NBA Basketball Column: The Daily Dose
Nets Fire Avery Johnson
The Nets fired Avery Johnson on Thursday, and most signs are pointing at Phil Jackson as his replacement. It has been reported that the Zen Master would "for sure" consider the job, and he stands out as the Nets' top target, though P.J. Carlesimo will take over as the interim coach. Stan Van Gundy came out and said he's not interested, but the fact that he'd publicly comment on the matter seems to show that he's at least in the mix. Jackson's salary expectations are insatiable, but this is when it literally pays off to have a billionaire owner in Mikhail Prokhorov.
After the D'Antoni shocker in L.A. I am hesitant to prognosticate about who will get the job, let alone how that will affect players on the Nets, but generally speaking it should be a good thing for fantasy owners. Brooklyn is loaded with talent, including three guys capable of averaging around 20 points per game (Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson), yet they are in the bottom third of the league in points per game. Only four teams average fewer shot attempts per game (79.6) and only the Hornets play at a slower pace. The Nets are also 29th in fastbreak points (8.9, fewer than every team but Toronto), and 19th in field goal percentage (43.8 percent), so they're not generating many easy buckets. They have also lost 10 of 13 games in December to fall to .500 this season, an unacceptable situation for a supposed playoff contender.
The sluggish offensive stats are due largely to Avery Johnson's unimaginative schemes, but there are a ton of contributing factors. Half the roster is brand new, for instance. Also, Brook Lopez is returning from a lost season and has already dealt with injuries, Avery has consistently played Jerry Stackhouse (who has admittedly been solid for an 18-year veteran) ahead of MarShon Brooks, and the Nets' two All-Star guards are hovering around career-low percentages from the field, due in part to the unimaginative offense, which brings us to Deron Williams' public criticism.
Superstars have all the leverage in the NBA due to economic realities, the outsized importance of star players, and the way the CBA is structured. To wit, D-Will signed a five-year contract worth $99 million this summer, while Avery was in the final year of his three-year contract. Nets GM Billy King explicitly denied that D-Will was the "deciding factor" in the firing, and Williams himself rejected the notion outright, but his decision to publicly question the Nets' offense, while praising the system he left behind in Utah, certainly set the ball in motion. It's also hard to take Williams' protestations seriously after his power play in Utah, which may have ousted the venerable Jerry Sloan, not to mention the fact that Williams has his own propaganda-like website complete with a personal beat writer.
The takeaway is that whatever coach is hired will have a transparent mandate to build an offense toward D-Will's strengths, which should only help his value (Williams, by the way, is expected to play on Friday despite his bruised wrist). The transition probably won't hurt Joe Johnson either, as JJ is one of the aforementioned struggling All-Stars -- he's still getting a healthy 15.1 shots per game but he's making just 42.1 percent of them, his lowest mark since the 2002-03 season with Phoenix. Kris Humphries' outlook also brightens considerably, as Avery had recently resorted to benching him in favor of a small lineup with Gerald Wallace at PF (a position Crash has repeatedly said he prefers not to play). On a side note, Hump is expected to return from his abdominal injury on Friday. I would buy-low on D-Will, if possible, and maybe even Johnson depending how cheaply you can get him. I'd consider scooping up Kris Humphries off the waiver wire, too, if you have a struggling player you can cut for a speculative addition -- he's a trade candidate, so the Nets may want to showcase him, and his annual $12 million salary is a pretty compelling reason for a new coach to scrape him off the bench. Owners in deeper leagues should also keep a close watch on Andray Blatche (to see how his role changes) and MarShon Brooks (in case he assumes a reliable share of bench minutes).
Moving on from the Nets' situation, here are some quick news blasts before recapping Thursday's two games:
- Raymond Felton will miss 4-6 weeks with his injured pinkie finger, though he won't need surgery. I can't offer a blanket "keep or cut" recommendation, as it comes down the particulars of your league, but generally speaking I wouldn't keep him on my bench for a month or longer. Jason Kidd remains a must-start option, Pablo Prigioni could surface with temporary value in deep leagues, and I imagine J.R. Smith will also have plenty of playmaking opportunities.
- Dwyane Wade has been suspended one game for intentionally kicking Ramon Sessions in the crotch on Wednesday -- Wade won't play on Friday, which is a kick to the crotch for fantasy owners.
- Carmelo Anthony is questionable to play on Friday with his sore knee.
- Keith Smart is "leaning toward" playing DeMarcus Cousins on Friday.
- Pau Gasol has plantar faciitis in his right foot, but he's probable for Friday's game vs. the Blazers. Hopefully he can play through the injury by managing his minutes, but this is another question mark for his rest-of-season outlook.
- Tyreke Evans won't play on Friday. He is "hoping" play on Sunday...but if not he'll seek a second opinion in L.A., and his owners can't be comforted by the fact that he's already had multiple MRIs and is considering the need for a second opinion. I could be overreacting, but he's missed 11 of Sacramento's last 14 games and his owners may want to float out trade offers to see what he's still worth -- I'm not recommending a fire sale, just a due-diligence survey of your options.
- Eric Gordon expects to make his season debut on Saturday, and he doesn't expect any setbacks with his balky knee. He seems confident that his rehab has fully addressed the causes of the injury, and I wouldn't be surprised if he starts putting up huge numbers before long.
- Goran Dragic took a hard fall on Wednesday and went home with bruises on his hip, back and wrist, but he expects to play on Friday.
- Wesley Matthews is questionable to play on Friday due to his lingering hip injury. He's aggravated it a few times already and I can't imagine the Blazers risking another setback if he's less than 100 percent, but we probably won't know his status until game-time.
- Nikola Pekovic left Wednesday's game due to illness but he practiced fully on Thursday and expects to play on Saturday.
- Brandon Roy (knee) could rejoin the Wolves' rotation on Saturday.
- Rodney Stuckey has a sprained left ankle, which leaves him questionable for Friday's game vs. the Heat.
- John Wall (knee) continues to work out with the Wizards and is targeting a January return, though he's not yet going through any contract drills.
- Hedo Turkoglu (hand) is traveling with the Magic, but he's not expected to play on Friday.
- Eric Bledsoe is playing through a hip injury which has drastically reduced his effectiveness in the past few weeks.
- Kyle Lowry is expected to return from his triceps injury on Friday.
There's much more news of lesser consequence, but that's why we have our comprehensive Injury Report.
Also, follow me on Twitter (@Knaus_RW) if you are interested in sparing updates and information regarding the NBA. Most of what I have the time to say comes pouring out in columns and blurbs, but I do try to respond to questions via Direct Message, and I sometimes relay breaking news or provide some quick insights on a player or game. I write 100 percent about basketball, so if you want to know which hamburger chain I like the most, or what my children are doing, you're out of luck.
Serge Ibaka's phenomenal year continued in the OT victory, as he racked up 19 points, 17 rebounds and five more blocks. He is now averaging 14.4 points on 57.2 percent FGs and 80.3 percent FTs, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks, good enough for first-round value. Russell Westbrook's line from Thursday looks solid --16 points, six rebounds, 10 assists, three steals--- until you notice his 7-of-20 mark from the field, which dropped him under 40 percent from the field this season. He's been ice-cold in December but to his credit he got hot at the right time vs. Dallas, scoring eight of his points in overtime to decide the game in OKC's favor. Nothing will dissuade WB from jacking up close to 20 shots per game, and when they start falling his value will fly upward -- he's averaging 21.8 points per game this months despite making just 37.9 percent of his shots. As a final note for owners in deep leagues, Reggie Jackson has taken over the backup PG spot from Eric Maynor in the past two games and he may keep the job permanently.
Darren Collison blew up for a season-high 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting in Thursday's tough loss in OKC, a barrage that included a buzzer-beating jumper to force OT. He made all four of his 3-point attempts while adding five rebounds, four assists and four steals. This could easily be his high-water mark for the season, but at least it will make Rick Carlisle pause before he tries to bench Collison in favor of Dominique Jones or anyone else. Dirk Nowitzki said that his knee feels "phenomenal," but he also admitted that he doesn't have his usual stamina or any "bounce or lift." He made just 3-of-11 FGs on Thursday, before wisely deferring to his teammates in crunch time, and he was such a defensive liability that he was benched for Shawn Marion in overtime. The Matrix thrived again with 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and one block, and he's retaining excellent value despite Dirk's return. Keep him plugged into active lineups until he cools off. And speaking of cooling off...O.J. Mayo scored four points on 1-of-7 shooting in 36 minutes vs. the Thunder. In the past four games he's averaging 7.3 points on 25 percent shooting, and even Dirk exhorted him after the game to play with greater confidence, while noting that Mayo is struggling when teams trap him on pick-and-rolls (which they are doing with great frequency now, since it's working). There's little doubt that Mayo will improve, but I personally don't expect a return to his numbers from November (20.9 points, 2.7 threes).
The second game of the night was far less entertaining, as the Clippers ran roughshod over the Celtics for their 15th consecutive victory, and their sixth consecutive blowout. As a result of the score, none of L.A.'s players logged more than 29 minutes -- Caron Butler knocked down 6-of-12 jumpers to score 14 points, and Blake Griffin had 15 points and eight rebounds while missing 4-of-7 FTs, but the interesting stats came from the bench unit. Lamar Odom scored just four points but he also had 13 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and zero turnovers in 29 minutes. He's actually returning 7th round value in nine-cat leagues over the past two weeks, and at least deserves to be watched closely. Matt Barnes is the overall No. 17 player over the same stretch, a phenomenal state of affairs which continued on Thursday with 21 points, five 3-pointers, two steals and one block. He didn't have any rebounds or assists in his 23 minutes of action, but you won't hear his owners complain.
Boston, meanwhile, fell to 14-14 on the season. Kevin Garnett got going offensively, scoring 16 points in 26 minutes, with four rebounds, three assists and a block, but that was the only passable fantasy line. The Celtics nearly had as many turnovers (18) as assists (20), and I'm starting to believe Rajon Rondo's recent half-joke regarding Avery Bradley, as related by beat writer Chris Forsberg on ESPN.com:
"I don't want to put it on one player, but when Avery [Bradley] comes back, we're going to be a completely different team," said Rondo. "He'll help us out a lot, especially on the defensive end. He's a physical guard and I think we need that type of effort, that type of energy that he brings to the game and it's kind of contagious." Then in a brief moment of levity, Rondo stared into a television camera and declared, "So I'm putting all the pressure on you, Avery. No, I'm just playing."
The Celtics are clinging to the eighth seed in the East, half a game ahead of the 76ers, and lucky for them Bradley is expected to debut on Wednesday. Bradley knocked down 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers last season, and he could chip in a useful amount of points and steals if (as expected) he starts at SG ahead of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. With so much competition, however, I'm viewing him as just a speculative add in 12-14 team leagues.
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