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What To Expect For The Mavs With Rajon Rondo

The Rajon Rondo trade came slowly and then all at once, as years of rumors ended in the span of less than a day, with the Dallas Mavericks coming from out of nowhere to grab him. On the surface, they didn’t give up a ton - Brandan Wright, Jae “The Beast” Crowder, Jameer Nelson, a first-round pick in 2015 (likely to be conveyed in 2016) and a future second-rounder - to get a former All-Star still in the prime of his career. However, there is a lot more to this trade than meets the eye.

1. The Mavs gave up a lot of value

Brandan Wright may have only played 20 minutes a night, but those were some valuable 20 minutes. His per-36 minute numbers were positively obscene - 17 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks on 75% shooting. Wright has a PER of 26.1 because the way the Mavs used literally broke the formula. They usually paired Wright with a stretch 4 (Dirk Nowitzki), which allowed him to play in a ton of space in front of the rim. Pretty much every shot he took was a lob or a dunk.

There were a lot of games this season where the starters played the other team evenly and then Wright came in the game and blew it open. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league and his combination of offensive efficiency and shot-blocking will be hard to replace. Without Wright, the Mavs will need to find a new backup center - whether it’s Greg Smith, Dwight Powell or Jermaine O’Neal - and they will need to re-think a lot of their game-plans for their second unit.

And while you never really knew what you were going to get from Crowder and Nelson on a given night, they were two of the best three-point shooters on this year’s team. The Mavs are going to need Devin Harris and JJ Barea to continue way out-shooting their career percentages from long range, as virtually none of the other perimeter players on the roster are catch-and-shoot guys. Just to give you an idea, this move increases Richard Jefferson’s playing time.

2) Despite how well they were playing, the Mavs needed to make a move

As you would expect from a team that gave two sub 6’0 guards - Jameer Nelson and JJ Barea - most of the minutes at PG, the Mavs perimeter defense was shaky at best, non-existent at worst. While they may have the No. 1 offensive rating in the NBA, they also have the No. 22 defensive rating and anyone that has watched Dirk Nowitzki’s teams in Dallas knew how that was going to end. The Mavs needed more balance and that was only going to come from changing the personnel.

Shaky perimeter defense was the primary reason why they have been struggling with the other elite teams in the West. Against teams the other top-9 teams, Dallas is 2-6, with both their wins coming over the Pellies and losses to the Suns, Rockets, Warriors, Spurs, Blazers and Grizzlies. In the loss to Phoenix, Eric Bledsoe had 19 points and 7 assists while Goran Dragic had 28 points and 13 assists. In their most recent win over New Orleans, Jrue Holiday had 30 points and 10 assists on 22 shots.

It was laughably easy for top PG’s to score on Dallas, which is kind of a problem if you expect to make any noise in a conference that features Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard and Mike Conley.

3) They could have made a much smaller trade

Most people around the team expected them to do something. Dirk isn’t getting any younger and the team is really good - if they are only one or two pieces away, there’s no reason to not at least give it a shot. Given how valuable future first-round picks have become, their 2015 pick could have been flipped into something good, even without including Brandan Wright. Here are a few names that have been bandied about as possible trade targets for the Mavs - George Hill, Iman Shumpert, Gerald Henderson, Wilson Chandler. All good players, all of whom could improve the team with their perimeter defense. None of whom would have disrupted the offensive flow on this team as much as a guy like Rondo.

4) The domino effect is what makes this trade so hard to predict

Rondo is an alpha male, ball dominant PG. Adding him to the mix changes the offensive roles of everyone on the team, particularly on the perimeter.

- Monta Ellis: In his first year and a half in Dallas, Monta has always been the dominant partner in the backcourt. Whether it’s Jose Calderon, Devin Harris or Jameer Nelson, the ball naturally gravitated into Monta’s hands and the Mavs other guard spent most of his time spotting up and playing off of Monta. Rondo has a gravitational pull all his own - watching these two ball-dominant, non-shooting guards attempt to co-exist should be one of the most fascinating sub-plots of the Mavs' season. It seems likely that Carlisle will stagger their playing time so that both get to dominate the ball and run pick-and-pops with Dirk.

- Chandler Parsons: He was just starting to get comfortable with his role in Dallas when the trade went down. Parsons has struggled at times playing off the ball next to Monta and Dirk and he hasn’t been a very consistent outside shooter. As a result, when his shot isn’t falling, he has had a hard time impacting the game. Parsons is probably best when he’s attacking the rim and creating shots for others, but that’s not going to be an easy sell given the number of quality players around him. If anything, Parsons needs to get his catch-and-shoot game going, since Monta and Rondo aren’t going to be the ones doing that. Ironically enough, he’s likely to be shuttled back into the secondary role he was trying to avoid when he left Houston.

- Devin Harris: No one is going to see his minutes impacted more than Harris, who was the Mavs' main option at the PG position, even if he wasn’t starting. He was having a career shooting year and he had developed a great rapport with Wright in the two-man game. It seems like he will serve as the bridge between Rondo and Monta, but with both those guys expecting to play a lot of minutes, there just might not be as much time for Devin as there was before. That goes double for JJ Barea.

When you look at the Mavs' perimeter rotation as a whole, what stands out to you are that they would all rather play with the ball in their hands - Rondo, Monta, Parsons, Harris and Barea. There are not a lot of guys in that group who have made a career out of spotting up off the ball. Dirk makes this more manageable, but the No. 1 thing to watch when it comes to integrating Rondo into the mix is whether other teams are able to shrink the floor against Dallas.

5) Monta vs. Rondo

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest flash point on this roster is whether these two will be able to co-exist. Rondo worked with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, but those guys were excellent three-point shooters. Monta, meanwhile, couldn’t even co-exist with Steph Curry. It’s a concern, even if it’s one that neither will have any interest in addressing over the course of the season. If the Mavs struggle at all over the next few months, expect a lot of focus on their relationship.

What adds fuel to the fire is that both players could potentially be free agents this summer. Rondo is an unrestricted free agent (although presumably he gave Mark Cuban some assurances about re-signing in Dallas before the trade was finalized) while Monta has a player option on a deal that’s only paying him $8 million a season, a little over half of what Parsons makes. Monta has said that money is no longer the primary motivator for him in terms of his career, so maybe he doesn’t opt out and this whole story becomes a non-issue. Money usually talks the loudest, though, so we will see.

If it does come down to Monta vs. Rondo, the biggest argument for keeping Rondo is that it should be easier to build a team around him. I went into this in much more detail earlier in the summer. The holes in Monta’s game - inability to shoot 3’s, run point or play defense - make it almost impossible to find an ideal backcourt partner. If you keep Rondo, you can sign a more conventional 3-and-D SG like Shumpert in the off-season and have a far more balanced line-up than almost any combination involving Monta.

6) The Jason Kidd Model

Seven years ago, Jason Kidd came to Dallas in much the same situation as Rondo. Kidd was an All-Star PG whose star had faded as his team had decayed around him. When he arrived, he didn’t appear to make a ton of sense with either coach or the personnel on hand. Within a year, they had fired Avery Johnson and started shuffling players around Kidd and Dirk. The commonality is the Mavs seeing an undervalued building block, grabbing him at a low price and figuring out the rest later.

The biggest change for Kidd between his time in Dallas and New Jersey is that he became a great three-point shooter. Kidd is the archetypal example of the elite player who finds his outside shot and extends his career another decade. You should never expect a player to add something to his game that late into his career, but if any player can do it, it’s an All-NBA PG with Hall of Fame talent and a great feel for the game. Kidd even credited Dirk with helping him become a better three-point shooter.

Even if Rondo’s outside shot never comes, the idea of adding an elite floor general with the size to control the game had to appeal to Cuban. He saw first-hand the effect the presence of Kidd had not only on the game but on the entire culture of the Mavs organization. Dallas has been looking for a player to replace all the different things that Kidd brought to the table since the day he left. Rondo is about the closest thing you are going to find to that in the modern NBA. Those are two PG’s who could think the game at an extremely high level.

7) Gambling on Rondo

Two and a half years ago, Rondo had 44 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in an ECF game against LeBron and Wade. In the time since, he has seen two of his mentors traded away for draft picks 5+ years into the future, torn his ACL, become part of a rebuilding projecting which includes a college coach and seen his name involved in an endless number of trade rumors. It would be understandable if he was not playing the best basketball of his life in that stretch. He’s still only 28, so the hope is that the old version of Rondo is still there.

Rondo seems like a textbook case of a guy who could use a change of scenery. The first time you get traded in the NBA is a scales falling from the eyes experience, no matter how much it makes sense on an intellectual level. After getting really comfortable in Boston, Rondo is going to be pushed out of his comfort zone and thrown into the fire of a playoff race. If anything can rejuvenate him, this experience should be it. If not, they didn’t acquire all that much for him and they can part ways in the off-season.

If you think of a PG like a race-car driver, Rondo is a guy who walked into the sport and was given a superior engine from Day 1. He didn’t have to struggle with inferior cars in the early part of his career - he was playing next to three future Hall of Famers. It was only in the last few years that he got to experience what life is like for the other half of the NBA, the one that you don’t see on national TV all that often. Now he’s right back in the drivers seat of an elite team and he’s playing for a chance to make max money in the off-season.

Rondo has been sitting on the sidelines for two seasons and the Mavs are giving him the keys to a brand new Cadillac. Whatever happens, it should be really fun to watch.

David Lee's Exit Unclogged Drain For Steve Kerr

Everyone wants to make the Golden State Warriors fantastic start to the season about Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr, but the biggest change for this year’s team has been on the court. After averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds in 33 minutes a game last season, David Lee has played only seven minutes all season as he deals with a hamstring injury. This season and the 2012 Playoffs is about as close to a controlled experiment that you will ever see in the NBA.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Jackson or Kerr. Without Lee, Golden State turns into a pure 4-out team and they become almost unstoppable. When Lee went down in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets in 2013, everyone thought the Warriors were finished. They had lost their only All-Star! Instead, they went nova, blitzing a 57-win team in six games and giving the San Antonio Spurs everything they could handle in the second round.

The same exact thing is playing out again. With Draymond Green playing as a small-ball 4, the Warriors have four three-point shooters on the floor at all times. They space the floor really well, they have speed and athleticism at almost every position and Andrew Bogut towering over everything in the middle. A 4-out team with Bogut as the only big man and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson running the show from the perimeter is going to be hard to beat.

Lee gets his numbers - 18 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists on 53% shooting last season - but he does it in a way that destroys everyone else’s flow. Lee doesn’t play enough defense to be the only big man on the floor, which means Golden State can’t play 4-out with him in the game. When the Warriors have two big men on the floor, they become a much more conventional team which has to slow the ball and play inside-out in order to maximize Lee’s skill-set.

Lee is most effective as the second biggest man on the floor while playing in an era where many of the best teams only play one big man at a time. There are still teams like the Memphis Grizzlies that can succeed with two big men, but they play to their strengths - pounding the ball inside, controlling tempo and playing lock-down defense in the half-court. The fundamental problem with playing Lee is that he gives you all the spacing problems of a two-in team without any of the benefits, as he struggles to score over bigger post defenders like Zach Randolph and he has even more trouble stopping them on defense.

Lee’s exit is like unclogging a drain. All of a sudden, when Golden State is on offense, eight of the ten players on the floor are spread out around the three-point line. All that spacing makes it almost impossible to stick with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, since they can find the open man when the defense sends help. Golden State is playing the type of pure 4-out basketball that we haven’t seen in the Western Conference since the Seven Seconds or Less Suns.

If you look at the last few champions out West, every winner had a huge PF:

2008-2010 - LA Lakers - Pau Gasol (7’0 250) and Lamar Odom (6’10 240)

2011 - Dallas Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzki (7’0 240)

2012 - Oklahoma City Thunder - Serge Ibaka (6’11 240)

2013-2014 - San Antonio Spurs - Tiago Splitter (6’11 245) and Boris Diaw (6’8 250)

The Heat were able to get to the Finals playing pure 4-out basketball, but they barely survived series against Roy Hibbert and David West, much less some of the monstrous front-lines in the Western Conference. That’s the logic behind the construction of most of the top teams out West. The starting PF on all eight playoff teams last year were all 6’9+ - Tiago Splitter, Serge Ibaka, Blake Griffin, Terrence Jones, LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, Zach Randolph and Dirk Nowitzki.

There has been no team willing to take the spread pick-and-roll to its logical conclusion, not since Mike D’Antoni’s glorious revolution in Phoenix could never get past a 7’0 foot roadblock in San Antonio by the name of Tim Duncan. For the most part, teams in the West aren’t trying to play small. That’s why I assumed coming into the season that A) the Warriors would stick with Lee and B) it would ultimately doom their chances for winning the West.

Lee’s injury is really the best thing that could have happened to Kerr, since it took the tough but necessary decision out of his hands. There’s no way they can put him back in the starting line-up after the way they have started the season. In essence, the last three years were a holding action, where David Lee was fighting to hold onto his starting spot while a potentially great team was waiting to burst out at any moment. As soon as he got hurt or had to leave the line-up for any extended amount of time, this was going to happen. He may end up being useful to them as a 10-15 minute guy off the bench, but the days of him being a featured player in Golden State have come and gone.

Without Lee around to get in everyone’s way on offense and get lit up on defense, the Warriors have gotten off to the best start in the NBA, with a 21-3 record and a 16-game winning streak that ended in The Grindhouse on Tuesday. In terms of pure statistics, Golden State is as good a team as there is in the league. However, when you start playing the match-up game in the playoffs, it looks like their chances to win it all will come down to two questions.

1. How will the pure 4-out approach play out against the best PF’s in the West?

It almost ended up working in the 2014 playoffs, when Jackson was forced to go 4-out after Andrew Bogut was injured. After they were down 2-1 to the LA Clippers in the first round, Jackson moved Lee to the 5 and started Draymond Green at the 4. They averaged 101 points in Games 1-3 and 110 points in Games 4-7. However, in the end, though, the lack of rim protection and size on the defensive glass doomed them. Would it have been different with Bogut at the 5 and Green at the 4?

Golden State’s 112-102 victory in Chicago a few weeks ago was the best-case scenario for a 4-out team playing a 2-in one. Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson were able to take advantage of their size upfront, but they had no answer for Green at the three-point line. The floor was spread so wide that the Warriors were able to tear holes through the Bulls defense. When everything goes right, the math becomes overwhelming. Green scored 31 points and hit 7 3’s in that game.

Their 105-98 loss to Memphis was the worst-case scenario. Zach Randolph was able to bully Golden State around the rim, with 17 points on 12 shots. Green, meanwhile, was unable to make him pay on the other end, repeatedly coming up short on jumpers and shooting 2-11 from the field. The worry is that over a seven-game series, his legs are going to be worn down by all the wrestling he will have to do with guys like Blake and Z-Bo.

“Draymond is the heartbeat of the team,” said Steve Kerr after the Warriors win over the Mavs on Saturday. “He has guarded everybody - LaMarcus Aldridge early in the season, Anthony Davis last week. He just guards whoever he needs to, including on switches, when he’s handling PG’s or wings. Draymond is a huge part of our success and I think people are realizing that and he should get plenty of notoriety for his contributions.”

You can only tell so much from the individual match-ups in the regular season, since teams can alter their game-plans to focus on a match-up advantage over the course of a seven-game series. If Golden State ends up playing a team like Memphis (Z-Bo), the Clippers (Blake) or the Blazers (LaMarcus Aldridge) in the playoffs, it’s going to come down to which team can with the contrast of styles at the PF position and dictate the tempo of the game.

In theory, that type of series is where it would nice to have David Lee, but does anyone think he’s winning match-ups with elite PF’s? At least if you play Draymond and Barnes at the 4, you are going down playing your style instead of losing while pretending to be something you are not. And if you look at the way the NBA has been going over the last generation, you have to trust that the math will win and that the spread pick-and-roll will beat the post-up.

Where it gets really interesting is what happens if the Warriors play a team that wants to play 4-out with them.

2) Can someone beat Golden State at their own game?

Over the last three seasons, the Thunder and the Spurs have been the class of the West. They played in the 2012 WCF and the 2014 WCF and the only reason they didn’t play in the 2013 WCF is that Russell Westbrook got injured. Odds are, a team that wins the West this season is going to have to beat Oklahoma City and San Antonio. What makes those teams so dangerous in the playoffs is their versatility - they can play either 4-out or 2-in and still win.

The Thunder start Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, but their most dangerous line-up is Ibaka at C and Kevin Durant at PF. This is what I mean by Golden State playing “pure” 4-out basketball - Oklahoma City could start Durant at PF all season and score all the points. Instead, they go with a more conservative defensive-minded line-up, with the idea that they can always go 4-out when they need to in the playoffs. The Ibaka/Durant tandem is an absolute nightmare match-up for the Warriors defense, since they don’t want Bogut on the three-point line.

The Spurs start Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, but they can play 4-out with Boris Diaw at PF and Duncan at C. Two years ago, Diaw was one of the keys to the Spurs getting past the Warriors in the second round, as he had the quickness to play their perimeter game on defense and the skill to punish their lack of size on offense.

Even after winning a ring, Diaw is still one of the most underrated players in the world. In a one-game scenario, he can be as good as anyone. In the last nine months, he played LeBron James to a draw in parts of the NBA Finals and absolutely smoked Marc Gasol in the World Cup. He’s essentially a much bigger version of Draymond Green. If they face San Antonio in the playoffs, Green may find out, in the inimitable words of Lionel Hollins, that there’s always a bigger man in a prison.

Trying to leverage a mismatch on the perimeter against a guy like Zach Randolph is a whole different animal than trying to beat Kevin Durant and Boris Diaw at their own games. It’s not so much that Green has to outplay those guys 1-out-1, but that Golden State is no longer the faster and more skilled team on the floor in that match-up, the advantage they have had over everyone else all season.

As great a start as Golden State is off too, all roads in the West still go through the stretch of I-35 from Oklahoma City to San Antonio.

Why The Pelicans Have Plenty Of Time To Build Around The Brow

Through the first quarter of the NBA season, there has been no story bigger than the emergence of Anthony Davis. Still only 21, Davis has taken the leap from star to superstar, averaging a mind-boggling 25 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and 2 assists on 57 percent shooting. However, even with as well as Davis has been playing, it still hasn’t been enough to get the New Orleans Pelicans into the crowded playoff picture out West, where they are the 10 seed.

You would think a team with a 21-year-old franchise player would be in no rush to make the playoffs, but the Pellies have made a series of moves over the last few years under the idea they would contend immediately. With NBA teams valuing first-round picks more than ever, New Orleans has been widely criticized for trading their last three for Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik. They haven’t had a first-rounder since 2012, when they took Davis and Austin Rivers.

The combination of win-now moves and their lack of initial success this season has created a sense of existential panic around the franchise, with several national publications already speculating about whether Davis eventually leaves in free agency. For many, the Pellies have become a model for how not to build a franchise player, consigning the future of the NBA to years of mediocrity because they were unwilling to be patient in the draft.

New Orleans has made their share of bad decisions over the last few seasons, but the rush to bury them might be a little premature. When evaluating their future, the most important thing to remember is that no player on a rookie contract has ever turned down the chance to sign a max extension. The timetable just doesn’t work - a guy who has made less than $20 million in his career isn’t going to turn down his first chance to make nearly $100 million.

And while the national perception of the Pellies is of a bunch of bums dragging Anthony Davis down, he can look around the locker room and see talented young players whom he can grow with over the next few years. It may not be the ideal mix of talent, but is it enough to turn down $100 million for two straight years? One injury can change everything. The way people act, you would think the average age of their top-6 players is 30, not a little over 24.

Their early schedule has been heavy on road games and as you would expect from a young team, they are much better at home than on the road. They are 6-2 at the Smoothie King Center and 4-9 everywhere else, including losses at Cleveland, at Portland, at Washington, at Golden State, at the Clippers and at Dallas. New Orleans is tied for 7th in strength of schedule, so as things even out over the course of the year, they will have a chance to make up some ground.

The collective youth of their roster has been one of their biggest problems, which you can see in their offense (No. 6 in the NBA) being so far ahead of their defense (No. 24). It typically takes younger players longer to figure things out on that side of the ball and Davis is no exception, despite his eye-popping block and steal numbers. Interior defense is one of the toughest things in the league to master - opponents are shooting nearly 50 percent at the rim against Davis.

As great as his numbers are, he isn’t consistently impacting the game on both ends of the floor as much as veteran big men like Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol, which is no real surprise. Howard and Gasol improved massively as rim protectors and post scorers as they moved deeper into their 20’s, so if Davis develops on a similar track, it’s frightening to imagine what he could become. The question is whether the Pellies can put enough pieces around him.

Most criticisms of the team’s moves begin with their decision to trade two first-round picks for Holiday, which the Philadelphia 76ers turned into Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric. Of course, with Noel still coming back from knee surgery and Saric staying in Europe for the next few seasons, it’s not like the Pellies would be much better this season with those picks. In that scenario, can you imagine the criticism they would get if they were sitting at five wins right now?

My suspicion is that when people criticize New Orleans for some of the moves they have made, they are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. With how insanely competitive the West is at the moment, there are not many sequences of moves the Pellies could have made to where they would be favored to make the playoffs. From there, given the type of numbers that Davis was going to put up, people were always going to be speculating about 2017.  

The good news for New Orleans fans is you can see the semblance of a plan in the construction of their roster, even if it may not have been the original plan. Instead of dissecting the individual games of the four main players in the Pellies supporting cast - Holiday, Asik, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson - it’s more helpful to look at them as a whole and how they might fit around The Brow. All five of those guys can fit in a spread pick-and-roll system.

From a tactical perspective, the story of the last decade in the NBA has been the rise of the spread pick-and-roll, as the abolition of the hand check and the illegal defense rules increased the importance of moving the ball and spreading the floor. The first coach to truly grasp this was Mike D’Antoni, who turned Steve Nash into a superstar by pushing the ball and putting him in a two-man game with three shooters spotting up around him.

D’Antoni’s Suns never won a championship, but their philosophy quickly spread around the league, even to their archrival San Antonio Spurs. The last four NBA champions - the Dallas Mavericks, the Miami Heat and the Spurs - all used a stretch 4 and ran a ton of pick-and-rolls. Under the new rules, the math is overwhelming. With a ball-handler, a guy rolling to the rim and three shooters, all five guys on the floor are threats and the defense can’t guard all of them.

New Orleans has most of the pieces for the spread pick and roll:

1. Davis - The ultimate spread PNR player. Of the three most important roles in the system, Davis can fit two of them. He can either be the center who rolls to the rim or the power forward who opens up the floor for the center. In essence, he’s Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in one person, so he can share a frontcourt with either Asik or Anderson, depending on the match-up.

2. Holiday - Holiday is a really good NBA PG with great size (6’4 205) and athleticism and without any real holes in his game. He can control tempo, run the pick-and-roll, punish defenses if they go under and take the ball to the rim if they give him a lane. Just as important, he’s an excellent defender who can match up with either guard position.

3. Anderson -  Anderson is your favorite stretch 4’s favorite stretch 4. His three-point numbers are down this season (31%), but few teams are going to leave him open from the perimeter. He’s an excellent rebounder who can score with his back to the basket, but he’s never going to be an elite defender. As a result, as Davis improves his interior defense and becomes more comfortable at the 5, it should open things up for Anderson.

4. Evans - A second perimeter ball-handler who can run the pick-and-roll, create shots for others and get into the lane. The more he can improve as a three-point shooter and a defensive player, the better the Pellies will be. He’s still only 25, so it’s hard to say for sure that he has peaked.

5. Asik - A defensive-minded 5 who can protect the rim, clean the defensive glass and roll to the rim. His offense will always be an issue, but the Davis/Anderson duo should be able to score more than enough points when they are on the floor. Both guys are good enough shooter that they can be paired with Asik, giving the Pellies one of the best frontcourt rotations in the NBA.

6. Austin Rivers - Another pick-and-roll ball-handler who can shoot, pass and create his own shot off the dribble. Rivers struggled mightily in his first two seasons in the NBA, but he has slowly turned himself into a solid player. While New Orleans declined the option on his rookie contract for next season, they need Rivers and Rivers needs playing time, so it’s hard to see them breaking apart.

With the personnel in place, you don’t need to make things too complicated. Rotate Asik/Davis/Anderson upfront and run pick-and-rolls with Holiday/Evans/Rivers as the ball-handlers. You could run that every time and get a good-looking shot out of it. The only thing you still need is shooting and athleticism on the wings, as it doesn’t appear Eric Gordon is going to be able to provide that, given that he has never really recovered from a series of knee injuries.

The most questionable thing about what the Pellies have been doing is how they have filled out the back of their rotation, as they are getting almost nothing from the last 7-8 spots on their roster. Even their most recent signings don’t make much sense - instead of bringing in athleticism and shooting on the wings, they signed a backup PG who can’t shoot, score or defend (Gal Mekel) and a backup PF (Dante Cunningham) whom they are trying to stretch into a SF.

I have seen Mekel play plenty over the last year and a half in Dallas and if he’s better than Russ Smith, whom they sent to the D-League, I will be shocked. They are currently running out Luke Babbitt at SF, a bit of a problem given the caliber of wing players he has to defend in the West. The most important piece for the Pellies to find going forward is a 6’7+ 3-and-D wing. To be sure, it isn’t easy to find those guys, but there are better options in the D-League.

Once you get all the pieces in place, it becomes a matter of modernizing the offense. The similarities between Monty Williams and Mark Jackson are remarkable - players turned coaches who came up in the mid 90’s NBA, who emphasize defense, don’t stagger minutes and run a lot of isolations. The Golden State Warriors have made hay by opening up Jackson’s system and allowing their guys to play in space. The Pellies could do many of the same things.

Why is a team with Anthony Davis ranked 24th in the NBA in pace? In what universe does that make any sense? In college, Kentucky went 38-2 with Davis and Terrence Jones doing rim runs for 40 minutes and there isn’t a big man in the NBA who can keep up with Davis in the open court. When they played in Dallas, Phoenix pushed at every opportunity, winning 118-106. New Orleans, in contrast, slowed the game a lot, letting the Mavs win 112-107.

Given Monty Williams' background in San Antonio, it makes sense that he would try to turn Davis into Tim Duncan. However, Davis is a much different type of 7’0, particularly at this point in his career, as he’s nowhere near as thick as Duncan. A team with Anthony Davis on it should be trying to score 120 points a night, at least until he gets into his mid 20’s, when he has more weight on his frame and becomes more dialed in on defense.

The bottom line is that all these things take time, in terms of finding the right mix, the right coach and the right system to put around a player like The Brow. Unfortunately, given the way our culture operates, that’s no longer an option in the court of public opinion, which demands instant results. If the Pellies can’t win around Anthony Davis right now, will they ever be able too? Who has time to project into the future? What do the stats tell us RIGHT NOW!?

Here are the most important numbers when it comes to evaluating New Orleans:

Jrue Holiday, 24

Austin Rivers, 22

Tyreke Evans, 25

Ryan Anderson, 26

Anthony Davis, 21

Omer Asik, 28

Here’s what it will look like in three years, when Davis could potentially be entering unrestricted free agency:

Holiday, 27

Rivers, 25

Evans, 28

Anderson, 29

Davis, 24

Asik, 31

All those guys will still be in the prime of their careers! Maybe they will never improve from where they are right now and if that happens, the Pellies are in a lot of trouble. Or maybe playing three years together would improve their execution on both sides of the ball. There’s a lot of talent in New Orleans and it’s still very young. If the spread pick-and-roll is the future of the NBA, the Pellies have most of the pieces in place to run that offense at a very high level.

Why are we burying these guys already? Their story isn’t over - it has barely begun.

Larry Brown's Mission Of Building NBA Factory In Dallas

Larry Brown basically has an NBA coaching staff trying to improve the prospects of marginal prospects in order to get them a fighting chance to get into the league.

The Blueprint For Beating Kentucky

John Calipari’s team may eventually break the record for most players drafted in a single season, but that doesn’t mean they are unbeatable. Texas helped provide a formula despite their double-digit loss.

Magic Find Free Money In Evan Fournier

If Evan Fournier had spent three seasons at Indiana playing next to Cody Zeller, he would be pretty well regarded like Victor Oladipo. Rob Hennigan has again found free money as he did with Tobias Harris and Nik Vucevic.

Alex Len And Why The Tools Are There To Wait

Miles Plumlee’s emergence should have made people more leery of writing off Alex Len, not less. After all, what was the oldest Plumlee doing when he was 20, the same age as Len?

Wolves' Long Road Trip Begins Long Season

Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the first pair of 19-year-olds to start for an NBA team since Josh Smith and Marvin Williams in 2004. The next few months are about survival.

Arizona Brings Balance, Experience, NBA Prospects At Every Position

Even without Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, this year is unfinished business for "The Other Wildcats". They can do everything - they can play big, they can play small, they can play fast and they can play slow.

Antawn Jamison & The Floater Game

Antwan Jamison was an athletic 6’9 with a high basketball IQ who knows how to put the ball in the basket - a guy like that can be a really good player for a really long time. As he exits, the closest guy to him in the last 17 years is entering the league in T.J. Warren.

Joe Johnson Beyond The Contract

Joe Johnson is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career and he still can dominate an individual match-up in the playoffs. He hasn't been overpaid as much as LeBron and others are underpaid.

LeBron At 30

The biggest difference between LeBron James at 26 and at 30 is he can think the game on a whole different level, seeing two and three moves down the road. Everything he does is about setting himself up for two to three weeks in May and June.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Atlantic Division

The Raptors were the poster boys for the benefits of internal improvement last season. Terrence Ross, Iman Shumpert, Mason Plumlee, Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Zeller can offer their teams improvement from within.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Northwest Division

All five teams in the Northwest have committed to building through the draft and Steven Adams, Kenneth Faried, Will Barton, Gorgui Dieng and Trey Burke are young players that can offer their teams improvement from within.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Southwest Division

Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Terrence Jones, Jae Crowder and Jon Leuer represent the Pelicans, Spurs, Rockets, Mavs and Grizzlies as young players who are poised to grow and assume bigger roles this season.

Thunder Finally Approaching Prime Contention Seasons

With two of the top-5 players in the NBA and an elite defensive big, the Thunder aren’t just set up to win a championship this season - they are set up to win the next few.

Why The Mavs Have A Shot Again

Even at this stage in their careers, Dirk Nowitzki is the best offensive 7’0 in the NBA and Tyson Chandler is one of the best defensive 7’0. Chandler covers up Dirk’s flaws on defense and Dirk makes Chandler a much better offensive player.

How The Morris Twins Will Be Phoenix's Major Contract Showdown

Under Robert Sarver, Phoenix has been notorious for pinching pennies and they might be able to take advantage of Marcus and Markieff’s desire to play together as they negotiate extensions. Given their struggles apart and their success as a unit in the NBA, it’s hard to see the twins wanting to be split up.

Jonas Valanciunas As Franchise Player

You can count the number of centers in the NBA with more two-way ability than Jonas Valanciunas on one hand - Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan. The scary part is that he’s only scratched the surface of his potential.

Dario Saric's Best Case Scenario

Dario Saric is a unique player with very defined strengths and weaknesses, which gives his NBA career a wide range of possible outcomes. Maybe the biggest reason for optimism is his age, as he is one of the youngest players at the World Cup.

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