Tag Archives: NBA League Pass

2014-15 League Pass Legends: Charlotte Hornets

Spending the better part of their existence as a completely irrelevant bottom feeder, the Charlotte Hornets (bye-bye Bobcats!) have finally put together a young, respectable core. Looking to capitalize on their playoff berth from a year ago, just the second in franchise history, the Hornets made some key additions through both free agency and the draft.

lance

The biggest (and perhaps most surprising) addition for Charlotte this summer was Lance Stephenson, the 24-year-old wing who developed into one of the more intriguing players in the league the last four seasons in Indiana. Lance brings a much needed creative ability to the Hornets this season, looking to inject some spacing and ball handling into a team that was 24th in offensive efficiency last season.

Charlotte’s struggles on offense last season are not hard to pinpoint. The (then) Bobcats took the fourth lowest percentage of three pointers in the NBA last season, and were about league average in creating points in the paint, pretty much all accounted for by Al Jefferson. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the league’s best offenses typically excel from behind the arc and at the rim, and the Hornets brought in Lance to address those needs.

kemba

Last year Lance averaged nearly 4.5 drives per game, a total that would rank second on this years Hornets squad only to Kemba Walker. Lance also scored 8.1 points in the paint per game, nearly three more a night than the undersized point guard. While Stephenson is not quite a dead eye shooter in the NBA, his 35% three point shooting will add range to a group of wings that desperately needs it.

The most notable departure from last year’s Bobcats team is Josh McRoberts, a member of Charlotte’s four most used five man lineups last season. McRoberts added an element of shooting and creative passing at the power forward spot that will be hard to replicate. But Stephenson, who averaged 4.6 assists last year, should be able to handle the distribution responsibilities admirably. And Marvin Williams, another offseason addition, will provide the floor spacing in the front court that Charlotte will need to open lanes for Lance and Kemba.

vonleh draft

Charlotte, despite not owning their own first round pick, had two other picks to work with. With the ninth pick in the draft, the Hornets grabbed Indiana freshmen Noah Vonleh. Vonleh may have trouble adjusting to the NBA game, but projects to be a physical freak. Standing at 6’9″ with a 7’4″ wingspan, Vonleh famously had the biggest hands of the much hyped 2014 draft class.

(Hilarious side note: The pick used on Vonleh was acquired from the Detroit Pistons in the infamous Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette swap. Joe Dumars!)

joe dumars

 

Vonleh, along with fellow Hoosier Cody Zeller, give the Hornets one of the deepest (and youngest) front lines in the Eastern Conference.

Charlotte’s other first round pick was PJ Hairston. The former Legend (no really he was a Legend!), could be a valuable shooter on the wing. He averaged just under 40% from deep before getting dismissed from UNC and shot 36% from three while in the D-League.

I thought it was strange when the Hornets drafted Hairston, considering his troubled past at UNC. While a lot of those issues can be chalked up to BS NCAA rule violations, there is something to be said of a program like North Carolina dismissing a player rather than appeal to the NCAA. Hopefully the wisdom he gained riding the bus for the Legends will help him make the choices he needs to in order to become an impact NBA player.

Last season the Bobcats finished 6th in defensive efficiency, a quantum leap from 2013 when they finished in dead last in the NBA.  The jump in efficiency is surprising considering the key addition the previous offseason was plodding big man Al Jefferson. Big Al, a feared and respected machine in the post, does not carry a similar reputation to the other side of the ball.

Before coaching the Hornets, Clifford raised Eric Forman
Before coaching the Hornets, Clifford raised Eric Forman

So where did this defensive improvement come from? That would be coach Steve Clifford, the first time head coach who spent about a decade working beneath both of the Van Gundys. Clifford’s conservative approach to pick and roll defense plays to the strengths of Jefferson, allowing him to hang back and defend the paint rather than try and run out on quick guards on the perimeter.

Charlotte, which only allowed 101.2 points/100 possessions, looks to improve upon that impressive mark in year two under Clifford. In addition to the natural comfort level of spending two years in a defensive system, progressions from former second overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in year three should add an element of nastiness to this team. MKG has quietly been establishing himself as one of the most athletic wing defenders in basketball, able to crash the paint and scramble out to find shooters in the blink of an eye. Whether or not his shot develops into a plus skill, Kidd-Gilchrist will have a positive impact on the basketball court.

Charlotte snuck into the playoffs as the seventh seed last year and pretty much served as a warm-up for the Heat on their way to the finals. It was more or less a cute story that nobody outside of hardcore NBA fans picked up on.

I imagine this year will be significantly different. The East is as weak as ever, especially with the Pacers looking incredibly thin at guard and on the wing. The Hornets, with added talent, natural growth from their young core and increased familiarity with Coach Clifford, might end up defending home court in the first round of the playoffs. They clearly are not on the same level as the Bulls or Cavaliers, but they will definitely be in the mix with the Washington-Toronto-Miami crowd.

No longer the doormats of the NBA, the Charlotte Hornets deserve to be a staple of everybody’s League Pass.

2014-15 League Pass Legends: Atlanta Hawks

hawks logo

The purpose of this activity is to highlight a team that may not get much of the national spotlight. I’m here to highlight a team that doesn’t even get much of the local spotlight. The last few months I have been living in Atlanta, a city that loves the Braves and Falcons with a passion and probably couldn’t name the basketball team’s head coach (to their credit, I’m not sure how to pronounce it). Even as the team became embroiled in a race related scandal, nobody here in Atlanta really seemed to care.

Master and student
Master and student

Which is really a shame, because the Hawks have quietly put together a solid foundation that should provide regular entertainment on your League Pass guide. Danny Ferry, despite his inexcusable blunder that came to light over the summer, has brought with him to Atlanta the same basketball philosophy that is employed in San Antonio, Ferry’s former employer. In charge of implementing that on-court philosophy is Coach Mike Budenholzer, a man who spent over 15 years on the bench next to Gregg Popovich and is well versed on The System the Spurs have used to lay waste to the NBA since the Clinton administration.

It is that system that makes the Hawks a team to flip on during a packed night of basketball this season. Last season, Atlanta took 25.8 three pointers a game, a rate that was second in the NBA only to the Rockets. While the Hawks only hit 36.3% of those attempts, at the volume they are launching them Atlanta can never be counted out of a game. With Kyle Korver leading the charge, Atlanta has plenty of floor spacers on the roster to force defenses into uncomfortable rotations and close-outs. DeMarre Carroll, Paul Milsap, Jeff Teague, and Pero Antic were all good for a triple a game, and rookie Adrien Payne could provide additional shooting to a frontcourt that already has plenty. Thabo Sefelosha, the team’s biggest free agent acquisition, looks to bounce back from a rough shooting campaign. After topping 40% from three in 2012 and 2013, the former Bull hit only 31% of his deep attempts last year. Hopefully under the tutelage of Coach Bud Thabo will see that percentage return to respectable heights.

antic

From a pure League Pass entertainment standpoint, the Hawks have two key players that make every game worth tuning in to. The first is second year big man Pero Antic, the 32 year old Macedonian 7 footer who isn’t afraid to step outside (both to shoot and to settle disagreements). Antic also sports a beard that can be classified as “terrifying” and with the news that he broke his nose in practice last week, I’m willing to bet Pero is going to be looking Bane-esque in a facemask.

The other key component to Atlanta’s watchability is Kent Bazemore.

horford

The Hawks will clearly benefit from the return of Al Horford from injury. In the 29 games the former Gator played last season, he averaged 18.6 points, 8.4 boards and 2.6 assists a game on 56.7% shooting. Horford can hurt teams in a variety of ways, and he’ll have the opportunity with defenses having to devote a fair amount of attention to his front court mate Paul Milsap. Milsap, one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA, led the Hawks in steals last season while also averaging just over a block a game.

The Hawks may never lead the league in attendance. They may never sell the most jerseys or t-shirts. They may never even crack the regular rotation of water cooler conversation in the office. But for a League Pass addict, Atlanta is a team to keep a close watch on. Like a hawk.

The NBA is back, baby

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Yesterday had our first basically full slate of NBA games–14 of them! There’s currently a free trial for NBA League Pass, so anyone that has digital cable can access all the games for the rest of the first week. Needless to say, that made last night pretty awesome. It didn’t hurt that Shane Victorino put the World Series out of reach nice and early. Let’s take a look around the league at some of the biggest stories from the start of a long season.

  • The Mythical Power of Allen Iverson’s Retirement: After an emotional day of celebrating Allen Iverson’s career and officially retiring him as a 76er, the team pulled off the near impossible: beating the Heat. Granted, Miami was playing for the second straight night and without Dwyane Wade, but Philadelphia is projected to win less than 20 games this year! Michael Carter-Williams dazzled in the greatest debut I can recall and Evan Turner actually looked kind of like a #2 pick.
  • Cavs take down new look Nets: Andrew Bynum’s return was a success, even if it only lasted eight minutes. It’s nice to see a truly elite talent back on the floor. Besides that, the Cavs did a great job holding on against Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the Nets. Kyrie Irving shook off a tough shooting night to help ice the game. Deron Williams didn’t look fully recovered from offseason ankle woes, but the other starters looked pretty good.
  • Dwight dazzles in debut: Dwight Howard, starting alongside former Bull Omer Asik, slapped up 26 boards in his first game in Rockets’ red. Asik chipped in 14 of his own as Houston put Charlotte away pretty easily. If Coach McHale keeps starting Asik and Howard together, the opposition is going to have major problems getting baskets.
  • Paul George leads comeback: Much to the chagrin of Bulls fans, the Pacers did not join the Heat and Nets in losing to inferior opponents last night. Backed by 32 from Paul George and some key defense, the Pacers stormed back and put away the Pelicans. Jrue Holiday looked solid in his debut while Anthony Davis appears to be taking the next step. Frank Vogel’s Pacers are quickly becoming a veteran team that always feels like they can win (a lot like a certain team in Chicago).
  • Kevin Love forces OT to snag a W: For the second straight night, the Orlando Magic played their asses off and came up just short. After taking a three point lead with under 30 seconds to go, the Magic watched Kevin Love force overtime on a beautifully wet, nearly uncontested three. The T-Wolves put away the young Magic in overtime, but there’s been a lot of encouraging play early on from Victor Oladipo and Andrew Nicholson among others.
  • Revamped Mavs put away Hawks: Monta Ellis had it all, at least last night. With 32 points, Ellis was unstoppable. He’ll enjoy the space he gets to operate playing with the still elite Dirk Nowitzki. Jose Calderon struggled with his shot in his Mavs debut, but he still dealt out 11 assists. Paul Millsap played very well in his first game out of Utah, but it wasn’t enough.
  • Thunder hold on against Jazz: Kevin Durant scored 22 of his 42 at the stripe as the Thunder held off a late Utah surge. Speaking of Serge, Ibaka struggled mightily on offense but came through with ten boards and a couple blocks late. If Russell Westbrook is really going to be back in two weeks, the rest of the league is on notice. Utah won’t quit as easy as many were suspecting, either.
  • Kings take down Nuggets: In a matchup likely between two lottery teams, Sacramento put away the Nuggets on the strength of a stoked home crowd (they almost got moved to Seattle!). Ty Lawson played well, but the Nuggets don’t have much going on past that anymore.
  • Warriors blow out Lakers, restore order to universe: Klay Thompson dropped 38 on 19 shots (!) and Coach Jackson was able to get his starters some rest before another big game tonight. The Lakers will have some strong games behind D’Antoni’s offensive system, but they simply don’t have enough talent to take down the better teams most nights.

Four Point Play: Who Will We be Watching?

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Some people lead wonderful productive lives. They work hard during the day. At night, they spend time with family, or with a book, or maybe they have a project at home that they are working on. These people are normal.

Then there are people who watch NBA League Pass.

We here at DRaT watch a lot of League Pass, and we all have teams that we are excited to see play throughout the year. There’s nothing better than turning a boring Tuesday night into an NBA double header. While watching the Bulls is obviously a top priority over the other 29 teams in the league, there’s plenty of nights when the Bulls aren’t playing. Each of us is excited to watch every team in the league develop new players and create a unique team identity. But we all have one team that we are especially excited to play, even if it’s a Wednesday night in February against the Suns.

Jake Weiner has his eyes on Rip City.

Jacob Bikshorn wonders how new additions will mesh in Brooklyn.

Tyler Geocaris is excited to see the Pelicans.

Steven Kerstein has high hopes for the Motor City (well, their basketball team).

2013-14 League Pass Legends: Portland Trailblazers

ILLard

For the true NBA junkie, the only real way to enjoy a regular season is through NBA League Pass. You get every game that’s not on national TV or in your market (although, for some odd reason, we’re blacked out of Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks games in Nashville, TN). Aside from watching the top match-ups and following my fantasy team, there’s always a few teams I find myself watching more often than others. This upcoming season, I’m excited for the Portland Trailblazers to be one of those squads.

Portland quietly had one of the best starting lineups in the NBA last year. Damian Lillard, reigning Rookie of the Year, was a delightful surprise, averaging 19.0 PPG, 6.5 APG and 3.1 RPG. Furthermore, Lillard led the entire NBA in minutes played. Just chew on that for a second. Portland’s bench was so bad that their rookie point guard played more minutes than LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Luol Deng, Kevin Durant, AND EVERYONE ELSE. CJ McCollum, this year’s tenth pick, figures to slot in as the third guard and get plenty of looks. Portland likes the idea of two ball-handling combo guards in one backcourt. Wes Matthews has become a deadly shooter and a solid rim rattler. While no one questions Matthews’ toughness, he’s become pretty injury prone and needs to stay on the court. The same goes for Nic Batum, the lanky, über-talented French wing with fists of fury. LaMarcus Aldridge (important cog in the death machine that was my fantasy team) has proven to at least be a consistent 20-9 guy, even if he might have tried to skip town before this off-season’s restocking of the bench.

Last season, JJ Hickson started at center and was captain of the Great Stats Shitty Player All-Stars, averaging a double-double. Portland recognized this, let Hickson walk, and flipped a couple second round picks into Robin Lopez, a legitimate starting center that will improve their back line of defense. The dirty little secret about last year’s Blazers was their horrendous bench. While their starters would keep them in games and often win them, the bench would give leads back all too easily. This summer, building the bench was a focus of GM Neil Olshey and it’s shown. Aside from first round pick CJ McCollum, Portland added former top five pick Thomas Robinson, sharpshooter Dorell Wright and the perpetually overlooked Mo Williams. Now, with a rotation that goes eight or nine deep, Portland looks like a playoff competitor out West. With such talented young players, I can’t wait to watch these guys play. Also, who doesn’t love Rip City? (Besides Zach Randolph).