By Rob Mahoney
• Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili uncovers the secret behind one of the greatest mysteries of this NBA season:
Despite the fact that the Wizards enter today at 5-28 on the season, they're hardly a poor defensive unit. Just the opposite -- they're on the fringes of the league's top 10, allowing just 104 points per 100 possessions. That's good for the 11th best defense in the league, and my lord, it doesn't make sense. I watched a lot of tape on the Wizards to try and figure out what exactly they do well on defense, and I've come up with a single answer. One specific thing they do well that fuels their defense and keeps them above water, defensively. That thing? They're really good at missing shots.
• Royce White gave Slate's Hang Up and Listen podcast a lengthy interview, in which he addresses virtually every dimension of his increasingly complicated situation with the Rockets. Regardless of what you think of White's actions thus far, I'd encourage you to check out the interview in its entirety for some added clarity on the whole situation, and a nuance that White simply doesn't do a good job of conveying in his Twitter blasts.
• An interesting side note from Jake Appleman's commentary on Avery Johnson's exit for GQ, courtesy of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich:
"A coach can't change people," Gregg Popovich said before the Spurs obliterated the Nets on New Year's Eve. "They are who they are. No matter what team you're talking about, a coach can be observant and try to put his team in situations both on and off the court where some of that can develop, some of the camaraderie sorts of things. But you can't change people."
• Just a reminder: the Clippers are playing great basketball without their best wing defender. I have no idea what to expect from Grant Hill at this point, but his play in Phoenix has taught me better than to count him out.
• In order to build up Jimmer Fredette's game and filter out any unnecessary self-doubt, Kings coach Keith Smart gave Fredette some advice that would make grammatical prescriptivists groan. From James Herbert's mini-profile of Fredette (bundled with an equally good mini-profile on Hasheem Thabeet) over at Hardwood Paroxysm:
Fredette split last summer between his home in Denver, Summer League in Las Vegas and, of course, Sacramento. Smart took a trip to Colorado for about a week to work out with him and talk to him about what he expected in his second season.
“I’ve told him just BYU it,” Smart said. “Don’t worry about [it] if you take a quick shot. I trust your jump shot. When you take a shot, I don’t worry about any of that stuff.”
This year Fredette’s been not just more confident but far more efficient, which is what improving your 3-point percentage from 36 to 40 percent and getting to the line 5.1 times per 36 minutes instead of 1.5 times per 36 will do for you. The numbers back up his claims of being more aggressive — he is using one of every four Kings possessions when he’s on the floor instead of one in every five.
“I think it all starts with your mindset,” Fredette says of the change in his game. “Going out there and having a purpose when you’re out there to score the basketball. That’s what this team wants me to do when I come into the game: to provide a spark and just score the basketball and be that threat. Whether I’m making shots or not, they still have to play honest and [it] maybe opens other guys up as well. But with having that mindset and being aggressive every single time down the floor and taking shots when you’re open, trying to make opportunities for yourself and your teammates, you just get into a flow of a game and you feel much better out there, much more confident and you just go play.”
• Derrick Williams is a man without a country, and his marginalization remains one of the more bizarre subplots in the Timberwolves' eventful season. He's essential and yet absent, improved and yet benched. He's no martyr, but deserves a bit of a break when it comes to his work-in-progress game. Yet it's clear by this point that Wolves head coach Rick Adelman isn't Williams' biggest fan, making their relationship completely worthy of Britt Robson's comprehensive assessment. Quoth Robson:
It is not very often that a coach can wield such an autonomous upper hand in denying minutes to a player valued highly enough to be taken with the second overall pick in the draft. That’s because franchises in a position to choose second overall are almost always emerging from a horrendous season and are looking for that draft pick to become a cornerstone, if not a savior.
No, the crucial difference is that Adelman is not only the coach, but regarded as more of a savior and cornerstone than Williams on this Wolves franchise. The 66-year old veteran is the third leg of the theoretically top-notch triumvirate with Love and Ricky Rubio that has energized the fan base and brought respectability to the won-lost column. Williams’ exalted draft status enabled him to be the sole holdover among a group of players Adelman had preferred to be gone from the roster this season, a pyrrhic triumph for the 21-year old forward.
• You will never find a man happier to win a January game against the Spurs than Greivis Vasquez. This is as heartening as postgame interviews come.
• A fascinating -- if depressing -- look at six NBA players who have been defined by their injuries.
• Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball wrote a terrific piece on Scott Skiles' voluntary departure from Milwaukee, in which one gets a rather frank view of the writing that's long been on the wall:
Word leaked in the middle of the night that a mutual agreement had been come to between Skiles and the organization that he would no longer coach the team. The suddenness of it all took most of us by surprise, but is this really that shocking? Less than a month ago, I asked Skiles if he could do anything other than hope his best players would start making shots when they were having a bad game. He asked if I had any suggestions and then simply said no. Does that sound like a team you’d want to coach? Or a coach that seems like he’s going to be able to get something more out of his two best players?