Category Archives: Play Breakdown

Sign Of Things To Come?

In my latest podcast I talked about how the Celtics were a bad matchup for the Bucks.  I also weaseled out of making a prediction since I was torn between both teams.  All season I thought the Bucks were the team that had the best on-court fit in the eastern conference.  A 5-out motion offense built around Giannis with shooting at every position.  Brook Lopez became instrumental with his floor spacing ability and paint protection on defense.  Even with having arguably the best player going in the league, the best record in the league, a top five offensive and defensive efficiency and a great coach, I wasn’t confident picking them over the Celtics.  A Celtics team a lot of people wrote off before the playoffs started, and with some justification of course.  They haven’t been on the same page all season, injuries have taken a toll and players haven’t progressed like they should’ve.  I still like the Celtics because of how they are designed; a pick-and-roll mismatch problem at center, a slashing scoring three point shooting point guard with big switchable wings.  That type of team design is built well for the postseason.

The regular season isn’t the playoffs.  It isn’t about doing one thing great, it’s about versatility.  Yes, the Bucks are a great defensive team but they were built primarily around a contain first pick-and-roll coverage.  In the playoffs you need to be diverse enough to cover pick-and-roll’s every which way.  Brook Lopez is great at one type of pick-and-roll coverage but can he hedge?  Switch?  And cover space in a timely matter?  That was my issue going into this series.  That was why I couldn’t in good faith pick the Bucks over the Celtics.  Game one confirmed my suspicion and if the Bucks don’t make the necessary adjustments they will lose this series.

To start off the game the Celtics had Horford defend Giannis.  They did the same thing to Ben Simmons last postseason.  Although, the difference is the Celtics are playing tighter gap protection on Giannis’ drives.

In the first play you have Jayson Tatum leaving his man along the perimeter to shadow Giannis with the help of Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris hugging the lane line to shrink space.  The next play you have Giannis in transition with Horford guarding him, Irving shadowing him, Morris in the middle of the paint and Tatum taking a dig at him from the corner.  The Celtics were keying in on Giannis.

The Celtics would also put Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris on Giannis when Horford was on the bench.  Horford actually did a good job cutting off driving angles and giving help defense time to crash down.  Boston was ok taking an extra step in on Giannis while giving extra space to the Bucks shooters.  Whether that’s because Malcolm Brogdon is hurt and they are giving his replacement Sterling Brown license to drive.

Or they don’t trust players like Pat Connaughton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova to torch them from three and attack closeouts. 

The Celtics were switching on most ball screens and then would revert back to safer matchups on the weak side.  The Bucks did headhunt on occasion looking for better cross matchups like Terry Rozier defending Giannis but rarely did they go to that.  That should be something the Bucks try to exploit more in game two.  Overall game one the Bucks stuck with what they knew best.  They’re going to have to trust their shooters moving forward even if they miss open shots.  Those shooters are paramount for Milwaukee’s floor balance.  I would like to see DJ Wilson get more playing time.  I think his length and athleticism at the forward/center position can help in terms of positional versatility.  Until they get Brogdon back, they will be lacking another creator on offense and players like Pat Connaughton will have to play major minutes even though they’re struggling just to defend Boston’s point of attack offense.  Brook Lopez will have to make open threes while Bledsoe will have to be better off the bounce if they want this to be a competitive series.

Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez are great drop coverage defenders.  During the regular season you can rely on that to win defensive player of the year and be apart of a top five defense.  Come playoff time it’s about versatility and how well you can cover space.

The Bucks were containing most everything on ball screens and hardly stunted at the shooter left open.  If Horford can make that above the break three consistently the Bucks will have to make adjustments asap.  Lopez, Mirotic and Ilyasova can’t cover ground as fast as they need to versus the Celtics ball screen motion offense.

The Celtics were bending the Bucks defense all game and making them scramble on exploitable matchups.

That’s part of the reason why I think DJ Wilson should play more game two.  He has the lateral movement to stay on switches and good change of direction ability to cover space in a timely matter.  It doesn’t help when, at times, the Bucks were struggling to contain dribble penetration, were slow to matchup and had poor communication.

This was my overall fear coming into this series and it played out terribly for the Bucks.

The Bucks are obviously not out of it yet.  They have to do a better job headhunting on offense, making open threes, stunting at the pick-and-pop shooter and covering space on defense.  Hopefully it’s not a little too late when Malcolm Brogdon comes back, he could be the difference maker the Bucks need to help with continuity.  Until then however Eric Bledsoe will have to step up his role on offense.  I said whoever wins this series will win the eastern conference and I stand by that claim.  Unless the Bucks make the correct adjustments, the Celtics could be that team.

Maxi Kelber: Another Post About A Role Player

You might be thinking to yourself, “What the heck are you doing Old Man?  The Warriors are imploding, Jimmy Butler was traded to the Sixers, Lebron has been awesome leading the Lakers and teams like Boston, Houston and Utah are having disappointing seasons.  With all this going on in the NBA today why the heck are you writing about Maxi Kelber?  Who’s Maxi Kelber and why in the world is he worth my time.”  All valid questions.  Let me explain myself.  It all started when I began watching Mavs games this season.  Like most basketball fans I wanted to see whether Luka Doncic was the real deal or not.  News Flash: Luka is the real deal.  But with every Mavs game I watched there would be this other player that kept standing out.  He was long, active and seemed to be in the right spots always.  In the early going I dismissed this player and was fixated on Doncic. Stringing together some well played games early in the season isn’t going to grab my attention just yet.  However game after game I was continually impressed by this random player I knew little about.  

It wasn’t until the 11th game I was getting the feeling this was becoming a trend.  So I decided to check his on/off court efficiency numbers.  Even though these numbers are imperfect they would give me some sort of context regarding his on-court play.  And sure enough he lead the team with a +5.5 on-court while the team was a -9.9 with him off the court.  That’s a +15.4 swing whens he’s on and off the court.  The bench in general has better on/off court numbers compared to the starters but Kelber was still +4.1 over the next Mavs player on/off court efficiency (JJ Barea was next with an +11.3 swing).  As of me writing this article before the Mavs next game Wednesday versus the Rockets Kelber is currently a +12.2 while on-court and a -5.1 off-court.  That’s a freaking +17.3 swing when Kelber plays and doesn’t play.  This won’t last forever.  A lot of that success has to do with JJ Barea and Dwight Powell having good seasons off the bench too.  Probably even after the Rockets game those numbers will decrease significantly.  But we’re 18 games into the season and this doesn’t feel like a fluke even though his on/off court numbers will eventually regress to the mean.

Maxi Kelber is averaging 6.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game on 45.1% from the floor, 32.1% from three on 18.6 minutes per game.  Kebler is 6’11 with his last known wingspan measurement being 6’11 in 2012.  This is his second season in the NBA from Germany, is 26 years old, plays PF/C and went undrafted.  Kelber isn’t going to be an all-star player, that’s not what I’m getting at.  Heck Kelbers floor is out of the league next year.  Instead what I’m trying to imply is his usefulness as an utility player.  He is becoming a glue guy that every title contender needs to bond together star players talents.  I also like acknowledging good role players like Maxi Kelber and Gary Clark because their contributions tend to be minimized by the mainstream.  Considering Kelber has been amazing at doing the little things this season I wanted to put into words my appreciation for the player he is becoming.

I’ll start with the weaker of his game: offense.  For starters his handle is almost non-existent.  His live-ball skills revolve around looking to pass it off immediately.  He might take a dibble or two to give himself a little room to operate and if given space on the perimeter Kelber will attack the rim in a straight line at times.  When he does pick up his dribble Kelber can get into trouble if the defender pressures him causing a turnover in the process.  His passing skills aren’t anything special either and he’s more of a ball mover.    Every now and then Kelber will make a good read for an assist but usually after he passes the ball off the offense tends to reset itself.  Kelber has minimal post skills for a big-man utilizing over the shoulder or fade-away moves mostly.  If the shot-clock is running down or Kelber has a smaller player on his hip then he’ll take it to the post.

His screen setting game is pretty good.  He rarely pick and rolls to the rim since a good portion of his playing time is with Dwight Powell and Powell is the more athletic rim-runner.  Kelber will instead set good off-ball screens whether that be seals, pin-downs or flare screens (Kelber is #42): 

On offense Kelber is mostly used for his floor spacing ability: 

Even though he is only shooting 32% from three Kelber has a smooth looking jump shot with a high release point: 

Kelber does need to quicken up his mechanics somewhat as that could be an issue behind his inconsistency from deep.  Kelber might not dive off of screens much.  That role is reserved for Powell on the Mavs.  But the Mavs make good use of his shooting ability and stretch the court horizontally with his pick-and-pop game: 

The Mavs telecast announcers, Mark Followill, Derek Harper and Jeff Wade, routinely talk about how much work Kelber put into the off-season working on his jump shot.  Kelber understands if he wants to stick in the league he’ll have to be consistent from three. He seems to be making incremental improvements from deep and in turn opposing defenses have given Kelber more respect from long distance giving the Mavs better floor balance.  Lastly on offense Kelber has a pretty solid IQ off-ball attacking rebounds in the air, angling up or down with the ball, relocating out of the paint when a pick-and-roll occurs and making well timed cuts for safety valve passes: 

Kelber has a lot to improve on offense that’s very clear.  Even his strength of shooting needs to be developed.  As of now the threat of his stretch ability as a big-man and high IQ gives Kelber enough offensive value to be passable on-court.  But overall his defense was the primary reason why I decided to write this post.  I started watching Mavs games for Luka but came away impressed by Kelbers defensive prowess.  Kelber currently sports a +1.52 defensive real plus/minus which ranks 19th among power forwards.  It’s hard to tell just by looking at Kelbers physical profile but deceptively Kelber is a plus athlete surprising players on switches and recovery contests. Look at how Kelber deals with cross matches on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jae Crowder and Terry Rozier: 

Kelber does a good job sitting in his stance, sliding his feet, keeping his core balanced and contesting from behind.  Kelber fits in with modern day “bigs” defending pick-and-rolls with versatility. Whether it be switching, showing or dropping, Kelber has the athleticism, size and fundamentals to maintain all pick-and-roll coverages.  Kelber also does a nice job straddling between ball-handler and roll-man on pick-and-roll “drop” coverages: 

He uses his sneaky good and well timed hops to blow up lob passes or runners defending downhill actions.  Kelber also uses his deceptive athleticism in the post defending quicker “bigs” like Al Horford: 

Kelber doesn’t lose his discipline on Horford’s fakes, stays low and forces Horford into a tough fade-away that’s well contested.  As an on-ball, point of attack defender Kelber is more than adequate in that regard but still can be susceptible to counter dribble moves by crafty ball handlers.  Another skill that Kelber seems to possess is verticality.  Whether it be in transition or on a cross-match Kelber does a solid job going straight up-and-down and not giving the refs a reason to blow the whistle: 

Kelber might be at his best on help side defense.  Just like on offense Kelber has a high defensive IQ that he uses to snuff out rim-runs: 

To protect the paint: 

And to rotate weak side: 

Overall Kelber has the team defense skills that is a must for any big-man in today’s NBA.  Kelber does a good job tagging cutters, stunt-and-recovering, bumping the roll-man while doing it physically enough and yet not commit a foul.  On the other hand Kelber isn’t perfect on defense and sometimes will ball watch, over help and misdiagnose pick-and-roll coverages with a teammate.  But if we’re to deconstruct Kelbers game then by far his most advanced aspect is defense.

Even after writing this whole article you still may think this wasn’t worth my time.  And that may be true as I’ve stated earlier Kelber could be out of the league next year if things don’t work out for him this season.  However currently as we speak that’s not the case. The Mavs player development system is working in full force with players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kelber.  So the Mavs early season success is definitely a full team effort.  I’m not trying to make the case Kelber is the sole reason why the Mavs are playing so well.  The Mavs have a strong bench, a young star in the making and one of the best coaches in the league.  What the overarching point of this post was deals with Kelber and his value.

Kelber will be a restricted free agent this summer and to rebuilding teams he might not carry as much value compared with contending teams.  Presently Kelber is making only the veterans minimum and probably won’t make that much more on the open market due to lack of production.  So to some random contender out their looking for a bargain value contract like PJ Tucker, don’t look no further. Kelber could be a cheap, affordable contract for any cash strung contender and out play the worth of his contract.  If I were Houston, LA Lakers, Golden State, Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto or Milwaukee then I’d try to undersell the value of Kelber to the Mavs, steal him now, and obtain his restricted free agency this upcoming summer.  There’s little risk involved with Kelber and if he doesn’t pan out the cost to acquire him was minimal.  Kelbers role player ability could be what unlocks a new exciting lineup for one of these contenders and maybe another step towards title relevancy.

       

Vote Yes On Gary Clark!

Is Gary Clark integral for the Houston Rockets success?  Probably not.  Is giving him a roster spot make or break for the Houston Rockets?  No.  Does anyone know who Gary Clark even is?  Doubtful.  But is it better to give Clark a roster spot rather then sending him down to the G-League?  Yes, I think so.

Gary Clark was a highly regarded prospect in many NBA draft expert circles during this past years draft.  Coming out of Cincinnati and winning AAC conference player of the year Clark didn’t have the upside of a potential star player but did display role player abilities like high defensive IQ, hustle and spatial awareness.  He wasn’t the greatest one-on-one defender, had a limited handle, is 23 years old going on 24 and had an inconsistent shot.  His upside and overall package of skill wasn’t that enticing for rebuilding teams.  But as far as role player on a contending team potential Clark was a standout.  He ended up going undrafted while the Rockets were quick to act by signing him to a two-way contract.  That means he only has 45 days with the pro club while spending the rest of his time in the G-League. Clark has an “exhibit 10” clause included in his two-way contract which means at any time during the season the Rockets can convert his contract to become a standard NBA deal.  He would be a full time member of the pro club officially.  The Rockets would need an empty roster spot to execute the clause though.

The defense of the Houston Rockets has been much maligned nine games into the season.  The reported news of defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik coming back will certainly help but during this nine game stretch there already has been a slight improvement over the past few games.  The Rockets didn’t alter their defensive pick-and-roll coverage and stuck with a switching concept amid the rough start. Getting Chris Paul and James Ennis back helped plus not playing Michael Carter-Williams was a smart decision as well.  But a player that has so far demonstrated that he fits within the Rockets scheme has been Gary Clark.  The Rockets were having trouble with v-back rotations and filling the low man.  Some of that could be attributed to poor execution of switches, communication and ability.

Clark has come in and given Houston quality minutes off the bench especially on the defensive side.  Clark fits the switching scheme Mike D’Antoni wants to establish and the help skills on defense that the Rockets are deficient at so far.  Clark possesses the body type to switch standing 6’8 with a 6’10 wingspan but does have trouble containing quicker players on the perimeter and can over help at times.  Although, in comparison to Carmelo Anthony, Clark is a defensive stalwart.  The sample size is small but I’m going to go over some plays that highlights Clark’s help defense:  

While Clark is banging in the paint versus Caleb Swanigan Seth Curry drives past Clint Capela who was switched onto him.  Clark doesn’t hesitate on the drive and rises for the block:

While Clark is guarding Doug Mcdermott Tyreke Evans crosses over James Ennis and attacks the rim.  Mcdermott fills the weak side corner but Clark pivots and walls off Evans:

Cristiano Felicio gets the ball on a rim-run while Clark is guarding Antonio Blakeney in the weak side corner.  Clark being in great low man position makes a fine contest on Felicio:

Cameron Payne blows by Isaiah Hartenstein with Clark cutting off the drive going vertical:

Carmelo Anthony doubles Domantas Sabonis in the post leaving Myles Turner open.  Clark sinks onto Turner and strips the ball causing a turnover:

On offense Clark is still super raw.  His overall offensive game could be what holds him back from keeping a roster spot.  He needs to work on his screen setting skills, the consistency of his follow thru on his three point shot and being able to attack closeouts.  He isn’t shy to shoot the three averaging 3.4 threes per game on 11.4 minutes per game.  While only averaging 29.6% from three the sheer fact he’s shooting that shot has kept defenses somewhat honest defending the perimeter.  The offensive system that D’Antoni runs doesn’t call for a player like Clark to have the ball in his hands all that much.  Clark’s role is to set screens, dive or pop, space the corners and bring energy when going after loose balls.  Clark has been great at finding a body to box out, attacking the rebound while in the air and timing his jump at the rebounds apex.  While other players remain flat footed staring at the rebound Clark attacks the ball and fights for position.  His overall hustle and touch passes to the corner have given Clark positional value on a team in search for “3-and-D” wings.

Clark no doubt needs to spend time in the G-League to refine his skills.  But given his skill set and fit within both offensive and defensive schemes his contract needs to be converted to a standard deal asap.  Clark has the best defensive rating on the team with a commanding 98.5 points per 100 possessions, the next closest is James Ennis at 104.9.  If the Rockets want to cut someone then why not cut the player who is sporting a -19.9 net efficiency, has a partially guaranteed minimum contract and is steadily losing playing time: Michael Carter-Williams.  Gary Clark could be a Luc Mbah a Moute replacement and give solid minutes during a potential playoff run.  As it stands now with his two-way contract he wouldn’t even be able to play in the playoffs.  Like I said earlier this isn’t make or break. But if the Rockets are serious about contending for a title this year then having a player like Clark over Carter-Williams would be for the better.

On Further Review: Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers

On an incredible stretch run of basketball winning 20 of 21 games how did the Philadelphia 76ers lose in five to the undermanned Celtics?  Even with Boston having home court advantage the Sixers seemed to be the favorites due to Bostons injury woes and momentum.  The Sixers were trending towards a matchup with Lebron in the Eastern Conference finals.  Philadelphia had two budding superstars and with the mid-season acquisitions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova a deeper team.  So what went wrong? How did everything come crashing down on the hottest team in the league in a matter of five games?  Was the winning streak a mirage? Was the matchup problem with the Celtics that egregious?  Now with Lebron in the Western Conference there’s a chance this potential rematch can determine the outcome of the Eastern Conference.  If these teams meet again during this years postseason both rosters will look different.  I want to examine what struggles the Sixers went through and explore what triumphs did Boston achieve last Eastern Conference semifinals.  I also want to analyze the effects of the new rosters and what impact they will have if a postseason rematch happens.

The Sixers were up four points with a minute left to go in overtime during game three and up four points with a minute and thirty-seven seconds left to go during game five.  Now those leads aren’t insurmountable and one possession games can be fickle with terribly blown calls, a convenient bounce of the ball, head scratching turnovers and weirdly called fouls.  But there’s no question the Sixers should’ve closed those games.  They are the type of games you have to win.  I’m about to probe this series and go over what Philadelphia did wrong but a couple minutes is the difference from changing the narrative completely.  I’m not even going to include game two where the Sixers were up five points with five minutes and forty-eight seconds left to go in the game.  At least that scenario is less deplorable for the Sixers.

The end of game three and game five bring me to arguably the most important factor of Philadelphia’s descent: finishing games and situational basketball.  Before I go more in depth here’s a video I made breaking down some of the 76ers end of game mishaps:

This was on the coaches for not making the correct play call adjustments and the players for not being poised enough to make the correct reads.  Game three was tied and with five seconds left to go JJ Reddick throws a bad pass for a turnover transitioning Boston into an easy fast break bucket.  Apparently the play the Sixers were running called for Simmons to get the pass from Reddick off an Embiid screen.  The problem was Simmons never turned his head around but Reddick threw it anyways.  Some might chalk that up to a miscommunication but Reddick has to identify the action more properly and hold onto the ball and adapt accordingly.  Bottom line is if Simmons isn’t looking don’t pass the ball even if the play calls for it.  Reddick should’ve known better.

Luckily Marco Belinelli made a last second buzzer beater to send the game into overtime.  Ben Simmons gets an offensive rebound with seventeen seconds left in overtime and the Sixers were up one.  You might be thinking to yourself that Simmons pulled the ball back out, got fouled and made the game a three point difference.  Makes sense, right?  If that’s what you’re thinking than you’d be wrong since Simmons immediately shot the ball, Boston got the rebound and called a timeout.  The Celtics ended up running a simple but clever play knowing that the Sixers were switching most everything off-ball.  During the play Embiid gets switched out onto Jaylen Brown off a Horford pindown and Tatum cross screen, clearing out the paint and lobbing an overhead entry pass to Horford for the easy two.  The Celtics were dictating the terms of the game.  But don’t worry though.  The Sixers still have five seconds left to give themselves a solid chance at winning.  Surely they can get a good shot off?  Well, not quite.  Simmons doesn’t throw a clean inbound pass to Embiid and Horford picks the ball off for the win.  Oh good grief.

Most of game three errors can be attributed to unforced turnovers and not knowing what the situation called for.  Game five on the other hand had a lot to do with basic fundamental missteps.  With a minute twenty-seven left to go in the game five Dario Saric and Ben Simmons miscommunicated on a pick-and-roll coverage leaving Horford open for a lob pass.  Next Boston possession Simmons gets beat at the point of attack by Jayson Tatum.  Tatum missed the layup attempt but both Saric and Simmons remained flat footed while Marcus Smart explodes for the easy put back.  Next Sixers possession Saric commits an unforced turnover then the next Celtics possession Simmons gets beat backdoor for a Tatum layup.  That was the go-ahead bucket and the Celtics never looked back.  Simmons was terrible at defense with two minutes left to go in the game: not boxing out, floating off-ball, not staying balanced containing dribble penetration, biting on fakes in the paint and overall looking lost on defense.  Simmons was bad at defense but this was a team effort at being unclutch.  The Sixers were -21.2 points per 100 possessions throughout the playoffs during games that had five minutes left to go and the score being within five points.

The end of game performance and unforced turnovers were frustrating but the rate at which they occurred were just mind boggling.  You can somewhat blame the Sixers youth for their blunders but they did lead the league during the regular season with 16.5 turnovers per game so clearly this was a major problem all year.  Also the Celtics were a young team too being lead by a rookie in Jayson Tatum.  I don’t know how legit of an excuse being young is then.  Maybe the biggest culprit of error for Philadelphia was coaching and game strategy.  The Sixers run a motion styled offense with a bunch of ball reversals, screen aways, cut throughs, fills, curl cuts, long curls, backdoors, ball movement and player movement. They were second in the NBA with an assist percentage of 66.3% and a pace of 102.2 possessions per 100 possessions which ranked fourth.  The Sixers offense was about bending the defense to find open shooters and pushing tempo to get into their early offense. After the mid-season acquisitions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova the Sixers had an offensive rating of 111.5 offense which was fifth best during that stretch.  Combine that to their already stout defense lead by defensive anchor Joel Embiid and the Sixers ended up winning the final twenty-two of twenty-seven games.  With a team humming on all cylinders how did the coaching and strategy breakdown?

Boston presented Philadelphia with a few matchup problems.  For starters Boston singled Joel Embiid in the post and made Philadelphia’s shooters into drivers.  Embiid normally good in the paint sported a .97 points per possession from the post during the regular season but a .81 points per possession from the post in the playoffs.  If Embiid is failing in the post then why would anyone leave their shooters?  The only time I noticed the Celtics doubling Embiid was when he had great position around the restricted area.  The Celtics were content on letting Horford or Baynes guard Embiid one-on-one in the post and close off air space for the Sixers shooters.  The Celtics would lock-and-trail shooters on off-ball movement and would switch on-ball depending on personal reads.  Boston was forcing the Sixers shooters to create separation on their own.

The Sixers had a solid group of shooters during the regular season making 36.9% of threes which was tied for eighth best.  However outside of Dario Saric and JJ Reddick no one was able to attack closeouts proficiently.  Even when the Sixers shooters got solid looks from three they still missed some with Belinelli shooting 31%, Covington shooting 25%, Ilyasova shooting 21% and Philadelphia shooting 31% from three as a team during the Celtics series.  Add that to their inability attacking closeouts and that’s a recipe for complications.  One way the Sixers combated this issue was dribble pitches and dribble handoffs with Embiid and Reddick as a two man game from the wings.  Embiid would stretch out the Celtics defense bringing Horford or Baynes out of the paint.  Embiid is also a brilliant passer and Reddick has terrific foot work off screens using variations of stunts, fakes and set ups to create enough daylight for wider passing angles.  The Sixers also maintained off-ball actions trying to free their shooters through pindowns, flares, staggers, hammer passes and rescreens.  Essentially doing what they know how to do: motion offense.

Philadelphia was having trouble getting their shooters space so they ramped up motion based plays.  The problem was that Boston’s defense was built to switch off-ball so no matter what action you ran it could still be cut off, in particular when you’re using players who can’t create off a live dribble.  For the most part the Sixers had spot-up shooters who couldn’t off-dribble pull up or get to the rim.  If that was the case then why not use more spread based pick-and-roll offense?  During the regular season Philadelphia was last place in possessions when using the roll-man out of pick-and-roll and second last when going with pick-and-roll ball-handler.  This just highlights how much the Sixers used pick-and-rolls to stabilize their offense even though it’s a very effective play especially when using the roll-man.

Throughout the series with Boston every time the Sixers used a high side pick-and-roll with Simmons/Embiid surrounded by shooters Boston had their help side defense tagging Embiid on his dive leaving a shooter wide open.  When the Sixers ran simple spread pick-and-roll either the dive-man got an easy layup attempt, a shooter was left open or the ball handler had more space to contort the drive.  The Celtics couldn’t just switch their way out of this action and had to scramble help defense.  As a result the Sixers shooters had more space to operate.  But for some reason the Sixers rarely went to it and stuck by with motion.  The few times they did go to pick-and-roll the outcome would typically be positive.  I found that to be a huge adjustment mistake by the Sixers coaching staff.

The Sixers coaching staff ended up making a lineup adjustment starting TJ Mcconnell game four over the struggling Robert Covington which worked out well but it didn’t fix the root of the problem.  Mcconnell has dribble drive moves that can collapse a defense and create movement for his shooters but it was only a band-aid.  It was a temporary fix because the court was still shrinking for the Sixers even though they were able to manipulate driving lanes better.  It isn’t an advantageous situation when you have Embiid in the post with two non-shooters on the perimeter. Sometimes the Sixers off-ball cutters would run into Embiid when he was working the post.  Simmons was doing Embiid no favors either by being passive on his drives and routinely picking up his dribble resetting the offense.  I don’t know if it was because Simmons isn’t confident at the free throw line but time and time again Simmons misread driving angles and had poor body control on his floaters. Simmons shot 28.6% on paint attempts not including restricted area shots. The Celtics did put Marcus Morris and Al Horford on Simmons sagging off him at times helping maintain dribble penetration but there were still opportunities that Simmons didn’t leverage.

Defensively for Philadelphia the Celtics would occasionally space out Embiid with Aaron Baynes in the corner or Al Horford on a high side pick-and-pop.  Taking Embiid out of the post to leave the rim unprotected left the Sixers back end more vulnerable.  Early in the series Embiid was late on his rotations when recovering drop coverage versus an Al Horford pick-and-pop.  Embiid does a solid job on switches but can struggle to cover space in a hurry due to lack of acceleration and change-of-direction.  The adjustment was to put Embiid on Marcus Morris more since Morris isn’t involved in pick-and-roll situations as much.  But again this is only a band-aid since it doesn’t fix how porous the paint is without Embiid protecting it.

The Sixers were not scrambling well on the Celtics side-to-side swings, dribble penetration and weak side shooters.  When you have Embiid recovering late and perimeter defenders like JJ Reddick getting beat by first step attacks it’s an uphill battle for the defense to overcome.  Robert Covington was one of the better defenders in the league sporting the third best defensive real plus/minus at +4.24 during the season.  Surly he was able to stifle first step moves or setup dribble drives?  Yet again even he was having trouble containing dribble drives getting beat by pivots, rip-thrus and exhibiting poor balance.  Covington looked like a deer lost in headlights this series.  At times he was unplayable and looked like the undrafted player he is.  The Celtics would also headhunt Marco Belinelli, JJ Reddick and TJ Mcconnell since they literally couldn’t guard anyone.  The Celtics had a few players who were tough to guard out of the triple threat stance and with no one protecting the glass the Celtics would routinely attack Reddick with Brown or Belinelli with Tatum; the Celtics didn’t have to worry about weak side block attempts.  Overall the Sixers didn’t have the foot speed to bottle up the Celtics perimeter scorers.

This series was combination bad matchup and not so stellar coaching.  Maybe if the Sixers had more versatile players the coaching staff would’ve engaged the Celtics with different tactics.  And again maybe I’m reading too much into it because a couple minutes is the difference from the series being turned upside down.  Or it could just be that the inherent flaws the Sixers possess lead them to blunder play after play late in the game.  Are the Sixers doomed to repeat the issues of the 2018 playoffs in 2019?  

One of the Sixers biggest needs this off-season was a perimeter scorer.  The Sixers three best scorers are Embiid who isn’t efficient from three and is post heavy, Reddick who is a liability on defense and Simmons who can’t shoot.  The Sixers wanted to go after Paul George, Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard but struck out on all three.  This remains a huge issue going forward as late game scoring devolves into one-on-one basketball quite often.  Philadelphia needs a three level perimeter scorer if they want a better chance at beating Boston. The Sixers also lost Belinelli and Ilyasova this off-season and replaced their shooting with Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet and to a certain extent Furkan Korkmaz.  Muscala is a lesser known name coming from Atlanta but is a career 37.8% three point shooter.  Shamet is a rookie but shot 44% from three his last two years of college.  Korkmaz dealt with injuries during his rookie year last season but deserves a crack at the rotation since he’s been able to showcase his scoring ability during the summer league and preseason.  There’s a lot of unpredictability in trusting three obscure players but I actually like all three to fill the void as shooters.  Being able to defend though is a different discussion.

To fill in the gaps defensively for the Sixers they went out and drafted Zhaire Smith and traded for Wilson Chandler.  Both players have the size and athleticism to be apart of a switching defense, something that was lacking versus the Celtics.  Chandler seems to be dealing with a hamstring injury, it doesn’t appear to be too serious but hamstring injuries can never be taken too lightly.  Smith on the other hand could be out for the season with a broken foot.  Even if he comes back late in the year he’s still starting from behind.  Smith has the defensive acumen the Sixers crave but is super raw offensively. Taking away that season of development might mean that Smith will be unplayable during the playoffs.  Zhaire Smith being hurt was a big loss for the Sixers hopes at beating Boston.

Internal development will also be key for the Sixers battle against Boston.  Simmons needs to shoot better from the free throw line and mid-range.  The media is clamoring for Simmons to start shooting threes more but I just want him to step into a mid-range pull-up.  Just that alone will affect the defensive alignment for the opposing team.  Embiid needs to improve his outside jump shot but that’s more of a luxury at this point.  And finally the man of mystery Markelle Fultz needs to mentally be over his shoulder injury.  If Fultz can play like the draft hype imagined then he could be the x-factor the Sixers need.  He can create separation on his own, initiate offense for others, take it to the rim with ease and force pressure on Boston’s defenders.  His release on his three point shot is still low but confidence might be the objective to forge in this scenario.

There really isn’t much to say about Boston’s new roster since health is their main goal.  The Celtics are the ones with the vantage point over the Sixers in terms of perimeter defenders and three level scorers.  The Celtics are built perfectly for the modern day NBA but staying healthy is an ambiguous aspiration.  Getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back and maintaining their well-being might determine a possible rematch against the Sixers.  The Celtics biggest roster move this off-season was drafting Robert Williams who might be a couple years away but has the potential for an immediate role as a rotational big-man.  The Sixers lost to the Celtics without Hayward, Irving and Williams last postseason.   After Philadelphia made marginal moves to upgrade their roster this off-season are they ready to win a potential rematch?

Well it could take Boston a few months to reintegrate Irving and Hayward plus Philadelphia could end up using more pick-and-rolls with Markelle Fultz getting additional playing time.  So there’s a chance Philadelphia plays better than Boston in the early months but it’s obviously how you play during the postseason that matters most.  As of now it doesn’t look good for Philly if a postseason rematch happens.  Losing Zhaire Smith was a big blow and banking on internal growth is a fortuitous ask for the Sixers.  The regular season does tend to be volatile with injuries, trades and breakout stars.  Six months from now is a long ways away and a lot could happen between then.  The Bucks offense looks really good during the preseason and the Raptors are stacked.  By no means is a Sixers/Celtics rematch in the works but as a basketball fan it sure be enjoyable to watch.

    *All Stats Provided by NBA.com*

How Boston Got The Go-Ahead Bucket Versus Philadelphia

I’m either going to do a write up or podcast previewing both conference finals but I wanted to briefly break down the sequence of events that lead to Boston beating Philadelphia in five:

Personally, I would’ve called an offensive foul on Dario Saric but I was fine with the no call.  Even though Marcus Smart seems like a mismatch in the post for the 6’10 Saric Smart keeps a strong base, doesn’t bite on the rip-thru and frustrates Saric into a forced back down.  That’s not quite the efficient look I would’ve ran with 43 seconds left.  Horford gets the loose ball, starts a break and wisely kicks it out to Terry Rozier.

Brad Stevens doesn’t call a time out to draw up a play and instead trusts his players during crunch time.  Rozier and Horford proceed to set up a side pick-and-roll.

JJ Reddick and Joel Embiid do what most teams run when covering side pick-and-rolls and “ICE” the action; using the sideline/baseline as an extra defender.  And while Saric is technically in solid position I personally would’ve been more aggressive on the coverage.  Instead of zoning up between Horford and Smart I would’ve denied one pass away and forced Rozier to lob it over to Marcus Smart above the break.  Smart is a worse three point shooter than Horford and the extra time for the pass to make its way over to Smart increases recovery time on rotations. 

But with Saric zoning up Rozier delivers a bounce pass to Horford starting a sequence that lead to the go-ahead bucket.  You can already see Jayson Tatum start his move to the basket with Ben Simmons ball watching.

Smart play by the rookie.  Tatum anticipated the ball reversal and with Ben Simmons ball watching Tatum backdoors to the basket.

TJ Mcconnell did the best job he could on the help but the play was unsalvageable.  The next play was a missed layup than turnover by Joel Embiid.  There might have been a foul on Embiid’s release by Aron Baynes but that’s a tough call to make at the juncture of the game.

I really liked this play because it felt like a microcosm of the series: even though the Sixers had more talent, when it came time to close the game the Sixers either committed unnecessary fouls, terrible turnovers or boneheaded mistakes.  Overall this was a bad matchup for the Sixers. Having Horford as Ben Simmons kryptonite, length/athleticism on the perimeter minimizing space for the shooters and Embiid having his troubles in the post knocked Philadelphia out of their rhythm.

The Sixers still have a bright future and I’ll eventually do a write up about their possibilities this off-season.  For now….Cleveland vs Boston.

Are the Oklahoma City Thunder a real threat?

When the Thunder acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony over this past off-season many experts envisioned them to be a contender in the league and a threat to the Golden State Warriors.  During that same period of time many also believed the Paul George for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo trade was a steal for the Thunder.  Fast forward six months into the future and the Paul George trade is anything but a steal and this years version of the Thunder are looking like a one year wonder.

I’m not going to lie either, I thought the Paul George trade was a great move by the Thunder as well.  That’s until Victor Oladipo started to play like an MVP candidate.  Oladipo is averaging 24.4 points, 48.7 fg%, 40.8 3pt%, 5.2 reb and 4 ast per game.  The Pacers as a team this season have a +1.1 net efficiency rating, while Oladipo himself has a +5.6 net efficiency rating while on-court.  Oladipo is second in the league for shooting guards with a +4.92 Real Plus-Minus, only behind Jimmy Butler, and is quickly establishing himself as a high end two-way player.  Heck, even Sabonis has been solid too.  Sabonis in 81 games last year for OKC had two double-doubles, so far in 40 games this season he has nine.  OKC had Sabonis around perimeter more, shooting more threes, while the Pacers work Sabonis as a rim-running roll man doing most of his damage around the basket.  Sabonis averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 reb a game last year and 12.5 points and 8.2 reb this year.

Are some of these improvements playing time based?  Sure.  Are some of these improvements based off of playing with or without Russell Westbrook?  To an extent yes.  Westbrook last year was on a mission to average a triple-double a game and win MVP to showcase around the league how good he is and what a mistake it was for Kevin Durant to leave.  In the process he stunted the growth of Sabonis and Oladipo since they both weren’t put in position to succeed like they are with the Pacers.  But I’m not running with that narrative as much as some people are.  Did Westbrook stunt Oladipo and Sabonis’ growth by over using possessions and killing game flow?  Sure, but that isn’t all on Westbrook.  That’s also on Billy Donovan, coach of the Thunder, to understand how to properly use his young players.  It also doesn’t help that Oladipo decided to transform his body during this past offseason and get in phenomenal shape (Victor getting into shape).  Maybe if he does that the summer before than none of this ever happens.

What’s done is done.  The Thunder still have a great opportunity on their hands with three of the best players in the league and a fourth player who is a top line big.  Carmelo Anthony and Paul George both have options on their contracts next year so this could end up being a one year experiment.  With that amount of talent on hand surely you can sell the impact of contending for titles to two players who desperately want career validation.  The only problem is are they good enough to contend?  Because if they are they can see this through for another three to five years, but if not the Thunder may be looking at a rebuild.  

So, are the Thunder true contenders?  A threat to knock off the Warriors?  Not really, no.  I want to give a definite no but by having three all-stars you still are prone to the “hot hand” theory; which Carmelo, Westbrook and George are no strangers too.  Outside a miracle of hot stretched play by three all-stars than no, I don’t think they contend and are a likely candidate to be upset in the first round.

The Thunder’s style of offense isn’t conducive to winning titles.  It’s too stagnant and isolation friendly.  The Thunder are second last in the league with a 53.2% assist percentage and are last in the league in passes per game at 256, per second spectrum.  They are also second in the league with a 11.6% frequency of isolation type plays but only score .88 points per possession on those plays which is 15th in the league, per nba.com.  The Thunder don’t have the superior shooting that some teams have to mitigate the fact they run too may isolation plays.  The Thunder are 21st in 3pt percentage and 18th in 3pt makes in the league.  And they don’t have the shooting big men like Minnesota does to stretch out the defense when the offense goes isolation.  However, a baseline look at their offensive efficiency it’s 12th in the league at 105.4.  Just by looking at that stat alone with their 4th ranked defensive efficiency one might think they have a well rounded team to tangle with the Warriors.

The problem is styles.  The Warriors switch most everything on defense which considering the Thunder are a isolation, my turn your turn type offense it’ll push the Thunder further away from the paint and shoot desperation end of shot clock type heaves.  Half court, slowed down style execution offense would serve the Thunder best but I just don’t see them doing that.   Now the Thunder aren’t all isolation plays; they like to get out in transition, run the three man weave with Westbrook, George, and Anthony with down screens opening up lanes to the basket and weak-side help having to dig down opening up shooters, or spread pick-and-roll plays with Westbrook/Adams with Roberson cutting baseline but nothing consistent enough to make the defense work side to side breaking down their gap protections. 

Andre Roberson needs to be healthy too; which is odd saying since he’s a terrible offensive player but since his injury the Thunder have been a much worse defensive team and that’s what they hang their hat on.  During the Thunder’s six game win streak, when Roberson was healthy and most people were starting to think they were getting it together, they had a +14 net efficiency rating and a 102.9 defensive rating.  Since Roberson got hurt December 31st the Thunder have a +1.3 net efficiency and a 109.2 defense rating.  In Roberson’s absence the Thunder have been playing a combination of Josh Huestis and Terrance Ferguson.  

For all the crap Roberson gets about his poor shooting and how he cramps space for the all-stars (which does happen) his defense clearly lifts the team’s overall play.  Roberson is a great team defender; tagging players as they run by screens, bumping roll-men on help side pick-and-roll defense then closing out on the shooters hard but not over aggressive to the point he’s out of position.  He’s long, active and plays his role with the Thunder’s league leading 18.1 deflections per game which jump starts their fast break game too; OKC is 4th in the league in fast break points.  Roberson leads all shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus with a +3.76; the next highest is Danny Green at +1.99.    And even though Roberson’s shooting will become a problem during a seven game series he does do a good job of screening, cutting and finding the holes in the defense.

This play is a microcosm of the Thunder’s offense:

Terrance Ferguson sets a back screen at the right elbow while Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony prepare for a staggered screen for Paul George to curl off of.  Russell Westbrook surveys the play.

There is poor communication on defense between Batum and Walker since Walker sticks to his man and Batum easily gets caught up in Ferguson’s back pick.  Dwight Howard should help on George but he seems more concerned about the staggered screen.  Even Steven Adams points out George, letting Westbrook know that hes about to be wide open.

Steven Adams at this point is telegraphing how wide open Paul George is.  Even though the intended play is to use the staggered screen there is clearly an option available to Westbrook to hit George wide open.  I mean, he’s really wide open.

Geogre is even more wide open than he was before, I didn’t even know that was possible.  Adams has been telegraphing the play for a good few seconds and Dwight Howard hasn’t even bothered to scope the play.  Westbrook ends up not hitting the wide open George but passes it to George after he uses the staggered screen and shoots a brick of a three.  A well executed play that had multiple options, misdirection was completely misread by their star point guard.  We’re at the half way mark in the season and there is no excuse for this.  Timely adjustments for the Thunder to maintain some resemblance of execution style offense are possible but my bet is that they stick to isolation/transition friendly basketball.  A play that should’ve been an easy layup but ends up exerting more energy than need be for a more difficult shot, yea, sounds like the Thunder.

Quick Hit Opening Week Notes & Favorite Play

This about sums up the opening games.  With limited training camp and preseason games the level of play so far has been rudimentary; no rhythm, no flow and no connectivity.  The type of offenses are very vanilla outside of Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.  There are a lot of new faces in new places so that has something to do with it too but so far basic spread pick-and-roll offenses have been dominating the week.  Sprinkle in some floppy actions, high horns or screen-and-curl sequences and thats basically every team’s offense so far.  I’m assuming with the shorten time to practice not much got implemented in regards to an expansive play book, which makes sense.  But so far these first games have just been an extension of the preseason.  

Minnesota’s offense was a classic “my turn, your turn” scenario in which one play Jimmy Butler went ISO, then Andrew Wiggins went ISO and then Karl Towns went ISO.  Understandably there are new pieces to the puzzle but for a team that has high expectations having an offense based around minimal shooting and stagnant movement with poor defensive execution doesn’t scream playoff team.  New Orleans was Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis plus a bunch of guys who don’t fit around them.  Ben Simmons looks primed to win Rookie of the Year.  Washington is deeper and should be taken more serious.  Boston is still a playoff team even without Hayward.  Lonzo Ball is match-up dependent.  Blake Griffin is starting his MVP campaign.  Houston is really good and San Antonio still has a good defensive unit even when Kawhi Leonard sits.  Simple observations from a straightforward band of games.  I’ll assume that by November the offenses will have better continuity considering that’s when the season normally starts.   

………….

I usually pick an offensive play as my favorite play but nothing stood out.  There was well drawn up plays out of time-out’s or well executed synergistic plays, but nothing wowed me to that point of me trying to analyze it.  It really spoke to what I previously said about how these offenses are still in training camp mode.  The play I picked was on the defensive side.  It’s nothing too fancy but it was a well read play by a player who surprised me with his movement: 

Side pick-and-roll with Marquese Chriss and Eric Bledsoe being guarded by Maurice Harkless and Caleb Swanigan.  Swanigan isn’t known for his quick feet, quick hands or defensive ability but in this play he makes a great read.

Swanigan and Harkless decide to “Ice” the side pick-and-roll with Swanigan/Harkless corralling Bledsoe and forcing him baseline/sideline.

Since Bledsoe has no where to go he hops into midair looking for Chriss to roll to the basket.  Al Farouq-Aminu is help side positioned at the “nail”.

Swanigan reads the coverage perfectly, realizing as soon as Bledsoe goes midair he has one option.  But instead of walling off Chriss he makes a play on the ball.

Swanigan ends up getting hand on ball, ripping it away from Chriss and starting the break.  For a rookie not known for his defensive instincts, quick feet and quick hands Swanigan sure did a good job covering a side pick-and-roll in his first NBA shift.  He took a calculated risk going for the ball since if he misjudged the pass he would’ve been out of position with Chriss likely to attack an empty lane.  It wasn’t a fancy defensive play, there were far better but Swanigan surprised me for a player who seemed like Enes Kanter coming out of college; Enes Kanter isn’t making plays like that however.

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.