The Inbounds: The Pierre-Bargnani Defensive Mirror

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Some of you will be aware of this, but for those of you aren’t, let me catch you up real quick. You know how Andrea Bargnani has this reputation as being the very definition of a horrible defender? It’s not entirely a fictional archetype, but it’s also not really so much in love with the truth that the two have announced the relationship on Facebook. Synergy Sports ranked Bargnani in the 88th percentile in post defense on a per-possession basis, and the 56th percentile in isolation defense last season (with a gaudy 95th percentile overall). It wasn’t all Dwane Casey’s wizardry last season (though his work with Bargnani’s defense should not be ignored, but we’ll get there. In 2011, he was 47th percentile in post and 83rd percentile in isolation. 2010? 72nd percentile in the post, 28th in isolation. Bear in mind these numbers are regardless of the number of possessions, so someone that defended in the post once successfully logs in at the top of the chart. So basically, he’s even better than these numbers indicate, relative to his position.

But as so many people that don’t understand nuance, statistics, or empirical information suggest, “numbers don’t tell the whole story.” It’s easy to say that, but what about who he was guarding, etc. Unfortunately, if you have too much time on your hands, as I have over the past four years, you can actually watch the game video and discover that, whoops, often Bargnani was actually defending the better offensive threat due to his raw height. Surprise! Andrea Bargnani is a pretty good man defender. Let your world shake into a new comfort. Even with the problems afforded Synergy and the metrics used in that glorious environment, it’s impossible to deny that Bargnani at least does a decent job of distracting the guy he’s matched up with into missing his shot a lot of the time.

But notice I said “man defender” there and not “defender.” Because the reason Bargnani has so consistently been set aflame by Twitter, bloggers, and your average Raptors fan is because he is, at his heart, an absolutely atrocious help defender. He never crowds the lane on perimeter penetration. He doesn’t nail the weakside block. He fails to rotate the first time, much less the second, and too often is already out of position for a rebound when the ball is in the air. There’s a lot to dislike.

Modern NBA defensive criticism is interesting because it specifically targets centers with fault for failing to cover for the mistakes of their teammates. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Why is it Andrea Barganani’s fault that Jose Calderon can’t contain perimeter penetration? Why should Bargnani have to clean up the mess for DeMar DeRozan? No one’s blasting wing defenders for not committing to the double team when Bargnani’s outmatched. This isn’t to suggest Bargnani’s victimized, it’s fair criticism. It’s just worth noting that for a fanbase that tends to lean towards traditional models of personal responsibility, we hold centers culpable for the wellbeing of the entire defensive state. They’re supposed to raise themselves up by the bootstraps and take care of their neighbor, so to speak.

And in another way, it’s hard to fault Bargnani for the thought process. He’s essentially torched because he fails to abandon the man he’s been tasked with keeping from scoring.  Think about that. He’s a bad defender because he carries out his assignment too much (while failing to execute other assignments that, depending on the time, have a greater priority). That, again, seems contradictory to our model of what we hold one another too. But it’s how it is, and when you consider the essential manner each defender is dependent on every other, the criticism rings true.

So what does Bargnani need to do this next season to make the major leap forward he started last season prior to injury? He needs to emulate JaVale McGee. And McGee needs to be like the seven-foot Italian. McGee is a block machine. He’s able to swat nearly any shot out of the air, even hooks from seven footers. He can alter any possession with his athleticism, and has great timing when he manages to channel his boundless energy into a significant play.

He also has defensive ADD. He sees the rabbit and dives after it, despite the electronic collar. He’s always chasing the weakside block. Too often he goes to close on a driving player who has been successfully corralled by a teammate, only to lose his man who sneaks weakside for the dump-off score. He’s chasing the bunny rabbit and loses the buck behind him.

So Bargnani is hammered for not helping his teammates enough, and McGee is hammered because he abandons his responsibility in pursuit of helping those same teammates too often.

But for each, it may mean something different. McGee speaks of wanting to lead the league in blocks. If you have the ability to defend the shot, even if your teammate has it well covered and the player is unlikely to convert, how can you not swat that thing? If you have your guy locked down, why are you worried about what someone else was or was not able to do?

We’ve seen over the past four-to-six years a familiar trend from the past reasserting itself. Older big men are blossoming. It’s really 26-plus when players come into their own. Because nowadays, system defense is what matters, what makes an impact, and that takes time to add to a skillset. Bargnani is 26. McGee is 24. To make the adjustments they need to reach the next level, it means letting go of their own personal concepts of right and wrong defensively, and playing as one cog in a greater system. The singular great defensive player is gone, even Tyson Chandler relies on teammates funneling players to where he can achieve.

If the two hyper-long freak athletes are going to fulfill their potential, they have to recognize the value of what’s on the other side of the mirror. It’s not a skill question, an ability question, or toughness question. It’s just bout understanding the big picture and being able to bridge those gaps in knowledge. If they can, the big men in the league could be in for a jolt. Defense has evolved from checkers to chess, and next season represents a chance for the young players to learn the game they’ve been fumbling through for years.

Jae Crowder leg-locks Robin Lopez (video)

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Late in the Celtics’ Game 5 win over the Bulls last night, Jae Crowder leg-locked Robin Lopez – the same dirty play that caused rancor for Matthew Dellavedova in the 2015 playoffs.

Lopez blocked Crowder’s shot, but the ball went to Al Horford, who attacked the basket. As Lopez tried to rotate to contest another shot, he couldn’t move. Crowder, who’d fallen to the floor, had him in a leg-lock. Lopez freed himself just in time to foul Horford.

Adding insult to avoided injury, Lopez got hit with a technical foul for complaining about the no-call.

I bet the league issues a technical foul on Crowder, too.

PBT Extra: Oklahoma City’s off-season moves have to start with locking up Russell Westbrook

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The narrative for the Oklahoma City Thunder season was summed up in its final game: Russell Westbrook scored 47 points and when he was on the court the Thunder were +12, but he sat 6:08 and the Thunder were -18 in that window. So they lost. There is a lot of work to do to bring in more versatile players and mold this into a team that can play with and around Westbrook.

Before that work can begin, however, the Thunder need to try and lock-up Westbrook with a new contract, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. Yes, Westbrook signed an extension last summer, but it only runs through 2018. This summer OKC can — and will — offer him a designated player contract, five years and up to possibly $220 million. It could be as much as $80 million more guaranteed than anyone else can offer. It’s hard to imagine Westbrook wouldn’t sign the deal, but if he doesn’t the dynamic changes for OKC.

If he does, they can get on to the business of getting more solid, versatile players like Taj Gibson back on the roster.

Here’s all 192 players who declared early entry for the NBA draft

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On June 26, 60 people will be drafted into the NBA. It’s the culmination of a dream for them, one we’re not going to spoil by noting most will not stick in the league beyond a few years (many less than that). Well, maybe we did.

However, a lot more than 60 people threw their hat in the ring — 192 this season, to be specific. There are a lot of reasons guys step forward. Some legitimately know they will be drafted and want to take the leap to the NBA. Some of these people have not signed with an agent and are just testing the waters, then will pull out (they have until May 24 to do so and retain college eligibility, international players can wait until June 12). Others have decided college is not for them (or there were coaching changes at their school) and they feel ready to get paid to play hoops, and while they know that is overseas they put their name out there. There are other reasons as well.

Here is the complete list of guys who have declared early for this year’s draft:

From American colleges:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC, 6-7, Sophomore
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure, 6-2, Junior
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky, 6-10, Freshman
Deng Adel, Louisville, 6-7, Sophomore
Jashaun Agosto, LIU, 5-11, Freshman
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s, 6-7, Junior
Rawle Alkins, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Jarrett Allen, Texas, 6-11, Freshman
Mark Alstork, Wright State, 6-5, Junior
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
OG Anunoby, Indiana, 6-8, Sophomore
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, 6-7, Sophomore
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, Freshman
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Jordan Bell, Oregon, 6-9, Junior
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont, 6-2, Junior
Joel Berry II, North Carolina, 6-0, Junior
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana, 6-4, Junior
Antonio Blakeney, LSU, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier, 6-6, Junior
Bennie Boatwright, USC, 6-10, Sophomore
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech, 6-6, Junior
Tony Bradley, North Carolina, 6-10, Freshman
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky, 6-2, Sophomore
Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, Junior
Thomas Bryant, Indiana, 6-10, Sophomore
Rodney Bullock, Providence, 6-8, Junior
Jevon Carter, West Virginia, 6-2, Junior
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA), 6-8, Junior
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham, 6-3, Sophomore
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts, 6-4, Junior
Chris Clemons, Campbell, 5-9, Sophomore
David Collette, Utah, 6-10, Junior
John Collins, Wake Forest, 6-10, Sophomore
Zach Collins, Gonzaga, 7-1, Freshman
Chance Comanche, Arizona, 6-11, Sophomore
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall, 6-10, Junior
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky, 6-6, Freshman
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon, 6-4, Sophomore
PJ Dozier, South Carolina, 6-6, Sophomore
Vince Edwards, Purdue, 6-8, Junior
John Egbunu, Florida, 6-11, Junior
Jon Elmore, Marshall, 6-3, Junior
Obi Enechionyia, Temple, 6-10, Junior
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State, 6-10, Sophomore
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State, 6-1, Sophomore
Tacko Fall, Central Florida, 7-6, Sophomore
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX), 6-7, Sophomore
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 6-4, Freshman
Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, Freshman
Harry Giles, Duke, 6-10, Freshman
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU, 6-2, Junior
Donte Grantham, Clemson, 6-8, Junior
Isaac Haas, Purdue, 7-2, Junior
Aaron Holiday, UCLA, 6-1, Sophomore
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky, 7-1, Sophomore
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State, 6-7, Junior
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State, 6-10, Freshman
Frank Jackson, Duke, 6-3, Freshman
Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, Freshman
Justin Jackson, Maryland, 6-7, Freshman
Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, Junior
Alize Johnson, Missouri State, 6-9, Junior
B.J. Johnson, La Salle, 6-7, Junior
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge, 6-5, Junior
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville, 6-9, Junior
Robert Johnson, Indiana, 6-3, Junior
Andrew Jones, Texas, 6-4, Freshman
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay, 6-10, Junior
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State, 6-8, Freshman
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan, 5-9, Junior
Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, Sophomore
Braxton Key, Alabama, 6-8, Freshman
George King, Colorado, 6-6, Junior
Kyle Kuzma, Utah, 6-9, Junior
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma, 6-9, Junior
TJ Leaf, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
William Lee, UAB, 6-9, Junior
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern, 6-3, Junior
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, 6-9, Sophomore
Daryl Macon, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois, 6-11, Junior
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-1, Freshman
Yante Maten, Georgia, 6-8, Junior
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State, 6-8, Sophomore
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State, 6-7, Junior
Eric Mika, BYU, 6-10, Sophomore
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville, 6-3, Sophomore
Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, Freshman
Matthew Morgan, Cornell, 6-3, Sophomore
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State, 6-8, Junior
Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, Junior
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas, 6-8, Junior
Divine Myles, Stetson, 5-11, Junior
Derick Newton, Stetson, 6-6, Sophomore
Austin Nichols, Virginia, 6-8, Junior
Semi Ojeleye, SMU, 6-7, Junior
Cameron Oliver, Nevada, 6-8, Sophomore
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah, 6-3, Junior
Justin Patton, Creighton, 7-1, Freshman
L.J. Peak, Georgetown, 6-5, Junior
Theo Pinson, North Carolina, 6-6, Junior
Ivan Rabb, California, 6-11, Sophomore
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State, 6-4, Junior
Devin Robinson, Florida, 6-8, Junior
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay, 6-2, Junior
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois), 6-10, Sophomore
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State, 6-7, Sophomore
Corey Sanders, Rutgers, 6-2, Sophomore
Victor Sanders, Idaho, 6-5, Junior
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio, 6-1, Junior
Kobi Simmons, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State, 6-4, Sophomore
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State, 6-3, Freshman
Zach Smith, Texas Tech, 6-8, Junior
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State, 6-0, Sophomore
Edmond Sumner, Xavier, 6-6, Sophomore
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, Sophomore
Jayson Tatum, Duke, 6-8, Freshman
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State, 6-4, Junior
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan, 6-10, Sophomore
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State, 7-1, Junior
Melo Trimble, Maryland, 6-3, Junior
Craig Victor II, LSU, 6-9, Junior
Moritz Wagner, Michigan, 6-11, Sophomore
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso, 6-2, Junior
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA), 6-10, Sophomore
Thomas Welsh, UCLA, 7-1, Junior
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan, 6-3, Junior
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan, 6-6, Junior
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga, 6-9, Junior
Kam Williams, Ohio State, 6-2, Junior
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, Junior
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio, 6-2, Junior
D.J. Wilson, Michigan, 6-10, Junior
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State, 7-1, Freshman

International prospects:

Ege Arar, Galatasaray (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Laurynas Beliauskas, Neptunas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Terrence Bieshaar, Joventut (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Simon Birgander, Clavijo (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Laurynas Birutis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Luka Bozic, Zagreb (Croatia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Vlatko Cancar, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Leo Cizmic, Sevilla (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Wesley Alves da Silva, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
George de Paula, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Berkan Durmaz, Tofas (Turkey), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Martynas Echodas, Siauliai (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot, Levallois (France), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Aquiles Ferreira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Diego Flaccadori, Trento (Italy), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Tolga Gecim, Banvit (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Yoan Granvorka, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Egemen Guven, Karsiyaka (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Isaiah Hartenstein, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Karlis Helmanis, RTU Riga (Latvia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Aleksa Ilic, Buducnost (Montenegro), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Jonathan Jeanne, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Alpha Kaba, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Verners Kohs, GBA Sparta (Czech Republic), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Antonios Koniaris, PAOK (Greece), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Arnoldas Kulboka, Baunach (Germany), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Axel Louissaint, Lugano (Switzerland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Michail Lountzis, Panathinaikos (Greece), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Gytis Masiulis, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Lovro Mazalin, Zadar (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Regimantas Miniotas, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kostja Mushidi, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Margiris Normantas, Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg (France), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Elie Okobo, Pau Orthez (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Viny Okouo, Unicaja (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Ayberk Olmaz, Istanbul BSB (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Lucas Pereira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Martynas Sajus, Starogard (Poland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Borisa Simanic, Crvena Zvezda (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Nik Slavica, Cibona (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Berk Ugurlu, Fenerbahce (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kristupas Zemaitis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Zou Yuchen, Bayi Fubang (China), 6-7, 1996 DOB

Celtics fluster Bulls with floor spacing and dirty play, take 3-2 series lead

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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The Bulls couldn’t break free. The Celtics look ready to break out.

Boston beat Chicago 108-97 in Game 5 Wednesday, winning its third straight to take a 3-2 lead in the first-round series. The Celtics pulled away with a 13-0 fourth-quarter run, which was boosted by two Bulls technical fouls – the second on Robin Lopez, who was rightfully aggrieved by an uncalled Jae Crowder leg-lock.

That’ll generate more talk about Boston being dirty, especially in the midst of a chippy series. But at least nobody will be discussing the Celtics being a historically weak No. 1 seed, which drowned everything after Chicago won the series’ first two games in Boston. The Warriors and Cavaliers are the only other teams to win three straight games this postseason, the type of elite company the Celtics would like to join.

Close the series in Game 6 on Friday, and Boston silences the most extreme criticism of its present.

“We’ve got to finish it,” said Isaiah Thomas, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. “We know Game 6 is going to be a big game, and they’re going to fight for their lives. But we’ve got to go in there and finish it.”

The Celtics became just the third team in the last four years to win three straight after dropping the first two games of a series. The Trail Blazers (vs. Clippers) and Hornets (vs. Heat) did it in last year’s first round. Portland advanced. Charlotte didn’t.

Overall, here’s how teams up 3-2 and facing a road Game 6 in a 2-2-1-1-1 series have fared:

image

The Celtics’ odds of advancing might be even higher than that. Their 11-point win tonight felt like it could have been much more lopsided.

Boston shot just 9-for-40 on 3-pointers (23%), but many of those were good looks and the high volume of attempts bodes well. They were a product of a high-functioning offense, and in the long run, more of those will fall. Only a few franchises – Warriors, Cavaliers, Hawks, Mavericks, Pacers – have ever attempted so many 3s in a playoff game, though nobody had ever shot so inefficiently on so many attempts.

The Celtics more than compensated for their cold outside shooting everywhere else. They shot 29-for-48 on 2-pointers (60%) and and 23-for-23 on free throws (100%), getting high-percentage looks and drawing fouls thanks to their floor spacing.

The Bulls, on the other hand, wasted a throwback game from Dwyane Wade (26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists). Avery Bradley (24 points on 11-of-19 shooting) tightly defended Jimmy Butler (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting), and that matchup won’t any easier for Butler.

Maybe Butler will answer the call, but Chicago is running out of advantages. Boston even had higher offensive- and defensive-rebounding percentages than Chicago. And Thomas didn’t carry anything, even the Celtics to victory.

Boston again looks like the complete team it had been for much of the season.