PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

The tasty underside of the Rockets’ defense so far

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The Houston Rockets are 0-5, which is just bizarre. They’ve fought hard against good teams and been in positions to win, only to find new and inventive ways to lose. This is a team that many consider one of the most fun teams to watch, and a legitimate playoff contender. So what in Olajuwon’s name is going on down there?

Looking at the numbers, we try and identify where the problem is. We see the offense is ranked 14th in efficiency. They’re shooting 53% from the field, right in the middle of the pack. They’re only turning the ball over on 13.1% of their possessions ( 8th lowest in the league). They’re eleventh in offensive rebounding rate. The offense is looking good. So what’s the… oh. Right.

The defense.

Houston currently has the worst defense in the league, when factoring for pace. They force a turnover on less than 10% of all their opponents’ possessions, league worst. But surprisingly, they’re fourteenth in FG%. They’re not getting killed by shots, but they are letting their opponents get to the line 36% of the time.

Okay, so we’ve isolated the defense as the issue. Now, we need to go deeper. (Braaaahm.)

Looking at their opponent field goal percentages, they’re bad but not horrific down low, giving up the tenth best FG% at the rim. They’re 8th worst on the perimeter, but the big one is 10-15 feet, where they’re fourth worst. So where are all those shots coming from? For that we turn to Synergy Sports.

According to Synergy Sports, the Rockets are weakest in pick and roll defense on the ball handler, posting a .90 points per possession mark and allowing opponents to shoot 49%. That’s long form for “guys are coming behind the screen and nailing jumpers. Aaron Brooks and Courtney Lee are the biggest offenders, allowing a 1.31 and 1.30 PPP respectively. Brooks’ allowed field goal percentage is better, but he’s also fouling 18% of the time. So what’s happening on these pick and rolls? Here’s a look.

Here Chris Paul brings the ball up the floor and gets ready to go behind the deep wing pick.

 

Paul peels Brooks one way and the back the other, using the discernible lack of size to pancake his defender.

 

 

As CP3 peels around and gets to the baseline, Yao moves to cut him off. Brooks is taking a bad angle here, moving laterally instead of moving to anticipate Paul getting to the baseline. This could be because he’s expecting Yao to close off the baseline. He does not, and CP3 is now roaming free under the basket. If you were wondering if it’s time to panic, it is.

Brooks catches up with him, but now you’ve got Paul against an opponent who’s actually smaller than him (one of the few). The result? A turnaround fadeaway that Paul can make in his sleep from less than five feet.

It’s good, Hornets take the lead and hold on to win.

Now, Brooks isn’t the only problem, neither is Martin. In reality, the problems for the Rockets are system. Take this play for example from last night, where the Rockets actually defended the pick and roll pretty well, except when Manu Ginobili was draining step-back J’s and Richard Jefferson was getting wide-open looks.

 

Here Jefferson  gets the ball on the wing and pulls his man into a Blair pick. Which is kind of like pulling him into a brick wall with spikes on it.

The problem here is a lack of recognition by Jordan Hill to show hard off the pick to deter Jefferson. Given your choice of DeJuan Blair pick and pop, and Jefferson free and clear, you take Blair every single time.

That clump there should not exist, because now you have other defenders having to watch both their man and figure out if they need to commit to Jefferson.

The two defenders are still hung up on the pick, leaving a wide-open jumper for Jefferson who stops mid-range.

But worst was probably this possession against the Spurs, in overtime, after the Rockets had worked so hard to get themselves in good position to win. Up one, Parker gets the ball on the wing.

Here comes the pick. Again.

Again, the Rockets are too shallow off the pick. Look at how open that left elbow area is. You can tell your man to fight through the screen, as long as you’ve got rotation help. But Luis Scola needs to stick with his guy and can’t get there. Which means…

Ishmael Smith tries to cut off Parker going over the screen, but can’t get there, because Parker is really fast. Again, this would be the time to freak out.

Wide open J. Money.

The Rockets are far from finished (they tip-off against the woeful Timberwolves in a few minutes after this post). But the problems they have are pretty clear. They’re a fast paced team that can put up some offense but can’t get stops. Which is bizarre for a team with such great depth in the frontcourt. We’ll have to see if these problems become an epidemic or if this is just an early season outbreak.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.

Steve Ballmer: “Difficult” Blake Griffin trade moves Clippers toward modern NBA

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Last summer, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer went all-in on Blake Griffin. They wooed him with a mini-museum tour of his life, did a mock jersey retirement, told him they wanted him to be a “Clipper for life,” then sealed the deal with a five-year, $173 million maximum contract offer. Griffin accepted and never even met with another team.

Within eight months, the Clippers traded Griffin to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovich, and a lightly protected 2018 first-round pick.

What changed? Was it another injury to Griffin that sidelined him and had the Clippers questioning their investment? Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN asked Ballmer about the decision.

“[Griffin] is obviously a superstar player,” said Ballmer. “But if you look at what happened injury-wise, if you look at the kind of chemistry we were getting on our team, the thing you can see at the high level with the numbers when I started — one guy got all the assists, one guy got all the points and one guy got all the rebounds. It’s not all quite that way, but I think in the modern NBA, we were seeing it more and more — there’s a greater distribution of responsibility….

“We have to add some pieces obviously, but I think we’re building for what I think is the modern NBA, and that trend has only accelerated since we signed Blake last summer.”

Ballmer thinks he can use this trade and the Chris Paul one last summer to begin to retool a roster in that fashion, saying that winning a ring is his goal. Maybe he can, but…

The Clippers are a long way from being that kind of a modern NBA team.

Talent still wins out in basketball. Those elite “modern NBA” have superstars — Stephen Curry, James Harden, etc. — who rack up a lot of numbers, but also where the other players are versatile threats. With Brad Stevens in charge, Boston runs a modern, egalitarian offense, but at the heart of it is Kyrie Irving and, eventually, Gordon Hayward as stars who can just get buckets and use their gravity to draw defenders, opening things up for others. Then there are All-Star level players around them such as Al Horford.

Without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick this season, the Clippers had to run the offense through Griffin because, well, who else? Danilo Gallinari can create some when healthy, but he’s really a second or third option and works better of the ball. DeAndre Jordan is a threat as a roll man but it takes a special point guard and passer to bring out the best in him. Austin Rivers has developed into a solid rotation point guard in the NBA, but he’s not a No. 1 option. Lou Williams is really their only other guy who can create at that level. The Clippers may have leaned on Griffin too much, but it’s not like Doc Rivers had better choices sitting around.

What is going to be interesting is to see what the Clippers do this summer — do they back up the Brinks truck and re-sign DeAndre Jordan? Do they try to bring back Bradley and Patrick Beverley? Do they keep or trade Lou Williams, who just extended with the team but at a very reasonable price ($8 million per year)? Can they move Danilo Gallinari (which would require attaching a first-round pick)?

Ballmer says he doesn’t want to bottom out and rebuild, but if Jordan leaves how much does that change the scenario? The Clippers 2019 first-round pick belongs to Boston but is lottery protected. What the Clippers don’t want is for a year from now to be exactly where they are today in the standings — on the cusp of the playoffs trying to get in. While the lottery odds change in 2019, they need to either be a rebuilding team that’s going to keep that pick, or find a way to push up into the standings (which is not going to be easy in a deep West).

It’s good to be moving toward a more modern NBA, but it’s going to be a process for the Clippers.

 

Lonzo Ball rusty in return, likes playing with Isaiah Thomas

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball took the pass and set his feet at the arc. Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr. gave him space, so Ball put up the shot — and drained it.

And Staples Center erupted.

Lonzo Ball returned to the Lakers for the first time in 15 games following an MCL sprain. He was up and down (3-of-8 shooting) as to be expected, but had nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 17 minutes. (He will not play Saturday in a back-to-back in Sacramento.)

“I feel pretty good, only played 17 minutes so nothing crazy out there…” Ball said. “I could feel (his MCL), but the doc says I can get no worse. Just sliding a little bit, especially going right. Other than that it was OK.”

“I thought he looked good, I thought his shot looked good,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, noting that he could have played Ball a little more under the minutes restriction.

Ball had three three-pointers on the night (3-of-6 from three). His shooting motion isn’t any quicker or less quirky, but he’s gotten much better and knowing when he has the room to get it off. When his feet are set and he has room, he can knock it down.

His ability to push the pace, find teammates and pick up the pace is a welcome return to the Lakers.

Ball fit in well as part of a blowout win over a Dallas team that, to use coach Rick Carlisle’s words, “played without any force.” The final was 124-102 and it was never really in doubt for Los Angeles. The Mavs looked like a team tanking, not that their owner would ever tell them to… oh, wait. Carlise and the Mavs are not trying to lose, but this is a time when Dallas needs to get a look at its players about to be free agents — Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell — and young players to see who will be part of the future. The question is how to best utilize them.

“You got to trust your gut in a lot of instances,” Carlisle said of how to evaluate his young players. “It’s not rocket science, certain things become obvious. But it’s important to compete.

Luke Walton is doing the exact same thing and he liked how his team competed. He tried something different playing Ball and Isaiah Thomas together for stretches.

“I liked it a lot,” Ball said of being on the court with IT. “Two playmakers on the court, I think we benefit from it. Look forward to playing with him all the time.”

The two were -6 when on the court in a game the Lakers won in a blowout. Still, expect to see more of that and some other odd combos the rest of the way.

Nikola Jokic’s third straight triple-double leads Nuggets over Spurs, 122-119

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DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists before fouling out, Wilson Chandler had 18 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 122-119 on Friday night.

Jokic has a triple-double in three straight games and six this season, but didn’t stick around for the finish. He was called for five fouls in the fourth quarter and fouled out on a charge with 1:46 left.

Gary Harris scored 23 points to help Denver win its fourth straight and seventh in its last eight.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 36 points and Patty Mills scored 20 for San Antonio. The Spurs lost for the sixth time in seven games despite the return of Aldridge, who missed the last two games before the All-Star break to rest his sore right knee. He looked strong Friday, hitting 13 of 23 shots and 12 of 14 free throws.

The Spurs rallied from down nine in the fourth to take a two-point lead late in the game. They were 14 of 17 from the line in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on.

With the game tied at 114, Harris made a layup to put Denver up for good. Mills made a free throw and Harris scored on a step-back jumper and then a dunk with 45 seconds left to make it 120-115.

After Aldridge hit a jumper to cut it to three with 33 seconds left, Mason Plumlee‘s dunk with 10 seconds to play sealed it.

 

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