Kirk Hinrich

The Extra Pass: A Google goggle revolution dream, plus Wednesday’s recaps

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I have this odd vision for the future of the NBA, and in it everyone looks like Kirk Hinrich.

Well, everyone doesn’t actually look like Kirk Hinrich, but all the players are wearing goggles nonetheless. That’s not just because they look cool and I think Hinrich is the undisputed king of accessorizing, and it’s not just because I’m a proponent for eye protection. These goggles are being used for information.

Let me backtrack.

A few years ago, I was in a locker room postgame, hopping from scrum to scrum, mining for quotes. I was hoping to pick up on a conversation more interesting than the standard fare of canned media responses and questions like, “talk about your game tonight” that tend to fill up most of the airspace in that setting.

I was in luck. I hopped in on a reporter asking Eric Bledsoe if he knew what his plus/minus number for the season was.

Bledsoe, who was then just a rookie, didn’t know the answer because he didn’t know what plus/minus was.

As the reporter halfway incredulously explained what that number entailed, it dawned on me that a stat like that, at least for Bledsoe’s purposes, was completely useless.

Sure, his agent could use it in negotiations. His coach could make more informed lineup decisions based on it. His general manager could keep it in mind when mapping out the future of the team. But Bledsoe? What did he need it for?

Great advancements have been made in the NBA when it comes to analytics. Player tracking and injury tracking services are potential game-changers, but a lack of data isn’t necessarily the issue at hand. The focus of any analytics movement should be on how to make that data digestible and useful for those who need it most, and perhaps no one could better apply the information gleaned from the data than the players themselves.

But let’s get back to my goggled utopia.

Let’s say that Eric Bledsoe, now in Phoenix and fully aware of the fact that all reporters are scum (except for Brett Pollakoff, who is lovely), is going heads up against James Harden.

Bledsoe’s coaching staff lets him know that Harden likes to drive all the way to the rim when he goes left, but if he goes right he prefers the pull-up. The eyes and the numbers support that.

Bledsoe is aware of this, but things get crazy during the game. Staring down one of the best players in the league leaves very little time for planning ahead or remembering something your coach said hours ago.

So here’s Harden in the triple-threat, where he’s one of the most dangerous players in the league. Bledsoe readies himself, his hips sunk, his feet ready to slide.

And in the bottom corner of his vision in clear print, the tendencies for which way Harden will go are right there for him: L 75% R 25%.

Bledsoe sees this and remembers, and he jumps on Harden’s left hand and gets a steal. There are 39 seconds left. In his vision, “2-for-1, find shot in 11 seconds” pops up and a timer starts to tick down. Bledsoe races the ball up the floor. He knows exactly how many timeouts he has, and he knows Houston has a foul to give. To avoid a Chris Webber situation, all he needs to do is have his eyes open.

So now I ask you: could an invention like Google Glass one day change the NBA as we know it?

Better yet, as fans would we want our players to have those capabilities? Seeing athletes play smarter and come closer to actualizing their full athletic potential is almost always welcomed, but would it make the game less human?

Would a league that prohibited Dwyane Wade from wearing tinted goggles because opponents couldn’t see his eyes even consider this for a second? I mean, baseball just adopted instant replay, for goodness sake.

And there’s this: would the players even want all that information?

It’s hard to say. In that same year with the Clippers and Bledsoe, it was Ryan Gomes who quickly established himself as the guy to talk to when you needed to know what was going on the floor.

Gomes knew it all. He could recount every situation. He could tell you how the defense countered and what the right play to make was. But even though Gomes knew all those things, he wasn’t able to apply it, and he suffered through the worst season of his professional career. It was painful to watch him think on the court instead of play.

It was a classic case of what’s called “paralysis by analysis”, and there’s a real concern that overloading players with too much information could cause this. Ignorance can be bliss for an athlete. Confidence can be irrational and yet completely required.

Bledsoe didn’t need to know about plus/minus, so he didn’t. And that’s the question that should be asked for new player data: is this useful for the player? If it’s not, what would be?

Should Trevor Ariza be aware of the fact that he’s shooting 57.4 percent from the corner 3 but 21.8 percent from above the break? Yes. Should he know how many times he touches the ball a game compared to the rest of his teammates? Perhaps not.

Maybe it won’t be the super goggles I’ve imagined, but technology and innovative data collection will continue to heavily impact the NBA. If the focus shifts more on what the players can actually use, the impact will only be that much greater.

-D.J. Foster

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Kyle Korver has now hit a three in 89 consecutive games, tying the NBA record.

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Cavaliers 98, Nuggets 88: If you’re a Denver fan, this game is the argument for shortening the regular season schedule. The Nuggets looked like world beaters Tuesday night in Brooklyn after disposing of the depleted Nets by 24 points in a game that wasn’t even that close. But playing on the road again on the second night of a back-to-back against a rested Cavaliers team, it was a very different story. Timofey Mozgov had maybe his best game as a pro in a 20 rebound effort on Tuesday, but managed just three boards in this one. Denver as a team had tired legs, and shot 39.1 percent from the field while finishing on the wrong end of a 15-rebound differential. The Nuggets are better than the Cavaliers at this point in the season; scheduling circumstances made that reality impossible to showcase. — Brett Pollakoff

Hawks 107, Clippers 97: When the Clippers lose, it isn’t because of their offense. The defense was rough in this one, as evidenced by the fact that they let Kyle Korver connect on 6-of-9 three-point attempts to finish with 23 points. That’s like, what he does, and L.A. allowed him to get loose for those looks nonetheless. Paul Millsap had a huge all-around game in finishing with 25 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. Atlanta finished the game shooting 51.2 percent from the field. — BP

Suns 97, Rockets 88: The Suns bounced back from one of their most disappointing efforts of the season on Tuesday to rip the shorthanded Rockets. Houston was without Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith due to injury, and Phoenix took control early to ensure victory. The Rockets shot just 35.2 percent as a team, and James Harden had one of his worst statistical performances in Houston, finishing with just 14 points on 3-of-17 shooting while missing all 10 of his attempts from three-point distance. — BP

Pistons 105, Bucks 98: As a frame of reference, the Pistons now have the same record as the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10) after winning their third straight over the Bucks, In the East that means a guaranteed playoff spot, so we’ll go with the assertion that Detroit is playing well as of late. Brandon Jennings had a sub-par shooting night, but still managed to light up his former team for 17 points and 11 assists in almost 42 minutes of action, despite shooting just 4-of-16 from the field and committing six turnovers. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe continued to batter their opponents on the boards with 36 rebounds combined, and Ersan Ilyasova had a nice 22-point, 10-rebound performance off the bench for the Bucks in the losing effort. — BP

Mavericks 100, Pelicans 97: This game was won inside out — Dallas limited New Orleans to 48 percent shooting in the paint on the night, meanwhile Dallas was 11-of-24 (45.8 percent from three). It also doesn’t hurt to have Dirk Nowitzki on your side. Nowitzki had 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and he had four blocks in the game. Jrue Holiday had 26 points and 9 dimes for the Pelicans.

Pacers 95, Jazz 86: Credit the Jazz who took the lead with a 12-0 first quarter run and led through the first half. Trey Burks had 8 of his 13 points in the first quarter to help spark that. Still, you just knew it wasn’t going to last. In the second half the Pacers brought out the grinding defense, which held the Jazz to 38.2 percent shooting over the final 24 (while the Pacers shot 52 percent) and the game ended pretty much as you expected. Derrick Favors did have 22 for Utah to lead all scorers.

Spurs, Timberwolves, game postponed: It looked like someone flipped on the arena lights during a Snoop Dogg concert — the arena in Mexico City where the game was supposed to take place had a generator fire near an elevator and it filled the arena with smoke. The arena had to be evacuated. No way the game could be played, the game was called off and will be replayed in Minnesota later this season. Feel bad for the fans in Mexico City, but no way the game could go on.

Trail Blazers 111, Thunder 104: How about those Trail Blazers? First Indiana and now Oklahoma City fall this week — and in both cases it’s a come-from-behind win for the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge was the best player on the court and finished with 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting, plus he pulled down 13 rebounds. His play forced Scott Brooks to put Kendrick Perkins back in the game (it was the right move, Aldridge was abusing Serge Ibaka and Perkins at least got some stops, but he’s an offensive black hole) and once again the isolation ball of the Thunder down the stretch could not get it done. Kevin Durant had 33 and 8 points in the fourth. Portland is a jump shooting team but when those shots are falling they can hang with anyone.

Report: Stephen Curry still at 70 percent due to knee injury

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have overwhelmed the Golden State Warriors with their athleticism, their improved defense, and the shot making of stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are doing a lot of things right and have lifted themselves up to an elite status.

But the Warriors have not pushed back against this. Not like we expected the defending champions and a 73-win team would. Draymond Green is a shell of himself, a -72 the last couple games the Thunder have gotten in his head and have him second guessing his every decision.

Then there is Stephen Curry, who is 13-of-37 shooting the past two games, 5-of-21 from three, and a -58. He hasn’t carried the Warriors as he did for stretches this season, and it is lingering issues from his knee injury that are partially holding him back, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Curry has been a shell of himself – missing shots, throwing away passes, losing his dribble, and completely unable to prove that there’s Curry-esque agility in that knee. “He’s playing at 70 percent, at best,” a source close to Curry told The Vertical. Curry refuses to make excuses, but privately the Thunder see something – no explosion, no ability to make the bigs switching onto him pay a price. Twenty points on 19 shots Tuesday night bore no resemblance to the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.

Curry missed a couple of weeks of play with a sprained MCL, but returned last round.

There have been flashes of that old Curry since his return — the monster fourth quarter and overtime against Portland in Game 4, or the third quarter of Game 2 against the Thunder — but what made Curry a back-to-back MVP was a sustained level of excellence, and that has gone away. He just can’t flip the switch and change a game right now the way he could for most of the past couple seasons.

You can tell the Thunder sense it — they are going right at him, attacking Curry’s defense knowing he can’t move well enough to handle their athletes. There is no mercy in the NBA and if teams sense a weakness they will exploit it — the Thunder sense that with Curry.

The way the Thunder are playing, a healthy Curry may not have made a difference, but you can bet the last couple games would not have been the same blowouts.

 

Report: David Fizdale to get second interview in Memphis, meet with owner

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David Fizdale has sat next to Erik Spoelstra in Miami for the past few seasons knowing he’s one of those top assistant coaches who was eventually going to get a shot in the big chair. The only question was where and when.

The answer may be Memphis right now.

Fizdale has a second interview coming with the Grizzlies, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This would be a good hire for Memphis (although whether he is better than Dave Joerger — the coach the Grizzlies fired when he asked if he could talk to Sacramento about their job — is certainly up for debate).

In Miami, Fizdale had won the trust and respect of a team full of players that had won rings. He was a guy they leaned on and went to. As an example, Fizdale worked hard with LeBron James on developing a post game; he was the guy LeBron trusted.

Fizdale deserves a shot, it sounds like Memphis may be that place.

Five things Thunder did to go from good to brink of reaching NBA Finals

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder high fives Serge Ibaka #9 and Kevin Durant #35 during game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma City won 55 games this season — most years that win total would have it entering the playoffs considered a contender. Plus, the Thunder have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two top five players in the league. However, with the 73-win Warriors and 67-win Spurs ahead of them, the Thunder felt more like a good but flawed team doomed to an early exit and a summer of speculation.

Now the Thunder are one win away from knocking off both the Spurs and Warriors back-to-back.

What changed? What did we miss? Here are five things the Thunder are doing better now than they did all season, the things that have propelled them within one game of the NBA Finals.

1) Defense. The Thunder were an okay defensive team this season, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions they ranked 12th in the league. That got worse after the All-Star break when the Thunder allowed 105.7 points per 100 possessions, ranked 16th. Over the final month, they would show flashes of how they could play lock down defense, but they could not sustain it.

Now, this is a team that has held the feared Warriors’ offense to 88.9 points per 100 possessions Tuesday, and 98.1 in Game 3. It’s a change thanks to a focused energy and attitude, but also some technical steps as well. For one, they have become fluid at switching on picks — both on and off the ball — and they are communicating when they do. More importantly, they are smart in doing it, knowing when to go under or when to ignore the pick whatsoever. That combined with their athleticism lets them make up ground if they get a step behind, and their length allows them to get into passing lanes to create turnovers, and to challenge shots — the blocks and deflections have gotten in the heads of the Warriors, who have become tentative, second guessing themselves. Mostly the Thunder are playing with a sustained focus and energy on that end of the floor we haven’t seen ever. It has flummoxed the Warriors, who are rushing shots or trying to do things in isolation more than moving the ball.

Mostly the Thunder are playing with a sustained focus and energy on that end of the floor we haven’t seen from them before. It has flummoxed the Warriors, who are rushing shots or trying to do things in isolation more than moving the ball.

“I think you have to build up stamina for that,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of the improved defensive energy and attention. “I think you have to have stamina to concentrate and focus and do what these guys do.”

2) Dion Waiters. Throughout his four NBA seasons, Waiters has never come close to playing as well, as consistently  as he has the past couple weeks. He’s like a different player. Waiters had a PER of 9.4 this season, the kind of number associated with being sent to the D-League. Credit to Donovan and the Thunder coaching staff, something has clicked with Waiters. Too often before he wanted to shoot like he was Russell Westbrook, now he has accepted the third (or fourth) man role on this team. His shot selection has improved, and with that he is knocking down his jumpers. Like the entire team (as noted above), his usually unfocused defense has suddenly become good almost every time down. He has become the third perimeter player the Thunder have needed for years.  With Waiters making plays, and more importantly accepting his role, the Thunder become that much harder to stop. The Warriors have not been able to.

3) Solving the Andre Roberson problem. The Golden State Warriors decided to treat Andre Roberson like they did Tony Allen from Memphis last playoffs — put a big on him (Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green), then have said big ignore him to stay near the basket to protect the rim. If Roberson wanted to shoot from the outside, the Warriors would let the notoriously poor shooter (31.1 percent from three this past season) have all the wide open shots he wanted. Memphis could never figure out how to deal with that and lost three straight to Golden State once this strategy was employed.

Billy Donovan made a great adjustment — he turned Roberson into a power forward/center, then surrounded him with shooters. This allows the active Roberson to set the pick for Westbrook (or whomever), then roll right down the lane to the basket for a dunk.  That and some backdoor cuts had Roberson scoring a career-high 17 points and giving the Thunder the support they need around their big stars in Game 4.

“It’s funny because after Game 2 people were saying to me ‘is this guy even going to play anymore?’” Donovan said. “Andre’s a good basketball player, and I think one of the things that go missing with him is he makes winning plays and he’s a winning player. There are a lot of things he can do, offensive rebounds and slashing to the basket, I have confidence in him shooting the basketball.”

4) They are one team that could play small and run with Golden State. The Warriors small-ball lineup was so feared around the league it earned the nickname The Death Lineup. It killed teams. Nobody could keep up the scoring machine that was the Warriors going small.

Until the Thunder went small in Game 3 and ran right past the death lineup (which was -22 for the game). The Thunder are the one team with the depth of athleticism to go small with the Warriors and hang, but this lineup had been destroyed by the Spurs so it was a risk to roll it out again. It worked this time around — the Thunder become so much faster and guys like Westbrook and Durant are impossible to stop in transition. The real key is despite going small the Thunder defense didn’t suffer —  Serge Ibaka (or Steven Adams), plus guys like Durant have done a fantastic job protecting the rim.

“It’s not about what is or is not going to work, sometimes you just got to put stuff out there based on teams. You’ve got to be willing to take some risks and do that…” Donovan said postgame

“Sometimes you’ve got to evaluate things within the series you’re playing against. So, why were the numbers bad? And was there any way with adjustments could we make those numbers better.”

Turns out, yes there was.

5) Billy Donovan has been fantastic. Donovan went toe-to-toe with Gregg Popovich, and now Steve Kerr, and it is the NBA rookie who is making the right adjustments. Like the small ball lineup, or using Roberson like a center.

More than that, Donovan has gotten buy-in from his players. They trust and are playing the system. The Thunder were never this focused and willing to sacrifice — Durant and Westbrook both fought staggering their minutes in the past, the defense was unfocused, and Waiters did whatever it is Waiters wanted to do. Donovan has solved all those problems, and it all starts with the players buying what Donovan is selling. After a season where he had to learn on the job the hard way — because Monte Williams (the tragic death of this wife) and Maurice Cheeks (injury) were taken off his bench for long stretches — Donovan has figured things out. He’s getting the kind of buy in Scott Brooks never seemed to have.

And with that, Donovan and the Thunder are within a game of the NBA Finals.

Watch Russell Westbrook drop 36 on Golden State in Oklahoma City win

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Once again, Russell Westbrook was the force of nature the Warriors could not solve.

The athletic point guard forced turnovers, threw it down in transition, and drove right past Stephen Curry or  was guarding him. The result was 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists — Westbrook’s first triple double of these playoffs.

“He’s got such great force and great will,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the Thunder’s Game 4 win. “And he’s really a high IQ basketball player, he sees a lot of things going on out there… As a coach, you have great respect and admiration for a guy who plays the game that hard and gives to our team what he gives.”

He helped give them a win that has the Thunder on the verge of a return to the NBA Finals.