The Day After Tomorrow (Part I)

Combine NotesHere

 

Warriors – No picks, no problem.  In my combine notes I had Jordan Bell as one of my standouts.  He needs to work on his long distance shooting, weak hand handle and attacking closeouts.  What I like about him was his defensive versatility, weak side help defense and off-ball offensive movement.  He can switch 1 thru 5, play either frontcourt spot and be a screen-setting rim-running nightmare on offense.  He just fits the Warriors system.  Damian Jones, James Mcadoo and Draymond Green are the only “Bigs” under contract for next year.  It was paramount that they secure a safeguard and Jordan Bell could be another steal.   

 

Spurs – It always feels like the Spurs just know what they’re doing better than everyone else (except GSW).  With Danny Green trade rumors, Tony Parker’s last year under contract and Dejounte Murrays up-and-down rookie season, a combo guard was needed.  Derrick White was another one of my standouts at the combine.  He can shoot threes, has pick-and-roll skills and has great off-ball awareness.  He needs to stay focused on defense, talk on defense and toughen up threw hard picks.  He’s more of a scoring guard than a traditional point guard.

The second to last pick in the draft seems like a throw away but not to the Spurs it is.  Another one of my combine standouts, Jaron Blossomgame is 6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan and a defensive first player.  He was great at timing his screens and dives and was able to guard 2-5 at the combine.  He desperately needs to improve his offensive game, especially his long distance shooting.  If he can become consistent with his shot then this pick has a chance to be a steal.  

White is 23 years old.  Blossomgame is about to be 24 years old.  Even though they are older prospects, they are more likely to be pro-ready, which a team like the Spurs needs.

 

Suns – I think the Suns got the better from Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson.  I like both players a lot but Jackson is a better defender, tougher mentality and doesn’t need the ball in his hands on offense to be good.  Getting Josh Jackson was the easy part.  

At number 32 many people would say Davon Reed is a reach, not me.  In my combine notes Davon Reed was my favorite player that week.  He’s 6’6 with a 7’ wingspan, a consistent three point shooter, versatile defender, great at communicating on both ends, high IQ and great at timing his weak side help.  He needs to improve attacking closeouts, his pick-and-roll skills and to develop change of direction dribble moves.  Overall Josh Jackson, Davon Reed and Devin Booker are one of my favorite young wing combinations in the league.

 

Lakers – Lonzo Ball, yea he’s good.  What about their other picks though?  There wasn’t a Lakers pick I hated.  In my mock draft, I compared Kyle Kuzma to Pascal Siakam since he was that prospect who before the combine was iffy to be drafted, to after the combine became a late first round pick.  And sure enough the Lakers bit.  Kyle Kuzma and Pascal Siakam are going to be starting a trend of nobodys one day to becoming first rounders after the combine.

I like Kuzma as a three point shooter, screen setter and diver.  He needs to get tougher inside, better awareness and improve his pick-and-roll defense.  Josh Hart was their next pick at 30.  I don’t hate it but I don’t love it.  I see the Malcolm Brogdon potential in his game but Brogdon was a great three point shooter and a hound dog defender at Virginia.  Hart could be all those things but he was very inconsistent at Villanova for four years.  Still, after trading Russell, a combo guard, they needed to fill that void and Hart is a good option.

Last at 42 they drafted Thomas Bryant.  His skill is raw.  Very raw.  But his upside is that he’s 6’10 with a 7’6 wingspan, can step back for threes and has nimble feet on defense.  It’s going to take time for Bryant to develop but he has as much upside as any “Big” in this draft due to his size and athleticism.

 

Bucks – What’s the Bucks M.O?  Long, athletic players who can play multiple positions.  DJ Wilson at 17, check.  Sterling Brown at 46, check.  Ok, so they’re long and athletic but can they play?  Do they have skills?  Wilson is a late-bloomer type due to injuries and a growth spurt.  Wilson got better with every game for Michigan.  He needs to get stronger, bang in the post better and up his awareness.  But his skills are long distance shooting, versatility on defense and having a handle to attack the rim.  Wilson and Thon Maker are a raw paring but have a lot of upside.

And what about Sterling Brown?  He was a prolific shooter at SMU with a nice release, great at catch-and-shoot plays, hard nosed rebounder and a versatile defender.  He needs to improve his weak hand, finishing around the rim and first step.  Overall he has the coveted 3-and-D potential teams yearn for.

The Gap Between the Warriors and the Cavs

Why did the Cavs play so much better the last three games?  The biggest reason, for me, is their pick-and-roll coverage.  I’ve made it known countless times that I’m not the biggest fan of the Cavs defense; in particular their pick-and-roll defense.  I don’t think the Cavs offense ever was a real issue.  During the five game series with the Warriors the Cavs scored 111 points per 100 possessions and gave up 117 points per 100 possessions.  That’s really good offense and god awful defense.

For the first two to three games of the NBA finals the Cavs used a conservative approach when it came to guarding screen-and-rolls.  The Cavs either showed, hedged or sagged back giving the Warriors tons of space to attack vulnerable gaps in the defense.  The last two games however the Cavs took a trap and recover approach and left the non-shooter open.  For all the firepower the Warriors boast about, typically they have two non-shooters on the floor at all time; Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, David West, Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston.

 

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This play is a great example of why the Cavs made the adjustment they did.  It starts off with a high screen-and-roll with Curry and Zaza.

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Instead of “downing” the screen, which they did sometimes in games one and two, they trap Curry and force him to the sidelines.  Lebron rotates onto Zaza leaving Draymond Green open.

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Lebron doesn’t even think about making that rotation and leaves Green wide open for three, which he misses the shot.  Since there are multiple non-shooters on the floor at all time for the Warriors, the Cavs decide its better to trap the ballhandler, rotate a man over help-side and leave the non-shooter open from the perimeter.  Iggy and Green were the ones who had a bunch of uncontested threes; they went 4 of 12 from three combined.

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This time its a dribble hand-off between Zaza and Durant.

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Tristan Thompson and Richard Jefferson trap Durant and Zaza is left open for the dive.  Durant tries a pocket pass but ends up becoming a turnover and fastbreak for the Cavs.  Trapping Duarnt and Curry puts a lot of pressure on them since the Cavs push them towards the sideline which ends up becoming a third defender.

 

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The Cavs would even trap the ballhandler even when the screen setter is Durant.

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As you can see here Durant was left wide open.  He attacked a Tristan Thompson close out and scored easily.  The Warriors started to take advantage of the Cavs aggressiveness and put shooters as the screen setters while the non-shooter’s cut weak side for something backdoor.

The Cavs ended up making the right adjustment; shrink the court, take the ball out of Durant and Curry’s hands and make Iggy/Green make threes.  It makes you wonder why the Cavs didn’t play this way from the start?

Even though the Cavs made the correct adjustment on the pick-and-roll coverage, at the end of the day, their undoing was poor communication.  It was a problem all season, all playoffs and all finals.

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Klay Thompson uses a Draymond Green cross screen to cut baseline.

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The communication starts off well with Kevin Love pointing out the action.

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Klay keeps running baseline and is about to curl off another cross screen.  I don’t know what was communicated between Lebron and JR Smith but the proper call should’ve been for Lebron to switch onto Klay while JR Smith takes Durant.

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Both JR Smith and Lebron take Klay and no one takes Durant, wide open under the basket.  Either they didn’t negotiate the screen properly or JR Smith got confused over the call.

The next play….

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It was a simple fastbreak and no one picked up Iggy, another miscommunication.

The Cavs can make all the great defensive adjustments they want but if they can’t talk out offensive actions that’s a problem that has to be addressed during training camp.

Where do the Cavs go from here?

 

I really think if the Cavs would’ve started the series covering the screen-and-rolls with a “trap and recover” style defense then this series had a chance to go seven games.  Lebron James is just an unstoppable force on offense and Kyrie is the best finisher in the game, add that to an improved defensive scheme and a seven game series isn’t far fetched.

With that said, their defense was still trash.  No matter what adjustments the Cavs made they were losing regardless.  I just stated the problems with their communication and Lebron James is now asked to guard the second best player in the world, after the past two years of covering Harrison Barnes.

Lebron could just sag off Barnes and hug the paint; he would become another help defender and play the passing lanes.  This in return slowed down the game, shorten the possessions and played into the Cavs style.  Obviously, Barnes didn’t take advantage.

The Cavs need another perimeter defender to take the pressure off Lebron; PJ Tucker, Thabo Sefolosha, CJ Miles, Tony Allen and Vince Carter are nice options within their spending limits.

There has also been nosie about trading Kevin Love for Paul George or Carmelo Anthony.  I think Love gets a bad wrap.  He’s a perfect fit next to Lebron; he is a non-ISO player who can shoot threes.  He also played the best defense of his career this year.

I don’t know if Love for George will happen but Love for Melo could.  If a Love for Melo trade happens then the Cavs need another “Big.” Amir Johnson, Nene, Zach Randolph, Ersan Ilyasova, Omri Casspi, Dante Cunningham and Donatas Motiejunas are great options within their spending limits.  Even if the Cavs don’t trade Love, they should still get another “Big.”  

Bottom line is the Cavs need another wing and “Big.”  Most importantly, they have to improve their defense.  No team since the 2001 Lakers has won a title without a top 10 defense.  No exceptions.  

 

 

If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…its probably a duck

I’ve been hypercritical of the Cavs defense all year; their rotations, communication and lack of effort has been a consistent problem.  No team has won a NBA finals with a defensive efficiency outside of the top ten since the 2001 Lakers.  Even the Cavs last year and the Mavs in 2011 had top ten defenses.  The 2017 Cavs have the 22nd ranked defense…gulp.

Game one and Game two of the 2017 NBA finals has been no different defensively for the Cavs.  Now, playing the Warriors doesn’t make things on defense any easier either but here are four plays that are indicative of the Cavs defensive woes:

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This is a baseline out-of-bounds play.  The Cavs have been losing track of their player assignments on out-of-bounds and after-time-out plays all series long.  Notice that Lebron has his hands on his hips.

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Kyle Korver loses track of Klay Thompson and gets beat backdoor.  Lebron should be the next man in line to try to wall off the cut.  Again, notice where Lebron has his hands.

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Curry makes a nice pass to the cutting Thompson.  Not only has Lebron taken just one hand off his hip but he hasn’t even taken a step in the right direction yet.

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Way too easy.  Even though Korver is the one at fault for the defensive breakdown, there was absolutely no help defense.  Lebron should’ve been there to help but instead had his hands on his hips for most of the play.  Poor coverage on these BLOB and ATO plays have to stop if the Cavs want to slow down the Warriors.

The next play is a simple spread pick-and-roll.

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David West sets a good screen on Lebron James; Lebron gets dislodged from his cover and chases to recover.  Kevin Love should be there to cut off Durants air space until Lebron returns.

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Look at how much space Kevin Love gives Kevin Durant.  Does Love think Durant is Harrison Barnes?  This is a simple play but terrible judgment.  If the coverage calls for a double team or trap then Love should be up more, especially since the screener was David West and he’s not a threat from three, so Love can smother Durant until Lebron gets back, then Love can recover onto West.  If the coverage is to “down” the pick-and-roll, well, thats just a bad coverage to play.

This next play is another spread high-pick-and-roll.

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Durant and Thompson are in the corners, Green is lingering right low-block and Andre Iguodala sets a screen for Curry.

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It looks like the pick-and-roll coverage is to corral the ball handler.  But thats a tough call to make if your perimeter defenders stick to the outside shooters.  Iggy does a nice job of timing his roll.

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Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are still containing Curry on the drive.  Lebron and Richard Jefferson are still sticking on the outside shooters.  Tristan Thompson is still connected to Green lingering baseline.  And no one is accounting for Iggy.

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Curry makes a laser pass to Iggy for an easy dunk.  This play is a problem for a lot of teams.  Do you stick to the outside shooters or do you help on the dive?  For the Cavs, this play is really a two-fold problem: coverage and personal. The coverage should really be for Love to show or hedge on the pick-and-roll so he delays Currys drive and then Kyrie has more time to recover onto Curry while Love can make a better attempt to wall off Iggy’s dive.  However, Love isn’t the most versatile of defenders so asking him to cover a bunch of ground is a lot for him.  I don’t know if problems like these are fixable.  

This last play is another backdoor.

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Green has the ball up top, Curry and Durant are at the left wing while Iggy and Thompson are at the right wing.

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Curry sets up a down screen on Lebron.

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Lebron braces himself for the play on the screen while Durant rejects the screen and cuts backdoor.

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Love should be the next rotation for help but hasn’t taken his eye off Green the whole play.

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Green makes another top notch pass to Durant for the easy bucket.  Love should’ve been there to wall off Durant but this play isn’t his fault.  Lebron should’ve read Durant’s use of the screen better and he should’ve communicated right away to weak side for help.

I picked these four plays because they’re not overly complex; in fact they’re simple.  But they do highlight the fundamental problems the Cavs have while guarding the Warriors.

I think Game three the Cavs defense will be better; home crowd, energy, focus.  I think they sure up these simple mistakes.  Overall, I don’t see the Cavs making a comeback.  The Cavs defensive problems are too deep for them to win 4 out of 5.  They should get at least one game….right?

Favorite Play: Game #1 NBA Finals 2017

The first game of the the NBA Finals is finally in the books.  The game can be summed up in four words: pace, Curry, Durant and turnovers.  

Pace because Cleveland won last years finals at a rate of 95 possessions per game; the fewer the better.  Game one was at 102 possessions; advantage Warriors.  

Curry because when Cleveland put him in pick-and-roll situations last Finals the Cavs took advantage of the switches.  Game one had Curry showing instead of switching; it slowed down dribble penetration and gave the Warriors time to recover.  Curry on offense was amazing too, breaking down the defense with his handle and creating gravity with his shot.  

Durant because he was unguardable.  The Cavs had a tough time guarding him; do they trap?  Do they switch?  Do they bust out Ty Lue’s secret  defense he’s been saving for the playoffs?  Whatever they do they better think of something quick.  

Turnovers because it was a 20 to 4 difference; plain and simple.  If the Cavs can’t take care of the ball than this series is over in a hurry.

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My favorite play of the game came in the fourth quarter with about 11 minutes left to go.  The Warriors were up 21.  It’s a play that had a few options depending on what the defense did.  In this instance Klay Thompson was used more like a diversion cutting off two baseline screens and curling to the three point line.  Normally this play can yield a wide open three to Klay but this time it was as a misdirection.

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It starts off as a sideline out-of-bounds play with Ian Clark passing it in to Andre Iguodala.  Draymond Green sets a cross screen for Klay Thompson in the right corner.  

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The defense stays sound and Deron Williams is attached to Thompson’s hip.

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David West sets a wide-down screen for Thompson.  Thompson curls to the three point line.

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Here is where the option comes to play.  Depending on how the defense reacts, Iggy would either pass it to Klay or enter it in the post for West.

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Just like my last play breakdown, the Cavs miscommunicate on defense.  This time between Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson.  West slips the screen and Iggy makes a nice pass to a wide open West.

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Since there was a miscommunication between Jefferson and Williams Lebron makes the right rotation and steps in front of West’s path.

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As soon as Lebron rotated over to West, Shumpert needed to rotate to Green in the corner then Jefferson would find his way to Clark at the Right Wing.  However, Shumpert didn’t make the proper read and Green makes a well timed cut to the basket.

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West makes a great pass to the cutting Green.  Jefferson does an admirable job of trying to wall off Green.

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In the end Jefferson was late and ends up putting Green on the free throw line.  Even though this play doesn’t result in a direct bucket, the passing and play construction highlights the action of a fast paced offense with multiple layers.  Not only is ball movement and player movement a staple of the Warriors offense, it’s also just enjoyable to watch.