The Extra Pass: Golden State’s Elevator Screen plus Wednesday’s recaps

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The Signature Series takes a look at a play that’s largely unique to one team. Here’s Golden State’s Elevator screen play:

The “Elevator” screen is one of the most aesthetically pleasing plays you’ll see in the league, particularly when it’s run by Golden State.

That’s in large part because any possession that ends in a Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson jumper has plenty of visual appeal. The speed of Curry’s lightning quick release never fails to impress and Thompson’s elbow in, straight up and down release is absolute perfection.

Creating opportunities for Curry and Thompson to fire away should always be the primary objective for Mark Jackson and his coaching staff. It’s no coincidence that Golden State’s offense tends to bog down when the Warriors play through the low post. This is a roster built to bomb from deep, and the Elevator screen allows the Warriors’ shooters to do just that.

Sometimes the name of a play doesn’t provide any clues for what’s about to happen on the court, but the Elevator screen is exactly how you’d imagine it. Courtesy of Kyle Gilreath at Fast Model Sports, here’s a version of it out of the Horns set, which means there are two bigs at each elbow:

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What makes this play dangerous is the threat of the 2 selling the action of a baseline screen for the opposite wing (3). It’s often just enough to get the defender to prepare for a switch and turn his head, which provides enough of a head start for the 2 to dive through the elevator doors set by 4 and 5.

Those doors don’t stay open for long, though. Once the offensive player jets through, they close and wall off the path to contest a shot. By the time a player fights through, runs around, or yells for his guy to jump out and contest, it’s often too late – just like missing an elevator.

Golden State has made this play so successful that teams all over the league are beginning to adopt it, particularly in late clock situations. Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman loves to use it on sidelines out of bounds plays out of a stack formation, with Kevin Love squeezing behind the doors for an open three-pointer. In this setting, it’s a real quick hitter and a great way to take advantage of refs swallowing their whistles and not wanting to call an illegal screen off the ball in a big moment.

For Golden State, though, it’s an all-purpose play that can be used out of many different sets. Take a look at this great compilation put together last season by Mike Prada at SBNation:

This set is just one of the reasons why the Warriors lead the league in three-point percentage above the break (41.6 percent as a team!) and are second in the league in total makes from that zone. It doesn’t hurt that Curry and Thompson are in range as soon as they step in the gym, but the Elevator screen consistently creates clean looks for an offense that thrives on the three-ball.

-D.J. Foster

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We couldn’t choose just one Wednesday. So we bring you the good…

and the not so good…

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Heat 97, Pacers 94: Miami closed the game on a 12-2 run to even the season series with Indiana, a team they’ll almost certainly face in the playoffs on the road to a fourth straight trip to the Finals. The Pacers led by as many as 15 in this one, but foul trouble to Roy Hibbert hindered the defensive effort, and a big-time 12-2 run by the Heat to close the game was the difference. Dwyane Wade had his highest scoring game of the season, finishing with 32 points. — Brett Pollakoff

Wizards 113, Nets 107: The Nets got Brook Lopez back in the lineup after he sat out the last two games with an ankle injury, but his presence didn’t prevent the team from getting crushed on the glass by a 51-31 margin. The Wizards also were deadly from three-point distance, knocking in 60 percent of their looks from beyond the arc. Paul Pierce had a monster game for Brooklyn in the losing effort, and finished with 27 points on just 12 shots in 35 minutes off the bench. — BP

Jazz 86, Magic 82: Orlando was without Arron Afflalo in this one due to illness, and the Jazz had just enough to take advantage. Rookie Trey Burke turned in his best performance of the season, finishing with 30 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. The Magic had trouble getting shots to fall, and managed to hit on just 28 of their 86 attempts from the field. Victor Oladipo finished just 1-of-12 shooting for three points in 36 minutes. — BP

Pistons 107, Celtics 106: Detroit has been playing really well as of late, and this latest effort in Boston was no different. After losing at the buzzer to the Blazers and then beating the Pacers the very next night, the Pistons overcame a 21-point deficit on the road to come away with this victory. Jeff Green had a decent look at a runner on a drive from about seven feet out, but it was well-defended and barely drew iron as time expired. — BP

Hawks 124, Kings 107: This was actually a close game until the Hawks blew it open by outscoring the Kings 39-20 over the final 12 minutes. Kyle Korver led Atlanta with 28 points, and made eight of his 10 looks from three-point distance — which is fairly inexcusable if you’re the Kings, considering that’s all Korver really does.— BP

Bobcats 104, Raptors 102: Charlotte missed four free throws in the final 20 seconds of the overtime period, any of which would have made this victory a whole lot easier Instead, they relied on Kemba Walker to come through in the clutch. With just a second remaining, Walker caught an inbound pass along the baseline and calmly knocked down a jumper which splashed through the net as time expired.— BP

Knicks 107, Bucks 101 (2OT): The Knicks seemingly keep trying to invent new and exciting ways to lose, but despite their best efforts, a win was in the cards this night nonetheless. Andrea Bargnani took one of the least intelligent shots you’ll ever see at the NBA level, but all it cost New York was an extra five minutes of basketball. If you’re wondering just how desperate these times are for the Knicks, consider that Tyson Chandler returned and played heavy minutes (37), as did Carmelo Anthony (55!). J.R. Smith attempted 17 three-pointers, but made just five. And, Toure Murry even played 10 minutes, simply because the team is running out of bodies. A win is a win, but the story lines surrounding this year’s Knicks team appear to be endless. — BP

Timberwolves 120, Trail Blazers 109: This is what it looks like when everything doesn’t work for Portland and Damian Lillard (36 points) can’t bail them out. Minnesota took control of this game in the first quarter, led by 32 in the second and the final score doesn’t reflect the reality of the blowout. Two key things happened here. First, Portland’s jumpers just did not fall — LaMarcus Aldridge was 7-of-22, the whole team was 14-of-40 from three. Second, the Trail Blazers play small and can be punished inside — Nikola Pekovic had 30 points, Kevin Love had 29 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists. Minnesota is just a tough matchup for the Blazers. –Kurt Helin

Mavericks 105, Grizzlies 91: Not much to see here, move along. Dallas is a good team and the Grizzlies are reeling right now without Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Dallas took the lead early and cruised, having answers when Memphis would start to make a good run. Dirk Nowitzki had 20. The one bit of good for Memphis is that Mike Miller played, the way he tweaked his ankle the game before I thought he’d be out a while. —KH

Spurs 108, Suns 101: There are no statement games in December. However, maybe this one can be a “slow down there youngster” game — the veterans took care of upstart kids handily. Credit Manu Ginobili, who had 24 on the night and with the game tied 95-95 he had seven points on the Spurs little run that got them this win, including the dagger. Channing Frye had 22 for Phoenix. —KH

Rockets 109, Bulls 94: On the bright side for the Bulls, there were stretches where this was the best their offense has looked in a little while. However, they struggle with up-tempo teams and the Rockets basically ran them out of the building — Chicago got within three late in the third, the Rockets went on a 15-1 run and that was it. Dwight Howard had 23, James Harden looked fine on his sprained ankle and had 19.—KH

Clippers 108, Pelicans 95: Anthony Davis was back and looked good off the bench for New Orleans with 24 points and 18 rebounds. Aside that, second night of a road back to back for the Pelicans and they looked like it. Credit the aggressive Clippers who took care of business. Blake Griffin finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists — he showed off the complete game some say he doesn’t have. He nailed some corner threes, made some nice bounces passes. DeAndre Jordan had 20 rebounds and 5 blocks Clippers have won four of five now. —KH

Report: Hawks near buyout with Ersan Ilyasova; Bucks, Raptors interested

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This is about as big a surprise as my wife crying during “This Is Us,” but it sounds like it’s about to go down.

The Hawks and Ersan Ilyasova are close to a buyout, reports Michael Cunningham at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks and forward Ersan Ilyasova tentatively agreed to a buyout of the remainder of his contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Once Ilyasova accepts a buyout and clears waivers, as expected, he will be free to sign with any other team for the rest of the season.

Ilyasova’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is eligible to become a free agent in the summer. Earlier this month, Ilyasova invoked his right to reject the trade offers the Hawks presented to him.

Where might he land on the buyout market?

A lot of teams could use a 6’10” guy who can space the floor as a shooter. Ilyasova signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks this season. He’s averaged 10.9 points per game, shooting 35.9 percent from three this season, and missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Ilyasova is solid as a spot-up guy but is more dangerous as a screen setter where he can pop out and space the floor, or roll and use his size inside. He’s also good at cutting and working off the ball, plus will get a team a few offensive rebounds. He’s not a game changer, but in certain matchups, he could help teams a lot.

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

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Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

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In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.