Rajon Rondo

Defending Rajon Rondo

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Rajon Rondo’s outlandish point guard-ery this season is even more remarkable considering his obvious offensive flaw; Rondo is five years into his NBA career and yet his jump shot is still weaning. There are other wildly successful NBA players with holes in their games, but in some cases, there are institutional limits to prevent teams from fully exploiting those flaws. Dwight Howard, for example, can only be sent to the free throw line so many times before fouling him intentionally stops making sense. Rondo has no such protection from the rulebook, and he’s left on an island each and every time he rises up for a jumper.

Yet Rondo averages 15.1 assists per game and attempts five field goal attempts at the rim per night, even without the threat of scoring from any kind of distance. His noticeably incomplete game hasn’t stopped him from being one of the league’s most dynamic forces, and oddly enough, one of the Celtics’ most potentially explosive scorers. Rondo showed in last year’s playoffs that he’s capable of detonating on a whim, and if teams give him access to the paint or the baseline, he’s as capable of putting up huge point totals as he is of reaching his typically excellent assist marks.

However, the very presence of those weaknesses makes Rondo a very different cover than other point guards. Opposing defenses may respect the jumpers of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Rondo’s other elite PG contemporaries, but the defensive options open up when Rondo’s shaky jumper becomes a prominent part of the opponent’s game plan.

The Dallas Mavericks bested the Boston Celtics 89-87 last week, and as Sebastian Pruiti pointed out at NBA Playbook, the Mavs were quite successful in defending Rondo. He finished with 15 assists in that particular game, but Rondo also shot just 3-of-11 from 10 feet out and committed four turnovers. Dallas focused on keeping Rondo out of the lane first and foremost, and in exchange, gave up a number of long two-point jumpers to the likes of Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis. That’s not an ideal concession, but statistically speaking, it’s the right play. Rondo can do so much for the Celtic offense when he’s given freedom of movement, and by going under some screens and switching on others, the Mavs were able to significantly limit Rondo’s dribble penetration.

That doesn’t completely shut down the Celtics’ offense, but it did make everything a bit more difficult against Dallas. Paul Pierce had to create more in isolation. Kevin Garnett had to work in the post more often against a pretty tough defender in Tyson Chandler. Ray Allen was forced to create off the dribble, when he’s far more comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations. The Celtics are far too good of a team to have their offense “solved,” in any way, but the Mavs did a great job of limiting Rondo’s impact, even if he still ended up with an assist total that would make a career night for many of the league’s point guards.

Pruiti wisely notes that having a big point guard (and thus one that can easily switch on the Celtics’ 1-3 screens without being exploited by Paul Pierce) is quite valuable in implementing the Mavs’ approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more teams try to replicate elements of Dallas’ overall game plan regardless of their PG’s build. Obviously not all of the facets of this defensive strategy will fall in line with other teams’ philosophies, but picking and choosing specific parts of this approach could definitely reap benefits for teams around the league.

Take notes, everyone. No one is stopping Rajon Rondo, but making his life difficult — even if he still ends up with 11 and 15 — can be a relatively straightforward endeavor for those willing to focus on Rondo and live with mid-range jumpers from the Celtics’ bigs.

Draymond Green tells Kyrie Irving: ‘I know your moves’ (video)

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Only Draymond Green can endearingly brag about his defensive intelligence while admitting getting fooled on a play.

In the Warriors’ blowout win over the Cavaliers last night, Green guarded Kyrie Irving and anticipated the Cleveland guard would go one way. After Irving went the other way to score, the two shared a moment during a stoppage.

“I know your  moves,” Green said.

“I know,” replied Irving, whose vast offensive repertoire allowed him to find an unexpected counter.

Thaddeus Young shakes backboard with dunk on Terrence Jones (video)

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Terrence Jones isn’t much of a rim protector.

Thaddeus Young took advantage.

This ferocious jam helped the Pacers beat the Pelicans, 98-85.

Rudy Gobert block secures Utah’s win over Phoenix (VIDEO)

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At the season’s midway point, Rudy Gobert is probably the leader frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Kawhi Leonard will have a say, and there is a lot of basketball yet to play, but Gobert anchors the NBA’s best defense and he is a force in the paint.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

Down three with 13 seconds left Monday night, the Suns wanted a three to tie, but when that was not easily open Eric Bledsoe decided to drive for two (then the Suns would foul and extend the game), he was cut off so Bledsoe dished to rookie Marquese Chriss, who went in for the layup — and found the long arms of Gobert. Blocked shot and game over.

Utah is for real, folks.

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.