Author: Rob Mahoney


Kevin Love selected to replace Yao Ming in the All-Star Game


UPDATE (7:36 PM EST): The league has announced that Kevin Love will indeed serve as Yao Ming’s injury replacement for the All-Star Game. Before we all get too excited: what does it say about the All-Star system that there’s actual jubilation when players are chosen correctly?

At this point, it should be regarded as truth without need for explanation that Kevin Love is worthy of an All-Star selection. The sky is blue. The sea is green. And that scoring and rebounding machine suiting up for the Minnesota Timberwolves is damn deserving of a trip to Los Angeles for All-Star Weekend.

It just wasn’t in the cards, as an ultra-competitive pool of viable All-Star candidates left Love out in the cold when the reserves for the team were announced on Thursday. David Stern still has yet to declare Yao Ming’s injury replacement for the Western Conference All-Stars, but that one spot is Love’s only chance of making the team this season. That’s ridiculous considering Love’s production this season. No other player matches Love’s 21 points per game and 23.3 total rebounding percentage this season (indicating that he grabs nearly a quarter of all misses on both ends of the court while on the floor), and only one other player in the history of the NBA (Moses Malone) has been able to produce at that level for an entire year. His team may be miserable, but Love has been exquisite.

Exquisite enough that Love himself felt he should have made the team, even if he wasn’t entirely surprised by the news of his exclusion. From Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (via SLAM Online):

“I’ve been better,” he said, “but I wasn’t very surprised.”

Love said he learned after Wednesday’s home loss to Memphis that he probably wouldn’t be included when the East and West reserves were announced during TNT’s Thursday night NBA coverage.

“I truly and firmly believe in my heart that, solely on play alone, I should have been in there,” he said.

If there’s any justice, Love will be Stern’s pick to make the team as a reserve, though even that inclusion would likely come as bittersweet. Love really should have been selected the first time around, and though being included as a replacement is really only a technicality, it should never have come to this.

The Mavericks are still zoning up, and it’s still working

Dallas Mavericks, Tyson Chandler, Derrick Rose
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NBA teams are — by rule — prevented from running true zone defenses. The defensive three second violation was put in place specifically to prevent zones from clogging up the paint and slowing down the game, and as a result, even though most teams utilize some sort of zone coverage in pick-and-roll situations and the like, more explicit zone schemes have become a rarity. Practice time all presents a significant hurdle, as most NBA teams just don’t have time to implement their full offensive and defensive packages with a separate zone set on top.

The Dallas Mavericks are the exception. Over the last few seasons, Rick Carlisle has implemented a match-up zone scheme that was at first used sparingly, but has since become a regular part of the Mavs’ defense this year. The zone has been quite successful, but with such atypical approaches, there’s always a worry of a regular season smokescreen. Just as most teams don’t have time to install their own zone sets, they also don’t have time to specifically address how to counter them. The time just isn’t there in between regular season games, and thus the Mavs have been able to catch quite a few opponents off-guard with extended use of the zone. Given the spaced out schedule of a playoff series however — not to mention the singular focus of only having to play a single opponent at a time — it’s widely assumed that opponents will be more effective in their teched-out counters.

Only time will tell, as Dallas has never been this good at using the zone in past seasons, and never leaned on it quite as frequently. Sebastian Pruiti — also of NBA Playbook, amid myriad other sites at which he contributes — took a closer look at the Dallas zone for a feature at Basketball Prospectus:

There hasn’t been a team that has used the zone for long stretches and been successful. That is, until this year.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Mavericks have played zone defense 12.8 percent of the time this season, by far the most often in the league and more than double that of the Trail Blazers, second at 5.8 percent. Seeing and expecting the zone is one of the keys to being able to beat it. Yet, Dallas opponents seeing the zone multiple possessions per game, the Mavericks remain very effective running this defense. They’ve allowed just 0.85 points per possession on 39.8 percent shooting from the field.

In fact, even though the Mavericks play so much zone, they still have posted a top 10 defense in terms of Defensive Rating (102.3, ninth in the league). One of the main reasons you don’t see teams run a lot the defense is because you can’t run a standard zone in the NBA because of the defensive three second rule. Teams struggle with this concept and instead of trying to work through it, they just abandon the zone as a primary defensive concept.

The Mavs’ execution of the zone is worth an even closer look, so follow along to Basketball Prospectus to read Pruiti’s breakdown in its entirety.

Steve Novak and Mike Taylor head back to the D-League

Steve Novak
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Former D-Leaguers-turned-NBAers Steve Novak and Mike Taylor aren’t quite ready to give up playing pro ball here in the States, and are looking to start again from square one. Scott Schroeder of NBA FanHouse has reported that both Novak and Taylor have signed contracts to return to the D-League in an effort to showcase their talents for NBA clubs. According to Schroeder, Novak will join the Reno Bighorns, and Taylor will be a member of the Iowa Energy.

Novak can shoot like an NBA player, but doesn’t really look, move, or defend like one. He’s a specialist, and in the right defensive system, his teammates might be able to cover his back in a pinch. Novak spent most of this season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, albeit one who wasn’t able to crack the rotation, even for clean-up minutes. A club desperate for range might be willing to pick him up, but Novak hurts his chances with his lack of versatility. He isn’t a hustle player, or even a glue guy, really. He doesn’t fill in the gaps. He just shoots, and does so almost exclusively from long range. Nothing wrong with that for a team in the market, but NBA teams so rarely peruse the D-League marketplace for standstill shooters.

Taylor isn’t quite as limited, but he’s a 6-2 athlete with more utility as a scorer than as a playmaker. During his year with the Clippers in 2009, Taylor was at his best either driving or slashing to the rim, though his drive-and-kick potential is rather limited. In Taylor, teams may find a decent bench scorer who can handle the ball a bit, but it’s probably better for everyone involved if he’s not initiating offensive sets.

Rick Fox dispenses gambling advice, would like 144 hard-boiled eggs

Rick Fox
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Rick Fox won a few titles with the Lakers once upon a time, but since then, he’s been busy as a kind-of-sometimes actor. He had a nice little bit on HBO’s Oz back in the day. Did well in a cameo on the unfortunately canceled Party Down. There were also rumors that he appeared on One Tree Hill and The Big Bang Theory, but I’m not enough of a masochist to find out for myself.

The point is: the guy has smiled his way into a few acting gigs, and has put on his best performance yet in this nice College Humor short:

Learn the fundamentals of basketball with the one and only Matt Bonner!

Matt Bonner
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The NBA features many great teachers of the game. One could fill a book with notes of Kobe Bryant’s footwork, or lessons of Luis Scola’s infinite moves and counters in the post. Yet if asked to name the wisest of all the league’s fine instructors, the entire basketball world would cry out Matt Bonner’s name in unison.

Well, hypothetically ask, and thou shalt receive: has begun a recurring feature in which Bonner teaches us all about the finer points of the game. They only have his introduction to the series thus far, but sharpen your pencils — Coach B’s about to drop some knowledge.