NBA@2: Big Trouble In Rip City?
When the Portland Trail Blazers acquired Raymond Felton from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Andre Miller it seemed like a move that would help Portland take a dramatic step forward this season. After all, Felton teamed up with Gerald Wallace to take the Charlotte Bobcats to their first-ever playoff appearance. Felton’s ability to communicate and his fiery brand of basketball had the potential to make the Blazers a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, Felton didn’t stay in great shape during the lockout, came into camp overweight, and has yet to really find his groove with his new team. To date, in fact, he’s having the worst year of his career, managing just 10.5 points on a career-low 37% and just 6.5 assists per game. It’s a far cry from the 17.1 points and 9.0 assists he averaged in New York at the height of his career.
“I think he has some work to do,” says Blazers head coach Nate McMillan, very matter-of-factly. “He’s trying to work himself into shape and into establishing how we want to play.”
Despite some reports to the contrary, Felton does feel like he’s on the same page as his new head coach.
“No question,” says Felton. “Anytime you come to a new system with a new coach, you’re both trying to figure each other out. It’s not always going to be perfect, but you know, one thing I will say is we can talk to each other we have conversations. Ain’t no ‘he say something behind my back,’ ‘I say something behind his back.’ It’s nothing like that. That’s the good thing about it.”
Felton doesn’t deny that he’s off to a rough start, but does feel the expedited training camp and preseason played a significant role.
“You’ve got to think about that,” Felton admits. “You’ve got to think about me being on a new team, a lot of new guys coming to a new system, new everything, really. The shortening of the season didn’t help; we basically got thrown into the fire and were told we got three weeks before we play our first game. It was unfortunate for me because I didn’t get that month being in Portland, being around with these guys, playing pick-up, going through stuff, just getting that chemistry early rather than having to do it during the season. It’s kind of tough in that way, but you know, hey, I don’t care. We’re winning. Right now we’re in the playoffs, so we just have to continue to win and take it from there.”
Felton certainly didn’t expect to struggle like he has, and was actually very optimistic coming to a team where he would be reunited with Gerald Wallace.
“It’s always good to come to a team fresh and brand new with a guy that you know. I’ve been with Gerald for five years in Charlotte. We grew together, went through a lot of pains together in Charlotte and at the end of that we made the playoffs. We definitely went through a lot together, so just a guy that you went through so much with on and off the court, it makes things easier for you.”
One thing Felton does appreciate is the high expectation that comes with being in Portland. Having labored for years on a sub-par Charlotte team he’s all about pushing for the postseason.
“Right, no question,” says Felton. “Feels good, you know? I’ve been to the playoffs my last two years of my career so it’s kind of something where I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go home early any more.”
In Portland, that means setting up and playing off of All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, with whom Felton has become fast friends.
“I was going to raise cane if he didn’t make the All-Star team,” says Felton, suddenly looking serious. “He should have been in there last year. When you’ve got a big man like that who can play on the perimeter and on top of that he can play with his back to the basket, you know he demands a double-team from every team. All of us have the job to put the ball in the basket and make sure we capitalize off his double-teams because once we do that then they have to guard him one-on-one. It’s going to be tough to beat us.”
Of course, no matter how well Aldridge plays, the Blazers will only be a playoff team if they get better play from their backcourt. That starts with Raymond Felton, and it seems he has a long way to go if he’s going to lead this team beyond the first round purgatory where they have so often dwelt.
Chris Paul: From New Orleans To The Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul talks with HOOPSWORLD about leaving the Hornets behind, playing with Blake Griffin and recruiting J.R. Smith in this exclusive interview:
It’s been a strange year for the Houston Rockets, even stranger than it has been for many of their NBA brethren. You expect some challenges when a new head coach takes over, and even more when a lockout messes with the schedule the way the 2011 lockout has messed with the current NBA schedule. What you don’t expect is for the “star” of a team to lose minutes on a nightly basis and see his role reduced dramatically, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Kevin Martin in Houston.
Over the course of his career, Martin has become accustomed to playing better than 35 minutes per game. He emerged as a premier scorer in the NBA in his third season with the Sacramento Kings, and since then never failed to average better than 35 minutes per game until last season. Last season Martin averaged 32.5 minutes per contest for then-head coach Rick Adelman, though he also appeared in a career-high-tying 80 games as a likely direct result. In those 80 games he averaged 23.4 points per game.
This season, under head coach Kevin McHale, Martin’s numbers have been significantly lower. His minutes have dropped to 32.2 per game, but more importantly his scoring has dipped to 17.7, the lowest since his sophomore campaign. Last night he went scoreless (0-3) in 19 minutes, and had him hot following the team’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
“If we’re winning and I’m sitting, I’m happy. Tonight, we got beat, and I’m on a 10-day-contract leash,” Martin said to the Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen. “I’m not happy about that, just because we lost. If we’re winning, I’ll sit over there for 48 minutes.”
Of course, Martin has only himself to blame for his drop-off in minutes.
In January Martin was as good as ever, averaging 20.9 points and garnering 37.1 minutes per contest.
In February, his production has dropped off a cliff. Through eight games he is shooting just 37% from the field and managing just 11.1 points. As a direct result, his minutes have dropped to 23.6 per game.
Over that same period of time his backup Courtney Lee has been stepping up his game. After asking for a trade in January, Lee seems set to show what he’s capable of in February, averaging 11.4 points on 49% shooting while also connecting on 53% from three. Lee is also grabbing 3.2 rebounds in his 28.6 minutes per game, up from 24.0 minutes in January.
It’s not hard to see where Martin’s minutes are going and why.
There is another way of looking at Martin’s recent play, which is by analyzing his +/- for each game. For instance, the Rockets were -6 with Martin in the game last night, while they were -4 with Lee, who played roughly 11 more minutes. Two games earlier, when Martin managed just 13 minutes in a win over the Phoenix Suns, the team was -16 with Martin and +18 with Lee. In the previous game, a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets were -8 with Martin and +12 with Lee. Against Denver, -1 with Martin, +15 with Lee.
This is a pattern that has emerged with more regularity of late, and it’s something the Rockets monitor closely.
The solution for Martin is pretty simple. He’s still starting, and so has his fate (and his minutes) largely in his own hands. He has to do the things that put his team in the + column while he’s on the floor, only some of which is shooting. Even when his shot is off he can play good defense and pursue loose balls and rebounds.
There’s no doubt that Kevin Martin is one of the game’s purest shooters, but until he finds ways to contribute when his shots aren’t falling, his minutes may continue to drop off.
Successful Surgery For Billups
Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups underwent successful surgery today to repair a torn left Achilles tendon.
The surgery was performed by Dr. Thomas Clanton at The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. Billups is expected to remain in Colorado for approximately four weeks following the surgery before returning to Los Angeles to begin the rehabilitation process.
The injury occurred with 5:48 remaining in the fourth quarter in the Clippers’ 107-102 win in Orlando on February 6th and will sideline Billups for the remainder of the 2011-12 NBA season. In 20 games played this season (20 starts), Billups has tallied 14.9 points, 4.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 30.4 minutes per game.
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