Taj Gibson

Thunder’s Andre Roberson entering free agency after impactful playoff series

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The Rockets were starting to pull away from the Thunder in Game 5 of their first-round series, and the Houston crowd was looking for a reason to erupt. The Rockets provided one by intentionally fouling Roberson despite holding Oklahoma City without a basket for the previous five minutes. The Thunder wing stepped to the line in the loudening arena and, of course, missed both free throws.

But Roberson didn’t go down quietly.

On the ensuing defensive possession, he picked up James Harden in the backcourt and hounded the Rockets star on the perimeter. Harden passed to Nene, and Roberson doubled the center in the post and stole the ball. Roberson passed to Russell Westbrook then laid out Patrick Beverley with an open-court screen, freeing Westbrook to score.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. Oklahoma City fell in five games, Westbrook’s supporting cast unable to keep up enough with its MVP candidate.

“That’ll definitely be one thing that haunt me, Roberson said of his free-throw shooting against Houston, “and something I’ll work on extremely hard this summer.”

Roberson’s postseason confirmed everything we thought we knew about him: He’s a defensive dynamo, and he can’t shoot.

But understanding Roberson’s skill set is only a small step in evaluating him. Teams are better than ever at exposing perimeter players who can’t shoot, and that makes Roberson’s price point difficult to read as he enters restricted free agency. The Thunder delayed the decision – extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo last year while allowing Roberson to complete his rookie-scale contract without an extension – but time is practically up.

For better or worse, it was all there in the playoffs.

Roberson made just 3-of-21 free throws (14%), the worst percentage by anyone with so many attempts in a postseason series (since 1964, as far as Basketball-Reference go back). Here are the worst free-throw percentages in a series since 1964 (minimum: 100 attempts):

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This was hardly out of the norm for Roberson, who made just 42% of his free throws during the regular season.

His postseason 3-point percentage (41%) was way better than his regular-season baseline (25%), but he attempted just 17 3-pointers in 185 playoff minutes. Not only is that a small sample, it speaks to another problem. The Rockets typically left him open, and he was reluctant to shoot. That allowed Houston to defend 5-on-4 elsewhere with only minimal repercussions. Despite playing more than 90% of his minutes with Westbrook, the Thunder still scored worse with Roberson on the court.

So why did Roberson receive such a prominent role in the series?

He’s a defensive stud. Roberson ranks fourth among players who regularly defend opposing guards in defensive real plus-minus:

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Roberson shadowed Harden for too much of the series to gauge on-off splits, but adding regular-season Thunder-Rockets games reveals a clearer (though still limited) picture:

James Harden Roberson on Roberson off
Minutes 320 16
Points per 36 minutes 25.3 51.8
Turnovers per 36 minutes 6.0 0.0
Free-throw attempts per 36 minutes 10.9 22.5
2-point percentage 50.5% 60.0%
3-point percentage 21.1% 60.0%
Effective field-goal percentage 41.9% 75.0%

Harden, arguably the NBA’s best offensive player, was held in relative check with Roberson on the floor. When Roberson sat, Harden went wild.

There has to be a place for a defender like Roberson in this league.

Is it in Oklahoma City?

Roberson was effective in last year’s playoffs as a small-ball big. He cut and crashed the offensive glass. That got harder with two of Adams, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter occupying the paint. The Thunder maximizing Roberson’s production might mean losing a big man or two. Gibson will be a free agent and said he wants to return. Adams and Kanter are locked into lucrative long-term deals.

When it comes to Roberson, it’s always complicated.

Bulls’ Rajon Rondo has fractured thumb, out indefinitely

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Rajon Rondo, after a rough start to the season blending in with the Bulls, accepted his role the second half of the year, grew in importance to the team, and has been crucial to Chicago going up 2-0 on Boston in the first round, setting up a potential 1/8 upset.

Now Rondo is out indefinitely with a broken thumb, the Bulls have announced. Here is the entire press release:

Rajon Rondo injured his right hand in Game 2 at Boston on Tuesday night. Rondo underwent a subsequent exam and x-rays that confirmed a thumb fracture. Surgery is not required for this injury, and he is out indefinitely.

Rondo has averaged 10.2 points and 6.6 assists in the first two games of the playoffs against Boston, running the offense on one end and, more importantly, being a key part of the defense that has stymied the Celtics on the other. Chicago has been +14.5 per 100 possessions with Rondo on the court through the first two games, -5.4 without him (there is other noise in that number, obviously).

Rondo is tough, but it’s obviously unclear when he could return.

This means a lot more Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, and maybe some Cameron Payne for the Bulls at the point, although in practice it means Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade handling the ball. Coach Fred Hoiberg likely will try some no point guard lineups, but the mid-season trade of Taj Gibson (and Doug McDermott) make that much harder.

After two games where the physical Bulls knocked the Celtics around — in Boston — it was challenging to come up with things the Celtics could do differently to change this series around. Chicago has owned the paint and the glass, and their length and physicality has bothered Boston up and down the roster. But this injury changes the dynamics of the series and opens the door to a Boston comeback that seemed nearly impossible 24 hours ago.

Raptors, Bulls, Clippers, Thunder big risers when adjusting for playoff rotations

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Kyle Korver played 894 minutes for the Hawks this season. Ed Davis played 789 minutes for the Trail Blazers. Lucas Nogueira played 1,088 minutes for the Raptors.

All three players factor into any season-long evaluation – including won-loss record and net rating – for those teams. But Korver (trade), Davis (season-ending injury) and Nogueira (fell out of rotation) won’t factor into those teams’ first-round series.

So, to account for rotation changes like that on every playoff team, I’ve found how many points per 100 possessions teams score and allow when five players projected to be in the postseason rotation are on the floor together.

This is hardly a perfect measure. Teams rarely announce their playoff rotations, so we’re left with my predictions of which players will receive regular playing time. The minutes distribution among players in the adjusted rating can vary from what it’ll be during the playoffs. This doesn’t take into account opponent quality. Some teams have larger samples than others.

But I find it useful, another data point among the many necessary to evaluate the upcoming playoffs. It shows how the players we project to see on the court for the next few months have played together, without someone else affecting the chemistry.

Here’s each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings adjust from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the play rotation (using nbawowy! to calculate):

Eastern Conference

3. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 113.1 to 116.8
  • Defensive rating:  108.9 to 106.6
  • Net rating: +4.2 to +10.2

8. Chicago Bulls

  • Offensive rating: 107.8 to 116.0
  • Defensive rating:  107.3 to 109.6
  • Net rating: +0.5 to +6.4

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 114.4 to 118.0
  • Defensive rating:  111.1 to 112.1
  • Net rating: +3.3 to +5.9

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 116.5
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.7
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.8

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 114.4
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 109.2
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.2

6. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Offensive rating: 110.1 to 111.2
  • Defensive rating:  110.3 to 107.4
  • Net rating: -0.2 to +3.8

7. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 109.3 to 110.3
  • Defensive rating:  109.5 to 108.2
  • Net rating: -0.2 to +2.1

5. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 106.5 to 108.0
  • Defensive rating:  108.2 to 106.3
  • Net rating: -1.7 to +1.7

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 116.6 to 121.7
  • Defensive rating:  104.9 to 102.9
  • Net rating: +11.7 to +18.8

4. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 113.5 to 120.7
  • Defensive rating: 108.8 to 107.0
  • Net rating: +4.7 to +13.7

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 109.4 to 113.8
  • Defensive rating:  108.6 to 104.2
  • Net rating: +0.8 to +9.6

3. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 115.5 to 118.5
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 109.5
  • Net rating: +5.8 to +9.0

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.2 to 106.9
  • Net rating: +7.5 to +8.5

5. Utah Jazz

  • Offensive rating: 110.7 to 112.5
  • Defensive rating:  106.4 to 107.2
  • Net rating: +4.3 to +5.3

7. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 108.8 to 114.3
  • Defensive rating: 108.1 to 109.3
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +5.0

8. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 121.0
  • Defensive rating: 111.7 to 116.1
  • Net rating: -0.5 to +4.9

Observations:

  • All 16 teams improve with the adjustment, which is logical. When teams tighten their rotations, they’re left with only better players.
  • The Clippers (nine points per 100 possessions better) make the biggest jump.
  • This model predicts two first-round upsets: Bulls over Celtics and Thunder over Rockets. In fact, Chicago (Wizards or Hawks) and Oklahoma City (Spurs or Grizzlies) also rate ahead of either potential second-round foe.
  • The Warriors were better than everyone else in the regular season, and that advantage is only amplified with the adjustment. And I set their playoff rotation 11 deep, more players than any other team. If they need to pare down, they’d get even more dangerous.
  • I projected 10 players in the Cavaliers’ rotation. If they tighten that, they too could get better.
  • Are the Raptors the top team in the East now? They played very well after the trade deadline with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker providing toughness – all while Kyle Lowry was out. Now that Lowry is healthy, this could be a complete team, which the adjustment indicates. However, because of the mismatched availability (Lowry in the first of the season, Ibaka and Tucker in the second half), Toronto’s sample size is relatively small.
  • Likewise, I’m not convinced the Bulls’ adjusted rating is reliable. It too stems from a relatively small sample, and because all Taj Gibson lineups are removed, time after the trade deadline weighs heavily. So, that includes Nikola Mirotic‘s hot stretch and Rajon Rondo‘s resurgence – which both came with Dwyane Wade out. Now that Wade is back, can Chicago put everything together the way these numbers suggest?
  • The Wizards would’ve rated better, just ahead of the Bulls for second in the East, if Ian Mahinmi were healthy.
  • I don’t know whether the Bucks will use Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic or Spencer Hawes as their backup stretch player. I guessed Beasley, who conveniently produces the middle mark in adjusted net rating among the three.
  • The Clippers would have fared a little worse, though still would’ve ranked second in the West, if I included the injured Austin Rivers. That’s not because Rivers is bad, but because excluding any lineups that include him emphasizes L.A.’s powerful starting lineup.
  • I gave the Thunder a narrow eight-man rotation that includes neither Doug McDermott nor Alex Abrines. If Oklahoma City needs one of those wings – and it might – its adjusted net rating would suffer.
  • Deep teams like the Celtics and Spurs aren’t rewarded here. When gluing lesser players to the bench in a stretch of the season with no back-to-backs, other teams can catch up.

Watch Russell Westbrook tie Oscar Robertson with his 41st triple-double (VIDEO)

AP
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Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook has now tied Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in an NBA season with 41. Let that sink in for a moment.

Westbrook made history against Robertson’s former team, the Milwaukee Bucks. The big play that sealed the tie was a defensive rebound followed by an assist to Thunder forward Taj Gibson.

Here’s how the play looked on the court.

Via Twitter:

Congratulations are in order for Westbrook and Thunder fans. This year has been one of the most incredible MVP races in recent memory, and either way you come down on it between Westbrook and James Harden, you’ve got to feel satisfied for witnessing it.

Westbrook still has five chances to take hold of the record for himself. The Thunder play Memphis, Phoenix, Denver, and Minnesota on the road before finishing the season at home against the Nuggets.

Russell Westbrook posts 35th triple-double; Thunder roll past 76ers

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Add another first for Russell Westbrook – a triple-double without missing a shot.

Westbrook recorded his 35th triple-double of the season with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder cruised to a 122-97 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.

He did so while making all six of his field-goal attempts and all six of his free throws. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no NBA player previously has had a triple-double without missing a shot attempt or free throw.

“It’s amazing, especially for a point guard, because he’s shooting threes, twos, inside, outside,” said Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter of his teammate’s perfect shooting. “For a point guard, he’s doing an unbelievable job, playing his game, having fun.”

Westbrook’s perfect shooting night could partially be attributed to a conscious decision to not shoot a 3-pointer in a game for the first time since March 14, 2016. He said he wasn’t aware during the game that he hadn’t missed a shot.

“I was just trying to play, trying to take my time,” Westbrook said. “I’ve been watching some film, trying to pick my spots better. I found ways to continue to get my teammates involved throughout the game and it just happened that way.

The Thunder have won 16 straight games against Philadelphia, a run that stretches to the 2008-09 season, the franchise’s first in Oklahoma City. That dominance was perhaps most evident in the final rebounding numbers on Wednesday: Oklahoma City 54, Philadelphia 25.

“It’s a fantastic example for our young guys on the physicality of playoff-type teams,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “That side of it to me stood out more than it has in a long time. … You look at the discrepancy on the boards, the rebounding differential, and it felt that.

“It’s a reminder. If you want to play late in April, if you want to play in May, maybe June one day, that’s the physicality that the playoffs bring.”

Nik Stauskas led the 76ers with 20 points, reaching the 20-point mark in consecutive games for the first time in his career.

After 11 lead changes in the opening minutes, the Thunder seized control with a 14-3 run near the end of the first quarter that put them ahead 29-22. Oklahoma City pushed its lead to 14 at one point before settling for a 63-50 halftime lead.

Philadelphia scored to start the third quarter, then the Thunder scored the next 15 points to build a 26-point lead and the triple-double watch intensified. Westbrook’s 10th assist came when Taj Gibson rattled in a 15-foot jumper at the 9:10 mark and the 10th rebound came with 7:08 left in the quarter.

It was the 13th time this season, and the 27th time in his career, Westbrook clinched a triple-double in the third quarter. He left the game with 2:39 left in the quarter and didn’t return.

Westbrook has recorded five triple-doubles against Philadelphia, his highest total against any NBA team. He needs six triple-doubles in Oklahoma City’s final 11 games to tie Oscar Robertson’s single-season record, set during the 1961-62 season.

Kanter posted his 17th double-double of the season for the Thunder with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Victor Oladipo (18 points) and Doug McDermott (13 points) also reached double figures for the Thunder.

TIP-INS:

76ers: Jahlil Okafor, who missed Monday’s game at Orlando with right knee soreness, started against the Thunder and played 17 minutes, scoring six points. … Dario Saric scored 12 points, extending his double-figure scoring streak to 21 games, the longest by a rookie this season. … Stauskas matched his season high with five 3-pointers, going 5-of-5 from behind the arc in the first half.

Thunder: With its 41st win of the season, Oklahoma City is assured of a .500 or better record for the eighth straight season. Only two other teams, the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, have as long a streak. … Westbrook has 72 triple-doubles and needs six more to tie Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the NBA all-time list.

SURGERY FOR EMBIID

The 76ers said before the game that rookie center Joel Embiid will undergo surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee. Team spokesman Mike Preston said the 7-footer, who has been plagued with injuries during his professional career, will have the surgery “in the coming days.”

Brown said “there has been tremendous due diligence … and research” about the decision concerning surgery and that Embiid “took an active role” in making the decision. Brown wouldn’t say if he thought Embiid would return by the start of next season: “That’s stuff we will talk more about and learn more about.”

Embiid missed his first two NBA seasons with a foot injury. He played in 31 games this season, averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game but hasn’t played since Jan. 27, when he scored 32 points in a loss to the Houston Rockets.

QUOTABLE:

Philadelphia guard T.J. McConnell on guarding Westbrook: “It’s not a one-person job. It’s an entire team.”