Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Jan. 4) -- Kevin Durant aims to 'round my game out' this season

NBA.com Staff

Durant trying to improve defense | Malone calls Nuggets’ defense worst in NBA | Crowder ‘disrespected’ by fans cheering Hayward | Would Raptors deal for Millsap?

No. 1: Durant driven to ’round my game out’ — Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant is the No. 8 scorer in the league (25.7 ppg), has the best Offensive Rating of his career (114.8) and has keyed his team to a 30-5 start. The former Kia MVP winner, though, isn’t about to be satisfied in those facts and sees plenty of ways — especially defensively — that he can improve as 2016-17 rolls on. Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com has more:

“I’m trying to round my game out,” he said Tuesday. “I (take) pride in guarding every position and jumping at every guy coming to the basket. Whether I get dunked on or not or finished over the top of or not, it’s just muscle memory now to always get up there and try to protect the rim.

“And also help my team rebound. Last game I was terrible at getting on the glass, and hopefully tomorrow I may be better than I was last game.”

Durant was referring to grabbing only three rebounds in 34 minutes Monday night in a 127-119 win over Denver. Never mind that he averaged an impressive 14.3 rebounds in the three previous games.

Or maybe knowing that he can be better explains Durant’s annoyance with the low rebounding total against the Nuggets.

Though that is an example of Durant’s self-scrutiny, he also hears advice/criticism from teammates, some of which are less accomplished than he.

That Durant is a four-time scoring champion and owner of the 2014 MVP trophy does not prevent teammates from speaking up. What’s more important is that he welcomes it.

“One thing about this group is they’re never satisfied,” he said. “We always feel we want to play perfect. Even though that’s impossible, we’re striving for that. We know there are small things we just can’t do, that we have to be better at. And we try to correct them as quickly as possible.”

He leads the Warriors in scoring (25.7 points per game, eighth in the NBA), rebounding (8.7, 19th) and blocks (1.54, 14th). His 53.7-percent shooting from the field ranks first among the top 25 scorers in the league.

“I know our guys love having him on our team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They love what he represents, in terms of the threat, in terms of explosiveness. And he’s a great teammate, a phenomenal teammate, fun to be around, humble and modest. It’s been an incredible addition.”

That humility, more than anything else, may be why Durant has been such a smooth fit. He has an ego, to be sure, but he doesn’t allow it to override the moment or, moreover, the common goal of the team.

Which is why he listens, even to the sometimes strident commentaries of fiery teammate Draymond Green. Getting the occasional earful of Draymond is one of the rites of passage for the Warriors.

“It’s like an 80-20 approach here; it’s 80 percent encouragement and 20 percent you might have to get on guys,” Durant said. “It may come out the wrong way. We’ve got guys on this team that . . . Draymond, his message is always good but he’s just so emotional and passionate it might come off as if he’s getting on guys. But it’s channeled in the right way. Nobody takes it personally. It’s all about getting better as a team and learning.

“There are times with Steph — I won’t even say what he says to me coming to the bench sometimes — but that’s what teammates do. And you enjoy someone helping you get better.”

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No. 2: Malone unhappy with Nuggets’ defense — Just one day after New York Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek spoke out about his team’s defense after a loss, Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone is following suit in regards to his own squad. Since the start of December, no team in the NBA has a worse Defensive Rating than the Nuggets and Malone made basically that exact point after last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings. Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post has more:

The Nuggets entered Tuesday a half-game behind Sacramento, but they exited with a 14-21 record, 1 1/2 games back after dropping a 120-113 decision to the Kings (15-19) at the Pepsi Center.

The loss was one thing. The manner in which it went down was another. Nuggets coach Michael Malone is a defensive coach at heart, and that defensive heart has been pierced too many times this season for him to continue to sit idly by and permanently play a diplomatic card.

So, he didn’t.

“We have the worst defense in the NBA, that’s the bottom line,” Malone said. “It’s embarrassing how we go out there and attempt to defend every night. That’s something that we have to try to fix as soon as possible because it’s at an all-time low right now. That is a huge concern of mine.”

Poor defense has been a constant issue all season, but magnified more lately because they’ve played so many high-scoring games. The Kings were the third consecutive team to score at least 120 points, and the Nuggets have allowed 123.6 in the last three games, all losses.

“They’re a half a game ahead of us going into tonight’s game, and that’s the kind of effort we put forth,” Malone said. “So it must not matter as much as I hoped it would for our guys to go out there and play. And I don’t use fatigue as a factor. Everybody goes through that.”

“Right now we have no leadership, we have no veteran leadership on this team stepping up,” Malone said. “I don’t hear anybody speaking, taking the lead. We have two young guys trying to speak up on the team’s behalf, which you applaud them but you need some leadership to shine and step up when we are struggling, which we are.”

Danilo Gallinari, who had a team-high 24 points, including four 3-pointers, disagreed with Malone’s point on veteran leadership.

“I don’t agree with that,” Gallinari said. “That’s definitely not the problem with this team. Every veteran on this team can agree with me. So, I don’t agree with that.”

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No. 3: Crowder ‘disrepected’ by Celtics fans’ cheers for Hayward — Utah Jazz star Gordon Hayward has long been rumored to somehow land in Boston — be it via a trade or in free agency — in large part because Hayward starred at Butler University for the Celtics current coach, Brad Stevens. Last night, the Jazz visited Boston (and lost to the Celtics, 115-104) and before the game, Celtics fans gave Hayward a warm welcome to perhaps give him a foretaste of what playing there might be like. Current Celtics forward Jae Crowder, however, wasn’t a fan of the gesture, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com:

Recognizing that Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward will be a potential free agent this offseason — and given his Butler University connections to Boston coach Brad Stevens — Celtics fans greeted Hayward with some audible cheers during lineup introductions before Tuesday’s game at TD Garden.

That didn’t sit well with Celtics forward Jae Crowder, who just so happens to play the same position as Hayward.

Crowder responded with maybe his best game of the season, scoring 21 points on 6 of 8 shooting, while making all but one of the six 3-pointers that he put up over 35 minutes of floor time as part of Boston’s 115-104 victory.

After the game, Crowder sounded off, both in the locker room and on social media, about his perceived slight from the fans.

“I heard the cheering before the game. I didn’t like that at all,” said Crowder. “I think that was a sign of disrespect to me from the fans. That sparked a little fire in me.”

“I just felt disrespected,” Crowder added.

He then took to social media to again voice his displeasure

Over the summer, Comcast SportsNet New England tweeted a link to a story about five 2017 free agents the Celtics might target, and Crowder responded with seven sleeping emojis.

Celtics fans have often given warm greetings to both former players and potential free agents-to-be. Last season, Kevin Durant drew loud cheers during Oklahoma City’s lone visit to TD Garden, and he later gushed about the atmosphere in Boston before taking a meeting with the team in July.

Crowder is in the second year of a five-year, $35 million deal that he signed with the Celtics in July 2015. While his salary is a bargain as the salary cap explodes, Crowder has often maintained he’s not overly worried about what others are making.

There is no guarantee Hayward will reach the free-agent market this summer, but his name is invariably mentioned among Celtics targets — if only because of his connection to Stevens.

When asked at Monday’s practice if he pays attention to future free agents such as Hayward during the season, Stevens quickly squashed the chatter.

“I’m not allowed to talk about [other teams’ players], as you know,” said Stevens. “Certainly, you have an idea on that, generally, but I don’t get into that stuff because (A) it’s not the appropriate time and (B) out of respect for the other teams.”

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No. 4: Would Millsap trade to Toronto make sense? — Ever since word floated out via ESPN.com a few days ago that the Atlanta Hawks were potentially shopping star forward Paul Millsap, many NBA fans are pondering where he might fit best if dealt. The Toronto Raptors have designs on a Finals run this season and have the pieces to potentially swing a deal with Atlanta for Millsap. So how might that all go down? Doug Smith of The Toronto Star digs in:

Almost simultaneously with a leaked report suggesting the Atlanta Hawks would entertain trade offers for the free agent-to-be veteran power forward, chins started to wag and social media lit up with suggestions the Raptors should be first in line to at least kick-start conversations.

At one level it makes entire sense. Millsap is a veteran stretch four who has played on successful teams and in big games. He is now expected to opt out of his contract at the end of this season — the “break” that led to suggestions that the Hawks would talk about him — and at 31 years old he’s nowhere near the end of his career.

Completely sensible, right?

Maybe not, regardless of whether Patterson misses two games or two weeks, or if Sullinger comes back ready to contribute or is unable to fully recover from foot surgery.

The cost would be significant. To match Millsap’s $20-million contract this year and satisfy Atlanta’s needs, it would probably take a package of Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross or Patterson and Norm Powell, along with a draft pick — a huge dent in Toronto’s rotation that would gut the team’s depth.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has spent years piecing together a roster that’s an outstanding blend of experience and youth. Casey often points out that Toronto is the third-youngest team in the NBA, despite the fact that the key members of the rotation have between six and 11 years of experience, and upsetting the balance might take years to fix.

And it’s not as if Ujiri is among those who see quick fixes as a way to change a team’s fortunes. The last significant in-season trade he made was in December, 2013 (Rudy Gay and stuff for Patterson and stuff), and the only other one was an entirely forgettable deal that saw Austin Daye head to San Antonio for Nando De Colo in February, 2014.

Other than that, Ujiri prefers a slower, more steady process to build a roster — a rather successful approach given where the Raptors are and how far they’ve come.

One thing that is fraught with peril in pro sports is over-reacting, and overpaying for a move because of some level of panic or perceived immediate need.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, the New York Knicks may be interested in trading for Phoenix Suns defensive stopper P.J. Tucker … Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic used to drink three liters of Coca-Cola every day … ICYMI, John Wall and James Harden were named Players of the Month and Joel Embiid and Buddy Hield were named Rookies of the Month for December … The Golden State Warriors are going to break ground on their new, San Francisco-area arena in about two weeks … A fan at last night’s Grizzlies-Lakers game sank a half-court shot for $95,000 … Lakers big man Timofey Mozgov vows he is going to start playing more physical …

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