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David Aldridge

Terrence Ross
The Raptors' recent roster changes have resulted in the most successful stretch in Toronto in years.

Winning stretch raises an NBA quandary (of sorts) for Raptors


Posted Jan 6, 2014 10:30 AM

There's a phrase used in sports: "Fool's Gold." I prefer to think of it as The Ledell Eackles Quandary.

Back in the late 1980s and early '90s, the (then-) Washington Bullets had a guard named Ledell Eackles. He was 6-foot-5, about 220-225 when he was in shape (he was listed at 231), and could basically do anything on offense. (For Eackles, not unlike many other players, defense was merely the interval that had to be endured before he got the ball again.)

Eackles could shoot 3-pointers with ease. He could get to the cup effortlessly in two dribbles and finish through contact. He could post up most two guards, and he could rebound his position. The problem for the Bullets was, he didn't do these things consistently. Part of the problem was it usually took him about three months to finally get in NBA shape, by which time the Bullets were often hopelessly out of the playoff race.

But in March and April, there wasn't a better two guard in the league.

In one three-game stretch in March of 1990, Eackles replaced an injured Jeff Malone in the Bullets' starting lineup. He scored 31 on Michael Jordan and the Bulls, a career-high 40 on the Nets and 33 against Philly and the always-solid Hersey Hawkins. The following season, he averaged almost 18 a game over the Bullets' final 20 games of the season. And it wasn't a fluke.

But it didn't mean anything in the big picture. The Bullets were awful, and Eackles didn't do much to change when he could have made a difference. Yet for several seasons, Washington wondered if the March-April Eackles would ever show in November and December. That's Fool's Gold.

This is the dilemma the Toronto Raptors face this morning.

A team that has been moribund for the last five or six seasons is in first place in the Atlantic Division, and may be playing the league's best basketball east of the Bay Area. Their young core group is playing at both ends of the court, scoring wins over the last three weeks in Oklahoma City, at home against Indiana and on the road in Dallas. The Raptors beat the Knicks in a home-and-home, came back on the road to beat Chicago and blew out the Wizards in D.C. Even after Sunday's narrow loss in Miami, the Raptors are at .500 after 32 games for the first time in six seasons -- the last time they made the playoffs.

But is it real?

It is a question that general manager Masai Ujiri is paid well to try and answer. But it is a tough call, especially in a season where the Eastern Conference is so uniformly underperforming.

The Raptors, like the Suns and Celtics, were supposedly high on the Tank List going into the season. That perception only gained more traction once Ujiri dealt leading scorer Rudy Gay (and his big salary) in December, sending Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Kings for Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes.

But instead of imploding, Toronto has gone 10-4 since the trade.

"When we traded Rudy, everybody was saying, 'They're tanking, they're tanking,' " Coach Dwane Casey said. "But the guys really stood up. Matter of fact, it's an insult to players to say they're tanking in order to bring some young guy in. They're saying, 'I'm as good as those guys.' "

After being the league's punching bag the first two months of the season, the entire Atlantic had a renaissance last week.

The Nets won in OKC on another last-second shot from Joe Johnson. The Knicks won in San Antonio on an Iman Shumpert 3-pointer in the final minute and won in Dallas on Sunday, too. The Sixers won four straight on their Western road trip, including a Saturday night victory in Portland. All of a sudden, Tankapalooza has been put off.

Sometimes, people forget these are professional athletes who don't like to be told they're quitters.

"Me, I think I was extra pissed off," forward DeMar DeRozan said. "I'm in here with these guys every day, working extremely hard, and I see how hard we work. It's not a fluke. So I just find it disrespectful when people put us down like that, when I understand how hard we work, and how hard every guy in the locker room wants to win."

But few teams in recent memory have been as much on the knife's edge as Toronto is today. The franchise has to answer a series of questions: How good is its core of center Jonas Valanciunas, guard Terrence Ross and DeRozan? Can you build a contending team around it?

What to do with point guard Kyle Lowry? He's been on the trading block the past few weeks, but he's also been playing his best basketball in Toronto during that span. If you keep him, what do you pay him? (He's a free agent at season's end.) And if you trade him, with whom do you replace him?

What to do with Casey, in his third season with the Raps since coming from Rick Carlisle's staff in Dallas, and whose contract is up at season's end?

And, to the point, should Toronto keep this team together and see how far it can go, or start selling off as many parts as possible to give the Raptors both maximum cap flexibility next summer and the best chance to pick a potential franchise player in the Draft -- maybe a certain college freshman who happens to be Canadian and whom everyone in the nation (not following the Maple Leafs, Canucks, Jets, Canadiens or Flames) desperately wants to play for the country's only NBA team?

"I think the team is going to make the decision for itself," Ujiri said Saturday. "When I got the job, it's almost like we're in, I don't want to call it a win-win situation. If we continue to win, it means the young players are getting better. If we don't continue to win, it means we have to figure out a way to rebuild. But the players deserve credit. I think they've shown so much character and so much fight, and I think they've shown their talent, too."

Gay's shortcomings have been well documented by the analytics crowd -- high-volume shooter, low percentage maker, ball-stopper. Others who aren't as enamored with the new math point out that a player capable of scoring 20 a night isn't someone that should be so cavalierly dismissed.

"He's a hell of a scorer," Lowry said. "I think he can put up 30 points, 25 points. That's his game. He's a scorer. I don't blame him for anything. He shouldn't be blamed for anything. I would never say that he should be blamed. His job is to score the ball. That's what he was out there for. That's what he's paid to do."

Now, understand: Lowry was the best man at Gay's wedding in the offseason. "That's my best friend," Lowry said of his former teammate, with whom he still speaks almost every day.

Lowry and Gay were both drafted by Memphis in the first round of the 2006 Draft. They played 2 1/2 seasons together with the Grizz before Lowry was traded to the Rockets in February of 2009.

"I'm always going to defend him," Lowry said. "I'm always going to fight for him. Always. It's part of the business. Honestly, we talked about it. Everyone talked about it and knew things were going to happen. We all felt like it was going to happen. We just took it in stride."

Others also don't want to speak badly of a former teammate who was well-liked in the locker room, but the bottom line is the bottom line. Toronto was last in the league in assists before the trade. Gay was willing to take the big shot, but the Raptors are a more efficient team on offense. Gay was willing to guard LeBron James and James Harden, but the Raptors are a better defensive team.

"We were trying to figure out the same solution when he was here," DeRozan said. "We just didn't have time to figure it out and get clicking as fast as we wanted. It kind of looks bad, like he's the villain. He's not. We was trying to figure out this thing during training camp."

The change didn't start with Gay's departure. The genesis was Ujiri's trade of forward Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks last summer. That move did two things: clear playing time for Amir Johnson and finally rid the franchise of feeling compelled to find minutes for a former No. 1 overall pick. And after the Gay trade, everything fits smoother still.

There is no understanding chemistry. Maria could have married Chino and had a perfectly good life on the West side of New York. But she felt no magic. Then, she looked across a dance hall and saw a boy at whom she should have never given a second glance -- just as he looked at her. You can't explain why they fell in love. It just happened.

Why did Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland work so well together? Or Simon and Garfunkel? Or D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince? Who can say? But the Raptors look like a much more cohesive team since Gay's departure. It was in Gay's DNA; he had to pat the ball.

Ross, Toronto's 2012 first-rounder, eats way too much candy and is still too enamored with video games. But the 22-year-old has, so far, replaced Gay without a hitch, shooting 43 percent (33 of 76) from 3-point range. Toronto is not running anything for him -- he's just spotting up and waiting in the corners, or out to the wings.

Suddenly, the ball is flying around, as the Raptors go from one pick and roll to the next until someone -- Lowry or Vasquez or Salmons -- can turn the corner and compromise the defense. If there's not a drive to the basket or a corner 3-pointer available for Ross or DeRozan, the four man -- Johnson or Patterson -- steps out, as far as the foul line, where each can drain jumpers.

"It's a fit as far as the spacing," Casey said. "T-Ross is more of a 3-point shooter, a spacer, and Rudy and DeMar kind of command the same space on the court. Rudy and DeMar are the same guy. Right now, Rudy is a little more advanced than DeMar, but they're the same guy."

Defensively, the Raptors have sucked up opponent attempts in the paint since the trade. Entering play Sunday, among players who play more than 30 minutes a night, DeRozan and Johnson are ninth and 10th in the league in lowest opponent percentage of shots at the rim, at 43.1 and 43.6 percent, respectively, according to NBA.com's player tracking info. Against the Pacers, Toronto's guards harassed George Hill into six turnovers and the Pacers into a season-high 23.

Former GM Bryan Colangelo took a lot of heat for taking Valanciunas fifth overall in the 2011 Draft, given that the 7-foot-2 center was committed to playing overseas for a year before coming to the NBA. But he gambled Valanciunas would be worth the wait. The Raptors don't know quite yet who was right, given that Valanciunas has yet to play 100 NBA games. But he shows signs of slow, steady progress.

The Gay trade thus advanced Casey's main charge from management this season: find out what we have in Ross, DeRozan and Valanciunas. The Raptors committed to DeRozan on a $38 million extension last year, but that was Colangelo's contract, not Ujiri's. Toronto may well keep all three, but the Raptors will have to know what they have by season's end. That uncertainty is why Toronto was, and is, reluctant to go full rebuild.

The Raptors look to the Warriors as their template, both in terms of fan base -- Toronto, like Golden State, has given its team very strong support through some very lean seasons -- and on the court. The Warriors had to move Monta Ellis to find out exactly what they had in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Casey had to play Valanciunas and Ross in the fourth quarters of games and see what they could do on their own, without Gay around to bail them out and take the ball out of their hands.

Ujiri's experience in Denver also comes into play in Toronto. He's seen both sides of the coin. He had a superstar in Carmelo Anthony that demanded the ball and deference from his teammates, and that formula got the Nuggets to one conference final. After Anthony demanded a trade, Ujiri skillfully played the Knicks and Nets against one another until he got a monster haul from New York and others: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Ray Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos and Draft picks.

Ujiri wound up with a deep team with no superstar. The Nuggets added Andre Iguodala last season and rocketed to a franchise-best 57 wins. But their first-round loss to the Warriors so spooked ownership that George Karl was fired, and Ujiri soon left for the Raptors, where he was Colangelo's assistant GM (2008-10) before going to Denver.

Gay is not in Anthony's class, but the haul Ujiri brought in for him from Sacramento has had the same effect on the Raptors as the ex-Knicks had for the Nuggets. Now, instead of bringing Landry Fields, Austin Daye or Dwight Buycks off the bench, Casey can go to Vasquez (an ex-starter in New Orleans), or Salmons (a starter in Sacramento, Chicago and Milwaukee), or Patterson (a former Rockets first-rounder whom Houston was very reluctant to part with last season).

"We needed a guy like Patterson who was a stretch four," Casey said. "Salmons gives us a ballhandler when we go to the second unit. It was a fit more than anything else."

The flip side is that Toronto doesn't have a signature player around which to build. Gay's departure does clear $17 million (and $19 million next season) off the books

Ujiri does not want to be stuck in the great middle of Eastern Conference mediocrity, above the bottom feeders but well below the rarified air of the Heat and Pacers. Yet, wouldn't any playoff experience, however brief, for a team where Johnson's 11 career playoff games in Detroit qualifies him as a wizened vet, be beneficial? Wouldn't that be especially true if Toronto somehow won the Atlantic and could avoid Miami or Indy in the first round?

That also feeds into the Raptors' uncertainty with Lowry, who's playing some of the best basketball of his career. He's "done a 180" in his approach since the Gay trade, according to a team source. The likelihood is that Lowry is gone, either by the trade deadline or this summer. The Raptors simply can't put a lot of years or money into him, given their desire to add another significant piece in the next year or two. But they don't want to give him away.

A proposed deal with the Knicks that would have sent Lowry to New York last month fell through when Knicks chairman James Dolan scotched the trade. Teams are still calling; the Raptors are still mulling.

"I'm going to do my job until something happens," Lowry said. "That's all I can do."

For his part, Casey has been told that he will not be evaluated on wins and losses, but on the development of the team's young players -- and his own coaching staff. Ujiri certainly could have brought in his own man to coach the team this season, but he's giving Casey the entire year to make his case.

"As a coach, I understand Masai," Casey said. "We're all on the same page. We know the clamoring for all the other stuff. But as a coach, I have to coach to win, and that's all Masai has told me to do. They're learning how to win and are putting themselves in a position to win."

There are no guarantees that any of this will be operative by the end of the season. The Raptors will certainly pick up Johnson's $7 million option, but they have decisions to make on Salmons's $7 million option.

Steve Novak, acquired in the Bargnani deal, has been a DNP the past several games. He has two years and more than $7 million due him. Fields, due $6.25 million next season, is not in the rotation. More payroll has to be trimmed to give the Raptors a real shot at free agents this summer, and Toronto already used its amnesty on Linas Kleiza.

The long-suffering and understandably cynical Canadian fan base isn't sure whether to believe, lest its faith be crushed again, or go all in. The team has already made its decision.

"It's been building, the toughness," Lowry said. "Just our attitude about approaching the game, and when things don't go right, we stay positive and know we're going to get through the situation."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(last week's ranking in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)

1) Miami [1] (3-1): Dwyane Wade finally plays in back-to-back games over the weekend, goes 13-28 from the floor.

2) Indiana [3] (3-1): Remember when everyone thought that the Pacers were desperate to trade for Eric Gordon, that Indy had to send Danny Granger or someone to New Orleans to get Gordon to play the two? Remember that? Good times.

3) Oklahoma City [2] (2-2): Thunder 4-2 since Westbrook's surgery.

4) Portland [4] (2-2): First-round pick C.J. McCollum (broken foot) finally makes his pro debut with the Blazers' NBA D-League affiliate in Idaho.

5) San Antonio [5] (2-1): Major injuries to West opponents (CP3, Westbrook) again lining up in the Spurs' favor if they can get to the playoffs healthy and finish high enough for home-court advantage.

6) Golden State [7] (4-0): Source says despite reports, Warriors are not making a move for disgruntled Nuggets guard Andre Miller.

7) Houston [6] (1-1): Now that Gasol isn't going anywhere, the next Omer Asik trade rumor leaked in 3, 2 ...

8) L.A. Clippers [8] (2-2): Darren Collison checks in to save the season.

9) Dallas [9] (2-2): Mavs sluggish in back-to-back home losses as they continue taking one step forward, two steps back. Dirk bummin'.

10) Atlanta [10] (1-2): Hawks continue to play extremely hard, and Paul Millsap extremely well, but will be extremely difficult to sustain much without Al Horford the rest of the season.

11) Phoenix [11] (2-1): Kendall Marshall would come in handy right about now, wouldn't he? But Suns will have to get by without game-changer Eric Bledsoe (sprained knee) for a week by other methods.

12) Toronto [NR] (3-1): After game at Indy Tuesday, Raptors' schedule softens dramatically, giving them a chance to build on their strong last two weeks

13) Minnesota [12] (1-2): I think the Wolves' radio play by play guy thought a foul should have been called on Shawn Marion at the end of the Dallas-Minnesota game last week.

14) Denver [14] (2-2): Danilo Gallinari is doing more work, but still no definitive word on when he might get back to full on-court activities as he continues his rehab.

15) New Orleans [15] (2-2): Pelicans can't keep their core group healthy: Ryan Anderson (cervical stinger Friday in Boston) the latest to go down.

Dropped out: Washington (13).

TEAM OF THE WEEK (TIE)

Golden State (4-0): Huge week. Victories at Orlando, a statement win (if ever there was one) Wednesday at Miami in which the Warriors took the Heat's defense apart, a miracle win at Atlanta Friday (on Andre Iguodala's game-winning 3-pointer) and a come-from-behind win Sunday at Washington that included a 33-5 run. That makes nine straight wins overall for the Dubs, their longest win streak in 38 years.

Philadelphia (3-0): 76ers beat the Nuggets, Kings and -- improbably -- Portland to close out their western road trip with four straight wins, having beaten the Lakers a week ago Sunday. Thaddeus Young, supposedly on the trade block, shoots 57 percent from the floor for the week, including 14 of 20 Saturday night in Portland en route to 30 points in the Sixers' 101-99 win.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Washington (1-3): Wizards lose three straight at home after finally getting back to .500, scoring 78 against Dallas and then getting smoked by the Raptors and Warriors -- scoring just 60 points in the final three quarters against Golden State after putting up 36 in the first quarter Sunday night.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Are the Splash Brothers, Golden State's Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, really the best-shooting backcourt in NBA history?

When their coach, Mark Jackson, made this declaration last year, the reflexive reaction was to think Jackson was crazy, boastful to the point of parody, disdainful of history, or some combination of all three.

"My backcourt," Jackson said Sunday afternoon, without hesitation, "is the best-shooting backcourt tandem in the history of the game. And it's not even close."

With six 3-pointers against Washington Sunday night, Thompson took over the league lead in 3-pointers made, with 110. Curry, who was just 1 of 5 from deep Sunday, now has 106 3-pointers, third in the league to Portland's Damian Lillard (109). Portland's shooting guard, Wes Matthews, is fourth with 90. No other backcourt is close.

If Jackson is going strictly by the percentages over a season or career, right now, though, Curry and Thompson wouldn't make the cut. Just to pick out one backcourt of recent vintage: in the 1987-88 season, Portland's Clyde Drexler shot 50.6 percent overall and his backcourt mate, Terry Porter, shot 51.9 percent. Neither Curry nor Thompson have finished a season shooting better than 50 percent overall.

This season, Curry is shooting 44.5 percent overall, 40.4 percent on 3-pointers. Thompson is shooting 46 percent overall (42 percent on 3-pointers).

But if Jackson's talking about shooting range -- how deep each guard can go out on the court and consistently make shots -- he might well be right. Drexler and Porter were lousy 3-point shooters. Curry and Thompson seem to have no limits; each can shoot effortlessly from three or four steps behind the line.

"Whatever you want to rank 'shooting,' my two guys are the greatest shooting, jump-shooting tandem, that this league has ever seen," Jackson said. "And that's not even close. And I'm not guessing. I've watched all the greats, and it's with all due respect."

Does Jackson have supporters for his view? Well, let's just say his claim is not out there with those who say they've seen the Loch Ness Monster.

"Hard to argue Mark's point," Reggie Miller e-mails.

"I would have to put a little thought into it," texted Mark Price, one of the game's all-time best shooters, on Saturday afternoon, "but from a pure shooting standpoint to have 2 guys that can shoot it like that, it would be hard to find a duo that shoots it better at both positions."

Some might argue Jackson's claim lacks context, considering that the 3-pointer wasn't introduced into the NBA until 1979, and even after its adoption, it wasn't an integral part of NBA offenses for many years.

Michael Jordan shot 20.2 percent from behind the arc his first five pro seasons. You may recall, well into his career, he was as stunned as anyone when he dropped in six threes in the first half of Game 1 of the 1992 Finals. Great players like Sam Jones, Hal Greer, Jerry West, Lou Hudson and countless others surely could have been great 3-point shooters had it been an accepted part of the game in their day.

"I've always said I would have averaged more points in college, because I would have taken the shot," said Jeff Hornacek, one of the best shooters of his day, and now the Suns' head coach. "But we didn't have the 3-point line."

Despite Jackson's certainty, if we're going to explore this, there are a few backcourts that have to be given strong consideration for their shooting prowess. (Not scoring; if that were the case, the likes of Clyde Frazier and Earl Monroe, or Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, would be on the short list.)

Here are a few. Not all; a few:

Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney, 76ers, 1982-84: Foot injuries to Toney, gruesomely nicknamed "The Boston Strangler" for his great playoff performances against the Celtics, limited the length of this backcourt's run. But for the first half of the '80s, when the Sixers contended for -- and, in '83, finally won -- the NBA title, Cheeks and Toney were deadly. In '83-'84, the season after Philly beat the Lakers in The Finals in six games, Cheeks shot 55 percent from the floor; Toney, 53 percent.

John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek, Jazz, 1994-97: Utah's two marksmen would likely be graded down by today's analytics crowd. They lived foul line extended and were masters of the 20-footer -- which, as we all know now, is The Worst Shot in the History of Basketball. Yet they somehow teamed with Karl Malone to lead Utah to back-to-back Finals appearances against the Bulls and were key as the Jazz racked up 20 straight playoff-bound seasons. Hornacek started his career with the Suns, where he teamed with the quicksilver Kevin Johnson in Phoenix's backcourt. They would have been on this list, too, if not for Johnson's terrible 3-point shooting -- Johnson never shot better than 21.7 percent behind the arc while teamed with Hornacek, though he eventually shot as high as 44 percent on threes late in his career.

In '94-'95, Stockton and Hornacek both shot better than 40 percent on threes, with Stockton shooting 54 percent overall, Hornacek 51 percent. (Worth noting: that season, the NBA shortened the 3-point line -- 22 feet in the corners extending to 23 feet, nine inches at the top of the key -- to a uniform 22 feet around the basket.)

"It's always hard to compare guys," Hornacek said Sunday morning.

"John and I were guys who took what was open," he continued. "We shot the ball well. Steph can pull up off the dribble, in traffic. They're two of the better guys we've seen at those positions. But John and I could shoot it a little, too."

Jerry Sloan's offense predicated his guards get in the paint to set back picks. Stockton earned a reputation as one of the toughest (and, some argued, incorrectly, dirtiest) players of his time in large part because of the sharp elbows he'd use to free up Karl Malone on the block.

"In Coach Sloan's offense, it was more inside the 3-point line, where you could get some kickouts," Hornacek said. "For the three man, actually, it was easier to get threes, because we were running the three man guy with Karl. John and I were inside the line, and in transition, obviously, we could pull up. But it's a different game now."

Jackson's response: "Hornacek -- great shooter. John Stockton -- good to very good shooter. Not a great shooter. Don't get me wrong. He was an all-time great player. But John Stockton would not be considered a great shooter."

Oscar Robertson and Jon McGlocklin, Cincinnati, 1965-67: Milwaukee, 1970-74: Robertson's first season with the Bucks after spending his career with the Cincinnati Royals resulted in a championship for Milwaukee in just its third season of existence. Such things happen when you draft Lew Alcindor No. 1 overall in 1969 and acquire perhaps the greatest point guard to ever play the game a year later. Robertson shot just under 50 percent (.496) from the floor; McGlocklin, an All-Star two years prior, shot 53.5 percent. Both were deadly at the foul line as well (Robertson shot 85 percent; McGlocklin, 86). The Big O averaged 19.4 ppg that season, the first time in his career he'd averaged fewer than 24.7 ppg. Then again, he'd never played with a center like Alcindor, who averaged 31.7 ppg in his second season.

"Our starting five, all but Oscar, shot 50 percent," McGlocklin, the Bucks' longtime color commentator, said by phone Sunday evening.

"Back then, every team had five or six guys who could shoot," he said. "Now, guys shoot 38, 39 percent. That's sick. I don't know what [Curry's and Thompson's] percentages are. I think they are spectacular young players. I think they're more dramatic in the way they play and shoot. Oscar was almost methodical, but he was perfect. He was the most perfect basketball player who's ever lived. Fundamentally, skill-wise, he was perfect. I wasn't spectacular in terms of getting them off like those guys, but I think we were as effective."

Hall of Fame Coach Larry Costello ran a variation of the triangle in Milwaukee. The looks McGlocklin got playing off of Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after the championship season, were the same ones that Steve Kerr and Ron Harper got a generation later -- except they were two-pointers then.

"As good a shooter as I was deep, I would have been taking them," McGlocklin said. Costello "would have had to sit me down ... the coach I played for, and you've got Kareem, would not have necessarily promoted the three. Larry would probably have had a tough time adjusting to it."

Vern Fleming and Reggie Miller, Indiana, 1987-1991: Miller made his first All-Star team in his third season, averaging 24.6 ppg while shooting a career-best 51 percent from the floor and 41 percent behind the arc in 1990. Fleming, nicknamed "Squeak" for his high-pitched voice, was an efficient shooter throughout his career and the '89-90 season was no different, as he shot 50.8 percent from the field. That early incarnation of the Pacers, which featured Miller and Chuck Person, battled the Celtics in the playoffs. But the franchise didn't break through until nearly a decade later, when Miller teamed with a veteran point by the name of Mark Jackson and made The Finals in 2000. Jackson was a pedestrian shooter; even adjusting for threes, his true shooting percentage that season was .538, well below Miller's robust .603.

"Reggie held me back," Jackson, the career 44.7 percent shooter, says with a laugh.

Miller says that "maybe" Gail Goodrich and West, or Price and Craig Ehlo, compare with Curry and Thompson.

"The fact you have to know Stef n Klay's whereabouts in transition and as soon as they cross over half court is what makes them so dangerous," Miller wrote in the e-mail. "If they only had a REAL low-post scorer who demanded a double team, then the Warriors would almost be unbeatable (L Aldridge or D Howard)."

But, was Thompson a better shooter than him?

"Oh Lord, as a tandem Curry/Thompson would out shoot us easily," Miller said. "As for Klay n myself, he shouldn't be mentioned with me ... Today I could out shoot him!!!!"

Mark Price and Craig Ehlo, Cleveland, 1989-93: Price originally teamed with Harper, whose Cavs career was cut short by a torn ACL. Into the breach stepped Ehlo, a former CBAer who could fill it up from behind the arc. In his first full season as a starter, Ehlo shot 42 percent on 3-pointers and Price, 41. Only Jordan's brilliance denied these Cavs -- dubbed "the team of the '90s" by Magic Johnson -- a Finals appearance or two. (By the way, is that Jerry Reinsdorf biting his nails up in the stands?)

"We were really good," said Price, now an assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats. "I would put Steph and me even but I would give Klay an edge on Craig."

Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, L.A. Lakers, 1967-68; 1972-73: L.A.'s Hall of Fame backcourt had a couple of solid years together after Goodrich first came in 1965, but things really took off in his second stint with the Lakers. The Suns took Goodrich in the 1968 expansion draft, and he became a big-time scorer there before Phoenix sent him back to the Lakers in 1970 for Mel Counts.

Two years later, the Lakers went 69-13, set an NBA record for consecutive wins in a season (33), and West (25.8 ppg) and Goodrich (25.9 ppg) were one of the highest scoring backcourts in league history.

Goodrich continued to pay off for L.A. toward the end of his career. After he signed with the then-New Orleans Jazz as a free agent in 1976, the Lakers received an incredible haul as compensation: first-round picks from New Orleans in 1977 and 1978, plus the right to take the higher of New Orleans' first-round picks in 1979. The '77 and '78 picks didn't pan out -- the Lakers took Kenny Carr in '77, and traded the '78 first, along with Don Chaney and Kermit Washington, to Boston for forward Charlie Scott. (Boston used the pick, which became the eighth pick overall in the '78 Draft, on the unlamented Freeman Williams.) But the '79 pick became a top two pick, and the Lakers won a coin toss with the Chicago Bulls that allowed them to pick first that year. They chose Magic Johnson.

"Both of those guys were great players," Jackson said. "Jerry West, obviously, all-time great. But neither one of those guys were great shooters."

You cannot budge him off of his hypothesis.

"I'm not sitting there telling you that, on a given night, Reggie Miller and I can't have a better shooting night than Klay or Steph," Jackson says. "But I'm sitting there telling you you get me any two players in the backcourt who've ever played this game, and have a shootout with these two guys, and I would probably predict that those two wouldn't finish. They'd be so frustrated, shaking their head. We've got guys. Harrison Barnes, at his press conference, said 'I can't wait to play H-O-R-S-E with Steph and Klay.' It probably happened once ... it's a gift. You've got to just sit, watch, and appreciate it."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Two fair questions. From Lawrence Bentley:

I am not sure, but has someone looked at advance analytics getting players hurt bad?

Are players being placed in situations where, since they are not video game characters, they are unable to consistently deliver without placing their bodies under a strain?

The old Utah Jazz ran their sets, their stars never got hurt.

But what if advance analytics said Karl Malone protecting the rim in the fourth quarter with a "stretch" four like Thurl Bailey is better than playing with Mark Eaton because the +/- is so much better?

Are advanced statistics somehow to blame for Marc Gasol's injury this season?

Karl Malone now has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Shaquille O'Neal & David Robinson leaning on him; what happens to his body?

Not that I liked Karl Malone, but with Utah you knew a clinic would be run on flow, point guard and power forward play.

So now Marc Gasol gets hurt ... is it a fluke? Or did advance analytics say when player X is in the game, you have to chase him off the 3-point line because he is not effective driving? In my school, is it better to keep Gasol back resting and protecting the rim and just letting player X take 3-4 3-pointers of which even if he shoots 40% (in that case results in 1-2 makes).

(Also) not feelin the leagues' Bucks outlook.

Why is the NBA "requiring" a new arena? I know the answer is money, but why do you write about as though it is OK?

The NBA and owners capped the players' salaries, then expect the people of a city to put up $253 million for an Arena? How are the public schools doing in Milwaukee? What is the poverty rate? The homeless situation? Why does the NBA, who says they care, want to pull dollars away from City issues?

I would not begin to assign blame for injuries to any one factor, and I certainly don't see a correlation between analytics and injuries, Lawrence. Nothing kept Derrick Rose's knee from buckling other than bad luck. Guys get hurt in the first minutes of play, and the last, and they play -- or don't play -- for any number of reasons. And coaches still are the ultimate arbiter of playing time, not the front office.

As for Milwaukee, the NBA is a private business, Lawrence, not a public utility. Cities make decisions every day about the cost of doing business -- whether they'll give a company tax breaks to move its corporate headquarters, or if they'll give teachers and firefighters pay raises. I don't make judgments about what cities determine is important for their communities. Sacramento thought it was worth spending $248 million to keep the Kings in town; other cities wouldn't do that, to be certain, and maybe Milwaukee won't. But that's a decision for each city's and state's elected officials.

Start spreadin' the news. From Anthony D'Inverno:

I think your piece today on NBA.com was well written, but missed a lot of key points on the Knicks and a re-build. First, let me say you are correct about what OTHERS think about rebuilding in N.Y. -- i.e. that the seats are expensive and people don't want to pay to see bad basketball. No one wants to see bad basketball at any price. Hell, time is too valuable to watch anything of poor quality. That being said anything fostering hope is worth watching -- which a rebuild does provide and generally, while not great basketball, is much more palatable than what the Knicks have served for the past 14 or so years.

Carmelo Anthony
Despite a roster stocked with name players, the Knicks don't have much of a future in some fans' eyes.

The Knicks sold out nearly every game under ex-coach Isiah Thomas and did sell out every game under former GM Scott Layden. These were disgusting hopeless years with, save for David Lee, no good young players and rarely any hope in the Draft. There was rarely a Draft pick to even look forward to! Yes, the Garden was full to nearly full every night. There was no plan, no leaders, no likeable players or stars. Now the Chairman (note: not owner -- he is not a majority owner, not even close) James Dolan will have you believe you "can't" rebuild in N.Y. Despite the fact that he has reigned as the absolute worst head of a sports organization in North America (two organizations actually -- the NHL's New York Rangers also sell out ) -- he has the guts to imply that fans, and, more importantly, corporate buyers, will stop spending if (God forbid!) a plan is in place to rebuild! This is a man that was not born on third base -- he was born on home and thinks he scored ... he has always been unqualified to run them and remains as such today.

The men running these teams are NOT smart. (Nets GM Billy King is an entirely different topic). They have no plans, they cannot value assets and are an absolute joke -- both in the minds of their fan bases, other owners and player agents. Unfortunately, until we see a change at the top, we'll never see a winner in this city.

No guessing your point of view, Anthony. Will be very interesting to see what the Knicks do with Carmelo, with the talk increasing that he's looking to walk. Trading for another supposed "star" would show it is business as usual at the Garden. Going for expirings and picks would signify a brand new day.

So what if it's Carrot Top starring in "Hamlet." It's still "Hamlet," ain't it? From Barbara Mahone:

A most dismissive article overlooking OKC's performance with or without Russell Westbrook. Do you really dislike them so much?

Congratulations, Barbara. You, of all the people who read the Tip, figured out my secret antipathy toward the Thunder. I thought I had hidden it so well. I hate Kevin Durant! I hate Serge Ibaka! I hate how OKC's fans "support" the Thunder with all their "sellouts" and the "noise" they "constantly" make during the games. I hate how they play great defense and have been able to withstand the trade of James Harden. I hate how Reggie Jackson made himself into a player by working his butt off, and I hate how coach Scott Brooks has a no-excuses mentality.

I hate how their front office consistently finds value in players and puts their philosophy of a team-first culture that is one with its community into practice. Or, maybe, I was just pointing out that when one of your two superstar players has three knee operations in eight months, it's scary stuff for both the player and the team. Whichever ...

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and a new cell number for this fellow to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (24.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 7 apg, .565 FG, .677 FT): Appeared in his 250th regular season game for the Heat Sunday, and extended his double-figures scoring streak to 538 consecutive games, dating to Jan. 5, 2007, when he scored just eight points against Milwaukee while with the Cavaliers.

2) Kevin Durant (32.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 5.5 apg, .500 FG, .900 FT): Career-best 23-point fourth quarter en route to a monster 48-point night on Saturday, leading the Thunder to a huge comeback win over Minnesota.

3) LaMarcus Aldridge (23 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg, .451 FG, .833 FT): I suppose it's a catchier nickname than "L.A."

4) Paul George (18.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4 apg, .358 FG, .905 FT): Pacers keep winning, but George's shot has fallen off noticeably since his hot start of the season.

5) Stephen Curry (20.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 9.8 apg, .453 FG, .857 FT): Makes his MVP Watch debut on the strength both of the Warriors' win streak and his vast improvement as a playmaker; currently second in the league in assists while also keeping his shooting eye.

Dropped out: Chris Paul.

BY THE NUMBERS

198 -- Consecutive games, dating to 2001, that the Wizards had lost when trailing by nine or more points entering the fourth quarter, a streak that Washington finally ended with a come-from-behind win Monday at Detroit (h/t Wiz play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz).

32 -- Assists in his first two starts as a Laker by Kendall Marshall, including 17 in L.A.'s loss Sunday night to the Nuggets.

10 -- Technical fouls on Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, the most in the league. Cousins picked up No. 10 in Thursday's loss to the 76ers. The NBA begins suspending players for a game after they pick up a 16th technical foul in the regular season; they are suspended an additional game for every other technical they get after 16.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) I have decided I cannot reprint exactly what Carmelo Anthony's response was to someone who ripped him on Twitter last week. (Google it.) Suffice it to say that "glazed donut face..." will now enter the NBA catchphrase vault, alongside "both teams played hard," "the ship be sinking," "whoop-de-damn-doo," and other greatest hits.

2) I can, however, print this. Quite funny.

3) Thank you, Kobe. Thank you.

4) Tell me why this isn't a good idea. It gives injured players a way to ease themselves back into action while not messing with the chemistry of the parent team, and could be an unexpected financial boon for NBA D-League teams that would have NBA stars available for a game or two to boost the gate and everything else.

5) A detailed explanation of why going to bowl games actually is quite profitable for the schools that get there, and how it could be further profitable for those schools if conferences, much like the NFL, didn't go all Karl Marx in their business practices. (Once again: as the late Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell said of the NFL's feudal lords, "We're 30 fat-cat Republicans who vote socialist.")

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) For the love of Mike: CP3, too? What is in the water this season?

2) When you say it's OK to lose, for whatever reason or motivation, you don't take into account things like this. Most pro athletes have incredible pride. They don't like to be embarrassed or mocked. The charge of tanking mocks their efforts, and it leads to tensions such as this that corrode team chemistry and morale.

3) If ever a player needed to be traded somewhere else, it's Andre Miller. If ever a contending team could use an old head point guard backing up George Hill for tough moments in a seven-game series against a championship outfit like Miami, it's Indiana. If ever there were a simpler trade than Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson to Denver for Miller, I can't think of it.

4) Hopefully, this is rectified soon. The Sparks are one of the WNBA's signature franchises, and if they can't attract a buyer with deep pockets, that's ominous for the league.

5) Scary stuff on how even moderate voices in the gun journalism industry are silenced if they dare to speak of any limits to buying any guns, ever.

6) RIP, Uncle Phil. (Or, as he was known to another generation, Shredder.) You meant more to a lot of folks than you probably ever knew.

Q AND A: MONTA ELLIS

Rick Carlisle had had quite enough of his guards from last season. He went through point guards like water, and after a quick start, O.J. Mayo couldn't sustain the things that Carlisle wanted him to do. Improving the starting backcourt was Dallas' priority in the offseason. Dallas was able to get the point guard quickly in free agency, signing ex-Piston Jose Calderon.

The shooting guard took a little longer. Originally, Dallas offered Devin Harris a three-year deal, but Harris' toe injury initially scotched the deal (he eventually signed anyway). The Mavs then went for the guy Carlisle now swears he'd hoped they'd get all along: Monta Ellis.

Ellis' ability to score wherever he played was never questioned; he got shots off in Golden State and Milwaukee with ease. The types of shots, and the number of shots he took? That was questioned, often. The Warriors, who had Ellis on the ball, couldn't wait to get rid of him and give his job to Steph Curry. Ironically, the Bucks brought in Mayo to replace him.

But the Mavericks gave Ellis a three-year, $25 million contract, hoping he could take some pressure off of Dirk Nowitzki offensively and buy into their defensive concepts. Through the first third of the season, Ellis' 20.2 ppg combined with Nowitzki's 21 ppg is the second-highest duo among teammates in the league (Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are tops).

Ellis is just as fast as ever; he covers 2.6 miles per game, rating in the top 15 leaguewide, at an average speed of 4.2 miles per hour, per NBA.com's SportVU data. He's just as hard to cover as ever, currently ranking 12th in the league in percentage of points scored on drives (52.5 percent) among players who've appeared in at least 30 games this season and that play at least 30 minutes a game. But Ellis is scoring more efficiently, shooting 45.4 percent from the floor, his best percentage in seven seasons. His decision making (5.9 assists) and chemistry with Nowitzki in the screen-and-roll has been terrific. Ellis has fit right in with the Mavericks' dual identities -- looking to win another title, while also doing almost anything to entertain the team's fan base (they get the zeitgeist in Dallas. They truly do). Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Ellis enjoys his best season since the "We Believe" Warriors beat the defending conference champion Mavs in 2007.

David Aldridge: When you decided to come here, did you look at tape of Jet Terry and Dirk running screen-roll? Because you seem to be channeling Jason.

Monta Ellis: It was something that, when I first signed here, Rick came to meet me in Houston, where I was working out. And he wanted me to be more of that same player as Jet. And with me being young, and with the speed I have, he thought that would be our biggest weapon with this team, playing with somebody like Dirk, where defenses play him so different. That was my main focus, trying to get a feel with him and get my spot, and also to find other players.

DA: His skill set makes the Dallas screen-roll so different from any other team's. How did you make that adjustment?

ME: Really, some nights, the defense will play different. I always make the right read -- if there's two on me, then it's open. But the biggest thing was to attack first and make the defense react, and then I have that. And then when he's on, it's easy for me to attack, because they're so tied in on him. So it's just a matter of me making the right basketball play.

DA: Did you view coming here as the best chance to show people that whatever their impression of you was incorrect, and not who you were as a basketball player?

ME: I looked at it as, it was a good opportunity for me to win. Once you win, don't nobody really talk too much about the negative. So that was my biggest thing, coming here and trying to help this team win. And as long as we win, everything else is going to work itself out.

DA: You would say you haven't changed your game?

ME: If you look at it throughout my career, I averaged 19 points, six assists, shooting over 40 percent. Last few years, you go in a situation where you're unsure. The system is totally different. And you're trying to do whatever you can to help a team win, and you're doing 75 percent of everything. So it makes it look like you take bad shots, or your percentage is this or your percentage is that. I haven't changed my game. The difference is, there's so many shooters on this team, I don't have to force so many shots up, like I had to do in other places.

DA: In Milwaukee especially, did you ever wonder if you'd be able to get back to a situation like it seemed early at Golden State, where you were winning?

ME: I knew once my deal was up, that was going to be my main focus, to get somewhere where I could win. Be happy and be comfortable, so I could just play my game. You really don't have to worry about too much. When you're having fun and you're doing something that you love to do, it makes your job so much easier. You come into your job every day and you're miserable, and your body responds to the environment that you're in. It's hard to get your mind mentally ready to play this basketball game. So coming here, I loved the team that they put together. I get to know Rick. And I understood that he was with me. He had my back. So I wanted to come here with a whole fresh mindset, and be positive about the situation that I was in.

DA: What did you think of Carlisle before you got here?

ME: I really didn't know too much about him. I knew, talking to Drew Gooden, he said that he was a great coach, he was always looking at film. And some days, he'll tell you to come and look at film. He told me about that. So I did know a little about him. But as far as his style and how he approaches things, I didn't know at all.

DA: How far do you think you can go this year?

ME: I think once we get everybody back, even with Devin Harris, we can have a solid rotation of what to expect. When we get him back as the backup point guard, the leader off the bench, I think we're going to surprise a lot of people.

DA: Would you like to, somehow, see Golden State in the first round?

ME: I just want to get back and compete in the playoffs. It don't really matter who it is. I just want to get back and compete. That's it.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Bone head play! Slander well deserved!
-- Knicks guard J.R. Smith (@TheRealJRSmith), Friday, 11:27 p.m., referring to his decision to jack up a three with 21.9 seconds left in a tied game instead of holding onto the ball so New York could get the final shot of the game. Instead, Smith missed, the Rockets grabbed the rebound and got fouled, and made the game-winning free throws. Smith said afterward he thought the Knicks were down two, and admitted it was a "low basketball IQ play."

THEY SAID IT

"Opponents, they see blood. They see a team struggling and they say, 'well, let's beat them again and let's bury them deeper.' "
-- Pau Gasol, on how the struggles of the Lakers are emboldening opponents to keep L.A. down while it waits for its injured players to come back.

"I'm afraid I would run into one of my kids."
-- Jazz coach Ty Corbin, on why he didn't go out partying on New Year's Eve in Salt Lake City -- and, before you ask, you can indeed have fun in the SLC on New Year's Eve.

"Really happy for Indy fans for having a great day. Clean sweep."
-- Pacers coach Frank Vogel, referring to his team's victory Saturday night over New Orleans, which followed the Colts' amazing come-from-way-behind wild card playoff win earlier in the day against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Colts' rally from 28 points down in the second half was the second-biggest margin overcome in NFL playoff history.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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