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NBA Playoffs sports

King of the North

After Milwaukee took a two to nothing lead in the series against Toronto the general sense was doom for the Raptors.  The Bucks haven’t lost three games in a row and haven’t lost a home game where they entered the fourth quarter with a lead all season.  Marc Gasol wasn’t playing up to his standard and the Raptors bench unit were being outplayed.  The odds seemed stacked against the Raptors.  But sure enough the Bucks lost four games in a row for the first time all season and lost a home game where they entered the fourth quarter with a lead for the first time all season.  

Were the Raptors that much better than the Bucks?  I think not. We’re talking about a double overtime game three where the Bucks easily could’ve been up three games to nothing.  A pivotal moment in that game was fourth quarter with about two minutes and thirty seconds left.  George Hill was leading the break but multiple Raptors were waiting under the basket.  Instead of backing out the ball and setting up a play Hill decided to rush the break and miss a contested paint attempt.  The Raptors went on a five to nothing run over the next minute.  The Bucks would send the game into overtime but the whole complexion of the game could’ve been changed with one play. Heck in game six when the Raptors took the lead with nine minutes and forty-five seconds left in the fourth quarter that was their first lead since 6-3 in the first quarter.  

The Bucks took leads into the fourth quarter in both game five and six.  This series in many ways could’ve went Milwaukee’s way. Unfortunately for the Bucks their late game half court offensive execution, tertiary playmaking, three point shooting and secondary help defense took a nosedive.  Giannis became nullified in the fourth quarter with the Raptors playing more drop coverage on pick-and-rolls, collapsing middle with three defenders and sagging back on transition pushes taking away his driving angles and side steps.  It’s tough to score when you aren’t a proficient three point, free throw or mid-range jump shooter.  It becomes even more difficult to make precise decisions late in game on drive-and-kick opportunities, dump offs and timed passes to cutters.  It also doesn’t help when one of your most important shooters, Nikola Mirotic, goes in the tank and shoots 19% from three and becomes unplayable.  Shooting 31% from three as a team really makes it hard for Giannis to trust his kick out options, especially to a 17% from deep Bledsoe.  

The Bucks ran a 5-out motion offense with shooting at every position surrounding Giannis all season.  A lot of times when Giannis drove to the rim and helpside defense would rotate over that would trigger a weak side cut by the Bucks.  It was a simple but effective offense since Giannis draws so much attention.  The Raptors defense did a very good job snuffing out these actions late in the game.  They closed space fast with sharp closeouts on skip passes and kick outs, were communicating on every ball screen, under control on recoveries and on a string with every rotation.  Fourth quarter game five and six was some of the best defense I’ve seen the Raptors play all season.  The Raptors walled up the paint and forced the Bucks out of their game plan.  They were more capable of playing different styles of pick-and-roll coverage due to better two-way personnel in comparison to Milwaukee.  The Raptors switched or contained on most ball screens and that versatility through the Bucks out of rhythm.

The Bucks pick-and-roll defense at the end of game five and six were pretty lazy.  Several times did I see Milwaukee lazily give up the switch without fighting to stay attached.  The Raptors would run multiple ball screens forcing the Bucks big men and weak side defense to cover extra ground and put them in a vulnerable spot.  The Bucks communication would break down falling for hammer picks at crucial parts of the fourth quarter.  The Raptors would setup Pascal Siakam as the screener in many ball screens situations trying to get players like Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova to switch on Kawhi.  The Raptors ran variations of roll-and-replace and double ball screen actions quite often at the end of game five and six to move Milwaukee’s defenders into scramble mode. The Bucks had Giannis guard Marc Gasol and had Malcolm Brogdon/Khris Middleton guard Kawhi Leonard late in the game.  Middleton struggled trying to guard Kawhi and multiple times gave up middle. Brogdon actually did a commendable job trying to guard him even though Kawhi could easily shoot over the top.  Kawhi probably did the best job of his career trying to find shooters on his drive-and-kick chances during this series.  Having a player that can score proficiently at all three levels of the game makes a huge difference come playoff time.  The amount of attention that imposes on a defense changes the floor balance in favor of the offense.

It also helps when you get out of this world performances.  I can analyze this series as much as I want but maybe it was as simple as this: Fred VanVleet went 2-11 from three games one through three and 14-17 from three games four through six.  Maybe that’s all that needs to be said.  If Mirotic got hot from three and VanVleet stayed cold then maybe this is a five game series.  VanVleet wasn’t just a jump shooter though.  He was aggressive on his takes, playmaked in a pinch and took care of the ball.  Norman Powell really stepped up his game on both sides of the ball as well.  He played better than Danny Green for most of this series.  The bench for the Raptors straight up outplayed the Bucks bench games four through six.

The Bucks now go into this off-season with a lot of questions.  Nikola Mirotic, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon are all free agents.  Are they going to re-sign Middleton to the max even though we just saw him flounder in the east finals?  How much are the Bucks willing to spend on Brogdon?  Will Lopez continue to take a discount?  The Bucks need to get more versatile on defense while at the same time maintain quality spacing for Giannis and that could be an issue since their means of making upgrades could be limited.  Acquiring an extra shot maker would be nice and Giannis evolving his game outside of the paint is the next step in his championship quest. The Raptors now have the pleasure of playing the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.  The Warriors are the favorite even with Kevin Durant not playing.  But without Kevin Durant the Raptors clearly have a better shot at winning the title.  The Raptors counted on a supernatural performance by Fred VanVleet just to get them by the Bucks.  They’re going to need that and then some to beat the Warriors.  Getting OG Anunoby back healthy would be a plus for the Raptors.  Win or lose the Raptors have done such a good job at rounding out their roster with late first round picks, second round picks and undrafted free agents.  They made a risky move trading for Kawhi knowing damn well he might leave in a year.  This might be the only time in franchise history where they will have a shot at winning a title.  And heck who knows, maybe Kawhi doesn’t leave a well run organization playing in a weaker conference with a ravenous fan base and good coach.  Just a thought.

 

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NBA Playoffs sports

Quick Hit 2019 Playoff Notes

~ I don’t know why but I find it funny that two of the most impactful players this postseason are Rodney Hood and George Hill.  Both of whom made up the terrible supporting cast that Lebron had last NBA finals in Cleveland.  Hill was dealing with back spasms for a chunk of the playoffs last season but playing with Lebron brings a degree of pressure that I don’t know if Hood and Hill were prepared for.  Lebron is also his own offensive system and if you don’t fit within his construct then you may be dealing with a lot of DNP-coach’s decision.  This postseason has been different though.  With Enes Kanter dealing with a separated shoulder and Moe Harkless dealing with an ankle injury, Hood has stepped up for Portland.  With Malcolm Brogdon being out with a foot injury, George Hill has stepped up for Milwaukee.  Call it better health, opportunity, confidence, fit, role or whatever, but a couple buy-low trade chips are paying dividends for their respective teams.

 

~ Instead of picking Milwaukee outright over Boston, I decided to weasel out of a prediction and say whoever wins between Milwaukee versus Boston will win the east.  I was favoring the Bucks but I was worried they were going to remain steadfast in their core principles from the regular season.  I first had to see if they were willing to change their style of play during a series before I could confidently pick the Bucks.  In my last article I wrote about how Boston was a bad matchup for Milwaukee and it certainly showed game one.  The Bucks had to make the necessary adjustments if they wanted to turn around the series after a blow out game one loss. Mike Budenholzer has arguably been the best pickup this off-season and once again proved his worth by out coaching Brad Stevens with better coaching tactics.  After game one, the Bucks started Nikola Mirotic in place of Sterling Brown.  I’m a huge Sterling Brown fan but after game one it was clear that he isn’t a true shooting threat or a proficient enough driver which became a problem for the symmetry of the Bucks offense.  Mirotic gave the Bucks more size and shooting which helped open up better driving angles for Giannis.

It felt like the Bucks used Giannis in more screening situations especially late in game.  Whether that be Giannis the ball handler with a ball screen, Giannis setting the ball screen himself or Giannis setting off-ball cross screens, it felt like Milwaukee was forcing the Celtics to negotiate on as many screening scenarios that involve Giannis as possible.  On the other hand it felt like Boston didn’t utilize the Irving/Horford pick-and-pop as much like in game one.  A lot of that had to do with Milwaukee switching on the ball screen more often.

The Bucks switched on ball screens more often as compared to containing almost every ball screen in game one.  The Bucks don’t necessarily have the personnel to switch on defense but there’s still benefit to switching even with less than personnel: it affords time on recovery’s, helps contain point of attack moves and baits the offense into head hunting.  So instead of a smooth motion based offensive play for Boston you could get something like Kyrie dancing on Brook lopez.  The Bucks would then collapse on Kyrie’s drive in the paint and force a kick out, either resetting the offense or giving up a three.  Considering that Boston shot 30.7% from three this series, maybe giving them space on the perimeter isn’t that bad of an idea.  Boston also doesn’t really have a true post threat either so the worry for a big on small cross match in the paint is lessen.

The Bucks bench just dominated the Celtics bench.  I’ve already talked about George Hill but Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova were major contributors with Malcolm Brogdon giving them a boost last game.  Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier were terrible and getting Marcus Smart back wasn’t helping with offensive production off the bench for Boston.  No one on Boston could guard Giannis, too many times did Boston settle for jump shots and when they were down late in the game the offense felt too erratic with no purpose behind their actions.  Kind of like how it’s been all season.

I still think Boston was a bad matchup for Milwaukee but it just so happens that the Bucks have a great coach of their own to make the correct adjustments after game one.  Boston never rebounded.  And you know what else helps?  Having arguably the best player in the league, that’s what.  With Malcolm Brogdon coming back, the Bucks having home court advantage throughout the playoffs, Giannis playing at the top of his game and a coach who is showing he is more than capable of making in-series adjustments bodes well for title consideration.  I said before the playoffs started that who ever won the Boston-Milwaukee series will win the east and I’m obviously staying with that assertion.  The reason why I didn’t pick Milwaukee out right to beat Boston was because of matchup but with the Bucks displaying that they aren’t afraid to switch up their style gives me the confidence in saying the Bucks are the favorite to win the NBA title. (Assuming Kevin Durant misses the Finals)  

 

~  The Rockets better beat Golden State now that Kevin Durant is out for the rest of the series.  If they don’t, that would be a colossal failure and a wasted opportunity.  The Rockets moaned and wined about how they would’ve beat Golden State if it wasn’t for Chris Paul missing the last two games.  There’s no excuses now.

 

~ The other two series are entering game sevens.  My prediction before the second round started was Toronto over Philadelphia and Portland over Denver.  I’ll stick with my picks even though my confidence level is waning after watching the games play out.  I thought Toronto was going to beat the Sixers without much stress but clearly I overestimated Kyle Lowry and the Raptors supporting cast.  I still think whoever wins will lose to Milwaukee anyway. Portland winning at Denver for game seven is the tougher proposition.  Nikola Jokic has been one of the consistently great players throughout the postseason and Jamal Murray is asserting himself as the primary perimeter scoring threat.  The Blazers on the other hand are dealing with injuries to key players and expecting Rodney Hood to stay hot is a difficult trust exercise.  Both teams would have home court advantage versus Houston in the west finals even though the Rockets should be favored in both matchups.  

  

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NBA Play Breakdown Playoffs sports Video

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.

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NBA Playoffs Podcast sports Video

2019 NBA Playoffs Second Round Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I did a podcast.  I stumble over myself, mispronounce words, go off on tangents and the mic is terrible.  Just another OldMan podcast:

1:10 – Why is Andrew Bogut playing?  Will the Warriors lose to Houston?

7:25 – Tip of the cap to Daryl Morey.  Is Houston better than they were last season?

11:30 – Is Steve Kerr an idiot?

13:30 – East Preview

15:40 – Milwaukee vs Boston

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NBA Playoffs sports

Some Quick Hit Thoughts On The 2019 Playoffs

Lately I’ve been working on my post-tournament prospect rankings which will be out very soon.  After I post my big board I’ll start posting scouting reports.  Since the NBA playoffs just began (Nets beat at Sixers, Magic beat at Raptors, GSW win vs Clippers, Spurs beat at Nuggets) I’ll post my scouting reports periodically.  Interspersed with my scouting reports I’ll go over certain NBA matchups.  But for me I don’t want to over analyze the NBA playoffs like some have.  In the west Golden State is the clear favorite with home court advantage.  The only team I could see give them trouble will be Houston.  Houston has done a tremendous job of course correcting their season with mid-season acquisitions of Danuel House, Kenneth Faried, Austin Rivers and Iman Shumpert.  An argument can be made that Houston is a deeper team now then they were last season.  Last years version of Trevor Ariza was better than any player they’ve just acquired but the depth in comparison is better this year.  The series versus Golden State last season was a 7-8 man rotation for the Rockets with Gerald Green getting major minutes.  Now the Rockets can go 8-10 men deep with a better bench unit and possibly keep players fresher.

The next question becomes will the Golden State vs Houston series come to fruition?  The major roadblock is of course Utah.  Last postseason divisional round Houston beat Utah in five games.  Houston really is a bad matchup for Rudy Gobert; make him play in space, on the perimeter and guard multiple ball screens per possession.  The only thing that I could see derailing the Rockets would be Donovan Mitchell going off like he has over this past month.  Over his last 15 games Mitchell is averaging 24.6 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 46.6% from the field but most importantly 47.1% from three on 6.1 attempts per game.  If Mitchell can continue his three point shooting barrage then that could affect the way Houston guards him on pick-and-roll.  Maybe instead of switching they blitz him and as a result can bend the defense in favor of the Jazz.  I could see the Jazz pulling off the upset if Gobert has a bigger presence in the paint offensively and Mitchell’s gravity changes the way Houston guards pick-and-rolls.  I wouldn’t count on it though.

As far as the other series go in the west, I really could care less.  Denver’s only chance at making noise in the playoffs was based off getting home court advantage throughout the playoffs.  Now instead of playing the Clippers in the first round they get San Antonio which has been playing much better defense compared with their sluggish start to the season.  The Spurs just beat the Nuggets game one.  The Nuggets obviously aren’t out of it yet but the Spurs might have the upper hand due to the difference in experience and the lack of go-to scorers the Nuggets have.  In the end does it really matter who wins this series?  And it feels like everyone is picking Oklahoma City to beat Portland.  The Thunder did beat the Trailblazers 4-0 during the season and without Jusuf Nurkic the series seems insurmountable for Portland to overcome.  So naturally I’m picking Portland.  They have home court advantage, Paul George is still dealing with shoulder issues and I trust Damian Lillard the most in this series.  But again, neither team pose a serious threat to Golden State.  Although, one of these four teams have to make the western conference finals.  I’ll pick Portland for the sake that they’re underdogs against Oklahoma City and a nice redemption story after losing last postseason to the Pelicans.  

In the East my pre-season pick was Boston then as the season went on I started to favor the Bucks.  Out of all the eastern conference teams, Boston is best designed for the playoffs while Milwaukee has the best fit.  Boston has a slashing, three point shooting scorer of a point guard, with a mismatch problem at center and a bunch of switchable big wings.  Remind you of any team out west?  That’s why I think they are best designed.  Al Horford was and still is a mismatch problem for Joel Embiid and he will force Brook Lopez to exit the paint on defense.  Kyrie is the do-it all offensive point guard and they have a slew of big wings that can switch, shoot threes and attack closeouts.  Yes, Boston hasn’t been quite the team we expected them to be before the season began.  Even though they might be well designed they haven’t been able to get on the same page all season. That is obviously my biggest reservation but then I remembered how everyone counted them out before last postseason began since Kyrie was hurt.  They were one game away from making the finals.  I kind of think when pushed against the wall this team finds ways to win.  For Milwaukee it’s more simple.  They’ve been the best team in the league all season due to fit.  Giannis as the fulcrum of a 5-out motion offense that has shooting at every position.  They have the pieces that fit the best out of all the possible eastern conference teams and they have home court advantage which helps too.  I honestly can’t make my mind up.  Boston or Milwaukee?  The easy answer is Milwaukee since they have the best player in the conference and home court advantage.  But I still like Horford being a mismatch problem to defend on pick-and-rolls.  The injury bug is a problem for both teams as Marcus Smart is out for Boston and Malcolm Brogdon is out for Milwaukee.

The reason why I’m not talking Toronto and Philadelphia isn’t because they both lost their first series game.  Overall I just think Kawhi has one foot out the door, OG Anunoby is hurt and Kyle Lowry’s playoff failures are still a thing.  For the Sixers, Embiid is dealing with another knee issue, their bench stinks and the lack of shooting is a major flaw.  I know that’s over simplifying both teams and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong but I think Boston and Milwaukee are best suited to win the east and give Golden State problems.  

This postseason could be very interesting for this reason: I really think the two best teams in each conference will play each other in the divisional round and not the conference finals.  Boston vs Milwaukee and Golden State vs Houston will both happen in the divisional round but both series could determine the actual winner of the conference.  Or at least, that’s what I think.

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NBA sports Trade

A Very, Very, Very Random Trade Idea

The Houston Rockets defense stinks.  I think most people thought there would be some kind of regression due to losing Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik.  But so far they are the 4th worst defensive team in the league sporting a defensive rating of 114.7 points per 100 possessions while starting the regular season 1-4.  Ouch.  The Rockets have been without Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight and Nene during the five game stretch and losing Chris Paul to a suspension hasn’t helped their struggling defense either.   Houston has centered their defensive concept  around switching.  When you have the appropriate players to execute a switching scheme it’s arguably the toughest defense to score on since the defenders have less space to recover. Unfortunately as of now the Rockets don’t have the personnel to properly switch most ball screens.  Maybe when Chriss, Nene, Paul and Knight come back the ability to switch will be less of an issue but the amount of blown weak side assignments due to players being out of position or poor communication has handcuffed the Rockets defense so far.  Smart teams have also head hunted the mismatches as a consequence from uneven switching.

The Rockets are in desperate shape.  They recently offered the Timberwolves four 1st round draft picks for Jimmy Butler and coach Mike D’antoni has said “the Rockets awful defense needs a do-over.”  Counting on players like Gerald Green, Eric Gordon, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden for defensive prowess was fool hearted from the beginning to rely on.  A defensive minded coach would have altered the Rockets defensive scheme to more of a hybrid between hedging and drop coverage until the Rockets get more capable players to execute a scheme entirely built off switching.  Maybe the trade for Jimmy Butler goes through and the Rockets get one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA to fit their defensive scheme. However that still won’t be enough to contend with the Warriors and it still seems like coach Tom Thibodeau will sabotage any offer made to not trade Butler.

A Butler trade is shooting for the stars.  It’s a super risky deal to pull off with Butler being a possible free agent this summer and not being able to resign him will be a setback for the Rockets.  So I was thinking of trade idea that would be more risk averse but obviously not as flashy as the Butler trade.  The idea is centered around trading Zhou Qi for Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks.  The Bucks are off to a hot start with new coach Mike Budenholzer and a revamped 5-out motion offensive system deploying Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez as stretch bigs.  That system is not really the greatest fit for Sterling Brown since playing within a motion offense calls for players to have solid spatial awareness, good decision making and fine tuned skills which isn’t Browns game.  So far Brown has lost minutes to players that fit the system better like Donte Divincenzo and Pat Connaughton.    Both players are newly acquired this season while Brown was a second round pick last year.  I’ve been a fan of Brown since the pre-draft process last year and have followed his progress closely.

Brown shot 35% from three his rookie season last year and had a  +.67 defensive real plus/minus which ranked 13th among shooting guards according to espn.com.  A very solid rookie year for a player that’s 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan trending towards a “3-and-D” wing player in the NBA.  He’s still only 23 years old and clearly needs more time to develop but would be a practical roster move for a team without many options.  The Rockets run a spread pick-and-roll system on offense with a switching concept on defense as previously mentioned.  Sterling Brown would be a great fit within those constructs playing off of Harden/Paul’s play making and Capela’s vertical spacing.  Brown can make open threes, attack a closeout in a straight line and is suitable to play in a switching defense.  Brown also dealt with a horrific ordeal with a local police officer in Milwaukee that if you want to read up on click this (Story).  Brown had to deal with this unfortunate situation for most of his off-season and could use a change of scenery to distance himself from that toxic situation.  

Zhou Qi, the 7’1 center, was a second round pick for the Rockets in the 2016 draft.  Qi has had his offensive moments during summer league being able to step out, shoot long distance and rebound at a high clip.  He’s currently dealing with an injury but has recently returned to practice.  Qi could be a nice project for the Bucks as the stretch big for their future center spot while Brown could be that “3-and-D” wing the Rockets so desperately need at the moment.  Brown has one more year left on his contract after this season at $1.618 million that’s non-guaranteed while Qi has 2 more years left at $1.618 and $1.752 million both of which are non-guaranteed also.

This isn’t a trade idea that’s going to make headlines.  It might not even be on the bottom ticker on ESPN.  But as far as a low risk high reward deal for both teams then this trade idea makes sense to me.

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NBA sports

“Hit Me” ~ Jason Kidd

Related image

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports that Jason Kidd, coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, has been fired (Story).  I don’t think the timing was appropriate but the idea is still sound.  Jason Kidd is an average coach, at best, and the Bucks should be better.  But maybe I’m wrong about Jason Kidd.  Maybe the expectations got the better of the owners and this is what the Bucks roster currently is.  Maybe they weren’t the top four seed most were projecting at the beginning of the season and they are closer to a fringe playoff team.

The Bucks were missing an identity under Kidd; something every team needs to assign players roles for a system to work.  What type of defensive team were they?  The Bucks were the second best team in the league when it came to defensive efficiency in 2015; now they are 25th with largely the same players, minus defensive stalwart Zaza Pachulia of course.  The Bucks still have good defensive players though.  Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tony Snell, John Henson make up their usual starting five with Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova, Sterling Brown and Thon Maker coming off the bench.  

With those players, skill set and the modern basketball world we live in today a defensive system involving switching on most pick-and-rolls, depending on the ball-handler hedging, doubling down on good post players and zoning up behind him; something akin to the Warriors because the Bucks have the personal to.  Instead the Bucks hard hedge on most pick-and-rolls or they’ll blitz the ball-handler trying to cause deflections, turnovers and spring a transition game; something akin to the Lebron James Miami Heat.  The problem with that type of defense now is it’s more susceptible to breakdowns in pick-and-roll coverages with more player movement scrambling from gap to man; so much energy has to be spent, the communication has to be crisp and the rotations have to be on point for it to work.  It isn’t a bad defensive system, in fact it’s won multiple titles in the past, but for this particular personal grouping there’s a more conservative less aggressive way to guard the pick-and-roll and still be effective.  

The Bucks offense ranks tied for 8th in the league at 107 points per 100 possessions.  That’s pretty good but most of it can be attributed to Giannis.  When Giannis is on-court the Bucks have a +3.7 net efficiency rating; the team has a -.3 rating overall.  When Giannis is off-court the Bucks have a -10.2 net rating.  Maybe it’s just as simple as when Giannis plays the Bucks are a playoff team and when he doesn’t the Bucks are one the worst teams in the league.  I find it hard to believe without Giannis with the remaining players the Bucks have that they are worse than the Kings.  To me that’s just bad coaching.  Under Kidd they are a one action offense with no secondary options except for isolation or spread pick-and-roll.  And when they do find an action that works, say some sort of floopy action, Kidd over uses the set and unnecessarily simplifies things in the process.  

The Bucks head coaching job will be one of the more sought after jobs due to Giannis.  I’m assuming they will hire a replacement over the off-season.  Jabari Parker is the only free agent of note for the Bucks this summer and reportedly he’s looking for max money (Story).  The Bucks are currently $4.22 million away from paying into the tax and an offer to Parker will clear that and than some.  I like Parker as an offensive threat; post-up, three point shooting and PnR play.  Defensively he is less than desired and his injury history is a major concern.  Since his contract is only $6.78 million now the only way to get adequate value is by adding a lottery pick.

I’m not the hugest fan of tanking because it can lead to tanking in perpetuity and poor habits building poor culture.  I do, however, think the Bucks should retool for this one year.  Giannis is dealing with knee soreness and will miss a couple of games (Story).  I would use that as a linering excuse to play Giannis as less as possible for the rest of the season.  I’d trade Parker and get a lottery pick plus a young player preferably on a rookie deal back.  With no Parker or Giannis and with Khris Middleton playing like crap this year (he is shooting 33% from three, he shot 43% last year) than theres a chance Milwaukee lands two lottery picks.  They could end up having a better cap situation and more movable tradable assets if a star wants to pair himself with Giannis.  With a new coach in place, a superstar and young building blocks that’s a future you can possibly sell.

Even if you regard that as a good plan I doubt it happens.  I just think with a lame duck coach, no real playoff advancement hopes, salary tax implications, asset problems and a superstar questioning the whole organization that maybe pausing this season, retooling for next year could give the Bucks a better chance at success.  I like the upcoming NBA draft when it comes to lottery players so maybe I’m biased towards that.  But if the other option is paying Parker max money, possibly paying the repeater tax, losing in the first round and having limited assets than why not raise your risk profile a little more and get off the treadmill of mediocrity.