Welcome to another week of the CSN Insiders Notebook, where we give you the lowdown on all the happenings in the NBA courtesy of our band of Insiders.
While trade rumors never take a day off, most of the league at this point is in wait-and-see mode as far as what they’ll do to (hopefully) bolster their roster.
And then you have teams like the San Antonio Spurs, whose growth seemingly every season is organic.
Off to one of the more impressive starts in their franchise’s history, the Spurs are once again finding impact talent from unlikely sources that many teams passed over.
CSN California’s James Ham sheds some light on the latest where-did-he-come-from talent that the Spurs consistently find and soon develop into a steady contributor in what’s shaping up to be yet another NBA title run.
SPURS UNEARTH ANOTHER DIAMOND STUD: DAVIS BERTANS
San Antonio has built a franchise mining the world for diamonds in the rough. Their latest find appears to be Latvian rookie Davis Bertans. The 6-foot-10 forward has caught fire from the perimeter over his last five games, hitting 10-of-18 from behind the arc.
He was among the key players in San Antonio’s 109-103 win over Boston on Nov. 25, coming off the bench to score 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting which included 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range.
The Spurs have quietly won nine straight and they sit at 14-3 on the season. But head coach Gregg Popovich wasn’t exactly happy with his team’s effort in their 96-91 win over the Mavs on Monday nigh.
“I thought we showed a lack of humility, a lack of respect for the opponent,” Popovich told reporters following the game. “A very pathetic performance at both ends of the court. Both in execution and in grunt, in fiber, in desire. It was an awful performance.”
He had similar comments following their win at Boston on Friday, a game in which the Spurs’ bench outscored Boston’s second unit 56-30 in part because Popovich went to them early and often during the afternoon matchup. “Our first group was still in bed,” Popovich said. “It was hard to watch.” – by James Ham
DEROZAN GOAL: BECOME GREATEST RAPTOR EVER
DeMar DeRozan surprised many when he re-signed a longterm deal in Toronto without even giving his hometown teams -- the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers -- a chance.
The two-time All-Star recently spoke with Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated about his decision to stay with the Raptors, who selected him with the ninth overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft.
For DeRozan, he has a clear and undeniable goal in re-signing the Raptors.
He wants to be the franchise’s greatest player ever.
“Without a doubt. No question,” he told the Undefeated. “How many people get to say they hold one record for an organization, or were on the winningest team in Raptors history, or did this with one organization? All of those things last longer than your playing career. It took time for me to get out of the second round (of the playoffs) in Raptors history. And we did that (this year), and that’s something that is going to be there."
DeRozan added, “If we don’t do it and someone else wins a championship, they are still going to revert back to the 2015-2016 team as the best team until then. Ten, 15, 20 years from now, whatever it might be, those things last longer. It’s something you put your all into.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
WARRIORS AND EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE ‘SETTLE’ FOR 149 VS LAKERS
When the Warriors added Kevin Durant to the NBA’s highest-scoring team, scoreboards around the league were put on notice. With the four-time scoring champ now on board, how high could they go?
They’ve issued a warning, scoring 149 points in a 43-point win over the Lakers last week at Oracle Arena and surpassing by 13 points the most they had previously scored in two-plus seasons under Steve Kerr. Though that was the most points by any team this season, the Warriors believe they can go higher. Can they get 150? They believe it’s within reach.
“I don’t think a team I’ve been on has ever scored 150 points in a game,” Klay Thompson said. “I thought that would be cool. But I can settle for 149.”
Settle? That’s what Thompson said. Maybe he was aware that they came within a point of 150 despite missing six layups and 11 free throws. – by Monte Poole
JEREBKO ‘BARGAIN’ FOR CELTICS PAYING OFF
The Boston Celtics have a roster full of bargain-priced talent, a group that includes their $5 million man Jonas Jerebko. He finished off the season as a starter in the playoffs, with a return to the bench this season likely.
To his credit, Jerebko has not allowed his reduced role to affect his impact on the team’s success.
Boston has won four of the last six games with Jerebko being an instrumental part of that run. In that span, his effective field goal percentage of .974 is tops on the team in that span. And by grabbing 19.4 percent of his defensive rebound opportunities, that too is tops on the roster.
“He’s really a solid player for them,” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com. “And at the price tag, toss him into that bunch of really great bargains Danny (Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations) has going for the Celtics now.”
Indeed, Jerebko’s recent stretch of play has caught the eye of head coach Brad Stevens.
“This past week has been a really good week for him,” Stevens said. “His greatest strength is his ability to space the floor on offense for us, then mix up his cuts and energy to get baskets. And on defense, to guard multiple positions.
Stevens added, “We just need everybody to be great at what they do best. Especially in the past week to 10 days, he’s been great at what he does best.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely
DESPITE STRUGGLES, TOO SOON FOR WIZARDS MOVE
The chances that the Wizards make a roster move now? Despite a sub-.500 record, that still remains very unlikely.
League sources told CSNmidatlantic.com that the Wizards had discussions about Archie Goodwin, released by the New Orleans Pelicans, but that didn't go anywhere.
Goodwin, a 6-foot-5 guard who orchestrated his release from the Phoenix Suns before the season when he was unhappy with his role, spent one season in Kentucky like John Wall and was a late first-round pick in 2013.
The defensive effort has gotten better and with Ian Mahinmi back to help bolster the second unit, team president Ernie Grunfeld doesn’t seem likely to make a decision this early. Giving up on rookies such as Danuel House, Sheldon McClellan and Daniel Ochefu, all three on non-guarantees that are a minimal hit on the salary cap, to clear a roster spot wouldn’t make sense at this stage either. – by J. Michael
EXUM OUT OF ROTATION IN UTAH?
The (sprained right thumb) injury to George Hill was supposed to be Dante Exum’s opportunity to establish himself as a player head coach Quin Snyder could lean on going forward.
Well, the Jazz lost four of those six games and upon Hill’s return, Exum found himself back -- way, way back -- on the Utah bench. Shelvin Mack has remained the team’s backup while Exum’s minutes have diminished significantly.
The fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft has played just 13 minutes in the last two games -- both Utah wins -- since Hill’s return.
In the six games prior to that as a starter, he averaged 29.8 minutes while scoring 9.5 points to go with 3.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
While there will be some who will question Snyder’s decision to sit the former lottery pick, here’s what you have to keep in mind.
Snyder and that entire Jazz front office understands that, while developing young players is important, winning has to come first and foremost for this franchise.
Not only in terms of being successful, but also because it will play a factor in whether they can retain Gordon Hayward who is expected to opt-out of his contract and become a free agent this summer.
And while Exum may have more upside than Hill, the reason Utah acquired Hill was in large part because of his veteran experience and track record of success – two things that Exum does not have going for him. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
MELO’S TEAM NOW, PORZINGIS’ SOON … VERY SOON
Cumulative statistics are often grouped in five-game segments. In the case of Kristaps Porzingis, let's stretch it out to his last six to include two 30-point performances.
Dating back to Nov. 16, Porzingis is averaging 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. During that stretch he scored a career-high 35 points in 40 minutes against the Pistons and another 31 over 40 minutes against the Trail Blazers.
In only his second season, Porzingis is on the heels of Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks' leading scorer. As of Saturday, Anthony was averaging a team-high 23.3 points per game with Porzingis close behind at 20.7. Porzingis edged him out slightly with a 21.7 PER to Anthony's 21.5.
Still, the Knicks' remain Anthony's team. On Friday, his jumper with seconds left in overtime gave the Knicks a win over the Hornets. – by Jessica Camerato
TIMBERWOLVES ON THE PROWL TO MAKE A TRADE?
There are a bunch of teams that are just waiting for the call from Tom Thibodeau to say that he’s open to moving one of his promising, up-and-coming players. While most would agree that Minnesota’s roster has the most 21-and-under talent that you’ll find in the NBA, the pieces don’t seem like a natural fit which is why they have not been able to close out teams despite seemingly playing with a lead for large chunks of most games. Inquiries about Karl-Anthony Towns are a waste of time. The only way he’s leaving Minnesota is if one day he says he wants out, and that day isn’t anywhere close to being on the horizon.
Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine are intriguing talents who are both having career-best seasons. Do not be surprised if one of these two (Lavine the more likely) to be made available between now and the trade deadline if the Timberwolves continue to struggle at closing out games. They need at least one veteran player, preferably a defender in the frontcourt or a point guard who can shoot (Ricky Rubio does a lot of good things for them; shooting ain’t one of them) and run an offense.
One thing is clear: The idea that this team will stay as they are between now and the trade deadline is unlikely to happen if they continue to struggle so mightily at winning games. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
JIMMY BUTLER MVP CANDIDATE?
Who knows if the Chicago Bulls are for real in the context of being a Eastern Conference power but they’re sure wearing the uniform of a team deserving respect.
They finished perhaps two narrow calls away from sweeping the six-game circus trip, although the NBA’s two-minute report likely gave them no solace in losses to the Clippers and Nuggets.
At 6-5 on the road and 10-6 overall, the Bulls are second in the East, with signs this is sustainable. What’s really sustainable is the MVP-level play of Jimmy Butler, who’s raising the bar from his usual all-around performances.
In the six-game trip, Butler averaged 28.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists -- numbers that if kept up would have to place him in the conversation for MVP. He reportedly tells his teammates, “I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world,” and although one Mr. James would have something to say about that, he’s closer to telling the truth than anyone would’ve imagined. – by Vincent Goodwill
LAKERS STARTING FIVE RAVAGED BY INJURIES
Just when the revival of the Lakers was going so well, the team 7-5 through 12 games, the injury bug bared its hateful fangs.
First-year coach Luke Walton suddenly was without three-fifths of his starting lineup: point guard D’Angelo Russell, power forward Julius Randle and shooting guard Nick Young.
Boom. The Lakers lose five of seven and Walton is left searching for the silver lining.
“When you try to find a bright side in a bad situation, you get to give guys opportunities to do things the right way,” he said.
The brighter side is this: Only Russell, who underwent platelet-rich plasma therapy on his left knee, will miss more than a couple games. He’s expected back by mid-December. – by Monte Poole
GRIZZLIES ON THE WAY UP
One of the hottest teams that no one is talking much about, is the Memphis Grizzlies. With Saturday’s 110-107 overtime win at Miami, the Grizzlies have won seven of their last eight games and six straight on the road.
And they’re doing it the way they always tend to do things, which is to grind away opponents with their physical, grind-it-out defense.
The Grizzlies’ run has been fueled by their defense which has been among the NBA’s best during their last eight games.
In that span, Memphis has had a defensive rating of 95.6 which ranks 3rd in the NBA. They also rank among the top 10 in defensive rebounding percentage (.814, second), opponent points off turnovers (13,8, seventh), opponent second-chance points (11.8, eighth), opponent fast break points (10.1, sixth) and opponent points in the paint (35.0, second).
And while they are far from being an offensive juggernaut, they have used one of their great strengths -- size -- to create easier scoring opportunities via free throws.
In the last eight games, they average 19.6 made free throws which ranks 4th in the NBA while shooting 81.8 percent from line during that span which is the second-best mark in the league. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
GREG MONROE ON THE TRADE BLOCK?
Greg Monroe, the Milwaukee Bucks’ big man is averaging a career-low in minutes (17.7), points (8.4) and rebounds (6.6), although his per-36 minutes show he’s just as productive as he’s ever been.
The Bucks are playing smaller and quicker, which makes the ground-bound Monroe an awkward fit in Jason Kidd’s system -- and Monroe does have the option to opt-out of his three-year contract this summer so the Bucks have to be proactive.
If so, the New Orleans Pelicans would seem to be a good fit. Anthony Davis protects the rim as good as anyone, and they sorely need low-post scoring to complement Davis’ all-around prowess. Monroe is a New Orleans native as well. Big men who can average 16 and 10 don’t come around often, so if Monroe does come on the market, one would think he’ll have at least a few suitors. – by Vincent Goodwill
PICKING ROCKETS OVER KINGS TOUGH CALL FOR ANDERSON
The Kings finished their five-game home stand Friday night with a loss to the Houston Rockets. Sacramento went just 2-3 over the stretch, but they played four division leaders and a solid Rockets team.
For one of the few times this season, veteran Omri Casspi got some burn. Out of Dave Joerger’s rotation, Casspi found his way onto the court against Houston, playing 28 minutes in the Kings’ 117-104 loss.
Sacramento native Ryan Anderson made his first appearance at Golden 1 Center after choosing to sign with the Rockets in free agency over his hometown team.
“Man, it really was the hardest decision of my life,” Anderson told CSN California. “Obviously, there are so many factors that go into free agency. For me, I was praying like crazy, like, where am I supposed to be, give me a clue or sign.”- by James Ham
GEORGE INJURY KEEPS PACERS GROUNDED
If you had the Indiana Pacers as the first team in the “players’ only meeting” contest, give yourself a round!
The Pacers have struggled mightily in the early going after being pegged as a possible threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, and star swingman Paul George wanted to bring his team of new players together to get themselves back on track before a pattern of mediocrity is established.
“I wanted to get the guys together and kind of wanted to get them to just start seeing the game differently,” said George to the Indy Star on Thanksgiving, before the Pacers beat the Brooklyn Nets.
George’s ankle and back injuries -- along with his mortal play (20.8 points, 6.9 rebounds) has seemingly kept the Pacers from taking the next step. Missing five games and on track to miss a few more is probably the biggest reason the Pacers have underachieved. – by Vincent Goodwill
SUNS SHOOTING BLANKS; WARREN OUT INDEFINITELY
The Suns love to shoot the 3-ball, but so far this season, they haven’t connected like you would expect. Phoenix ranks 29th in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, knocking down just 31.5 percent from long range. Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are all shooting well below their career averages.
T.J. Warren is out indefinitely with a minor head injury.
“He was feeling a little off in the Indiana game on Friday,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told a Phoenix radio station. “We took him out of the game and ran a bunch of tests. I’m not going to elaborate too much on it, but he’s going to be fine. He’s starting to get back in the flow. I think he’ll be out a matter of weeks; I don’t think it will be days but I don’t think it will be months. He’ll come back and play when he’s ready.” – by James Ham
LOVE IN SELECT COMPANY TO START THIS SEASON
Figuring out Kevin Love has been the biggest mystery for the Cleveland Cavaliers the last few seasons, considering his shooting skills and ability to rebound like few others in the NBA.
But it looks like they’ve unlocked Love this season, as evidenced by his NBA-record 34-point first quarter against the Portland Trailblazers a few nights ago, where Love scored 40 and hit eight triples.
Averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds, he and Anthony Davis are the only ones averaging 22 and 10 rebounds this season. If the champs have indeed figured out the final piece to an already-full puzzle, they will play second-fiddle to no one. – by Vincent Goodwill
WESTBROOK’S VIDEO GAME-LIKE NUMBERS STILL GOING STRONG
Russell Westbrook continued his torrid early season pace this week, picking up three more triple-doubles, giving him six on the season. Westbrook is leading the league in scoring at 32 points per game, but he’s also averaging 10.9 assists and 9.8 rebounds.
“16 years in the league, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player like him,” Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters on Friday. “His strength, his size, his athleticism, his explosiveness, his attack mindset -- just a phenomenal player. He plays like someone pissed in his Cheerios every morning.”
Despite Westbrook’s big numbers, the Thunder are just 3-7 over their last 10 games and sit at 9-8 on the season. – by James Ham
PISTONS SPUTTER WITHOUT JACKSON
What’s wrong with the Detroit Pistons? Is it just the absence of point guard Reggie Jackson, who’s recovering from a knee procedure in the preseason? They’ve lost five of their last seven games, have just one win on the road and are 8-10 after entering the season with some lofty expectations.
Andre Drummond may be counted on to do more if the Pistons are to shake this sluggish start. Being intentionally fouled in the waning moments of a 99-96 loss to Houston put the spotlight on his critically-criticized free-throw shooting yet again, and he stayed after the game working on his shot well after everyone left the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Even when Jackson returns, the spotlight will still be on the man who signed the largest deal in franchise history -- and he’ll have to live up to it. His numbers are down so far across the board, and although he’s playing fewer minutes than last season, he’ll have to take more upon his shoulders because of the added pressure. – by Vincent Goodwill
SEE THE 3, SHOOT THE 3… A LOT
The Rockets were grateful for the three-point line the day after Thanksgiving.
They set a league record with 50 three-point attempts in Friday’s 117-104 win over the Kings. The Rockets connected on 21 of them for a 42.0 percent performance.
Eric Gordon led the way with 12 attempts off the bench (he made four). Trevor Ariza (six made) and James Harden (four made) each shot 11. Ryan Anderson (3 for 7), Patrick Beverley (2 for 4), Sam Dekker (1 for 3) and Corey Brewer (2 for 2) rounded out the rest.
The Rockets are atop the NBA with 37.1 attempts per game. They are second with 13.8 made and fifth with a 37.3 percentage.
The Mavericks held the previous three-point attempt record with 49 against the Nets 20 years ago in 1996. – by Jessica Camerato
HAWKS' SPLITTER (CALF STRAIN) OUT AT LEAST SIX WEEKS
Tiago Splitter has had yet another setback and this was to another body part. According to the team, Splitter has a “Grade 2 right calf strain” – essential a tear in the muscle – and will miss a minimum of six weeks.
Splitter hasn’t been on the court this season because of right hip surgery and a “related” hamstring strain. Since he was traded by the Spurs in the summer of 2015, Splitter has played in just 36 games for Atlanta.
The Spurs flipped him for a protected 2017 second-round pick and the draft rights to Georgios Printezis. It also created cap room to land LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency – by J. Michael
HORNETS STUNG (AGAIN) BY INJURY
Marvin Williams went down with what the Hornets have called a hyper-extended left knee, and he left the court limping.
The Hornets have come down to earth after a 5-1 start, and if Williams is out for any prolonged period it will push his backup, Frank Kaminsky, into duty as the starting power forward.
A defensive-oriented team under coach Steve Clifford, the Hornets have allowed 100-plus points in four consecutive games -- all losses -- entering Saturday. – by J. Michael
PERIMETER INJURIES PILE UP FOR THE HEAT
The Heat already are without forward Justise Winslow (left wrist), and now have their best perimeter player, point guard Goran Dragic, ailing with a left elbow strain.
"His elbow doesn't have a lot of movement, and I think you saw that the other night," coach Erik Spoelstra said before Dragic, who is left-handed, sat Friday's game vs. the Grizzlies. "It was really more of a hindrance. He wasn't able to be effective."
Rodney McGruder started for Dragic and Tyler Johnson had a major bump in his role off the bench. But with Wayne Ellington (right thigh bruise) yet to play this season, the Heat lack backcourt depth beyond that. – by J. Michael
CLIPPERS LATEST ON BOARD THE COWBOYS BANDWAGON
After crushing the Mavericks on Wednesday in Dallas, the Clippers stayed in Big D for Thanksgiving. The highlight of the day was a trip to AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL Cowboys, where they hitched a ride on the bandwagon of America’s Team.
Oh, the fun the Clippers had. Blake Griffin, launching passes. DeAndre Jordan, in a Cowboys T-shirt, was running pass patterns. Chris Paul, wearing a Cowboys ski cap, posing for pictures with team owner Jerry Jones. The coach, Doc Rivers, also participated in this team-bonding session.
Ah, yes. There is nothing like having fun on the road.
The immediate results, however, were not good. The Clippers played Friday night in Detroit and took their worst loss of the season, 108-97, to the Pistons.
“They came out with so much more energy than we did in the first 10 minutes,” Rivers said afterward. “And it’s tough to dig yourselves out of a big hole on the road.” – by Monte Poole
DALLAS GEARING UP FOR SOME HOME COOKING
When you look at all the injuries that the Dallas Mavericks have endured in this still-young NBA season, it’s not a surprise that they have struggled so mightily in the Western Conference.
But what is lost in their historically bad start, has been the fact that most of their games played have been on the road.
That’s about to change, and if they have their way, so will the trajectory of their season.
After having 10 of their first 15 games on the road, the Mavericks will play in front of their fans in six of the next seven.
By no means will that be the elixir that’ll fix all their problems. But at least at home there’s a sense that maybe, just maybe, the Mavericks can at least tilt their season towards respectability after what has been one of the worst starts in franchise history. – by A. Sherrod Blakely