has a better feel for passing lanes this season. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Rob Mahoney
• In Zach Lowe's comprehensive breakdown of the varied improvements in the Thunder's offense and defense this season is an ever-necessary bit of credit thrown to the ever-evolving Russell Westbrook:
Anti-Westbrook rage, justified as it is on some nights, has blinded some to his continual improvement as a passer. It’s not just the jump in assists, from 5.5 per game last season to a career-best 8.7 this season; it’s the type of passes Westbrook can throw now. Just a year ago, Westbrook had trouble throwing kick-out passes to players outside of his direct line of vision, and he was only learning to probe defenses in ways that create passing lanes.
He understands the geometry of the floor better now. He can throw inside-out passes to shooters all over the place, even ones directly behind him or diagonally across the court. And he’s better on the pick-and-roll at finding those little drop-off passes to the “other” big man — the one who didn’t set the pick — lurking around the baseline.
• Joan Niesen of Fox Sports North wrote up a great piece at how Minnesota came around to SportVU's optical tracking cameras, and the quantitative possibilities those cameras provide for teams with the means to manipulate the raw data.
• Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh are the "Hustle Brothers." I dig it.
• I'm not entirely sold on some of the specifics (No other NBA player uses "Ball don't lie?" Seriously?), but who am I to argue with the very existence of a column in the New York Times dedicated to that most infamous of Rasheed Wallace catchphrases?
• Over at TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz riffs on the warm and fuzzies still associated with that weirdly matched and wholly underrated former Clipper frontline of Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, who return to Los Angeles for a game tonight as members of the Dallas Mavericks:
As it turns out, ditch-digging can get a team only so far without superstars. Brand lost his powers, Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley got old, Corey Maggette became disgruntled, Shaun Livingston went down and Kaman shuttled between the injury list and the court, where he faced stifling double-teams while Brand was on the mend. After their 2006 playoff run, the Clippers wouldn’t finish a season above .500 until Paul arrived more than five years later.
Brand and Kaman occupy a curious place in the collective memory of Clipper Nación. You won’t find a Clippers fan who isn’t giddy about the current state of things, but a warm nostalgia exists for those mid-aught Clippers teams. Those fans saw something of themselves in Brand’s anonymity and Kaman’s imperfections.
Still, some residual resentment lingers over the way Brand skipped town in the middle of the night to sign with Philadelphia. Kaman was part of the deal for Paul, but his flakiness had started to wear a little thin. Clippers fans miss Kaman the way you’d miss an eccentric housemate who moved out. The behavior you can gladly live without, but there was comfort in the familiarity. Kaman was a big dufus, but he was our big dufus, many would say.
• Just in case you're in the middle of Homeland/NBA Venn Diagram and haven't connected the dots, the narratively useless Chris Brody seems to have more or less predicted the outcome of last night's improbable Wizards win over the Heat.
• Kendall Marshall is off to a great start in the D-League, on assignment from the Phoenix Suns to the Bakersfield Jam.
• Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports focused his latest column on the off-court importance of Kendrick Perkins, who apparently has a night job as the Thunder's unofficial team therapist:
"I get phone calls at all hours of the night from different teammates," Perkins told Yahoo! Sports. "And I've got to tell them: OK, you didn't get yours tonight but…
"So OK, take Serge [Ibaka]. I'll tell him, "OK man, you got seven points tonight, then you need to go get eight blocks. Some nights it's not going to be your night, where you can touch the ball. It's like that on this team, especially when you've got scorers like Russ, K.D. and Kevin Martin leading the league in scoring."
Twenty-four hours before Perkins made an immense block on the Brooklyn Nets' Deron Williams in the final minute of the Thunder's 117-111 victory at Barclays Center, Perkins gave a knowing nod and shrugged. "The game ends, you go home, take an hour break and then I know it's mentoring time.
"Guys are gonna call."
• Now blogging: New York's Pablo Prigioni.
• Sean Highkin has compiled a great look back at all of the decade's All-Stars selected from losing teams – a list of fairly remarkable players, really, considering that each produced at a high enough level to earn NBA coaches' respect (or at least performed admirably in a weak positional pool) in spite of their team's circumstances. One of the most interesting cases is that of Jermaine O'Neal, who was named an Eastern Conference All-Star just months after being suspended by the league for 25 games:
By 2005, O’Neal had built a reputation as a consistent All-Star level producer, especially in the East, where big-man depth was lacking. But his selection this season was complicated, given the circumstances in which the Pacers found themselves in the “non-contender” category. O’Neal was one of the players suspended following the Auburn Hills melee, and although he was able to get his 25-game suspension reduced to 15 following an appeal, his association with the brawl was difficult to shake, and the suspensions to him, Ron Artest, and others sunk the playoff hopes of what was initially an extremely promising Pacers team. Still, he put up solid numbers, and that was enough for the coaches to grant him his fourth straight All-Star berth.