Friday, November 27, 2015

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.

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- 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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Duke vs. Kentucky

When it comes to draft evaluations, a game like Duke vs. Kentucky is worth its weight in gold. There's NBA prospects up and down each roster so in just about every sequence you can learn something about different parts of multiple player's game. A game like this is the closest thing you will see to an NBA game so how a guy looks here goes a lot farther for me than how he looks against NJIT or Siena. 

This was my first chance to see most of the freshmen on these two teams. There were a lot of interesting things going on and I reserve the right to change my opinion but here were my first impressions (and second and third for some of the older guys) on all the top NBA draft prospects in this game. It's a lot of irresponsible speculation based on a laughable small sample size with nothing to back it up but my own hunches but this is a blog so what did you expect really. **There's nothing here on Brandon Ingram because I have a big thing coming on him at The Cauldron.

1) Skal Labissiere didn't show all that much

He was in foul trouble for most of the night, which is understandable for a 7'0 shotblocker playing on the biggest stage of his career. He never got into much of a rhythm and Kentucky almost never featured him in the offense so it was hard to get a great feel for what he could do on the offensive end of the floor.

Skal (6'11 225) really struggled with Marshall Plumlee's (7'1 250) size and physicality. Plumlee pushed him around on the offensive glass, particularly in the first half, where he almost single-handedly kept Duke in the game.

When you make a play like that in the paint, you tell the other big man "weight room". In this one, Plumlee just pushes Skal out the way like he's not even there.

Plumlee is 23 and Skal is 19 so it's somewhat understandable that he got manhandled. At the same time, when Skal gets to the NBA, they are all going to be that big. If he thinks Marshall was a problem, wait until he goes up against Miles and Mason.

Here's where I worry about Skal. He's kind of frail and he doesn't have a really wide frame so I'm not sure he'll ever have the type of size to bang with guys like Andre Drummond much less someone like Karl Towns or Derrick Favors. He's an undersized 5 and he's not all that long (7'2 wingspan) and he's not an elite athlete. He's a good athlete but he's not bouncing off the floor and playing above the rim on the level of someone like Nerlens Noel. 

And while he could possibly play as a 4, that's going to come down to his offensive game. Can he shoot 20+ foot jumpers, much less 3's? Can he put the ball on the floor and attack guys off the bounce? Can he make passes on the move and read the defense? Does he have the type of high-level post game that will allow him to leverage his size at the 4 position, especially in the modern NBA where fewer and fewer teams are trying to score with size at the 4? Those are the things I'm going to be watching with Skal because if he doesn't have great offensive game I'm not sure he has the physical tools to be a Top 5 pick type of big man.

This is pretty much the extent of how Skal was used against Duke. 

A roll man:

(Also notice Tyler Ulis making a great pass to find Skal.)

Offensive boards:

You can see the combination of skills with Skal. He's long, athletic and he can finish in the paint. He'll have a long career in the NBA, no matter what. The question is what type of offensive game he can develop because if he's just going to be a roll man at his size and athleticism than maybe he's just Ed Davis. It's obviously way too early to come to any firm judgments about his game but I'm thinking that's his floor. 

2) Jamal Murray isn't very athletic

Murray did a lot of really good things on Tuesday and he was a huge part of Kentucky's win but what really stood out to me initially was his overall athleticism. When I think of a John Calipari PG going in the Top 10, I think of guys like John Wall, Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight. That's not Murray at all. He's a below the rim player who isn't very explosive and isn't very fast. He's smart and crafty which makes sense given his physical limitations.

He just has very little lift off the ground. He can't finish over the top of Marshall Plumlee. Here's Murray getting blown by on defense by Matt Jones, who isn't exactly a speedster with the ball in his hands.

This was probably his best play all night. It's a fantastic move to get around Plumlee but you can still see how much work Murray has to do to finish at the rim in traffic against NBA-caliber size and length. 

That's the type of play that Andre Miller has to make. There's nothing wrong with this fast break play here between Murray and Isaiah Briscoe but it does showcase the athletic limitations of Kentucky's two McDonald's All-American combo guards. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe they ain't.

Murray is so big for a PG (6'5 205) and he's such a smart player that he should be a pretty good NBA player regardless. I just wonder how he's going to be able to match-up with the elite athletes at his position at the next level and whether that puts a ceiling as to how good he can be. In terms of athleticism, you can't even compare him to a guy like Kris Dunn.

3) It's the same story for Isaiah Briscoe 

Where to begin? Here's Grayson Allen, who had a terrible night in his own right, getting right around Briscoe and getting into the heart of the Kentucky defense.

Even when he gets around a guy like Ingram, there's not a ton he can do when he gets into the lane.

Briscoe can't finish over the top of the youngest Plumlee and he certainly can't finish through him. This was by far the best game I've ever seen from Marshall and he gave Kentucky trouble all night. He's pretty old (23) and unaccomplished to be an NBA prospect but Miles didn't exactly light the world on fire before his senior season either.

So as not to be accused of hating, here's Briscoe being very creative about getting his own shot in the lane and using the rim to protect him from a shotblocker. These are the type of plays that Briscoe and Murray are going to have to make all season and I'm really curious to see how they will look with the type of length and athleticism that LSU can throw at them on the perimeter.

4) Grayson Allen got a wake-up call

After rampaging through two mid major teams to start the season, Allen got a taste of what life in the NBA is like courtesy of Kentucky's interior defense. He repeatedly got into the lane and he repeatedly got his shit sent right back in his face.

Coming out of half, the sideline reporter said the Duke coaches told her these were the exact shots that Allen was getting and making in the first two games. That's the difference between playing in the NCAA and playing in the NBA. Skal and Marcus Lee are NBA big men and they aren't going to let you just walk into the lane and throw up weak garbage. Grayson better learn that discretion is the better part of valor and just pull up for the mid-range jumper or bust out a floater. This is also why you see NCAA big men put up absurd block rates. NBA guards are eventually going to stop taking the ball at you after you pack their shot 1-2 times. Grayson went 2-11 on Tuesday, mostly on shots like this.

His defense in this game was no great shakes either. He's Tyler Ulis blowing right by him in transition like he's not even there.

5) Tyler Ulis was out here doing things

Ulis was the best player on the floor for Kentucky for most of the night and he was really the difference in terms of winning the game for them. He could go wherever he wanted to go on the court and he had the sense to know when he could look for his shot and when he was better off setting up his teammates. He knows exactly who he is and he doesn't make a lot of bad decisions with the ball in his hands.

He's crazy fast and the Duke guards had a very difficult time staying in front of him.

You can never count on a guy Ulis size (5'9 160) being able to play in the league but he has done a fantastic job of maximizing his physical ability. He has everything you would want in a guard except for size and if he had Murray or even Briscoe's body he'd be a lottery pick for sure. He can shoot 3's, get his own shot off the bounce, run the offense and be a pest on defense. He might as well stay four years at Kentucky and become an NCAA legend because he'll never be as effective in the NBA as at this level.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kings vs. Raptors

After a disastrous start to the season that saw them in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Kings appear to have righted the ship a bit this week, going 3-0 with DeMarcus Cousins back in the line-up. It really isn't much more complicated than that. The way the Cousins is playing right now, he gives the Kings a chance against almost anyone, especially at home.
  • The stat-line from Cousins says it all: 36 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks on 22 shots including 3-6 from 3 (!) and 9-12 from the free-throw line. They were +15 in his 41 minutes in a game they won by 6 points. They couldn't afford to not have him out there for any amount of time - he's just that good and he affects the game in so many ways.
    • Jonas Valanciunas is a good young C who provides a lot of value on both sides of the ball and he got demolished. Cousins repeatedly stoned him in the post, pushed him off his spots and held him to 2-9 shooting. On the other end of the floor, the Raptors didn't even bother putting Jonas on him and started the game with Luis Scola guarding him, a completely hopeless match-up. Cousins can guard the other team's C and they can't guard him, which can force the other coach into a lot of line-up contortions. That's why Jonas only played 20 minutes tonight - they had to leave Bismack Biyombo in the game the entire 4Q to give someone who even had a chance of matching up with him.
    • Cousins has apparently decided to turn himself into a face-up 4 this season and the amazing part is how well it's working. He's knocking down transition 3's and he's forcing other teams to guard him out on the three-point line. From there, he can take guys off the dribble and use his length to Eurostep to the basket and finish from funky angles around the rim. Guys who are 6'11 270 should not be able to move like DMC and they shouldn't be that smooth with the ball in his hands. 
    • I don't blame him for not playing much in the post because he's just going to get double teamed and the Kings don't have a lot of shooters to spread the floor for him. It's much easier for him to see the double teams when he's facing up and taking guys off the dribble and he can make all the passes in the book, although he does tend to force the issue sometimes and turn the ball over.
    • What can't Cousins do? He can shoot 3's, create his own shot off the bounce, score with his back to the basket, create shots for his teammates, dominate the glass and protect the rim. His presence on the floor almost single-handedly makes the Kings a legitimate team. He's playing like the best C in the league so the real question is just how good he is in relation to everyone in the league. He's a Top 10 player for sure and the way he is playing right now you could make the argument that he's a Top 5 player. 
  • The question for the Kings is can they space the floor around Cousins and what frontcourt player does the best job of complementing him? They played Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Quincy Acy, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay at the 4 on Sunday. There's room for a lot of different combinations when you play Cousins almost the entire game.
    • They closed the game with Gay, Marco Bellinelli, Ben McLemore and Rajon Rondo next to DMC because you almost have to have a max spacing configuration from the other 2 spots with Rondo and Gay out there. I liked Bellinelli and McLemore together because that gives them two guards who have to be guarded out to the 3-point line and who can put the ball on the floor and make plays off the bounce. If the Kings are going to be a good team this season, that's a combo that is going to have to work for them.
  • You got the full Rajon Rondo experience in this one. Toronto basically wasn't guarding him. There were two times in transition when he was bringing the ball up the floor and no one picked him up. He literally took the ball to the front of the rim without encountering any defensive resistance. (He went 1-2) The amazing thing about him scoring 7 points on 3-10 shooting is they were mostly wide-open shots. It was like he was playing in an empty gym on offense.
  • Eventually Rondo started standing by the front of the rim which is crazy because it's almost impossible to force the ball into a 6'1 guy in that spot. He had 14 assists but he also had 7 turnovers because he was constantly forcing the ball into really tight spots - he had no other choice since he wasn't trying to shoot the ball. He's still really good at finding guys in transition but he just destroys your spacing in the half-court. The amazing thing about the Kings win streak is they've been playing Rondo almost the entire game during it. 
    • George Karl clearly doesn't trust Seth Curry. The problem is defense - he had no chance of guarding Cory Joseph. He's not very big and he can't press up on guys without giving up lanes to the basket. It's all about match-ups for Curry and the Raptors 2 PG line-ups put Karl in a tough bind when it comes to finding minutes for his backup PG. They could get going when they get Darren Collison back.
  • Rudy Gay had 27 points on 16 shots in 37 minutes. Demarre Carroll is supposed to be a defensive stopper and he couldn't bother Gay at all. Gay shot over the top of him and created easy looks at the basket whenever he wanted and then got free a few times when Carroll lost him going through screens. You can see the outline of plan in Sacramento - let Cousins and Gay dominate the ball and score in isolations and hope you can put enough defense around them to survive. 
  • Willie Cauley-Stein left the game in the 1Q because of a concussion but he showed some promise in the limited time he was out there. The Kings were switching every P/R he was involved in, which was a good way to maximize his skill-set. He's a 7'0 who moves like a guard who can block shots around the rim and defend on the perimeter. Using him in that role is a great way to stifle an offense and he'd be amazing in an all-switching line-up like they use in Golden State or Milwaukee. Sacramento still needs to figure out how they are going to use him on offense but Cousins becoming a 3-point shooter does make that easier.
The Raptors probably should have won this game. They were in control for most of it but this was a classic example of a good team without a superstar losing because they had no one who could match his impact on both sides of the ball. They couldn't guard Cousins and he made them a one-dimensional team on offense by shutting down the paint and preventing them from getting any points on Jonas V post-ups.
  • I was going to say this was a better DeMar DeRozan game than I'm usually accustomed to seeing in terms of him not holding the ball and not settling for too many mid-range jumpers and looking to set everyone else up. Then I look at the boxscore and he had 24 points on 22 shots and 5 assists on 4 turnovers. They do a good job of spacing the floor around him but I can't say I'm a terribly big fan of a SG who can't shoot 3's who needs the ball in his hands and takes a ton of contested long 2's. He's a pretty good playmaker who draws a lot of fouls and he can play a little defense but I'm just not sure if the pluses out weight the minuses in terms of building a team around him.
  • Demarre Carroll and Kyle Lowry did pretty much all their damage around the three-point line. Lowry can dribble into 3's, which makes him really tough to guard, and Carroll does a great job of moving without the ball, especially in transition. Neither one of them is a physically dominant player at their position and they can't finish over the top of some of the better rim protectors in the league, which puts a ceiling on how good they can be. Nevertheless, you do have to like two-way players who can stroke 3's and they give the Raptors a pretty solid foundation on both sides of the ball. 
  • I guess Luis Scola is playing well this season but I'm still not a believer. He can't guard anyone on the perimeter or protect the rim and he doesn't shoot a lot of 3's. He doesn't do a lot for you off the ball and he's no longer good enough to have a lot of offense run through him. He was -4 in 20 minutes and James Johnson was +8 in 12 minutes and I don't think that was a coincidence.
  • Here's what I've been wondering for awhile with Toronto:
    • I feel like Johnson is an ideal defensive 4 in the modern NBA with his ability to move his feet in space at his size. Playing JJ + Jonas V together would be a great defensive combo upfront. The problem is the domino effect because he doesn't provide a lot of spacing and the floor would get kind of clogged with JJ, Jonas and DeMar. What would happen if they took DeMar off the floor and they put another plus shooter like Terrence Ross in his spot? You would have more than enough floor spacing with Lowry, Ross and Carroll, you would have four plus defenders on the floor, you could score a lot of points going defense to offense and I'm not sure that redistributing DeRozan's possessions to everyone else would really hurt the team's efficiency all that much, especially considering how much space everyone would be playing in.
  • Cory Joseph played pretty well and the 2 PG line-up of Lowry and Joseph presented a lot of problems for the Kings. He doesn't shoot a lot of 3's but he's got a pretty good jumper off the dribble game. The Raptors have a lot of two-way players on the perimeter who can get their own shot, which is a pretty good start at being a pretty good team. 
Toronto has a good team but it does seem like they have hit their ceiling unless they can get more out of Valanciunas. Pairing him with a slow, non-stretch 4 like Scola isn't going to do the trick, that's for sure. Patterson is a great shooter but Johnson is the best two-way PF on this roster and the only way to make that work is to play him with three plus shooters on the perimeter. That's where committing to DeRozan really boxes you in in terms of line-up construction. If they lose again in the first round, I think the move to make is to let him walk this off-season and try something else.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Clippers vs. Pistons

Both teams seemed like they had heavy legs in this one. The Clippers didn't have their starting backcourt and were playing their 3rd game in 4 days while the Pistons were on the 5th game of a West Coast road trip that began a week ago. We're starting to get past the initial rush of excitement of the first few weeks and into the meat of the season where teams are playing too many games in too short a span of time and picking up schedule losses. The Clippers really wanted this one, which you can see from Blake Griffin playing 42 minutes.
  • This was a tour-de-force from Blake - 4 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds on 25 shots. They went Point Blake in the 2nd half and pretty much all their offense came off Blake creating shots or Jamal Crawford running off screens from Blake. He has taken his game to an even higher level this season and he's right there in the MVP race with Steph Curry. He's 26 years old and he's in the sweet spot where his knowledge of the game is at an all-time high and he still has the athleticism when he needs it. We're looking at Peak Blake Griffin and it is fun to watch.
    • Blake can do pretty much everything on offense but I like him more when he's facing up from 20+ feet and taking guys off the dribble as opposed to trying to bully guys on the block and backing into them 3-4x in a row. That works when he has a guard switched on him but he's not great at it against 6'8+ guys because his T-Rex arms make it difficult for him to finish over the top of people in traffic. 
    • You are also seeing Blake benefit from the league-wide trend to getting smaller at the 4 position, whether it's playing stretch 4's like Ersan Ilyasova or small-ball 4's like Marcus Morris. For the most part, teams are willing to live with bigger 4's trying to take advantage of smaller defenders and Blake is the rare exception whose talented enough to really punish you with that mismatch. It's the same reason that tall 2 guards like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can take advantage of the growing number of 2-PG line-ups around the league.
    • This game made the case for why Doc Rivers should be staggering his line-ups more and letting Blake and CP3 play without each other over the course of the game. This might be a little too extreme but I'd almost want to have it where you have one of Blake or CP3 in at all times. Both guys are just so good with the ball in their hands that you want to maximize their skill-set by running everything through them for as many stretches of the game as possible.
    • A good example of that was their loss to the Mavs on Wednesday. The 4-5 pick-and-roll absolutely devastates the Mavs because of Dirk's inability to guard (it pretty much single-handedly beat them in their first round loss to the Rockets last season) and the Clippers almost never went to it because they have so many other options on their first unit. Redistribute possessions over the course of the game so you have fewer with Blake doing nothing off the ball and fewer with some of the jokers on the 2nd unit throwing up nonsense.
  • As a Mavs fan, it's hard to watch DeAndre Jordan go up against Andre Drummond and wonder what type of numbers DAJ could have put up in a similar system in Dallas. Drummond doesn't even have to play well to walk into 15-15 type games in Detroit and it would have been the same thing with DAJ in Dallas given how much space Dirk would have given him, how few rebounds Dirk grabs and how many P/R guards the Mavs have on their roster. At the end of the day, though, I can't blame DAJ for staying because who passes up on the chance to play with a guy like Blake Griffin in the prime of his career.
  • This was a throwback game for Jamal Crawford, who got a lot more chances to play with the ball in his hands and to play off of Blake than he would if the Clips had their normal rotations. There are few guys in the league who are more fun to watch cooking than Jamal. 
  • Paul Pierce got the nod as the starting 3, which really shows you the biggest problem the Clips are going to have this season. There's just no way that's going to work when the games start to get serious. He was never all that fast and now he couldn't be slower. You can't seriously expect Pierce to guard Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard or really any of the wings on the Warriors roster. Doc Rivers is going to have to figure something out because the Lance Lance Revolution experiment (as my boy Hollywood Cole calls him) has already fizzled out and Pierce is basically ambling around the court these days. I'm not sure he can even sprint anymore or whether brisk jog is his highest speed setting.
  • As someone who has always been a big Lance guy, it hurts my heart to watch him in LA. Stanley Johnson stole the ball from him and then dropped a 3 on him in consecutive possessions and Doc pulled him for the rest of the game. He needs to be able to freelance in space and that's not going to happen on a first unit with Blake and DAJ upfront and it's going to be difficult for him to get a lot of touches on the 2nd unit playing next to Crawford and Rivers. Doc seems to value shot-creation a lot more than defense and ball moving when it comes to signing players and that may definitely will come back to bite the Clips at some point in the playoffs.
    • The sad part is that Lance would have thrived in Indiana's new 4-out system in the Monta Ellis non-shooter role. In an alternate world, he has a fat contract with the Pacers and he's fighting for an All-Star spot as a franchise cornerstone next to Paul George. The grass isn't always greener folks. 
  • The way it stands now, the only guy on the roster who can slide into that 3-and-D role on the wings is Wesley Johnson. As crazy as it sounds, he might be the X factor for the Clippers because I can't see anyone else with the skill-set to succeed as the fifth starter. Crawford and Pierce are too old and can't guard, Lance and Mbah A Moute can't shoot and Rivers is too small. How much does Clippers nation miss Neil Olshey these days? 
SVG seems to be doing a better job of as a Coach/GM than Doc because he has a coherent vision for what he wants his roster to look like but even he still seems to be missing things on the margins when it comes to overpaying guys like Aron Baynes or riding with vets like Steve Blake until their wheels literally fall off. It's just too hard to perform both roles and balance the short term vs. the long term. 
  • Andre Drummond did a couple very interesting things today. No. 1 was his little righty hook shot which looked REALLY good. For a guy who often seems like he has absolutely no idea what he's doing when it comes to scoring in the post, he showed great fluidity and touch with that hook at times. It's definitely not consistent yet and it's the only move he has with his back to the basket but it's the start of something. There were a few possessions against the Clips where that hook looked like a legitimate weapon for Drummond. You really only need three moves in the post - the hook shot, the counter the other way and the up-and-under. If he ever gets all that together, the rest of the league better watch out. 
    • He also busted out a behind-the-back pass in traffic twice that resulted in open shots for his teammates and he continues to improve as a rim protector. We are watching the development of one of the next great players in the NBA in real time. Drummond is only 22 and he is getting better by the week.
  • Reggie Jackson started the game strong - he was knocking down the floater and hitting the 3-point shot. If he can continue to make those shots all season, he's going to be in the conversation for an All-Star berth. Drummond is a lock so the Pistons will have to win a lot of games for RJax to have a chance but SVG is starting to look outright prophetic with that contract he gave out this summer.
    • An interesting switch the Clippers made in the 2nd half was being way more aggressive on Jackson in the two-man game with their big men. They didn't give him nearly as much space or time to get comfortable, which worked because they have some really fast big men. 
  • KCP is super fast and he does a good job of attacking close-outs and finishing at the rim when teams run him off the 3-point line. It's just going to be a matter of how many open 3's can he make - he's a career 34% shooter from 3 and he's at 31% this season. If he could ever get that number into the high 30's, he will be a very rich man.
  • Another very impressive game for Stanley Johnson, even though he was a -11 in 18 minutes. What stands out is his feel for the game and what a good playmaker he is already. He only had 1 assist but he was making great passes and creating open shots for his teammates whenever he had the ball. He doesn't force the action and he knows how to read the floor, which is pretty unusual for a rookie with his type of athleticism who played only one season of college.
    • The great thing about SJ is his versatility. He has the size to guard 3's and 4's and the speed to play as a 2. He was cooking Austin Rivers in the 2Q when the Pistons caught the Clippers playing 2 PG line-ups against a perimeter trio of SJ and two combo forwards. I'm not sure what his ceiling is but they could have a legitimate Big 3 with Drummond, Jackson and Johnson. 
  • I can't believe Steve Blake is getting minutes in the NBA. Blake vs. Pablo Prigioni had to be the slowest individual match-up at the PG position in the history of the league. There was one sequence where Blake was ahead of everyone else in transition and had an open lay-up if he could have tracked down a ball that was passed 5-10 feet in front of him. He barely tracked it down. They need Brandon Jennings back ASAP. 
It has been a tough stretch of games for Detroit and they definitely need to get home and get their legs back under them but Drummond still makes this team a must-watch. I'm curious to watch him vs. the Cavs frontline on Tuesday and vs. Karl Towns on Friday. A little later in the month, Drummond vs. Dwight on November 30 should be fascinating in a battle of Christmas Past vs. Christmas Present for SVG.

D'Angelo Russell

At RealGM, a look at why the No. 2 overall pick has struggled with the Lakers.

Hawks vs. Celtics

This was a match-up between the surprise team from the East last season (Atlanta) and the team many people had pegged as this year's surprise (Boston). It was a good win for the Celtics although the story of the game was probably Jeff Teague's ankle injury. He only played 26 minutes on Friday and wasn't aggressive at all, which was a problem because he's such an important part of the Hawks attack and a speedy guard who can score off the dribble is the type of player who should be able to kill the Celtics big men in the two-man game.

  • It didn't take Amir Johnson long to find his way into the starting line-up, which makes sense when you consider how well-rounded he is. He was good in Toronto as a 4 man but I love him as a stretch 5 in Boston. He's more than long and athletic enough to handle playing as a 5 in the modern NBA and sliding him down a position increases the value of his shooting (he can make 3's but he needs forever to get them off) and his ability to drive off the shot and make plays on the move. Just check this stat-line - 19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks and +19 in 17 in 36 minutes. He's the most complete big man on the Celtics roster and he's going to be the key if they are going to make the playoffs.
  • Jae "The Beast" Crowder made a ton of little plays - 6 offensive rebounds and 4 steals - which shows you the lack of size on the perimeter in Atlanta as well as Crowder's ability to impact the game without having the ball in his hands. The one thing about him is that he's not actually a good shooter, which is surprising because he looks like a decent shooter and he certainly doesn't seem to lack for confidence when firing up shots. He's shooting 34% from the field and 26% from 3 on the season and at some point other teams are going to make him beat them from the perimeter.
  • Isaiah Thomas is a great offensive player and if the other team isn't going to take advantage of his lack of size on defense than there's no reason he can't play 35+ minutes a night. That's a match-up the Hawks need Teague to dominate - or at the very least get him back as many points as he scores on the other end - if they are going to win a game like this on the road.
  • Marcus Smart is a great defensive player but I'd like to see him play more with the ball in his hands than he did on Friday. You can cross-switch him with Thomas and part of what makes Smart great is the amount of line-up versatility he provides - he'd be the perfect backcourt partner for a guy like Lou Williams as well. Let Smart drive the ball into the paint and kick it out to Thomas rather than playing him off the ball where the other team will be perfectly happy to let him fire away from deep.
  • Jared Sullinger had a good game on the offensive glass but I just don't know about a guy like that in the modern NBA. For all the points he gives you in the post and on the boards, he is going to give them back trying to defend in space and protect the rim. He's built like Z-Bo and if you are going to have that type of body, you have to be a pretty dominant interior player. Z-Bo isn't even Z-Bo anymore and that's one of the main reasons why the Grizzlies are struggling. If Sullinger can continue to knock down 3's he can be a solid rotation player but I'm still pretty skeptical of him being a starter on a playoff team.
  • It's the same story with David Lee and Kelly Olynyk - they can't defend in space and the other team can run pick-and-rolls at them anytime in the clock and get something good out of it. I certainly don't see a huge need to play all three of these guys minutes. Olynyk had 13 shots in 17 minutes, which is probably the best way to use him. Run him off the bench and try to get as many points out of him as possible before the other team has the chance to fully exploit him on the other side of the ball.
  • I'd give Lee's minutes to Tyler Zeller, who hasn't been getting a lot of run this season. He's not quite the same level of playmaker but he's a smart player who can read the floor, move the ball and make plays on the move. He's also a much better defensive player and he's a better scorer in the paint, if purely because of his extra size and length if nothing else. Lee has no shooting range and no defensive ability and that's an absolutely lethal combination for a big man to have.
  • I'd also give more minutes to Jonas Jerebko, who always seems to impress me when I see him play. He's got an active body at 6'10 and he can really move his feet and guard in space. I'd like to see him play more as a small-ball 4, which would allow the Celtics to play really fast and spread the floor with another guy who can drive and make plays of the bounce. Their best defensive line-up is probably 3 wings + Jerebko + Johnson and that group should be able to do a lot of scoring as well.
  • Brad Stevens does a good job of maximizing Evan Turner by playing him as a 6'7 point forward off the bench and letting him make plays from the post and from driving the ball against smaller defenders. That's basically what Turner did at OSU when he was the National Player of the Year. Turner's flaws at the NBA level are well known and he did go 2-11 from the floor on Friday but he is a really good passer for a guy his size and he is going to find the open shooter if he's playing in super-sized line-ups where the backup PG has to guard him. 
  • RJ Hunter is a pretty interesting rookie and he's got a great looking 3-point shot with a very quick release. As long as he doesn't kill you on defense, I'd probably want to give him some more minutes.
The thing I worry about with the Celtics is that Brad Stevens is trading offense for defense or vice versa with so many guys in their rotation. There are a lot of flawed guys on this roster and Amir Johnson is the only legit two-way player on nights when Smart, Crowder and Bradley aren't shooting the ball well. It feels like the middle of the East is a lot better this season - the Heat and the Pistons are going to swipe two playoff spots and the only two for sure wins at the bottom are the Nets and the 76ers.
  • The one thing people forget about the Hawks star less system is they have one of the most complete big man in the NBA in Al Horford. He may not be able to score 20+ points on a given night and create his own shot whenever he wants but he can do everything else on a really high level and he impacts the game a lot more than a lot of the "stars" that are out there. He was -4 on a night when the other Hawks starters were all at least -13 because he's really the glue that holds the rest of this outfit together. He shoots 3's, he defends really well, he's a great passer and he averages 17 points a game. The only real flaw in his game is his lack of ideal size which means he's not a great rebounder.
  • Paul Millsapp does a lot of the same things but he's much smaller and the Hawks really need him to be more aggressive hunting for his own shot at the 4 position. The key with Millsapp is you want to put as much length and athleticism on him as possible - that's what the Cavs did with Tristan Thompson and he completely locked up Millsapp in the ECF. 
  • That's one of the knocks about the Hawks being a regular-season team. They play in so much space and both their big men are such great decision-makers and are so good playing off the ball that they can isolate and demolish a poor individual defender at any position in the two-man game. They play great team basketball and they are going to take advantage of any flaws the other team has. The problem is that the deeper you get into the playoffs the fewer flaws the other teams has and then it becomes about your guys being better than the other guys in 1-on-1 situations and Atlanta doesn't have a lot of guys who can consistently dominate the best players at their positions.
  • They have to get offense and shot-creating from the PG position and Teague is a step below the top PG's in the Eastern Conference. Schroder is getting better and his jump shot is improving but the Celtics weren't really respecting him from the perimeter and they got away with it. He's more of a playmaker than a pure scorer and the Hawks really need a guy who can put up points from his spot in the rotation. Isaiah Thomas would be amazing on this team.
  • Kent Bazemore played well and he's doing a much better job of reading the floor and playing under control than he did last season but he's another wing player without a lot of size who can't get his own shot. He's doing a good job fitting into the Hawks system but he's not going to be a difference maker in the playoffs and their lack of size on the wings could kill them in the wrong series.
  • Other teams are doing a much better job of staying with Kyle Korver than they did last season. He's a great shooter and his ability to keep a defender on him means he will always have a lot of value when he's on the floor. At the same time, he can't really do anything else which puts a lot of pressure on the guys next to him to defend and create shots. Looking back on it, Demarre Carroll should probably have gotten that 4rth All-Star nod for the Hawks last season. Korver certainly isn't getting a max contract in free agency, which I guess is more important in the grand scheme of things.
  • Tiago Splitter does a great job of moving the ball but he has to look for his own shot some times and be more aggressive about trying to score. He's a guy the guards should be looking to get easy baskets early so that he is more confident and locked in on the offensive end of the floor.
  • That Tim Hardaway Jr. trade is starting to look very questionable because I'm not sure if he's ever going to beat out Justin Holiday, Thabo Sefolosha or Bazemore if they are all healthy. And if you're going to bury a guy on the bench anyways, he might as well be a rookie with more upside than THJ. How good would Bobby Portis look in Atlanta? He would be getting minutes right away and he would be a perfect fit for their system in the short-term and in the long-term in terms of trying to find more guys who can create their own offense. A lot of teams missed on Portis but it's more glaring when your coach is serving as your GM. Trading a pick for a guy who can help you now is a classic win-now move from a coach who doesn't have time to watch film but it's not something the Spurs would ever do.
The scouting report for the Hawks is the same as last season. They will win one playoff series, they could win two and they won't win three. I don't see an obvious way for them to bust out of that box but it's not exactly a bad position to be in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cavs vs. Jazz

This was just a really fun basketball game between two good teams. At the start of the season, I'm always trying to watch everyone and at least get a feel for all 30 teams in the league. After a while, though, the novelty starts to wear off and you end up watching a lot of mediocre basketball. At that point, you might as well be watching college ball. What makes the NBA great is two good teams going toe-to-toe and playing a level of basketball that NCAA teams can't even touch.
  • The first thing that jumps out when watching Cleveland is just how well they space the floor. They have at least 3 plus three-point shooters on the floor for the entire game and they have a lot of stretches with 4 guys who have to be guarded at 25+ feet. They spread the floor, they zip the ball around and they generate a lot of open shots in the half-court. It doesn't really matter how good you can play defense because Cleveland is playing LeBron in max space which means they are going to score a lot. That's what Utah found out tonight. They have the No. 1 defense in the league because they have a ton of length on the perimeter and they completely shut down the paint - the Cavs spread them so far out it didn't really matter.
  • I like how much they utilized Kevin Love in the offense, especially in the first half. His passing skills are the most underrated part of his game and he's a fantastic facilitator from the high-post, the three-point line and in the two-man game. If you are going to pay Kevin Love $110 million, he has to be at least the No. 2 guy in the offense. I've always thought they were better with Love and LeBron as the two main hubs because it's so tough to guard a 6'9 and a 6'10 guy who can pass, shoot and score like those two. Nothing against Kyrie but I'd rather maximize the 6'10 guy than the 6'1 guy, all else being equal. It will be interesting to see how much Love is utilized when Kyrie gets back or if he goes back to being a 6'10 spot-up shooter.
  • What makes Love great on offense is that he can spread out bigger defenders like Favors and kill them in the pick-and-pop game and then he can pound smaller defenders in the post. It's kind of amazing how unguardable he is considering how limited he is as an athlete as a ball-handler. I'm really curious to see how he will fare in 1-on-1 match-ups against guys like Paul Millsapp, Chris Bosh and Draymond Green in the post-season. Love has been in the league a long time without ever getting the chance to face elite players at his position in the playoffs. That's what we were really robbed off when he got hurt last season because those match-ups will tell the tale as to how good a player he really is.
  • The thing you have to worry about with Love is that whatever he gives you on offense he gives right back on defense. It's not even so much his 1-on-1 defense as it is help-side D. When Love is your second line of defense, you have no second line of defense. He's the Maginot Line - they invested all this money in him and a fast attack can go right around him like he's not even there. The obvious thing to do against Cleveland is to get the primary rim protector, whether it's Mozgov or Thompson, out on the perimeter and force Love to protect the rim. He can't do it all and it's going to be the glaring Achilles heel for this team in the post-season. People knocked Dirk for his defense but at least he was 7'0 and he could stick his hands straight up in the air and be tall. Love doesn't even have that really. To me, what happens to Love on both sides of the ball is going to be the most interesting storyline for the Cavs in the playoffs.
  • The crazy thing about LeBron is that it felt like he was playing on cruise control for most of the game and he still wound up with 31 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds on 19 shots. He took over the game in the 4Q on offense but he mostly seemed content to set everyone up in the first 3Q's and there's probably no real reason for them to change up that approach in the regular season. He's also taking a step back on defense, which you can see in him almost never guarding Gordon Hayward and trying to hide out on the other Utah wings for most of the game. Just in general, he didn't seem as explosive as when he was in his physical prime, although he did cram one on Rudy Gobert off a beautiful feed from Love in the 1Q.
  • If there's a concern about LeBron, it's his jumper, which abandoned him in the playoffs last season and he still seems to have not found it. As he moves deeper into his 30's, he doesn't need to be the best athlete in the game to be the best player in the game. What has to happen is he has to become a plus shooter so he can make the same type of transition that MJ made. LeBron can get open shots whenever he wants so if he can consistently knock them down it will allow him to score a lot easier and take a lot of pressure off his body since he won't need to take the ball all the way to the rim as much. There's no reason LeBron shouldn't have a money turnaround jumper and a money spot-up 3-point shot. That's what he needs to add to his game if he wants to stay in the GOAT conversation. As it is now, a coasting LeBron with a shaky jumper isn't head and shoulders over the other Top 5-7 guys in the league.
  • Mo Williams had a turn back the clock game on Tuesday - he's a guy who probably should stay with LeBron the rest of his career. Every team in the league should have a guy like Mo Williams because every 6'0 guard out there should be locking himself in the gym and trying to turn himself into a guy who can knock down 3's off the dribble. That's the kind of skill that can keep you in the league for a long time. Mo is who Trey Burke should be trying to become.
  • Utah is a pretty tough match-up for Tristan Thompson because they have the size to exploit him as a small-ball 5. Favors buried him in the post and scored over the top of him a few times and Gobert exploited his lack of length on the offensive boards and in the two-man game. TT is good at what he does but he can't protect the rim, can't create his own shot, can't space the floor and can't match up 1-on-1 with bigger 5's. He landed in the absolute perfect spot for his skill-set and he really should be giving LeBron like 50% of his paycheck. 
    • The good news for TT is that very few teams out East have the size to really bother him. The Hawks play small-ball all the time. The Bulls have two 7'0 but neither one is a two-way player anymore - Noah can't score to save his life and everything Pau gives you on offense he gives back on the other end. I am curious to see how he would fare against Miami (Whiteside + Bosh), Toronto (Jonas V) and Detroit (Drummond). 
  • Richard Jefferson was a great pick-up for them as a 6'7 guy whose serviceable on both ends of the floor in a 3-and-D role. The one thing about him I noticed after watching him all season in Dallas is that he makes a lot of weird, stupid plays and he doesn't really have the bball IQ you'd expect for a 15-year veteran. There's a reason this is his 5th team in 5 seasons. I doubt he stays in the rotation come playoff time but he's a great pick-up in terms of filling minutes in the regular season.
  • Anderson Varejao was +9 in his 6 minutes of action in the 1Q but you kind of saw the plight of the backup 5 in a game like this. In the 2nd half, David Blatt tried to open up the game and go 4-out around TT with his 2nd unit in order to take advantage of Utah not having either of their two C's in the game. A traditional backup 5 has to be really special to stay in a rotation in the modern NBA because otherwise the coach can just move a 4 to the 5, play small-ball and generate some easy spacing + flow for his 2nd unit.
I'm going to try and watch a ton of Utah this season, although not quite as much as if Dante Exum was healthy. They are a fascinating team because they are bucking so many of the trends in the modern NBA and they are a really fun team because they have so many young players growing into their game and figuring out who they are at this level. 
  • Derrick Favors + Rudy Gobert is the most unique frontcourt duo in the league. The Jazz have two of the premier rim protectors in the NBA playing together, which negates a lot of the advantages that a lot of teams try to create in the half-court offense. Take Gobert or Favors out of the paint and it doesn't matter because they have a 2nd shot-blocker rotating over whose just as good. That said, I think I'd want to set it up so that I had one or the other in the game for all 48 minutes. Having two great defensive 5's is a lot like having two great primary options on offense - for as good as they can be together, a lot of the value you can get from that duo is being covered in that area for all 48 minutes. Let Gobert and Favors carry the defense for stretches and they should both be better on offense when they can play in more space.
  • Gobert gets all the press but Favors is the better two-way player. His 15-foot jumper is absolutely essential for making the two-headed monster work at all and he has become a pretty effective scorer in the post. What Favors is really good at is using his size to bury smaller defenders on his back. It was a lot easier for him to score over Thompson than Mozgov, who stoned him a few times in the post. When he's playing at the 5, you want him out at 15+ feet so he can use the face-up game to get around bigger defenders. He's just an all-around great player and it has been really impressive to watch him grow every season since coming into the league as a super-raw 19 year old.
  • Favors has to do a lot of the heavy lifting on both sides of the ball because he has to get out of his comfort zone on offense and defense. Guarding Love 25+ feet from the basket is no picnic and Cleveland got him several times over the course the game by involving him in 2-man game with Love picking and popping out to the three-point line.
  • Gobert still has no real ability to create his own offense, which you could see in Cleveland hiding Love on him on defense in the second half. A big man should take it as disrespect when Love is guarding him because that means the other team doesn't think he can score at all.
  • Hayward kind of had a quiet game and he never really got going on offense, which might be because he had to guard LeBron for most of the night. That will really take a toll on your legs over the course of a game. The good news for Utah is that they could fairly easily swing the offense to Trey Burks, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks. For a team that doesn't score the ball that well and is missing their starting PG, the Jazz have a lot of guys comfortable being the initiators on offense. As I was saying earlier, they have a ton of talent and as they get everyone more comfortable in the roles and figure out the rotations a bit, they are poised to explode.
  • I'm thinking big picture they are going to want to split up Favors and Gobert more and play a lot of 4-out line-ups that go Exum - Burks - Hood - Hayward - C. That's 6'6 - 6'6 - 6'8 - 6'8 on the perimeter and they can all shoot the ball, put the ball on the floor, create shots for others and switch the pick-and-roll. That's the kind of line-up you are going to need to beat a team like Golden State in a 7-game series.
  • Raul Neto has the solid Euro PG game down but he's not going to get a lot of minutes if he's not knocking down open 3's. The Jazz are dying for spacing with the Gobert - Favors combo upfront so just about every other spot in the rotation has to go to a three-point shooter.
  • Rodney Hood has a ton of game for a 6'8 guy. The most impressive thing about him is how smooth he is - he moves like a guy whose 6'4-6'5. A lot of guys Hood's size with ball-handling skills are really combo forwards who should play a lot at the 4. He's just a freakishly tall SG and it makes him a real problem on both sides of the ball. He can guard multiple positions on the perimeter, he can shoot over the top of just about any defender and it's really hard to bother him as a passer in the two-man game. Hood is a pretty good example of why you have to draft tools. Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas had better NCAA stats but I have a hard time seeing either of those guys being a better NBA player.
  • If Alec Burks can consistently knock down 3's, he's going to be a serious problem for the rest of the league. He has a pretty complete game otherwise - he can get to the rim, he can run point and he can use his size and length to defend and crash the boards. The one knock on him coming out of college was the outside shot so if he can become a consistent shooter there's no real ceiling on his game. He'll be a 6th Man candidate in Utah and he'll have to go somewhere else and be a starter when his contract runs out.
  • The big difference with Trey Burke in Season 3 is that he seems to be playing much more under control, letting the game come to him and not forcing the action. Of course, it helps when you are knocking down 3's at 50+ percent. A guy his size whose not an elite athlete has to be a knock-down shooter to be effective in this league. There's always going to be a ceiling on his game, though, because he can't really defend at his size. I call it The Chair Problem because little ass guards like him might as well be chairs for anyone 6'2+ who can shoot the ball off the dribble.
  • Trey Lyles didn't play much on Tuesday but it's kind of crazy he went from playing as a 3 at Kentucky to playing as a 5 in the NBA. That just shows you what a ridiculous team Kentucky had as well as what kind of versatility he possesses. He has a chance to be a really good player in this league and if he can be a consistent 3-point shooter he could become a great one. Lyles was a classic tools over stats pick and Utah has been one of the best drafting franchises over the last 5+ years so don't sleep on this guy. 
With the bottom of the playoff picture out West pretty unsettled, I'm pretty confident Utah makes the playoffs, especially considering how well they play on defense. Playing great defense is something you can count on a night-to-night basis and it will make the Jazz a lot more consistent than some of the teams they are competing with for spots 6-8. What's crazy about them is that young teams are generally not good on defense so as their offense improves they could end up quickly climbing up the pack in the Western Conference over the next few years.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Knicks vs. Lakers

You got to be a real NBA fan to be watching this mid-afternoon game on an NFL Sunday. The key for me was giving up fantasy football. I stopped playing this season and it's amazing how quickly my interest dropped in the NFL.

This game felt like something out of the mid-90's. You had a guy on each team isolating and taking a bunch of hero-ball shots, not a lot of spacing on the court, a lot of line-ups with two big men and a lot of post-ups. What's irritating is that both teams have a lot of interesting young guys who could fit really well into modern NBA offenses. I at least understand the direction that Phil Jackson is trying to take the Knicks - I'm not really sure what the Lakers are trying to do exactly.
  • The first thing that jumps out watching the Lakers is they are going to lose a ton of games this season because they play zero defense. They are starting two rookies and a second-year guy on one extreme and a 37-year old guy on the other and they are asking Roy Hibbert to bridge the gap pretty much single-handedly and he isn't exactly 2009 Dwight Howard. If you put him behind a bunch of athletes who understand the scheme and can funnel penetration to him, Hibbert can do something. There just isn't much to be done with this group personnel-wise and it's not like the Lakers are bringing a bunch of stoppers off the bench either. I wonder if the Suns regret giving up their pick for Brandon Knight.
  • The other problem is there's no role differentiation whatsoever. Whose job is it on this team to move the ball and play defense? Larry Nance? Everyone on the perimeter needs the ball in their hands the same way a man drowning in the ocean needs water. It kind of feels like they are all taking turns hunting for their own shot and there's no real flow to the offense. What makes it worse is there's no space. Everyone wants to point the finger at Byron Scott but it all goes back to the front office. 
  • You compare how the Blazers are building a team around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to what the Lakers are doing with D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. I think that's the best-case scenario for their back-court of the future - a much taller version of the Blazers backcourt with two 6'5 guys who can play on and off the ball, take turns running the offense and hoisting 3's off the dribble. Both Russell and Clarkson have really high releases so it's going to be hard for a lot of smaller defenders to bother their shot. What could make things really interesting is what the two of them could potentially do on defense with their length but that's obviously way down the road.
  • I feel bad for Russell because he's kind of walked into a worst-case scenario in terms of utilizing his skill-set. He's a spread pick-and-roll guy all the way - he comes off ball screens with the threat to shoot, drive or pass and he makes a decision based on what the defense gives him. He's not a super athlete so he's not a guy whose going to isolate and create his own shot at will or finish over the top of a bunch of defenders packed in the paint. He's playing next to two ball-dominant guys on the perimeter with a front-court that doesn't have anyone who can stretch out the defense. He only gets so much time with the ball in his hands and he doesn't have a lot of room to operate and he doesn't have the versatility to impact the game as a role player in the same way as guys like Justice Winslow and Stanley Johnson. 
    • I kind of look at it like he's a spread QB in college who was drafted for his stats and now he's being placed in a pro-style offense in the NFL and being asked to make it work. This is not the way he was successful at the NCAA level and if you are going to draft a guy based on how well he played in NCAA (and not on physical tools) you should probably put him in a system that tries to utilize him in a similar way.
    • At the same time, it really isn't that big of a deal for a rookie to struggle in his transition to the NBA. This should be a good learning experience for Russell because he's going to play in tight spaces all season and he's going to have to try and figure out how to make it work. Byron is getting a lot of slack for benching him for bad D but he didn't play a lot of defense in college and he might as well start learning good habits now. They are going to have to make a lot of changes to the roster next season but for now the Lakers are throwing Russell into the fire and hoping his talent shines through.
  • This was a really tough game for Julius Randle and the match-up with Kristaps Porzingis was kind of what I was worried about when projecting him to the next level. Porzingis length just swallowed him up in the paint and he could play a step off Randle and neutralize some of his quickness when he was facing up on the perimeter. A couple of times he reached over the top of Randle's arms and took the rebound from him like he was a little kid. Randle's going to have to learn to minimize his length deficiencies at the NBA level - he has to put his body on a guy like Porzingis and really seal him off. 
    • Hibbert is also a terrible fit for Randle on offense because he's just sitting in the middle of the paint and clogging up the lane, making it impossible for Randle to drive the ball. There was nowhere for him to go in the half-court so he ended up taking a lot of step-back jumpers, which is not really the strength of his game. Randle needs to be paired with a big man who can open up the paint and allow him to attack in space and have the option to either finish or make the quick pass. For now, Julius should just be pushing the ball constantly off defensive rebounds because where he can really thrive is in transition. The big worry for him is can he finish in traffic with his length - Blake has T-Rex arms too but he's not a Blake-level athlete - which is less of an issue in the open court.
    • It's obviously going to be tough to find the rim protector + spacer combo at the 5 next to Randle. Adreian Payne seems to have fallen out of favor in Minnesota so they might be able to take a flyer on him. They could also throw a lot of money at a guy like Meyers Leonard in the off-season. Lakers fans probably don't want to hear that but that's the type of FA they should be looking at.
  • You can see the outlines of a young core with Russell, Clarkson and Randle if you can find 3-and-D guys at the 3 and the 5. The worry I would have is whether the FO is drafting with a grand plan in mind or whether they have just been taking the biggest name in the lottery who put up the most stats at the NCAA level and had the biggest reputation coming into the draft. Randle and Russell were both flashy offensive-first guys, which is fine, but I feel like I'd want to take one and not the other in consecutive drafts. Or maybe the Lakers were just trying to maximize assets and hope to flip them for a star? The problem with that is they end up canceling each other out and eating into each other's stats because there's only one basketball.
  • I haven't wanted to say much about Kobe because what is there to say about this? This is just completely out of control. 15.6 FGA's a game on 32.1% shooting isn't a stat-line. It's a cry for help. At least with Melo he's still pretty close to his prime so you expect he'll bust out of the slump. This is a super old guy in his 20th season hoisting up terrible shots constantly. I'm not sure why you'd expect anything to change results-wise unless he changes his approach. What he can still do at a high level is pass the ball and he made a couple of really good passes on Sunday - at some point you would hope he would move into more of a playmaker mode, if only to try something different. 
    • Are the Lakers running a fantasy camp for Kobe? What is going on here? Even if winning games isn't the top priority, they could at least try to develop talent or maybe run a functional NBA team where roles and responsibilities are divvied out in some relation to the relative ability levels of the guys on the roster. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to say no and stop enabling them.
Clarkson, Russell and Randle is a really fun trio and Clarkson is one of my balikbayan brethren but I'm not sure how much of this team I'm going to watch this season. They are going to be freaking terrible and their young guys aren't going to be put in a position to succeed so it's probably best to reserve judgment and see what type of roster the Lakers come up with in 2017. As far as the Kobe stuff goes, yea it's kind of funny but it's also kind of sad. When it comes to basketball, I'm not much for sentiment. Old guys who can't really play anymore don't do much for me.
  • It's all Porzingis all the time in New York. He's just a super-compelling figure because you can see a lot of the evolution of the game in his skill-set and the way he ends up being utilized in New York is going to be an interesting window into the way the league is moving.
    • You have to love the length that he used to lock up Randle in this game. He's just absurdly long and it allows him to match-up with guys who are much faster and stronger than him. What it makes you wonder is whether he could stay as a 4 in a small-ball league or if he eventually moves to the 5. It's going to be hard for wing players to take advantage of Porzingis on defense because he's a smart player and he's fast enough to where he can move his feet and still contest shots on the perimeter with that 7'6 wingspan.
    • My guess is that Phil wants to keep Porzingis at the 4 because he's trying to build a team like the 2010 Lakers. He bullied the rest of the league with Pau and Odom upfront and that really wasn't all that long ago. If everyone is going small and he has a mobile 7'2-7'3 guy who can score over the top of people on the block and cover up the paint on defense as a 4 ... maybe Phil can really start the counter-revolution.
    • His ceiling as an offensive player is going to depend on how good of a shooter he becomes because he gets a clean look pretty much whenever he wants. That's the thing about Dirk comparisons. Saying a 7'0 who can shoot can be like Dirk is like saying a 6'3 who can shoot can be like Steph Curry. It's a make or miss league and Dirk was one of the best shooters of all-time so it made sense for him to base his game around the threat of the jumper. If Porzingis is only a good shooter, than he's going to want to go in a different direction.
    • I think like most stretch big men Porzingis is more comfortable using his speed to go around slower guys than trying to use size to score over the top of smaller ones. That's where you would think he would end up as more of a 5, where he could kill people on pick-and-pops and drive the ball at the rim. 
    • What you have to like about him as a rookie is that he's not afraid to stick his nose in the action and play rough-and-tumble even though he's frail as hell and built like a stick figure. He's going to pick up a lot of fouls this season but who cares really. He's a young 7'0 who plays very aggressively so foul trouble comes with the territory. You would rather he be committing crimes of commission as opposed to crimes of omission. That's where the problem of the Knicks trying to compete for a playoff spot while also developing a 19-year old at the starting PF position comes into play.
  • I hope Carmelo hasn't been playing like this all season but his stat line seems to suggest otherwise. It was like Kobe was rubbing off on on him or something. He was just taking absurd shots and not really trying on defense. He was dying on screens and at one point he doubled Roy Hibbert in the post and left a guy wide open from 3. It was also a lot like Kobe because he was making some really good passes last night but it was overshadowed by some of the egregious crimes against shot selection that he was throwing up. Either way he's going to start making shots pretty efficiently because that's what he does but he is going to need to play defense for a playoff push to be realistic.
  • Speaking of defense, it blows my mind that Jose Calderon is a starting PG in 2015. I was thinking two years ago the Mavs were going to have to buy his contract out. That Tyson for Calderon trade was kind of the original sin for Phil Jackson in New York and that's what has lead them on the road to where they are half-in, half-out when it comes to rebuilding vs. competing. I'm not trying to be mean because Jose is a nice guy but his final season in Dallas was the worst season of guard defense I think I've ever witnessed at the NBA level. His lack of athleticism has also sapped into his offense too because he can't get by anyone and it's hard to get assists when you can't get into the lane or draw an extra defender. And now he's not making shots either? 
  • I can see why they aren't starting Jerian Grant because that's a lot of pressure to put on a rookie guard. He has to worry about getting his own shot, getting shots to everyone else and playing defense at the toughest position in the league. It's enough to make your mind go a million miles an hour and on top of that you have to run the offense and control tempo and appease all the different vets who need the ball. Grant is their best playmaker, though, and he has a great feel for the game. The problem is that he doesn't have great burst so he really needs the jumper and it isn't there right now.
    • The tough part about evaluating Grant is that he's already 23. D'Angelo Russell won't be that age until 2019. 
  • Langston Galloway was +17 in 27 minutes and he brings them athleticism, activity level and defense that they desperately need on the perimeter while also being a good shooter. I can see where they want an energy guy like that off the bench to change the dynamic of the game but sometimes you can overthink these things as an coach. You want to play your best guys as much as possible if you are trying to win games. They need Galloway and Grant and they don't need Calderon and Vujacic - it doesn't take much viewing of this team to make that pretty clear.
My guess with the Knicks is they are still probably a guard away - possibly two - if they are going to grab a playoff spot out East, even with Arron Afflalo. I'm just not really seeing Calderon and Vujacic as contributors on an NBA playoff team in 2016. The middle of the East is actually fairly competent this season so the question becomes what happens with Carmelo if the Knicks aren't in the Top 8 at the deadline and then things get really interesting.