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Around the Association

Welcome to Around the Association, a new semi-regular post here at Saving the Skyhook. It will be similar to the Thoughts on the NBA posts from a few months ago, but this time we’re getting input from the whole staff. These are thoughts or ideas about teams, players, specific plays, etc. that are too long for tweets but not quite long enough for their own post. Enjoy.

Big Ups for Big Al: Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9)

Signing Al Jefferson to a 3 year, $41 million deal in the summer may have been confusing to some, but don’t include the Charlotte Bobcats among them. After winning just 21 games and being once again one of the worst teams in the league, the Bobcats wanted to get out of the misery that is the Eastern Conference basement. And bringing Big Al aboard was just what they needed.

They’re still a few games under .500 at 31-34, but that’s already 10 more games than they won all of last year, and with the East being worse than usual, they’re firmly in the playoffs.

Last night they picked up a big road win over the Wizards, thanks to another huge game from Jefferson, which has become a common theme this season. Big Al finished with 26 points on 13-20 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds as well. On the season he’s averaging 21 and 10 a night, one of only five guys in the league putting up those numbers. (The others being Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.) If Jefferson hadn’t missed nine games at the beginning of the season, the Bobcats would more than likely be above .500 and possibly looking at a five or six seed.

Just take a look at the myriad of ways he scored in the post against Marcin Gortat last night. He scored with his back to the basket, turned and faced for jumpers; even pump faked and drove to the rim for a finger roll. It was a master’s class in post scoring, and a microcosm of how Jefferson has played all year in Charlotte.

Big ups for Big Al. I can’t wait to see this team in the playoffs.

 

The Other MVP Candidate: Michael Wesson (@iamWesson)

At the start of the season, there were questions about just how tough was Blake Griffin. We had seen the Memphis Grizzles’ Zach Randolph abuse Griffin in the post during their first round playoff match-up. And to make matters even worse, his form teammate Chanucey Billups said he was soft in an interview with First Take during the NBA Finals last season.

I believe Blake heard all of the chatter and came out this year to prove something. Also having his new head coach, Doc Rivers, in the fold to help him reach that level comes to mind. Doc Rivers coached one of the toughest players in the league the past 5 seasons in Kevin Garnett so he is able to advise Blake on how toughness looks and how it shouldn’t. One thing to point out as well is the much-heralded work ethic by many people around the Clippers organization. Blake put in tremendous effort to improve his jump shot this off-season, and it seems to be paying off in a big way this season.

According to Basketball Reference, this season Blake Griffin’s percentage of field goal attempts that are dunks are at the lowest in his career at .142. Surprisingly enough, he is shooting 39% from the field on shots that are between 10-16 feet from the basket, while also posting an impressive 40% on 2-pt field goal attempts that are over 16 feet from the basket, the highest in his four year career. And we also have to point out that in the 65 games played, he is averaging 24.4 point per game, which is best for 6th in the league and 9.6 rebounds per game, best for 11th in the league. Blake Griffin is doing all of this with Chris Paul missing a little over a month of action and also trying to catapult the Clippers to the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Currently, the Clippers are sitting at the 3 seed.

When Griffin is averaging a double-double per game, the Clippers are one of the dangerous teams in the NBA. And most people would say that while Chris Paul was out he carried the team and kept them afloat along with a vast number of injuries that have struck the a couple of the most important Clippers, like Redick and Crawford. We all know that the MVP race in the public eyes is between Kevin Durant and Lebron James, but just know that there is a guy in Los Angeles right now trying to duplicate what NBA great Karl Malone was able to do for years during his tenure in the league; and that is become the best Power Forward and one of the top players in the NBA. While we awe in the evolution of Blake Griffin we should take time to appreciate the movement that is ‘Griffin Force’.

 

LeBron James is Human After All: Matthew Hochberg (@MatthewHochberg)

LeBron James is human after all. Following his historic 61-point performance against the Charlotte Bobcats on March 3, in which he shot 66.7 percent from the field and 80 percent from beyond the arc, the Miami Heat superstar is now (just) averaging 20 points per contest while shooting less than 45 percent from field-goal range and 29.4 percent from three-point land in his last five games. The Heat are 1-4 in these matchups, but there still shouldn’t be much reason to worry. The two-time defending champions are still the team to beat and boast the league’s fourth-best record. Come playoff time, no one should be surprised if The King and his teammates are crowned winners of the Finals yet again.

 

Depth Getting it Done in Brooklyn: Sam Kuperman (@samkoop)

When talking about the Nets 96-95 victory over the Heat last night, it’s easy to talk about the star players. Sure Paul Pierce was a man on a mission against Miami, dropping 29 points and draining 5 threes. Yes, Deron Williams did hit a huge step back jumper with 35 seconds left to give the Nets a four-point lead. However, it’s the guys that aren’t being mentioned very much that are the key to how far this Brooklyn team can go come playoff time.

Despite getting off to a 10-21 start this year, the Nets are now 33-30 and are rapidly jumping up in the Eastern Conference Standings, currently in position of the 5th seed. Brooklyn has gone on this surge in 2014 without Brook Lopez, the team’s injured all-star center. Since then, backup centers Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee have played a major role in helping the Nets turn around their season.

Blatche, is a 7 footer with the dribbling skills of a point guard and a potent 15-20 foot jump shot. He has been instrumental in anchoring that second unit for the Nets. Dray is averaging 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in just over 22 minutes per contest. This eurostep finish against the Grizzlies pretty much sums up Blatche’s game.

Plumlee meanwhile, provides the athleticism and shot-blocking ability that many pundits questioned about this team early on. For a guy that the Nets were planning on keeping at the end of the bench for most of the year, Plumlee is doing pretty well for himself, averaging 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. He has even started the last 7 games for Brooklyn, with Kevin Garnett sidelined with back spasm.

Also in the frontcourt Mirza Teletovic has played nicely at the 4. Teletovic can now do more than simply knock down 3’s. The Bosnian big man can now put the ball on the floor, crash the boards, and even can provide a solid presence on defense. Just check out his highlights from last night, and you’ll see what type of impact he can have for this Brooklyn team.

Finally, you can’t forget Marcus Thornton, who the Nets acquired from Sacramento at the trade deadline. The Bayou Bomber has had several huge games for the Nets, including this past Sunday when he posted 27 points (15 in the 4th quarter) against his former team.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Andrei Kirilenko, who didn’t even play last night due to injury. It’s no coincidence that since AK47 recovered from back spasms that kept him out most of the first 2 months of the season, the Nets started winning. Kirilenko is the Nets best perimeter defender, and his versatility gives the Nets numerous options as far as lineups go.

There’s obviously plenty of other role players I didn’t get to talk about but the bottom line is this, if the Nets continue to get big production off the bench (Brooklyn had a 38-13 advantage in scoring off the bench last night), Jason Kidd will be a very happy head coach.

jmaloney