Loud Links 01|15|10

Russell Westbrook and improving shot selection | Daily Thunder.com
Good news: Russell Westbrook is now shooting over 40 percent for the year. If there’s one thing that’s keeping him from being mentioned as a legit All-Star or at least an upper level point guard, it’s that. He’s been incredible so far this year, despite some rough patches. He’s averaging 16.5 points per game, 7.4 assists per game and 5.1 rebounds per game. Like I said last week, just one guy can compare in those three categories and his name rhymes with Shashmon Brames.

But so far in six games in January, Westbrook is shooting a solid 45 percent from the field. He’s talked about how he thought he was settling for jumpers and how he wanted to get back to attacking the rim. Attacking the paint is where he’s absolutely lethal, and by getting back to that, he’s become instant dynamite. His pull-up jumper is improving, he’s finishing drives and best of all, he’s taking smarter shots in general.

More on the wily spirits of the Skirvin. I'm waiting for the movie.

Ghosts in the Knicks Machine | NBC New York

The Knicks spent the night at the Skirvin Hilton in Oklahoma city, a hotel that's gained a reputation for being haunted (and for having a GREAT continental breakfast too, but mostly the haunted thing).

It seems that the hotel's original owner had an affair with a maid that led to a pregnancy. To avoid scandal, the maid was locked on the top floor where she went crazy, gave birth and then jumped out a window killing herself and the baby. Since then, guests have reported hearing a wailing infant, seeing naked female ghosts and one man claims he was sexually assaulted by an apparition.

Thankfully, no Knick was violated -- but they were frightened.

Bandwagon Knick: Duhon on Durant?! Anatomy of a "Trick" Defense In Guarding a Superstar
One of the most outwardly frustrating symbols of Knick futility was seeing Chris Duhon on Kevin Durant to start the game, which raised more than a few quizzical looks if not outright derision from fans and onlookers. Duhon as a defender has been a bit of a lightning rod for Knick fans, since he is frequently assigned to an off guard for significant segments of games (and occasionally a small forward) while Jeffries or Chandler is assigned to the point guard. Playing longer players on opposing PGs is one of D'Antoni's pet defensive wrinkles though, and Duhon makes this easy for the coach because of his underrated ability to defend bigger players. And with the Knicks switching frequently, Duhon is just as likely to end up back on the opposing PG, or provide help in the paint, and close out on 3 point shooters when necessary (all things he does well that don't show up in the box score).

Nevertheless, it's a leap of faith to expect Duhon to effectively guard a 6'10" player, especially one as gifted on the perimeter as Durant. The initial Knick matchups were Duhon on Durant, Chandler on Westbrook, Lee on Kristic, Gallnari on Green, and Jeffries on Sefolosha. The latter matchup was designed to allow Jeffries to roam and provide help, as Sefolosha is one of the Thunder's lesser offensive options. The Knick plan was to send another defender at Durant whenever he got the ball in position to make a move or take a jumper, making him dribble out of traps in order to shoot or make plays to other players.

Sending a variety of soft and hard double teams at Durant is not an unreasonable strategy: despite Durant's all-star season so far, he is not (yet) a gifted playmaker like the high-usage superstars (Kobe/Lebron/Wade) he's compared to: Durant is fifth among small forwards playing 15+ minutes per game in turnover rate, and only 44th among such small forwards in assist rate. (KD also has less of his baskets at the rim assisted relative to the league average -- in other words, he creates most of his opportunities near the basket). Making him give up the ball or turning him into a playmaker against pressure, and using a smaller guard as the first line of resistance (given the Knicks' lack of size and physical defenders), was a creative way of potentially disrupting the Thunders' offensive rhythm, and blunting the ability of Durant to take over the game.

It would seem this plan failed miserably, as Durant scored 30 points on 14 shots in only 33 minutes, in a continuation of his crazy streak of efficiency in recent games. D'Antoni was questioned on having Duhon on Durant in the post-game, and the coach calmly replied that Durant had scored most of his points in transition, and that what really killed the Knicks was their poor offense, not the shaky defense. (he also credited the Thunder defenders for making that Knick offense so miserable)

Shocker: NBA Teams Tank to Win the Draft Lottery | The O' Blog
Is anyone really surprised by this? Does anyone really think the Bucks, Celtics, and Grizzlies didn't do the exact same thing two years ago to try to land Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? And does anyone believe that the NBA didn't punish them by awarding the first two picks to Portland and Seattle (which had loooooong odds to nab the top spots)?

Moreover, I really don't have a problem with teams doing what they feel is in their best long-term interest. If that means losing a few more games in an already-lost season, so be it. LeBron James and Kevin Durant were both instant franchise-changers when they entered the draft, so who could blame a team for sacrificing one year to benefit the next ten?

Rookie Class Rocks without Griffin | NBA News - FOX Sports on MSN
Other rookie point guards who have impressed despite working with limited minutes are New Orleans Hornets jet Darren Collison (Chris Paul's understudy) and shifty Eric Maynor (who the Utah Jazz reluctantly traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a cost-cutting move).

Despite shooting crooked a bit too often, lefty two-guard James Harden has filled a ready-made spot for the Thunder. Working between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the third overall pick is averaging almost 10 points per game. The potential of Harden and Maynor, not to mention Westbrook and Durant, suggests OKC should be golden on the perimeter for the next few years.

Zach Randolph ponders his inability to make an All-Star roster. I have to admit, I'd like to see Randolph make the All Star team, but not at Durant's expense.

Sean Deveney - The Baseline - Sporting News
Zach Randolph wants to be an All-Star, and it's hard to blame him. He's averaging 20.4 points and 11.4 rebounds, making him one of just three 20-10 players (with Chris Bosh and Tim Duncan). But that doesn't make him a lock. Dirk Nowtizki and Carmelo Anthony probably will be starters at forward, and coaches, who vote for the reserves, won't exclude Duncan.

That means Randolph will have to beat out Kevin Durant and Pau Gasol for the other backup forward spot, or hope for one of the two wild-card slots. If he doesn't, it will mark the fourth time Randolph has had a 20-10 season without making an All-Star team. "There are so many great forwards in the West, so that definitely makes it tougher," Randolph said. "Nowitzki, Carmelo, you have Tim Duncan, a Hall of Famer. And Kevin Durant is one of my favorite players to watch. I think I have played well enough to make it. But, if I don't, I understand."

NBA Playbook breaks down why Russell had no choice but to take the game losing shot against the Spurs.

NBA Playbook | Breaking Down The Possession: Jan. 13th
We are going to look at some stuff from the Spurs-Thunder game. These two plays are very interesting, because they are basically the same play, with Kevin Durant being denied the ball. In the second play though (the one from overtime), there is a chance for Durant to get the ball. Is it Durant’s fault or Westbrook’s fault? Let’s look…

Dunk-In heh? Well, if there was a Dunk-In last year Westbrook would have been in the Slam Dunk competition.

NBA.com: DeRozan, Gordon to compete in All-Star Slam Dunk-In
Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan and Clippers guard Eric Gordon will compete in the All-Star Slam Dunk-In competition at halftime of the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12. The winner will advance to the All-Star Saturday Night Sprite Slam Dunk event. DeRozan and Gordon will each get two dunks in the one-round dunk-in, with the player receiving the highest percentage of fan votes via NBA.com and SMS text messaging advancing to the dunk contest on All-Star Saturday. Taking the fourth and final spot in the event, the dunk-in winner will then compete against three other dunk contestants for the 2010 Sprite Slam Dunk title. The NBA has yet to announce the other dunkers. The Knicks' Nate Robinson won the contest in 2009.

DeRozan is a rookie forward from USC, averaging 7.8 ppg with Toronto. He was drafted ninth in the 2009 Draft. He created a Web site, LetDeMarDunk.com, to promote his candidacy.

Gordon is in his second NBA season out of Indiana, averaging 17.1 ppg with the Clippers this season after being selected seventh overall in 2008.

Thunder notebook: Kevin Durant gaining steam toward All-Star selection? | NewsOK.com
Since Kevin Durant won’t finish first or second in the fan All-Star balloting, Western Conference coaches must vote him in if he’s going to make his first All-Star appearance. Seven reserve spots will be determined by Western Conference coaches, who can’t vote for their own players but can vote for players off the 14 remaining teams. Does Durant have San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich’s vote? "He’s one of the toughest covers in the whole league, one of the best players," Popovich said. "He continues to be a rising star. I haven’t sat down and listed names or looked at who else is doing well. "I have to remind myself how many spots there are, how many forwards, how many guards. I don’t even know right now. But he will certainly be in the mix for me, that’s for sure."

Mullens looking to make most of brief court time - USATODAY.com
Game after game, Byron Mullens took his seat on the Oklahoma City Thunder's bench, knowing it was unlikely he'd play that night. Since the Thunder got Mullens last June in a draft-night trade, he's had the "project" label attached to his name with few expecting the 7-footer out of Ohio State to contribute.

His first NBA appearance was a brief one, for less than a minute in the final stages of a blowout win at New Jersey on Dec. 28. But twice in the last week, coach Scott Brooks has put the 20-year-old Mullens in the lineup for extended stretches, including a seven-minute stint in the second quarter of a win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. Mullens scored his first NBA points on two 15-foot jumpers.

Brooks played coy when asked about Mullens' surprising appearance against the Pacers, calling it "a feel thing." I thought Byron would give us a spark and he did." Mullens said he was told before the game to be ready and that he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. Assistant coach Mark Bryant "told me to make the most of my time, basically go in there and get tired," Mullens said. "I ran and got back on defense real fast. I made good use of my seven minutes."

Thunder is at home on the road | NewsOK.com
"We had some big road wins early," said forward Nick Collison. "It was good we got off to a pretty good start. Last year the difficult start shook us a little, especially late in games. A lot of times teams crumble in the fourth quarter when the crowd really gets into it. We’ve been able to get stops and avoid that bad stretch where a team makes a big run. We now have confidence we can win no matter where we play." Entering tonight’s game at Dallas, it’s shocking the league’s second youngest team is an identical two games over .500 at both home and on the road. Young teams usually prosper at home, not on the road. Not the Thunder.

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