In copy-cat league, could other teams mimic the Spurs’ offense?

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SAN ANTONIO — Every coach in the NBA (and college, and high school, and youth YMCA leagues) espouses the same basic principles as Gregg Popovich on offense — move the ball, cut when you don’t have the ball, find your open teammate and trust them to make the play.

But nobody executes those things like the Spurs — they have an offensive rating of 119.2 point per 100 possessions in these Finals.

The NBA can be a copy-cat league. If coaches or scouts see something that works — for example Mike D’Antoni’s push in Phoenix to get off a shot before the defense could get set — a lot of other teams will do it. Maybe not the exact same way, but they incorporate parts. Another example, every team has a couple of triangle offense sets in the playbook.

San Antonio is on the doorstep of winning an NBA title playing “the beautiful game” of balanced team basketball — passing, cutting off the ball, swinging the ball sharply strong to weak, and being willing to give up a good shot to get their teammate a great one. It makes the Spurs offense unpredictable and hard to defend. Just ask the Heat.

“There’s nobody that’s not in play,” Ray Allen said. “For us, you have to guard a man-and-a-half, sometimes two men, in a possession.”

“Everybody’s dangerous on our team,” Boris Diaw explained. “Everybody can score at any time. It’s not like a pattern, like some times you do scouting on a team and you say ‘Who’s the head of the snake, who’s the guy who’s going to score?’ You keep them from scoring and you’re going to win the game. With us it’s a little bit different, anybody can score on any given night. You saw that during the whole regular season. One night Patty Mills is the leading scorer on our team, some times it’s Danny (Green), sometimes it’s Tony (Parker), sometimes it’s Manu (Ginobili), sometime’s it’s Tim (Duncan). It can be anyone.”

It’s a joy to watch, it makes you ask “why doesn’t every team do that?”

But is that kind of selfless team play something other teams can actually successfully emulate?

“It’s a big strategy shift from how a lot of players are brought up playing from AAU,” Matt Bonner said. “That’s give the ball to the best player and get out of the way…

“You look at teams in Europe, playing for the EuroLeague title, and their leading scorers average 13, 14 points a game probably. It’s just a team mentality, a style of play thing everybody has to buy into.”

It’s no coincidence there are a lot of European players on the Spurs, the system comes more naturally to them.

For a team that wants to do what the Spurs do on offense, it has to start with getting players not wed to that AAU style of ball. The Spurs organization focuses hard on getting guys willing to play this style, guys not concerned with numbers but rather with fitting in the team concept. For another team to emulate that would require both that team’s star player being selfless like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, then that team has to find role players to put around them who share that philosophy. Sure, San Antonio has done it, but good luck trying to follow those footsteps.

Let’s say a team did get those right guys for the system, the next ingredient is patience. It takes time to get everyone on the same page, it takes a consistency of roster.

“You don’t get it until you experience it for quite some time,” Patty Mills said. “It really took me two seasons before I really mentally understood and acknowledged what I needed to do to play a part in this team. You got to be within the group what to expect and what’s expected of you.

“There’s no textbook. You can’t pick up a textbook and read it and go and do it.”

During that time, and with the roster consistency, the Spurs also built up one other key component to making their offense click.

“I honestly think (our success) comes from the trust within each other, trusting the next person that they can make plays or they can have your back and cover you in any situation,” Mills said. “That’s a big factor that goes underestimated about the way we play.”

Would another owner be patient enough to let a GM not only find these guys but keep them together for years to work it all out? Judging from how many 50+ win coaches we’ve seen canned in the last couple years, I think not.

San Antonio is just a unique situation.

Still, should we see more of the Spurs style of play, should it be the model teams emulate?

“It should be, I think,” Mills said. “The way that we get taught how to play the game, we get told it’s the right way to play, we don’t know any other way to play and I think that’s the main thing.”

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors’

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With the Cavaliers up 3-1 on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, most basketball observers are focused on Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is more concerned with Boston, which scored surprisingly well in Games 3 and 4 after losing Isaiah Thomas to injury.

Lue, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“I don’t even think about them,” Lue said of the Warriors to a small group of traveling Cleveland beat writers following the Cavs’ Game 4 win on Tuesday. “We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me, as far as the actions and all the running around and all the guys who are making all the plays, so it’s a totally different thing.”

Wait, the Isaiah Thomas-less 53-win Celtics are harder to defend than the Kevin Durant-supercharged 67-win Warriors? Come again, Coach?

“Like, they hit the post, Golden State runs splits and all that stuff, but these guys are running all kinds of s—,” Lue said of Boston coach Brad Stevens’ schemes. “I’ll be like, ‘F—.’ They’re running all kinds of s—, man. And Brad’s got them moving and cutting and playing with pace, and everybody is a threat. It’s tough, you know, it’s tough.”

I think Lue means in a very specific way – getting his players into proper position. And in that regard he might be right.

I also think the Warriors will take this in the broadest, most offensive way possible. That’s just the nature of this rivalry.

Without Thomas, Stevens has been forced to diversify Boston’s offense. The Cavaliers, who prepared for a very different scheme, were caught off guard and are adjusting on the fly.

That’s a real challenge. But framing it as the central issue sells Golden State short.

Even if it’s harder for Lue to get his players into proper position against the Celtics, the Warriors’ surplus talent – including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – more than makes up for it. And it’s not as if Golden State runs a basic scheme.

So why did Lue say this?

He didn’t think the travelling Cleveland beat writers would publish his candid remarks? He didn’t convey his thoughts clearly? He naively didn’t consider how this would motivate the Warriors? All are plausible.

Another theory: Lue is trying to plant a seed that acting Golden State coach Mike Brown, whose known (fairly or not) for his simplistic offensive schemes, is holding back the Warriors. If Steve Kerr doesn’t return, resentment of Brown is one of the few things that could tear apart a dominant Golden State team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.

Tyronn Lue imitates LeBron James’ criticism of reporter (video)

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After the Cavaliers Game 3 loss to the Celtics, LeBron James accused reporter Kenny Roda of showing up/asking questions only when Cleveland loses.

Questioned by Roda after the Cavs’ Game 4 win, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue lightheartedly lobbed the same criticism at Roda.

Coaching LeBron can be tricky. Lue must both challenge the greatest player of his generation and handle LeBron’s passive-aggressiveness. Lue can neither let LeBron walk all over him nor bark orders at him.

In this case, it seems Lue is trying to diffuse LeBron’s pettiness before it turns into something bigger. Considering how silly LeBron’s initial comments were, I bet the star is on board.