Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mavs vs. Warriors

This game might have won Steph Curry the next 4 MVP's. Harry Barnes aka "The Black Falcon", Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa were out too and the Warriors only had 10 guys dressed but they still theoretically had enough players to at least make this game competitive and it was anything but. The Warriors didn't seem like their heart was in the game and none of them seemed to have any idea what to do without Steph. The game kind of reminded me of Charles Barkley's line about Michael Jackson and a bunch of Tito Jackson's.

The obvious problem for the Warriors was they don't have a lot of guys who can create their own shot and they had a lot of difficulty generating offense without all the attention that Steph draws. Klay Thompson gets a lot of his points running off screens and attacking close-outs, Brandon Rush is a spot-up shooter, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green are more ball movers than primary scorers and Andrew Bogut can't really score at all. The only guy who could really get his shot tonight was Shaun Livingston, who can always take smaller guys into the post.

There's not too much to take away from this game from the Warriors perspective but it does make you wonder how other teams can attack their lack of shot-creators in a playoff series. What really jumps out at me is that you want to make Draymond Green have to score the ball as much as possible. Without Steph, Draymond didn't get any of his customary 4-on-3 plays from the top of the key and he didn't have a lot of ways to create offense.
  • The Mavs made a smart adjustment at the start of the game by sliding Chandler Parsons over to Draymond and hiding Dirk on Brandon Rush. Parsons is actually taller than Draymond and it's not like he had a lot of ways to create his own shot against him. More importantly, having Parsons on Draymond means you could have just switched the pick-and-roll and put a better perimeter defender on Steph than your PF. 
  • That to me is the key when playing Golden State - put a perimeter player on Draymond so that you can switch every pick-and-roll and dare him to try and score over a smaller player in the post. That takes away most of the ball movement from their offense and then you can live with Draymond in the post either off the switch or the initial defensive assignment.
  • The domino effect would mean the match-ups look like this:
    • PG on Steph
    • SF on Klay
    • PF on The Black Falcon
    • SG on Draymond
  • Anything that makes the Warriors run isos for anyone but Steph is a win against them. It's kind of like when Don Nelson used to put Tim Hardaway (6'3) on Mark Eaton (7'3) when the Warriors played the Jazz and dared Utah to try and abandon their offense and post their C up. The rule of thumb for me is the more FGA's for Draymond and Bogut, the better your chances are.
I don't think the Warriors miss Barnes as a SF as much as they miss him as a small-ball PF. It's not just not having the Lineup of Death either - you can really see that in their 2nd unit when they have to play Mo Speights at PF next to one of their C's. All of a sudden, Golden State doesn't have much spacing and they suddenly look like a normal NBA team. Speights has a -29.9 net rating this season, which has to be some kind of record.
  • The bottom line is that I wouldn't want to pay Barnes a lot of money as a FA unless I had room for him in my line-ups to play him as a small-ball 4. One suggestion I really liked from my colleague at The Cauldron Nate Duncan was the Wolves throwing a lot of money at Barnes for a Towns - Barnes - Wiggins front-line. I love the idea of Towns and 4 wings - that's what the line-up of the future looks like. 
  • It feels like Golden State should just bite the bullet and pay him, though, because why break up something that works this well? Even if Barnes is never going to be fully utilized as a small-ball 4 playing with Draymond, he does have a fairly instrumental role in what they do and there's no reason not to pay everyone when you have things running this well and you are making this much money. Don't overthink things when you are the champs - the Mavs learned this the hard way when they let Tyson Chandler walk the first time.
Don't look now but the Warriors are only 2.5 games up on the Spurs and they now have a lower point differential so they don't have that big a margin for error when it comes to resting Steph, I'm rooting for San Antonio to pass them because I'm a greedy pig and I want to see Warriors vs. Spurs AND Warriors vs. Thunder ... Spurs vs. Thunder has kind of been done to death and I don't want to see two of Golden State's main rivals take each other out.

It's hard to say too much about the Mavs beyond the fact that they took advantage of an undermanned team that didn't really come out to play and put them out of their misery fast. This was barely an NBA game tonight, which was a huge disappointment to a sell-out crowd that must have been at least 25% Warriors fans and who paid over $100 a ticket but them's are the breaks. The Mavs have been playing really well lately and they are starting to flex their muscles at home, with the win streak at the AAC moving to 5.

As much as I have liked Deron Williams this season, I can't deny how well Dallas has looked with JJ Barea in the starting line-up. Barea has been playing out of his mind since getting the nod as the starter - it's like he's a Monstar who stole Steph's powers.
  • The key with Barea as a starter is that it gives him more minutes to play with Dirk and the combination of those 2 guys has been money all season. It's kind of like the reverse of the Draymond and Steph dynamic in that Dirk creates so much space and draws so much attention that it makes life crazy easy for Barea.
    • Dirk might be one of the only players in the league with as much of a gravity effect on the other team as Steph. Being a pure shooter who can create his own shot and put the ball on the floor absolutely devastates defenses. 
  • Carlisle tries to play Barea with Dirk as much as possible - he has played 320 of his 535 minutes this season with Dirk and the two have a +9.4 net rating when they are on the floor together. Barea's top 8 line-ups in terms of minutes played this season all feature Dirk. 
  • Everything is coming together for JJB - he isn't missing 3's, which is allowing him to get to the rim and he knows the offense like the back of his hand and has a great feel for where everyone is going to be when he's driving the ball. 
  • The way he is playing makes me wonder if SMU's Nic Moore (generously listed at 5'9 175) might actually have a chance to play in the NBA. The way the league is going, it's much easier to exploit the mismatch of a faster player against a slower one than a bigger player against a smaller one. Moore is a pure PG whose also a great shooter off the dribble and that combination of skills is deadly when playing in enough space. He's not going to be drafted and he will have to be in a situation with a PF who can pick-and-pop but there might be a chance for a guy with his stature and his game to stick in the league.
    • Moore actually bristled a bit when someone asked him about the comparison at a recent SMU game but hey, Barea has made $36 million and played 10 seasons in the league when his contract is done, which is pretty miraculous for a guy with his physical attributes. Really not a bad role model.
  • What's important when you are as small as Barea or Moore is that you have to be super-aggressive on offense and you have to be constantly be looking to shoot when you are that small because it's going to be next to impossible for a sub 5'10 guy to have much of an impact on the game playing off the ball. It can be aggravating at times to watch Barea pound the ball into the ground but that's the only way he's going to survive at the NBA level.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

NBA Dinosaurs

At RealGM, a look at the problems with integrating guys like Greg Monroe into successful teams in the modern NBA.

Taurean Prince vs. Danuel House

The intriguing match-up from a draft perspective from the Baylor vs. Texas A&M game earlier in December was the one on the perimeter between Taurean Prince (Baylor) and Danuel House (A&M). The two seniors aren't huge names in the draft world - Prince is at #26 on the latest DraftExpress mock while House is at #51 - but they both have the 3-and-D skill-sets that are becoming increasingly en vogue around the NBA. This game was a great chance to see the two of them match wits against another NBA-caliber player and to see what they could do when they wouldn't just be able to overwhelm their competition with size and athleticism.



Prince
House
Height
6’8
6’7
Weight
220
215
Wingspan
6’11
6’8
3p% (3PA)
38.8% (4.5)
32.5% (7.3)
FG% (FGA)
43.7% (12.9)
39.4% (12.5)
Points
16.4
15.4
Rebounds
5.9
5.4
Assists (TO’s)
2.8 (3.2)
2.4 (1.6)
Steals
1.8
0.7

A&M dominated Baylor in College Station, winning 80-61, and the story of the game was the way that House erased Prince on defense. House isn't just the Aggies primary option on offense - he's also their main perimeter defender and he relished the challenge of going 1-on-1 against Baylor's star. House used his quickness to hound Prince all over the floor and prevented him from getting many clean looks at the basket. Prince could barely even touch the ball - House was ball-denying him for most of the game and Baylor was never able to get him open. 


That was how it went all night for Prince, who was never able to get into any kind of rhythm. He mostly stood off the ball and allowed House to guard him - he didn't back cut all that often or work to get open and Baylor never ran any sets to create open looks for him. It was very frustrating to watch and it was a good example of what people (read: me) talk about when they talk about Scott Drew's struggles with game-planning and maximizing the skills of his best players. To be sure, though, you have to give a lot of credit to House, who had one of the best defensive performances I've ever seen from him:


House started the game with a lay-up off a back-cut and that fast-break dunk off the steal, which seemed to fuel his confidence. Baylor tried to play a lot of 1-3-1 zone and House promptly shot them out of it. Check out the range on this 3-point shot:


When he makes plays like this, it's hard not to envision him as an NBA player. This is a 6'7 guy stroking 3's off the dribble - House definitely passes the eye test:


The concern with House is his FG% (39.4%) which is terrible for a 22-year old senior and that's primarily because he takes a lot of bad shots. He can make shots like this but he has to learn that just because he can make them doesn't mean he should take them. Shot selection is a big deal for any young guard and he's going to have a hard time earning minutes in the NBA if he's throwing up garbage instead of moving the ball:


What I would like to see more from him going forward is learning to play more within himself and hunting for shots not just for himself but for his teammates. What a lot of young scorers don't realize is that not forcing the issue and making the right play actually makes it easier to score because it opens up the game and forces the defense to play you honest. 

While Prince and House have a lot of things in common, they are fairly different players. House is a pure perimeter player - a 2/3 whose really comfortable handling the ball and running the offense 25+ feet from the basket. Prince is more of a combo forward - a 3/4 who can guard bigger players and who scores a lot of points off the mismatch, whether it's taking slower guys off the dribble or posting up smaller guys on the block. The problem for him against A&M was that House is just as fast and just about as big so there was no obvious way for him to create offense besides make difficult shots off the dribble and that's not really the strength of his game. 


Despite his gaudy scoring averages, Price isn't super comfortable being the hub of the offense and trying to read the double team:


The other difference between Prince and House is that Prince can impact the game without the ball in his hands. He's a big and aggressive athlete who knows how to use his physicality to attack the glass and he has a nose for the ball:



What's really intriguing about him is that he can hold up in the post against bigger players. He kind of reminds me of Harrison Barnes in that he's not going to be a high-level shot-creator and playmaker against other NBA 3's but he's capable of playing as a small-ball 4 and opening up the floor for everyone else because he's a guard who can defend big men:



Even though House thoroughly whipped Prince in the match-up, Prince still has a few advantages when it comes to evaluating his NBA draft prospects. 

1) He's younger (born in August 1994 as opposed to June 1993) so there's more room for him to grow as a player

2) He has more defensive versatility - given the way the game is going in the NBA, he should be able to guard 2-4 and he might even be able to switch screens and stick with 1's for stretches

3) He's more comfortable as a role player - he doesn't take a lot of bad shots and he can more easily impact the game without the ball in his hands

That said, House did show a lot in this game and I suspect that he's undervalued when it comes to the draft despite his relatively poor statistics.

1) He's a much better shot-creator off the dribble than Prince - he's a smooth 6'7 wing who can shoot off the dribble and get a look against almost anyone

2) He's a better perimeter defender. I would say that House has an edge in terms of pure athleticism and hes more comfortable playing in man than Prince, who has spent a lot of time playing zone at Baylor. That's why I don't put much stock in his huge steal numbers, which are as much a product of the zone as anything.

In a best-case scenario, House can rein in his shot selection at the next level and improve his percentages when he's playing off better players and not forcing up bad shots against defenses designed to stop him. In a worst-case scenario, he can't be a consistent enough shooter to stay on the floor as a role player, he doesn't get the time to develop his defense at the NBA level (very few rookies are going to come into the league as stoppers regardless of their tools and it usually takes them a few years to adjust to the mental demands that playing defense against the best players in the world requires) and he slips through the cracks and winds up in Europe.

Even though they are older than most prospects, NBA teams should be watching Prince and House very closely over the next few months because there are very few potential 3-and-D wings in this year's draft. Here are the American wings currently projected to go in the first round by DX:

Brandon Ingram
Jaylen Brown (shooting 25.6% from 3)
Denzel Valentine (not going to be a defensive player at the next level - an average athlete at best)
Caris LeVert (super skinny at 6'7 200 and needs to put on a lot of weight)
Prince
Justin Jackson (shooting 26.2% from 3)
Devin Robinson (shooting 28.2% from 3)

There just aren't a lot of guys out there with the size and athleticism to be able to play NBA defense on the perimeter and the skill to be able to shoot and handle the ball. Any 6'7+ player with those combination of skills has a chance at the next level, regardless of where they end up being drafted.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mavs vs. Bucks

The story of this game was the Bucks starting unit. In a game that Dallas won 103-93, the plus/minus numbers of the Milwaukee starters kind of says it all:
  • Giannis: -22
  • Jabari: - 13
  • Monroe: -18
  • Middleton: -18
  • MCW: -18
Dallas got out to a 34-24 lead in the first quarter and never really relinquished control of the game. The Bucks 2nd unit got them back in it but they were never able to completely dig out of the hole the starters dug for them. The Milwaukee 1rst unit came out really flat and playing with no energy and it just kind of felt like they were drawing dead all night. There was just no way for them to be competitive with that line-up they were throwing out there - the Mavs starters weren't even playing that well it was just that it was so easy to stop the Bucks starters and so easy to score on them that they really didn't have to do much to rack up a big lead.

The first problem is that Middleton is their only starter who can shoot 3's. Even a team full of old slow guys like the Mavs can defend you if everyone can just back up and hang out right outside of the paint every time you have the ball. There's no room for Giannis to get to the rim or for Monroe to post up or for anyone to do much of anything. It's almost as if the Bucks were constructed under the idea that the illegal defense still exists and everyone has to stay connected to their man.

The second problem is that Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker might be the worst front-court in the league in terms of being able to defend in space and protect the rim. They aren't exactly the fleetest of foot guys to begin with and Jabari is still coming back from an ACL injury while Monroe has been dealing with a knee issue. The result is two guys who can't really hedge on the perimeter and can't provide much of an impediment at the front of the rim and it's almost impossible to play defense if you are playing 0's at the 4 and the 5 position.

The third problem is that Giannis and MCW need to be playing uptempo aggressive basketball based around trying to force turnovers and get out in the open court, where their length and athleticism is a plus and their lack of shooting ability is mitigated. Instead, they are being forced to hold the ball, enter it into the post and play in the half-court. The Bucks are playing at the 26th slowest pace in the league and it makes little sense considering the skill-sets of the guy who have the ball in their hands for most of the game.

It's hard to come to many conclusions about Milwaukee's long-term future considering that Jabari is still basically a rookie coming off a serious injury and everyone else is young but it's probably time to start thinking about them given the way they have been playing this season.
  • Can Jabari and Monroe fit together? From the perspective of creating advantageous match-ups for these guys, Jabari should be at the 4 and Monroe should be at the 5. The problem is that may not be tenable in the modern NBA when it comes to playing team defense and spreading the floor. That's kind of an issue when you gave one guy a max contract and you made the other guy a No. 2 overall pick.
  • Can MCW and Giannis fit together? Both guys need the ball in their hands and are most effective on offense when they are playing in the paint. That would be a difficult dynamic to manage regardless much less the disaster that is Milwaukee's floor spacing. It feels like their minutes should be staggered as much as possible in order to maximize what each guy can do.
    • I was watching the Bucks vs. Warriors game the other day and the resemblance between MCW and Shaun Livingston was uncanny. That really seems like the future for MCW - backup PG on a good team. He doesn't even need to become a great long distance shooter if he can continue to refine his post game and he should be a good player in the league for a long time even if he never reaches the stardom that people were projecting for him during his ROY season.
  • For me, the over-arching issue hanging over this team right now is Jabari Parker. If they are going to maximize his game, they are going to have to build the roster around him. The question is will he be good enough to justify doing that? His future is just very murky because you can't really hold it against him that he looks kind of slow and kind of fat at the moment. The key for him is developing a 3-point shot - if he's nothing more than an average athlete who creates a lot of mid-range jumpers off the dribble it's hard to be too excited about him.
The Bucks got back in the game when their 2nd unit came in and they started playing a game that resembled modern basketball. They brought in guards who could shoot off the bench - Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo - and big men who could move their feet and run - Miles Plumlee, Johnny O'Bryant III. All of a sudden, Milwaukee was spreading the floor, moving the ball and getting out and running the other way. 

In a night when Deron Williams was out, Dirk Nowitzki couldn't buy a basket (3-15) and the Mavs weren't playing with a ton of energy, it was almost enough for the Bucks to steal a win.

The one guy who did bring it for Dallas was Zaza Pachulia, who had to enjoy a revenge game against his former team who basically gave him away for nothing in order to give his starting spot to Greg Monroe. Zaza vs. Greg was the most intriguing match-up coming into the game from a storyline perspective and Zaza did not disappoint, pushing Monroe around the court, stoning him on the block and generally outplaying him on both sides of the ball. There was one sequence where Monroe missed a wide open 12-footer off a drive while Zaza drained his on the other end of the floor which kind of highlighted the ways in which they do (and do not) make their teammates better.
  • Another telling sequence happened late in the 4Q when Giannis had Dirk guarding him at the 3-point line and wide open lane to the rim when all of a sudden Monroe barges into the post and demands the ball only to throw up a weak shot over Zaza. I'm pretty sure I'd rather have Giannis drive the ball in that situation. 
A few other observations from this one:
  • The Bucks were a tough match-up for JJ Barea because there was just no one for him to guard. They go 6'7-6'7-6'11-6'9-7'0 in their starting line-up and they bring in two big guards (Mayo and Bayless) who hunt for their own shot off the bench. The Mavs ended up closing the game with Ray Felton out there instead of Barea and I really hope that happens more often. Barea scored a bunch of points in his first two games as a starter replacing DWill and Rick Carlisle has always had a soft spot for him but Felton's net rating is +7.0 and Barea's is -1.3 and that seems about right to me.
  • Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews had one of their best games playing together and you are starting to see the outlines of a reasonably competitive team when those two guys are healthy and playing 35+ minutes at the wing positions. The NBA is becoming a wing league and those two guys should be one of the best wing combos out there with all the different things they can do on the court. They are certainly getting paid like they are. My guess is that when everyone is healthy, this team's best line-up is going to be Felton - Williams - Matthews - Parsons - big man.
  • Dwight Powell better start knocking down the 20+ foot jump shot or he's going to start getting his minutes cut as everyone gets healthy. The ability to knock down that shot is going to be the key for Powell in terms of reaching his ceiling as a player. If he doesn't have range on his jumper, he's going to be a pretty limited player at the NBA level.
  • You saw it with Johnny O'Bryant III tonight. He knocked down two open mid-range jumpers and all of a sudden the Mavs had to close out on him and it opened up driving lanes to the rim and allowed him to impact the game in a number of different ways. PF's have to be able to step out and shoot in the modern NBA. 
    • It also helped JOB to be going up against Dallas because Mavs PF might be the worst defensive position in the league. Dirk, Charlie V and Dwight Powell is not a trio that's going to be stopping many people. That's something to keep in mind when you start thinking about the playoffs with this team. I'm not even sure the Mavs are going to be competitive in a 7-game series with those guys having to defend and that's why I'm thinking Parsons at the 4 is the way they are going to have to go.

Jaylen Brown + Ivan Raab

At The Cauldron, a look at how the two super freshman at Cal are faring.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Spurs

At RealGM, a look at how the Spurs have turned back the clock and why they have all the pieces to lead a counter-revolution in the modern NBA.

Mavs vs. Bulls

As you can tell by the final score, there wasn't a lot of defense being played in this one. The Bulls and Mavs combined for a wild back-and-forth game that went down to the final minutes in front of a raucous Dallas crowd that braved torrential rain and tornadoes for some holiday basketball. This was the most fun game at the AAC all season and it just shows how important a good home crowd is for the overall experience. There have been a lot of real bad crowds this season - this one felt like a playoff game between two teams who won't be going very far in the playoffs.

The big story of this one was that just about no one on either team's front-court seemed the least bit interested in playing defense. It was just points, points, points for both teams because they put the other team's big men in the two-man game, got to the front of the rim at will, collapsed the rest of the defense and created wide open shots.

Let's start with the Mavs:

1) This play against Taj Gibson pretty much summed up Dirk's defense tonight:


It's kind of amazing that more teams haven't been exploiting Dirk this season. If you put him in the pick-and-roll, the only thing he can do is back up all the way to the rim and hope you miss the pull-up jumper. It's a problem in the regular season and it's going to be an even bigger one in the playoffs - maybe the biggest reason the Rockets won so easily last season was they repeatedly put Dirk in the 4/5 pick-and-roll and got wide open dunks or 3's out of it.

2) Dwight Powell

I like Dwight as a player but his defense is really bad. He's not big enough to hold up in the post, he's not long enough to protect the rim and he's not aware enough to guard out on the perimeter. He bites at every pump-fake and he jumps himself out of position constantly. It's all part of the learning process for a young big man and he has the tools to be a pretty good defender in space ... eventually. Watching him really closely this season makes me appreciate Rick Carlisle's reluctance to play young players.

3) ZaZa Pachulia

This was a tough game for him. The Bulls were ruthlessly attacking him - whether it was Pau Gasol posting him up at the front of the rim or their guards taking the ball right at him in the lane. There was one sequence in the first half when ZaZa literally moved out of the way to give Jimmy Butler a wide-open lay-up.

It wasn't much better for the Bulls.

I can see why people have been talking trash about Fred Hoiberg if he was starting Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic together for so long. It takes about five minutes of watching those guys play together to see that they are way too slow to play any type of defense and having them both out there is pretty much an invitation for a lay-up line at the front of the rim.

Mirotic was hitting 3's tonight - which I suspect was in large part thanks to a brain fart by Rick Carlisle where he started the game with JJ Barea on Mirotic and allowed Nikola to get a few easy baskets early and build his confidence up (I'm not sure I've ever seen an NBA game where there was a one-foot difference between the offensive and defensive player that wasn't the result of a switch) -
and he looks really good when he's hitting from outside because it opens up the rest of the game. You just have to be able to protect him with a defensive-minded big man and that's obviously not Pau at this stage in his career.
  • Mirotic and Taj have played 74 minutes together this season and have a rating of +24.9. Make of that what you will. If I was trying to win games in Chicago, I would think long and hard about playing smaller upfront with my two youngest big men. The league is going smaller anyway and Mirotic and Taj are the two guys who are most comfortable playing in space on offense.
You definitely don't want to play either Mirotic or Pau with Doug McDermott, who might be the worst defensive player in the league. It's not like he's not trying out there - because it definitely seems like he is - it's just that he's not very physically capable and everyone in the league knows it. Guys go out of their way to attack him, whether he's guarding on the perimeter or trying to hold up in the post.
  • The good news is that McDermott seems a lot more comfortable on offense in his 2nd year in the league. He looks like a guy whose never going to miss an open 3 and they can be very valuable in the right system, especially when they are 6'8. Just as important, McDermott showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish in the paint with a floater. He's a great shooter with a developed offensive game so he just needs to not be absolutely terrible on defense and he'll be a good NBA player. He should get a little better on defense as he gets older and stronger if only because I'm not sure it would be possible for him to continue to be this bad.
The thing about the Bulls right now is that it seems to all come back to Pau Gasol, who may or may not have some type of devil's bargain with the front office that guarantees him a starting spot. The problem is there's a real ceiling on any team that starts and gives a 35-year old Pau huge minutes. He just can't play defense anymore (which only makes Tim Duncan's ability to remain relevant at that side of the ball all the more impressive) and the only way for him to be effective is to demand the ball on offense and clog up the middle of the lane.
  • The way the league is going now, I don't even want to mess with big men if they can't play defense. It's hard enough for them to guard in space in the pace-and-space era but if they aren't physically capable at it and they aren't even trying, it's just hopeless. 
  • The real problem with building a team around post scoring is that most guys who are good at that aren't very good at playing defense. Your typical wide-bodied space eater down low doesn't have the lateral quickness to guard in space and there are so many ways to score in the modern NBA that there's no reason to build your team around a big man who can't play defense just to dump the ball into him and slow the pace of the game on offense. I'd have no problem building a team around a guy who can post up AND play D like LaMarcus Aldridge - it's just that those types of players are very rare.
  • If Pau opts out of his contract in the off-season, how many teams are really lining up to give big money to him, especially if he refuses to come off the bench?
    • I can't believe the Bulls are letting him get away with that because what type of message does that send to the rest of the team? We're going to let one guy's personal agenda fuck up everyone else's money because we aren't going to maximize the best interests of the team in order to placate his ego? It's no wonder the mood around the team is so unsettled these days. The one thing about NBA players it that you can't shit a shitter and they know good and well who the best players on the team are and what combinations of players should be out on the floor. It's not rocket science.
    • If I'm the coach, I'm not even going to coach a team that won't let me dictate the rotations because that's the most important part of my job. If I'm not being allowed to play the best players, than people are judging me on how good a job I'm doing when I'm being punished for someone else's mistakes. Just look at what happened with Marc Jackson. Dollars to donuts Jackson didn't think he could bench David Lee because of how much money Lee was making and because he was such a leader in the locker room and now he looks like an idiot and who knows when he will get another chance to be a head coach. If you are going to down with the ship, go down playing the best players. Life's too short to do it any other way.
A few other observations from this one:
  • This was my first chance getting to watch Derrick Rose in person in I don't even know how long and he looks 100% physically. He's moving around and flying around the court like a pre-injury Rose. His timing isn't there and his numbers are terrible but at least from an eye-test perspective he looks like the same guy. Of course, it helps to be guarded by JJ Barea and Ray Felton.
    • I wonder if he would be better in a situation like Deron Williams and get a fresh start where A) there wasn't as much pressure and B) he had less of a role on offense because C) he made less money. I would be definitely be willing to take a chance on Rose just to see if he could find himself where there wasn't so much of the weight of history on his back. The only thing is that he doesn't have a consistent 3-point shot and that just makes your life so much harder as a guard.
  • This was a tough night for Bobby Portis. He got a turnover when he walked over the inbounds line, he picked up a few offensive fouls and he just generally seemed out of it all night. It's just part of the learning curve for a young player
  • Hoiberg still has a lot of learning to do when it comes to maximizing his rotations at the NBA level. This isn't the Big 12 - you aren't going up against Rick Barnes and Scott Drew and the other coach is going to kill you if you have a bad line-up out there for any amount of time. There was a 1:40 stretch at end of the 1Q when he had Cameron Bairstow and McDermott on the floor and they were -6 and that was the difference in the game. 
  • JJ Barea was 7-8 from 3 and that's what the Mavs needed with Deron Williams out with a hamstring injury that hopefully isn't a long-term thing. Williams has been the Mavs best player this season and they really need him out there - if Barea hadn't been shooting like Steph Curry this game could have gotten really out of hand tonight.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mavs vs. Grizzlies

The story of this game was the individual match-up between Zach Randolph and JaVale McGee. That sentence would have been enough to make Mavs fans break out in hives before the season started but JaVale put together an incredible two-way performance tonight that could be the start of something big.
  • Plus/minus doesn't always tell the tale in an individual game but JaVale was +20 in 18 minutes (the highest on the Mavs) and Z-Bo was -17 in 26 minutes (the lowest on the Grizzlies). It was that kind of night.
  • The big move in Memphis over the last week was their decision to bench Z-Bo and Tony Allen and somewhat go away from the Grit 'N Grind style that had been their trademark over the last 5 seasons, There are a lot of different dimensions to that decision both over the short-term and the long-term but what it means for Z-Bo is that he is playing a lot of backup 5 on the 2nd unit and theoretically getting to go up against weaker post defenders and playing in more space as the featured player on the 2nd unit.
  • The problem for Z-Bo on Friday was that JaVale is the Mavs best post defender and he's their best roll-man (which is the weakest part of Z-Bo's weak defensive game) so he basically walked into a buzz-saw. JaVale has Rudy Gobert type length and he absolutely swallowed up Z-Bo - he blocked him 2 or 3x and he quickly got in Z-Bo's head. He's a human fly-swatter and he covered up Z-Bo and prevented him from ever getting a clean look at the basket. 
  • On the other side of the floor, the Mavs absolutely roasted Z-Bo in the two-man game. They paired JaVale with either Dirk or Charlie V and the floor was spread wide open for JaVale and the ball-handler to play the two-man game. There's almost no way to guard JaVale in space because you can throw the ball anywhere within a 10 foot radius of the rim and he can reach out and finish it. When he's cooking, he's like a super-sized version of Brandan Wright. Long story short, the Mavs need to get him more minutes ASAP.
  • Rick Carlisle often says that JaVale's playing time is situational because so many teams are going small and he wants to play him against big men but the way he played tonight kind of makes you want to force other teams to adjust to him. 
    • It comes down to JaVale vs. Dwight Powell for minutes as a 2nd-unit 5 and roll man who takes advantage of the spacing that Dirk provides and as much as I like Powell his upside isn't nearly as high at this point in his career. Powell can't defend in the post or block shots or rebound or finish around the rim like JaVale. I'm a #teamPowell guy but I'm #teamJaVale for life.
  • One interesting that Carlisle said in the post-game is that JaVale's injuries over the last 2 years were career-threatening, which I had never heard before. I knew they were serious but I didn't realize they were that serious. The exciting part about that is it explains why he needed so much time to recover and why his playing time could be trending upward over the next few weeks. 
  • The other guy who really benefitted from JaVale's presence on the floor was Chandler Parsons as they seemed to have instant chemistry in the two-man game. There's really no way to stop a 6'10 guy throwing a lob to a 7'1 guy 2 feet above the rim, especially when he can throw a skip pass to a 7'0 guy spotting up at the three-point line. That three-man unit could be a real buzzsaw against 2nd units and it's enough to get me legitimately excited about the Mavs.
    • "I really like playing with JaVale McGee and the lob threat is a game changer for us. That's not taking anything away from ZaZa because he's playing unbelievable and he played great tonight too but when JaVale rolls like that and I'm handling the ball it gives our team another look. When pulling out shooters,him diving to the rim just opens up the whole floor for us." - Parsons
  • Going back to Z-Bo, you could see why him getting benched was somewhat inevitable just because of how glacially slow he was moving on defense. There was one sequence where JaVale slipped a screen in the high-post for an alley-oop where Z-Bo's defense was just pitiful. He could barely get up and down the floor and he repeatedly let Charlie 3 beat him down the court for open shots in the 2nd half. He's at the point (if he wasn't already) where he's on David Lee-Enes Kanter status where you want to get him defending in space whenever he's on the floor and particularly when he's playing at the 5.
  • Something else to watch for Memphis going forward is what happens when Brandan Wright returns from injury because it's going to be hard for him and Z-Bo to play together on a 2nd unit. That was a signing that made sense on paper but leaves you scratching your head a bit in terms of the overall fit with the team since Marc and Z-Bo are both better in a post-heavy offense and Wright needs to be the roll man in a spread pick-and-rol to be effective. If Memphis is going to have one of their two big men in the game the entire game, there's no room for Wright to do what he does best. 
Memphis new 4-out offense got off to a great start in the 1Q and it clearly caught the Mavs a bit by surprise in terms of defending it but Dallas figured it out at half-time and was able to extend their lead at the start of the 2nd half.
  • The plus side for the Grizzlies was that playing in space really freed up Mike Conley who had one of his better games of the season as a scorer with 20 points on 14 shots. The Mavs just had no one in their starting line-up who could keep up with him speed-wise and he repeatedly blew by Deron Williams whenever he wanted. That's something to watch with Dallas - how they match up with fast 1's - and it's an area where you really saw them miss Devin Harris, who was out with a hamstring strain.
  • The problem for the Grizzlies was that none of their three wings around Gasol and Conley - Courtney Lee, Matt Barnes, Jeff Green - were really able to take advantage of that space and create shots off the bounce. They are all better off as spot-up shooters and I don't really trust any of them as secondary playmakers. Green is theoretically supposed to be that guy but he had an absolutely horrible night - 2 points on 7 shots in 34 minutes - and he looked pretty disinterested for most of it. He was throwing up garbage shots and he couldn't stay in front of Parsons at all.
    • Here's a line-up that Rick Carlisle would definitely try - Conley, Chalmers, Lee, Barnes, Gasol. Conley and Chalmers are their best two all-around offensive creators and that's probably the best way to juice their offense. Rick absolutely loves his 2 PG line-ups and he's willing to give up some perimeter size on defense in order to have 2 guys who can initiate offense and run pick-and-rolls on opposite sides of the court.
  • What the Mavs started doing in the 2nd half was just isolating Dirk on Barnes and Green once he got into a rhythm and those guys had no prayer of doing anything to him on defense. That might be the real problem with the Grizzlies new 4-out look - are they going to be potent enough on offense to make up for the lack of defense at the 4 position?
A few other observations from this one:
  • Marc Gasol got really outplayed by Zaza Pachulia. Zaza forced Marc into taking some tough shots out of the post and he dominated him on the boards. The one hole in Marc's game is that he's never been a great scorer and he's always been more comfortable being an offensive hub and setting everyone else up instead of hunting for his own shot. That's something that might become more obvious without Z-Bo out there. He's playing in more space and that means more of a spotlight on his game. Zaza was playing with more energy all night and there were times when Marc was really huffing and puffing out there. 
  • Jarell Martin got in the game during garbage time which got me unreasonably excited. I'm a big Jarell Martin fan and I think he's got a chance to be a real player in this league. To compare him to someone else from tonight - he's like Dwight Powell except stronger and thicker and if Dwight could stroke jumpers off the dribble and handle the ball like a guard. Martin has a much higher ceiling than JaMychal Green but he's obviously nowhere near as ready to contribute to an NBA team contending for a playoff spot at this point so it will be interesting to see how Joerger handles that. I'd be really interested to see what Martin can do with B-Wright when he gets back.
  • When one door opens, another one closes. That's the NBA for you. This looks like the end for Vince Carter, which is kind of sad but it does feel like it's time. He was basically a coach on the bench and he went out to halfcourt a few times during stoppages of play to talk to guys like JaMychal Green and give them pointers on what was going on out there. Vince had a great run and it looks like Dallas was really the end of the road for him. I'm sure he appreciates the golden parachute that Memphis gave him on his way out the door and it's hard to see them picking up his partially guaranteed contract next season.

Cavs vs. Thunder

At RealGM, ten take-aways from Thursday night's game between two of the NBA's elite teams.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cavs vs. Celtics

This game reminded me a lot of the way the Cavs tried to win the NBA Finals last season. Cleveland was playing Bully Ball all night - they were holding the ball, limiting the number of possessions and keeping the game in the half-court as much as possible and then trying to take advantage of their size edge. It wasn't the prettiest game but it was effective and they bludgeoned a Celtics team that is fairly undersized upfront to death.
  • Boston was letting LeBron play 1-on-1 for most of the night and he took the ball right to the front of the rim whenever he could, either by the drive or the post-up. His jumper has been completely off all season but it doesn't matter when he's that big and that strong and he's allowed to play in enough space. 
    • It's hard to watch LeBron expend so much effort in games like this (he played the most minutes of any player in the game at 36) and not wonder about the cumulative effect on his body. The good news for him is that he has the room to completely re-invent his game as he moves deeper into his 30's. In 3-4 years, he's going to be playing out of the post full-time and that should actually somewhat limit the amount of wear and tear on his body because they'll be playing slower and he can just kill people with the fade-away jumper every time down the floor - he basically needs to become like second three-peat MJ.
  • Kevin Love is clearly more comfortable in the Cleveland offense this season. He's giving them a really effective combination of three point shooting + low-post scoring. What he does a really good job of is using his strength and his wide body to get under longer defenders like Amir Johnson and pin them on his side to create a shooting angle at the basket. From there, he can bust out all his pump-fakes and send guys flying by him. He busted that out on Kelly Olynyk and made him look ridiculous in the second half.
  • Timofey Mozgov had one of his best games of the season as he gets more comfortable coming off knee surgery. One thing I really like with him is using him as a cutter off the ball - it's a really effective counter to small-ball because he's very good at catching and finishing on the move and there's nothing a smaller defender can do to stop a 7'1 250 mountain of a man rolling to the basket. There are other ways to counter small-ball besides throwing the ball into the post and that's going to be crucial if they end up playing the Warriors again in the Finals.
One thing I worry about with Boston when you are talking about them as a playoff team is how much size they give up at a number of positions. 
  • You saw the problem with Isaiah Thomas when he got stuck on JR Smith a couple of times and could absolutely nothing to contest his shot - the only way he was doing anything on defense is if he was given a broom to whack at the ball. Break down the match-ups in the Eastern Conference and ask yourself who is he guarding:
    • CLE: Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert or JR Smith
    • CHI: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler
    • TOR: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan
    • CHA: Kemba Walker, PJ Hairston
      • This is really the only team where you can find places to hide IT2 on defense or at least hope that he is big enough to stick with Kemba Walker.
    • IND: George Hill, Monta Ellis 
    • MIA: Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade
  • They aren't really big upfront either. Amir Johnson is big enough to be a stretch 5 in the modern NBA but he's still giving up a lot of size and bulk to Timofey Mozgov, Pau Gasol, Jonas Valanciunas and Al Jefferson.
  • They are probably going to put Jared Sullinger on the 5's because he's pretty stout and it's going to be tough for him to guard perimeter 4's like Kevin Love, Nikola Mirotic, Patrick Patterson and Chris Bosh.
A few other observations from this one:
  • Cleveland isn't all that athletic especially with Shumpert coming back from injury and Kyrie still out. They only have four 25-and-under guys in the rotation in those two plus Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova and they play a ton of older guys with a lot of miles on their body. You could really see the difference in the first half when a younger and more athletic Boston team was getting to most of the loose balls. The good news for Cleveland is they seem to have found a style of play and a pace that works for them. The key for them is not turning the ball over, which will be easy when you have three guys who can score off isolations.
  • Boston has figured out the perfect way to use Evan Turner as a 2nd-unit point forward who dominates the ball and takes smaller players into the box and scores from 15-feet and in. That's basically how he was used at Ohio State and he was always miscast in that role on a first unit because he's not athletic enough and he's not good enough of a shooter to dominate the ball against the best defenders in the league. The nice thing about playing ET as a 2nd-unit ball-handler is it allows you to play some all 6'7 line-ups that overwhelm teams with size. That's where Brad Stevens reminds me of Rick Carlisle in that he finds ways to maximize the strengths of his players and put them in position to succeed.
  • The nice thing about James Young is that he has a 7'0 wingspan that allows him to mix it up with bigger players and impact the game without scoring, which he did not do on Tuesday. All he really has as an offensive player is the 3-point shot and he's not terribly efficient at it so he still needs to figure out who he is on that side of the ball. One thing I wonder is if he could play as a small-ball 4 with those long arms and that could go a long way towards helping him find a spot in the league.
  • One of the biggest benefits of getting Kyrie Irving back for Cleveland will be staggering the minutes of their Big Three so that A) they can give LeBron some more rest and B) they can avoid any 2nd-unit line-ups without a primary offensive option. There were some sequences in the first half where Mo Williams was kind of dribbling around in circles that were just ugly and the Cavs bench kind of allowed the Celtics to stay in the game.

    Wizards

    At RealGM, a look at why Washington's switch to small ball hasn't worked.

    Sunday, December 13, 2015

    Mavs vs. Wizards

    This game was one step beyond small ball - this was tiny ball. Without Nene, Washington might be the smallest team in the league and they beat the Mavs at their own game for most of the night, spreading them out, running pick-and-rolls and hoisting up 3's as fast as they could take them. They were playing on turbo and pushing the ball at every possible chance. I'm not sure I've seen a team play faster at the AAC this season - they were sprinting down the floor after makes or misses, although it's hard to call whatever Jared Dudley was doing sprinting. More like a slow and steady jog like he was running the first leg of a marathon. 

    The fundamental problem for the Mavs normal line-ups was that they couldn't punish the Wizards for how ridiculously small they were playing. Dallas wants to be the smaller and faster team especially on their 2nd unit, where they play 4-out with a bunch of PG's and try to pick apart bigger and slower teams on the pick-and-roll. They got a taste of their own medicine tonight against a Washington team that was playing Jared Dudley and Dejuan Blair at the 5. There were times in this game where Dirk was the only player above 6'7 on the floor and we aren't just talking in the middle of the 2nd quarter - this was crunch time in an NBA game and it looked like something out of the Filipino leagues where they have a maximum height limit.

    Dallas didn't get back into the game until they decided to fight fire with fire in the 4Q, playing super-small line-ups that featured 3 PG's (none of them over 6'1), Wesley Matthews at the 4 and either Dirk or Dwight Powell at the 5. I get the feeling that a lot of small teams are like teams who press in college - they hate to go up against people who play their own style back at them. There's nothing a team that presses hates more than getting pressed because their entire team is set up to exploit the dynamic against a half-court oriented team that doesn't want to get into a breakneck style of play. The Mavs didn't like when the Wizards went small against them and the Wizards didn't like when the Mavs went tiny against them.

    With Golden State doing what they are doing, the natural question is whether this type of game is the future of the NBA. It was certainly entertaining, although the lack of defense being played by either team would be enough to cause Rick Carlisle to lose the rest of his hair. What I think it really shows is what happens to big men if they don't have the game to either A) exploit smaller players or B) play a guard-oriented game.

    - Marcin Gortat is a good player but he's not a guy you just want to pound the ball into the box into on a mismatch. He's more of a pick-and-pop guy who can attack a close-out and serve as a hub in the offense who occasionally scores with this back to the basket. The Mavs would have been perfectly happy with him demanding post-ups against 4's like Dirk and Powell.

    - It was the same story with Zaza. For all the many strengths of his game, demanding the ball in the post and guarding out on the perimeter aren't two of them. John Wall got switched on Zaza in the pick-and-roll and the resulting comedy of errors that was the Mavs trying to enter the ball into him resulted in a turnover. The two C's were basically keeping each other in the game but when one coach took one out the other had no choice but to follow. 

    - Prime Dirk would have dropped 40+ points on the Wizards easily. He had one sequence against Jared Dudley where he remembered that he was 7'0 and that if Dudley was going to press up on him on D he could Big Boy his way to the rim. For the most part, though, the game was much too fast for him. The Wizards were playing at such a frenetic pace that it was hard for him to get into a rhythm and they were absolutely demolishing him on the pick-and-roll, which was my primary fear for Dirk this season.

    The strategy the Mavs have been using with Dirk this season is for him to drop back as far as possible in order to give up the long 2 and then send enough help to where they can pack the paint and force teams to beat them from the perimeter. What they've been really good at is choosing the right guys to leave open. The problem on Saturday was that all the Wizards were making their shots so there was no one they could leave open. 
     
    - Washington was 51.8% from the field and 45.3% from 3, which might seem unsustainable except all those shots were wide open. John Wall could get into the Mavs defense whenever he wanted and then kick it out for an open shooter and his guys were all able to take advantage. Dallas decided that Otto Porter and Ramon Sessions were going to beat them and they did. Sometimes you just got to tip your hat.

    A few other observations:

    - John Wall is one of the players whose really worth seeing in person. He's just so incredibly fast that the game comes easy to him. There were a few times where he really did cut through the Mavs defense like a knife through butter. He's one of those guys whose always reading the floor because the primary defender has no chance of staying with him anyway. You need to be longer and faster than someone to lock them up and there isn't a player in the NBA whose longer and faster than Wall. 

    - For as fast as Wall is, Jared Dudley is every bit as slow. He might legitimately be the slowest person in the league. There was one sequence when he tried to hedge a pick-and-roll and he was moving so slow that Harris took one dribble and went right around him. Dudley is like Draymond Green if he had absolutely no athletic ability.

    - Otto Porter had 28 points on 18 shots but it's not like he had a great game where he did a bunch of different things on the court. He just hit a bunch of wide-open shots, including a lot of long 2's.

    - Kelly Oubre should be a good player eventually because he's got that money combination of length, athleticism and shooting ability. He even has a bit of burst off the dribble that should allow him to get by a lot of NBA defenders, especially if they have to respect his jumper. The problem is that he's an incredibly raw player at this stage in his career who has no idea what he's doing out there or how to consistently impact the game at the NBA level. Oubre is a guy who would have really benefited from an extra year of college because it's not like he was tearing up the NCAA at Kansas. It's hard to blame him for taking the money but his career has an incredibly wide range of outcomes at the moment because it's all about how much work he's going to put in to improve his game. He has a good foundation. What he does with it from here is on him. 

    - The Mavs really, really missed Deron Williams, who was out a stomach ailment. Williams has quietly been their best player this season. He's big enough to play as a SG in two-PG line-ups while not compromising their defense and he's their best shot-creator with Dirk aging and with Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews still recovering from off-season surgeries. He controls the tempo of the game, sets up everyone else and spaces the floor. The only thing he's lacking is raw speed and that has been minimized by the Mavs sliding him down a position for most of the game.

    - The Charlie Villanueva experience, for as fun as it has been, might be coming to an end. He will still have value as an instant offense 3-point shooter off the bench but he's so bad on defense and he's such a one-dimensional player that it's hard to have him out there for any amount of time if he's not cooking from 3. In his first defensive possession of the game, the Wizards ran a pick-and-roll at him, he couldn't really move his feet to keep up and they they swung the ball back around the perimeter and he rather lazily closed out and gave up the open shot. It was that kind of night for Charlie 3.

    - It's not getting a lot of play nationally but Chandler Parsons has been terrible all season since coming back from a knee surgery which the Mavs claim was not that big a deal but I find very hard to believe at this point. He was -21 in 23 minutes tonight and that didn't seem like a coincidence. He just has no lift in his legs and it is affecting every part of his game. He can't move on the perimeter, he can't finish at the rim and he can't even knock down open shots. There are nights where the minute factor isn't even a concern and the Mavs can't have him out there for any amount of time because he is killing the team. It's almost getting to the point where I wonder if he wouldn't be better off shutting it down for awhile and getting himself 100% healthy before trying to get the grind of the NBA season. The amazing is the team is playing as well as they have been considering how little they are getting out of the guy whose supposed to be their best player. What this team needs more than anything else is what a healthy Chandler Parsons provides. What I'm worried about is when exactly we are going to see that guy.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2015

    SMU vs. Michigan

    SMU can't play in the post-season because of NCAA sanctions due to one player having coursework done for him in one class (while UNC somehow has still not been punished for giving out fake degrees for 20+ years) so nationally televised games against Big Ten powers like Michigan are as big as it gets for them. They ran Michigan out of the gym and looked like one of the best teams in the country in the process - it has to physically pain Larry Brown (who can't be associated with the program in any way for the first nine games) to have a team this good and not be able to do anything with it. John Beilein couln't have been more complementary in the post-game presser, saying they were as good as any team in the country and comparing it to going to play at Duke.

    SMU lost star big man Markus Kennedy to a sprained ankle in the first minute of the game and didn't even miss a beat. It might have even worked to their advantage because it allowed them to play smaller and faster and spread out the Michigan defense because it's not like Michigan had the big men to punish them the other way. SMU is a great combination of new school and old school - they play a bunch of wings and spread the floor but still run a lot of offense by playing inside-out and running cutters out of the high post.

    From an NBA draft perspective, the big story was Caris LeVert, who couldn't get anything going against an aggressive SMU defense that didn't give him any breathing room on the perimeter. Levert was averaging 19/5/4 on 52% shooting coming into the game and he wound up with 5 points and 3 assists on 1-13 (!!) shooting. It had to be one of the worst games of his NCAA career.

    • The first key for SMU was they were playing 4-5 wings for most of the game and switching almost every screen-roll. Michigan gets most of their offense from spreading the floor and exploiting cracks in the defense from getting defenders in the two-man game but SMU had the length and the athletes to switch everything and never give LeVert any room.
    • The guy who got the assignment on LeVert was Keith Frazier and he did a phenomenal job. At 6'5 190, Frazier doesn't have a great wingspan (6'6) but he's an elite athlete whose much faster and much quicker side to side than LeVert and he got right into LeVert's dribble and stayed in his jersey all night. Frazier is a real character - he was doing the Money Manziel finger signs after every made basket and he eventually got T'd up for talking in LeVert's face in the 2nd half. It's hard to blame him, though, when he so thoroughly whipped a future NBA first-round pick on both sides of the ball. He definitely made  himself some money tonight although it didn't seem like the NBA scouts in attendance really appreciated the extra-curriculars.
    • You kind of saw the limitations in LeVert's game tonight. He just doesn't have a lot of burst off the dribble and he struggles to create separation when elite athletes press up on him in defense. It reminded me a lot of a game he had last season against Arizona when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson hounded him all over the floor. The good news for him is that he's not going to be a primary option at the next level so he won't see that type of defense and he won't face other team's best perimeter defenders all that often.
    • One thing I was wondering while watching this is whether he would be most effective as a 6'7 off-ball PG in the NBA and using his size advantage to post up smaller guards and create an all-switching defensive line-up. He could be like a post knee surgery Shaun Livingston with a much better 3-point shot. While he doesn't have great athleticism or quickness, the sheer amount of length he has means that faster guys probably won't be able to exploit him too much even at the next level. 
    • LeVert is a fundamentally sound player whose a great shooter and a good passer with a solid handle and a 7'1 wingspan so he's going to be a good NBA player for a long time regardless. He will be a pretty safe first-round pick but I think his only real chance to be a high-level NBA player is as a super-sized PG.
    The problem for Michigan is they don't really have anything else when LeVert isn't going. Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson are good 6'8 shooters who can attack a close-out but they aren't primary creators against elite defenses. Beilein plays 4-out basketball with the idea of moving the ball and attacking defenders in space but that can only be so effective when you don't have the athletic advantage at any position on the floor. They really missed Derrick Walton tonight.

    The other problem is they don't really have any big men. The guys they have aren't quick enough to guard on the perimeter, not big enough to control the paint and not skilled enough to punish teams for going small against them. I'm not sure what they are going to do against guys like AJ Hammons and Nigel Hays in Big Ten play. LeVert and all their shooters should be able to get them into the Tourney but it's hard to see them making much noise if they can't find a 2nd option or a guy with a pulse on their front-line.

    SMU doesn't have a definite NBA guy like LeVert but they've got a few maybe guys.
    • I'm fairly confident that Frazier is an NBA player but the scouts haven't really come around on him yet and he's not quite statistically productive enough to make up for some of the red flags that have crept up around him off the court. He's a fan favorite at SMU but he's also a hot head whose academic issues nearly sank the entire program. What he has in his favor is that he's got NBA size, he's super quick, he can shoot off the dribble with a quick release with a soft touch and he has become a much more intelligent and much more skilled player in his three seasons with Larry Brown. It's kind of amazing to see how much he has grown since his freshman season when he came in playing like a bootleg Gerald Green. He knows how to read the defense and he knows how to find the open man on the move and make the correct pass. I expect him to have a huge senior season that moves him up NBA draft boards pretty quickly.
    • Ben Moore is the other guy with the chance to play at the next level. He's a 6'8 combo forward whose a pretty great small-ball 4 at the NCAA level and his game fits perfectly with how the league is going. He's fast enough to switch screens, long enough to survive on the boards and he's a fantastic passer who can dissect a defense from the high post. The key for him is going to be stretching out his shot to the 3-point line because he's not going to be a primary option at the next level and secondary options in the modern NBA have to be able to shoot 3's if they aren't 6'10+ C's.
    They lose Nic Moore and the fifth-year senior big man tandem of Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert but they have enough pieces coming back to where I expect them to be a Top 15 team anyway. The heart of the team will be three senior wings - Moore, Frazier and Sterling Brown - who can spread the floor, move the ball, put it on the ground and defend multiple positions. They have two more freshman wings - Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster - who look pretty good and Milton has a chance to be a real player. He's a 6'4 PG with a well-rounded game who was recruited by just about every school in the country. They can run out a line-up that goes 6'4 - 6'5 - 6'5 - 6'6 - 6'8 and switch everything, basically an NCAA version of the Warriors.

    Moore isn't quite as thick as Draymond so they will need some extra beef on the frontline, whether that comes as a freshman or a graduate transfer. If they can find just one 6'10+ guy who will allow them to survive against bigger frontlines and give them more depth upfront, they could be as good as any team in the country next season too. Larry Brown ain't dead yet, let's just put it that way.

    Brandon Ingram + Diamond Stone

    At The Cauldron, my weekly draft prospect breakdown looks at two of the top freshmen in the country.

    Sunday, December 6, 2015

    Baylor vs. Vandy

    This one had everything you would want in a college basketball game - it was a back-and-forth thriller that went down to the final buzzer between two good teams with a ton of NBA prospects between them. There was just a lot of interesting stuff going on both in terms of the chess match between Scott Drew and Kevin Stallings and in terms of what we learned about the NBA players involved. There were 31 scouts at this game for a reason and it wasn't to enjoy the pleasures of a Sunday night in Waco in December.

    The big story in terms of tactics was Vandy shooting Baylor out of Drew's beloved 1-3-1 zone. This game was like a microcosm of a typical Baylor season in the Big 12 - they surprise people early with the length and athleticism coming from a lot of weird angles in the half-court before teams get comfortable with it and start to pick apart the zone. Drew did a better job of switching between man and zone in the first half than he usually does but there's just no way you are going to be able to zone a team as well-coached as Vandy that features a ton of size, a ton of shooting and a lot of intelligent players. The good news for Baylor is they have the athletes to play pressure man D and that was the difference for them in the 2nd half - the rest of the Big 12 should consider themselves lucky that Drew doesn't just do that all the time. Baylor has the athletic advantage on almost every team they face and why they chose to throw that away by playing a gimmick zones I will never understand. As Bomani Jones always says, #zoneisforcowards.

    This was almost like an NBA game in terms of match-ups. There was a ton of talent on the floor, especially upfront, where Vandy had two 7'0 who can play in Damian Jones and Luke Kornet while Baylor countered with two 4/5 big men in Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley and a 3/4 combo forward in Taurean Waller-Prince.
    • Baylor started Gathers and Motley upfront last season but they are staggering their minutes a lot more this season, which is a very NBA move from Drew. Instead of having two traditional big men who can't stretch the floor, he's playing 4-out with either Motley or Gathers playing in the post and Waller-Prince playing as a small-ball 4 with three shooters around him. TWP had 30 points on 19 shots because Vandy didn't really have an answer for him - he was either taking bigger guys off the dribble or posting up smaller guys on the block, which is one of the benefits of playing in a ton of space. TWP just looks like a prototype combo forward for where the league is going and if he stays in the 30's all season (which is where DX has him now), I will eat my hat.
    • This game kind of shows the problem for a guy like Kornet when it comes to projecting him to the NBA. He's a 7'0 who can shoot 3's and stand behind guys in the post but he may be a generation too late in terms of being able to make an impact at the next level. He's a prototype stretch 4 but what's the point in playing a guy like that if I can just go small with a 3 at the 4 like TWP and have the same floor spacing and a lot more athleticism? You can move him to 5 but he can't protect the rim or anchor the defense and Vandy got killed against in the brief moments they went with that line-up. Kornet did a decent job of guarding Motley in the post but he was way too weak to bang with Gathers and he had no answer for when Motley took him out on the perimeter and used his quickness. He had 4 fouls in 18 minutes which was a pretty good indication of his night - Stallings just couldn't keep him on the floor and there was no one he could really guard defensively.
    • You have to love when NBA-caliber big men go up against each other at the NCAA level because they really expose the holes in each other's game. Rico Gathers is a dominant NCAA player and he is an absolute beast of a man but he's a 6'8 center without a perimeter game and you saw what happens to those type of guys when they have to go up against a legit NBA center with length like Damian Jones - Rico went 5-15 from the floor. He's a guy who should really think about playing in the NFL. He could have a Julius Peppers type career and I really think more NFL teams should try to look for undersized NCAA big men and transition them to their sport. The beauty of it is they have no miles on their body. 
      • Rico had a great quote after the game. "I told the guys before the game it was like David and Goliath out there [in terms of their match-up with the two Vandy 7'0]. We just needed a pocket full of stones to knock them down."
    • You didn't really see it in the numbers but Damian Jones had a huge impact on this game. I wish there was someone keeping track of +/- at the NCAA level because whenever Jones went out of the game for any stretch of time Vandy just completely fell apart. He's the anchor of the defense and their only big man with the athleticism to bang with Gathers and Motley. He struggled at first with the match-up against a round mound of rebound like Gathers before he realized that hey, I'm significantly taller than this guy and if I just take my time and gather strong (on offense) and put my hands straight up (on defense) there really isn't much he can do. 
    • Motley isn't going to get a ton of shine this season with Baylor going to a lot more smaller line-ups but he has a lot of game. He's 6'9 230 with a live body and a 7'3 wingspan and he does a great job of crashing the boards and getting up and down the floor. He still has a way to go in terms of feeling the game and scoring with his back to the basket but the tools are there. He struggled to score over the top of Kornet in the first half but then he took him out on the perimeter in the 2nd and there was nothing the Vandy big man could do. The next step for Motley is developing more range on his jumper - if he can be a consistent perimeter shooter as a junior, he's a guy who could fly up draft boards once he's playing full-time as a 5 in a spread floor with Gathers graduated. He's a much more gifted offensive player than Gathers and when Baylor wants to score they are going Motley at the 5, TWP at the 4.
    The key guy for Vandy in this game was Jeff Roberson - their comeback in the 2nd half was keyed by playing Roberson at the 4 and Jones at the 5. He's a 6'6 combo forward and he's the only guy on their roster who can handle athletic 3's and 4's. The one thing to watch with Vandy this season is how much Roberson vs. Kornet plays at the 4 and how Stallings juggles his front-court rotation.

    I also can't forget Wade Baldwin IV who had an absolutely dominant performance on the perimeter. He has great size and a great wingspan (6'10) for a PG and he uses it well on both sides of the ball - he can shoot over the top of just about anyone and finish from a lot of weird angles in the lane and then guard a lot of different guys on the perimeter. He's a two-way beast who totally locked up the Baylor guards while also having the ball in his hands for most of the game. He has a chance to be a first-team All-SEC guy and I'm really curious to see what he can do against the Kentucky and the LSU guards in SEC play. He has a chance to make a lot of money if he can show-out in those match-ups.

    The key guy to watch for Baylor this season is Lester Medford. He was their only shot creator on the perimeter and Baylor needs him to balance out the scoring they get from the front-court. Medford was quiet for most of the game when Baylor was behind and his offense fueled their comeback and pushed them over the top. He's a senior PG and they need him to win his match-up if they are going to beat the best teams on their schedule. The problem is his size (5'10) which allows bigger guys like Baldwin to really cover him up. Allerik Freeman is their leading scorer but he did absolutely nothing in this game - I'll just chalk it up to one of those nights.

    Both these teams are pretty good but it feels like they are both one player short when it comes to being elite. Baylor needs another perimeter creator and Vandy needs another 6'4+ athlete on the perimeter for defensive purposes. I expect both to make a lot of noise in conference play and possibly make it to the Sweet 16 if the match-ups play right but it's hard to see them getting out of the 2nd weekend with some of the holes on their respective rosters.

    Rockets

    At RealGM, a look at a few reasons for optimism despite Houston's disastrous start.

    Friday, November 20, 2015

    Draymond at the 5

    At RealGM, a look at the big picture implications of the most dominant line-up in basketball.

    Beating The Warriors 2.0

    Over at RealGM, I've got a big picture look at the Warriors five-out line-ups and how they represent the end-point of the small-ball revolution. At this point, I'm thinking the only question in the NBA right now is whether there's any line-up out there that can beat Draymond Green at the 5.

    There are three possible counters to Golden State’s five-out line-ups.

    1) Play two traditional big men and punish them at the 5 and the 4. (3-out basketball)

    That's the Grizzlies strategy. It didn't work for a couple of reasons. There were holes in their big men's game - Marc Gasol is more of a facilitator than a scorer and Z-Bo is more of a scorer than a facilitator - and they didn't have enough perimeter shooting to force Golden State out of the paint. The Warriors moved Green from Z-Bo to Gasol and they basically double-teamed Z-Bo with Barnes and Andrew Bogut and dared Tony Allen to beat them from the perimeter. They cracked the code of the Grizzlies in that series and it's hard to see Memphis being able to make a run at them anymore unless they find another wing player they can put next to Courtney Lee and Mike Conley who can defend, shoot and create his own shot off the bounce. They've tried Rudy Gay and Jeff Green in that spot and neither one has been able to make up the difference.

    The Clippers are going to try with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and we saw the downsides of that approach last night. DeAndre can’t score with his back to the basket so the Warriors can hide Barnes on him without any fear. Nor do they have the shooters who can give Blake space to operate while also being able to defend Golden State’s wings. They are either playing perimeter players who kill them on defense (Jamal Crawford + Paul Pierce) or who kill their spacing (Lance Stephenson). My guess is the Clippers are going to need to go to option #2 with Blake at the 5 if they are going to have any chance of beating the Warriors.

    If they meet again in the Finals, the Cavaliers are going to try and give the Warriors a different look with Kevin Love at the 4 and Tristan Thompson at the 5. There are two basic problems with this approach - Tristan can't score to save his life and Love can't defend to save his. Maybe he can punish Harry Barnes on the box and he can definitely do some damage on the offensive boards but is it going to be enough to make up for what happens if the Warriors put him in the two-man game? If they run a 1/4 pick-and-roll with Barnes picking for Curry, the only way for Love to defend would be to give him a broom to whack Steph on the head as he goes around him or block his shot as he raises up for an open look off the bounce. That's why I'm not so sure a #fullsquad Cleveland team would be that much better against Golden State.

    The Hawks are interesting because they have mobile big men who can defend in space - Paul Millsapp and Al Horford - and who can spread you out, attack you on the box and play high-low. They play five-out basketball with a 6'10 guy and a 6'7 guy upfront so they would have most of the advantages of playing big against Golden State without many of the disadvantages. If they want to really get freaky, they could play Paul Millsapp at the 5, which is apparently a thing that has worked well against the Warriors in the past. Their problem, of course, is that they still have to get through Cleveland and LeBron James.

    The Thunder have a lot of different options if they want to stay big against Golden State and they might have to do that considering how much they have invested in the 4 and 5 spots. I just wonder if Adams + Ibaka can punish the Warriors enough on offense and if Kanter + Ibaka can play enough perimeter defense. Adams + Kanter might be their max interior offensive combo but it's hard to see them spreading the floor well enough to counter Golden State packing the paint (especially if Roberson and another iffy shooter are on the perimeter). If they are going to stay big, it's going to come down to Enes Kanter and then it becomes a matter of Kanter post-ups vs. Kanter defending the two-man game and which is going to be more efficient. Mitch McGary is another wild card they could throw out there but he hasn't been able to get consistent playing time under Donovan yet.

    The Spurs are probably the team with the best chance of beating the Warriors with a conventional line-up. They have two big men who can shoot, score and pass - Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge - and they can put three perimeter players who can space the floor, defend and control tempo around them. I just wonder if Duncan and Aldridge can score enough points in the box to make up for the points they would give up defending on the perimeter. If they meet Golden State in the playoffs, it will be the last stand of the two-post team. Of course, the Spurs would also have the versatility to try options #2 and 3, which is what would make a chess match between Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich so fascinating.

    2) Play one traditional big man who can attack Green at the 5 and surround him with 4 wings. (4-out basketball)

    I think this has a much better chance of working than 3-out basketball. You can think of 5-out vs. 4-out vs. 3-out as being on the earthquakes scale. The level of difficulty in running efficient offense increases logarithmically as you move up. It's much easier to space the floor and move the ball with one big man in the paint as opposed to two and it becomes child's play when you have five guys spread out along the three-point line. I think last year's playoffs pretty much proved that 3-out isn't going to work against the Warriors. This year's playoffs is going to be about 4-out.

    The Pelicans actually gave the Warriors some trouble in the first-round with Anthony Davis at the 5 because they have enough wing players - Quincy Pondexter, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Norris Cole - to fill out a respectable line-up on both sides of the ball around him. Of course all those guys have to be healthy at the same time and they are going to have to dig out of a massive hole just to make it too the playoffs.

    If I was the Clippers, I'd go with this line-up: Paul, Redick, Wesley Johnson, Lance, Blake.

    - I don't think DeAndre makes enough of a difference on the boards to make up for the fact that he constantly leaves Steph open on the 1-5 pick and roll and can't do anything to attack a smaller player on defense.

    - If they went with this group, they could have Blake switch on Steph (which he did reasonably well in the 4Q last night) and they would give him a lot more space to operate on offense.


    - There's just no way they can have Paul Pierce or Jamal Crawford out there against the Warriors. They are too old and too slow to defend in that type of space.

    - That would be their best defensive 5 and you would hope Lance could be in the Iguodala role of the iffy shooter whose spacing isn't as big a deal when playing in max space. I still haven't given up on Lance and he's more than big enough to match up with Harry Barnes at the 4.

    - I think A) that 5 could give the Warriors a run B) it's the only 5 on the Clippers that could and C) Doc won't use it. He's too committed to DeAndre, Pierce, Jamal and Austin Rivers and those guys aren't going to get it done against Golden State.

    The problem with the Cavs going 4-out against the Warriors is the same with them going 3-out - all their bigs are at least somewhat one-dimensional. We already saw that Tristan + LeBron isn't going to work and Blatt went away from Mozgov + LeBron in last year's Finals. Love + LeBron is going to get slaughtered on defense. I think they have to go 5-out to have a chance.

    The Thunder can go 4-out with Ibaka at the 5 but he can't punish Draymond on the box which negates a lot of the value of having a big man out there.

    - My guess is they would try something like this: Serge + KD + Roberson + Waiters + Russ. The idea being that Roberson's lack of shooting is less of an issue in 4-out and that Waiters is a better two-way player than Morrow or Augustin. I'm not sure why Kyle Singler has been so bad in OKC but they really need to figure out how to get him going because he's (theoretically) their best two-way player on the wing after KD.

    The Spurs can go 4-out with LaMarcus at the 5, Kawhi at the 4 and Green, Manu and Parker on the perimeter. My question with that is Manu and Parker and whether they can hold up athletically against the Warriors perimeter on either side of the ball.

    - Given how much age they have on the wing, they might be better off going LaMarcus - Diaw - Kawhi - Green - Mills and playing a hybrid 3.5 out style of basketball. I'd really like them to have one more 6'6+ athletic wing next to Green and then initiate the offense with Diaw and Kawhi. I'm thinking the Spurs are one player away from really being able to run with the Warriors.

    - The reason I have them going with LaMarcus over Duncan at the 5 in a 4-out offense is the long big man has to be able to defend in space and the younger and more athletic player seems much more suited to do that than the 37-year old. Duncan is still the better interior defender but the thing about the Warriors going 5-out is they are going to spread you out and force everyone to guard 25+ feet from the basket. A prime TD could do that but it seems like an elderly TD has to play back.

    3) Try to beat them at their own game and play 5 wings at the same time.

    Oklahoma City: KD - Singler - Roberson - Waiters - Russ

    - Roberson's shooting shouldn't be a huge issue in 5-out spacing and if you close your eyes you maybe can envision Singler and Waiters as two-way wings who can stay with Barnes and Iguodala. From there, you have Roberson guarding Klay and then Russ vs. Steph and KD vs. Draymond. The reason those two guys are so great in Golden State is because they are playing in maximum space and I'd love to see what KD and Russ can do in a similar scenario. I'm not saying they should go this line-up in Game 1 but I hope they would at least try it at some point in the series.

    - You know who they could really use? My man Jeremy Lamb whose currently killing the game in Charlotte. I can defend a lot of the decisions that OKC's front office has made in the last few years but the decision to go with Waiters over Lamb is absolutely indefensible not just from a results standpoint but a process one as well and it makes me question what exactly is going on over there. They obviously have a great drafting department but are the people who are making the draft picks the same as the people who are making the NBA decisions?

    -- Waiters per-36 in 2014: 15.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 39.2% shooting, 31.2% from 3
    -- Lamb per-36 in 2014: 16.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists on 41.6% shooting, 34.2% from 3

    -- Waiters per-36 in 2015: 13.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists on 40.7% shooting, 46.4% from 3
    -- Lamb per-36 in 2015: 19.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists on 54.7% shooting, 35.7% from 3

    -- To top it off, they gave up a first-round pick to get the significantly worse player and gave away the significantly better player for nothing.

    View post on imgur.com

    - I spent a lot of time over the last few years defending OKC because I figured they would eventually bust out a line-up of Serge - KD - PJ3 - Lamb - Russ except they never did. Lamb has already proven them wrong and I haven't given up on PJ3 yet either.

    San Antonio: Kawhi - Kyle Anderson - Green - Manu - Parker

    - You have to stretch a bit to really give the Spurs a 5-out line-up but I could see Anderson being a bigger part in these types of line-ups as the years go by.

    Cleveland: LeBron - James Jones - Smith - Shumpert - Kyrie

    - I know LeBron doesn't want to play as a 5 but if Draymond can do it he really has no excuse. If he wants to lose to Golden State in the Finals again he can keep on being too cool to bang in the paint.

    Here's how I'd handicap how these teams stack up against the Warriors in large part because of the amount of trust I have in their respective coaches to go with the line-ups that would actually have a chance:

    1 - Spurs
    2 - Cavs
    3 - Thunder (Too soon to say with Billy D but I was never too impressed with his tactical flexibility at Florida)
    4 - Clips (Doc's a good coach but it feels like he has some blind spots with "his guys" and his son)

    The bottom line is that if you don't play your optimal line-ups against the Warriors, you are going to get slaughtered. And if you are going to beat them in a seven-game series you have to be as willing to think outside the box as Kerr was in last year's playoffs.

    If none of those work, I'm thinking the best counter to the 5-out offense is the complete 7'0 - a guy who can score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend in space and at the rim. That's the counter-revolution to the small-ball revolution and those guys are just starting to come into their own in this league - Davis, Towns, Porzingis - but that's an article for another day. The possibility definitely exists that the Warriors rampage through the league until the next great generation of 7'0 is ready to play with them and they move the zeitgeist back to the big men.