On

Brett Koremenos: After LeBron James left town, the Cavaliers turned to the “Thunder model” in hopes of returning to the top of the Eastern Conference. Things started out well as Cleveland, like Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant, snagged a franchise centerpiece in Kyrie Irving with its post-teardown draft pick. But while the Thunder followed the Durant selection by acquiring Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka, the Cavs weren’t so fortunate. Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett, the three non-Irving lottery selections, haven’t come close to approximating the impact of the Thunder’s non-Durant trio.

Thompson, in all fairness, has turned into a very solid power forward, but he’s far from a game-changer and doesn’t seem to be on track to ever fully complement a pick-and-roll guard like Irving. Waiters, meanwhile, is looking increasingly destined to become an unapologetic gunner in the Marcus Thornton/J.R. Smith/Nick Young mold. In the past two games, rookie Matthew Dellavedova has shown a greater ability to make an impact than Waiters. Last but not least, the early returns from Bennett, the first overall selection of this summer’s draft, have, well, let’s just say they haven’t been great.

Cleveland’s failure to use its recent run of lottery picks to acquire top-level production is one of the key reasons this franchise is a massive disappointment in the early going this season. After losing at home last night to a struggling Washington team missing two rotation players, Cleveland dropped to 4-8 on the season and seems on the brink of a total meltdown. Entering the season as a favorite to nab one of the final playoff spots in the East, the main goal for the Cavs now is to avoid becoming a garbage fire. Such a drastic change in fortune is a stark reminder that the vaunted Oklahoma City model might be far more difficult to replicate than Cleveland — and host of other teams around the league currently trying to copy it — could ever have anticipated.

Oh, When the Tanks Go Marching In

Trey Burke and Utah

Danny Chau: Prior to tipoff of the Jazz-Pelicans game, former Hornets stalwart and current Pelicans color commentator (and my favorite player on NBA in the Zone ’98) David Wesley, clad in suit and tie, tossed up a hook shot from the coach’s box on the sideline. It had exquisite arc; the trajectory a paragon of purity and grace. The ball splashed through the net because with David Wesley there is no other possible outcome. The game should’ve been canceled. Nothing was topping that moment. And indeed, nothing did. The actual game was hot garbage.

This was supposed to be a celebration of Trey Burke’s first career regular-season game. Instead, I watched helplessly as the two teams combined to shoot 6-for-25 in the first seven minutes. Gordons Hayward and Eric went 1-for-7 apiece by the end of the first quarter. My dude Hayward, as you’ve probably read via Twitter joke, shot 1-for-17 for the night, missing his final 12 attempts. If Jazz analyst David Locke is correct, Hayward is now in the books for having the worst shooting performance in Jazz history. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, but when you’re missing 94 percent of the shots you do take, all you’re really doing is mocking one of the best sports axioms of all time.

Again, this was supposed to be about Burke! He was to be the salve that would allay the Jazz’s woes at the point guard position and lead them out of the farcical realm they dwell in now. Instead, a by-committee system was put in place. It wasn’t ideal, but at this point nothing is hurting the Jazz too much. Both John Lucas III, who started, and Burke were effective from the field. Burke demonstrated his innate sense of pace on a few drives, and even connected with a rolling Derrick Favors on a play that was exactly the kind of narcotic Jazz fans needed last night. But it was third-string point guard Diante Garrett who got most of the minutes, playing like you’d expect of a player who was strolling the aisles of Walmart when he found out he was being given a new NBA opportunity. Every little thing he did was brimming with eager, nervous energy. Hell, he made swing passes that looked like they were the most important things he’d ever done.

The game picked up considerably in the second half. If I wanted to, I could’ve found some enjoyment in Anthony Davis putting up another Freddy Krueger assault on the box score with a near triple-double of 22 points, nine rebounds, eight blocks, and four assists. It’s not that I can’t have nice things. I’m just starting to think I don’t want them.

Filed Under: Brett Koremenos, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Chris Ryan, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, NBA, New York Knicks, Paul George