The story of these playoffs has been defense — Dwight Howard with nine blocks, Ron Artest on Kevin Durant, the Hawks shutting down what is left of the Bucks. Teams get to the playoffs because of their defense.
But who are the worst defenders in the NBA? Who costs their teams games due a vexing combination of inability and general lack of interest? Who are the guys other NBA players pray will be covering them for a night?
Math wiz Haralabos Voulgaris — who used to use his database to bet the NBA but now uses it in hopes of landing an NBA job — broke it down on his blog Alone in the Corner (via TrueHoop).
You NBA All-Worst Defensive Team:
PG: Johnny Flynn (Timberwolves)
SG: Kevin Martin (Houston)
SF: Andres Nocioni (Sacramento)
PF: Charlie Villanueva (Detroit)
C: Andrea Bargnani (Toronto)
Notice that none of those teams made the playoffs. Coincidence? I think not.
Flynn is a rookie, it’s pretty harsh to put a rookie on this list, especially one that has two power forwards playing behind him rather than one true center shot blocker. But Voulgaris uses a lot of adjusted plus/minus stats, and that metric doesn’t like Flynn. Largely because he’s not really a good defender.
Nocioni is not a league’s worst defender, he’s just put in that position. He’s a tweener, and he gets asked to guard threes that are too big for him or fours who are too big for him. So the numbers hate him, but the skills are there.
Charlie Villanueva, what a great pick up he turned out to be.
Now Bargnani deserves his status — he was the anchor for the worst defense in the NBA last year. It’s the flaw in the construction of the Raptors, both Bargnani and Bosh really need a big paired with them who can defend, block shots, dominate the boards and do the dirty work. Combined they are the softest front line in basketball. Bosh gets more of a pass because he puts in the defensive effort (and makes up for his shortcomings on the offensive end). Bargnani just shows no interest in defense.
LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.
Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.
“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”
The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.
Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.
All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.
Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)
However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.
Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.
If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.
If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.
Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.
What else is he going to say?
And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.
From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.
However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.
Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?
The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.
President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.
Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:
Was LaVar Ball around the team much?
“Zero,” Alford said.
Was he ever at practice?
“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”
Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?
“Never,” Alford said.
LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.
Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.
Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.