The tasty underside of the Rockets’ defense so far

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The Houston Rockets are 0-5, which is just bizarre. They’ve fought hard against good teams and been in positions to win, only to find new and inventive ways to lose. This is a team that many consider one of the most fun teams to watch, and a legitimate playoff contender. So what in Olajuwon’s name is going on down there?

Looking at the numbers, we try and identify where the problem is. We see the offense is ranked 14th in efficiency. They’re shooting 53% from the field, right in the middle of the pack. They’re only turning the ball over on 13.1% of their possessions ( 8th lowest in the league). They’re eleventh in offensive rebounding rate. The offense is looking good. So what’s the… oh. Right.

The defense.

Houston currently has the worst defense in the league, when factoring for pace. They force a turnover on less than 10% of all their opponents’ possessions, league worst. But surprisingly, they’re fourteenth in FG%. They’re not getting killed by shots, but they are letting their opponents get to the line 36% of the time.

Okay, so we’ve isolated the defense as the issue. Now, we need to go deeper. (Braaaahm.)

Looking at their opponent field goal percentages, they’re bad but not horrific down low, giving up the tenth best FG% at the rim. They’re 8th worst on the perimeter, but the big one is 10-15 feet, where they’re fourth worst. So where are all those shots coming from? For that we turn to Synergy Sports.

According to Synergy Sports, the Rockets are weakest in pick and roll defense on the ball handler, posting a .90 points per possession mark and allowing opponents to shoot 49%. That’s long form for “guys are coming behind the screen and nailing jumpers. Aaron Brooks and Courtney Lee are the biggest offenders, allowing a 1.31 and 1.30 PPP respectively. Brooks’ allowed field goal percentage is better, but he’s also fouling 18% of the time. So what’s happening on these pick and rolls? Here’s a look.

Here Chris Paul brings the ball up the floor and gets ready to go behind the deep wing pick.

 

Paul peels Brooks one way and the back the other, using the discernible lack of size to pancake his defender.

 

 

As CP3 peels around and gets to the baseline, Yao moves to cut him off. Brooks is taking a bad angle here, moving laterally instead of moving to anticipate Paul getting to the baseline. This could be because he’s expecting Yao to close off the baseline. He does not, and CP3 is now roaming free under the basket. If you were wondering if it’s time to panic, it is.

Brooks catches up with him, but now you’ve got Paul against an opponent who’s actually smaller than him (one of the few). The result? A turnaround fadeaway that Paul can make in his sleep from less than five feet.

It’s good, Hornets take the lead and hold on to win.

Now, Brooks isn’t the only problem, neither is Martin. In reality, the problems for the Rockets are system. Take this play for example from last night, where the Rockets actually defended the pick and roll pretty well, except when Manu Ginobili was draining step-back J’s and Richard Jefferson was getting wide-open looks.

 

Here Jefferson  gets the ball on the wing and pulls his man into a Blair pick. Which is kind of like pulling him into a brick wall with spikes on it.

The problem here is a lack of recognition by Jordan Hill to show hard off the pick to deter Jefferson. Given your choice of DeJuan Blair pick and pop, and Jefferson free and clear, you take Blair every single time.

That clump there should not exist, because now you have other defenders having to watch both their man and figure out if they need to commit to Jefferson.

The two defenders are still hung up on the pick, leaving a wide-open jumper for Jefferson who stops mid-range.

But worst was probably this possession against the Spurs, in overtime, after the Rockets had worked so hard to get themselves in good position to win. Up one, Parker gets the ball on the wing.

Here comes the pick. Again.

Again, the Rockets are too shallow off the pick. Look at how open that left elbow area is. You can tell your man to fight through the screen, as long as you’ve got rotation help. But Luis Scola needs to stick with his guy and can’t get there. Which means…

Ishmael Smith tries to cut off Parker going over the screen, but can’t get there, because Parker is really fast. Again, this would be the time to freak out.

Wide open J. Money.

The Rockets are far from finished (they tip-off against the woeful Timberwolves in a few minutes after this post). But the problems they have are pretty clear. They’re a fast paced team that can put up some offense but can’t get stops. Which is bizarre for a team with such great depth in the frontcourt. We’ll have to see if these problems become an epidemic or if this is just an early season outbreak.

Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks team up to “Rally the Vote,” push voter registration

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Voter participation numbers in the United States can be depressing. In 2016, during the last presidential election, an estimated 61.4 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, and in non-presidential election cycles that number can fall way, way off. Voter apathy in the USA is a real issue, one that hurts our democracy.

To help counter that a number of NBA teams — Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks — as well as teams from other sports are teaming up to “Rally the Vote,” a new drive to push voter registration among sports fans. The goal is to get the message out before the deadline to register for the upcoming November elections (in most states that is in October).

It is an effort from teams that falls in line with what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has encouraged players to do — speak out on social issues, be involved, try to make the world a better place. The idea is a simple one: to make sure everyone’s voice is heard through the ballot box, where it can make a real impact on our country.

“If we can make buying a ticket to a sporting event accessible in a few clicks, there is no reason why registering to vote shouldn’t be the same,” said Vivek Ranadivé, Owner and Chairman of the Sacramento Kings, who spearheaded this project. “Voting is one of the most important things we do as Americans and is central to our democracy, yet tens of millions of people are not registered to vote. Sports teams have a responsibility to enact positive change in their communities, and I’m proud to see so many of us coming together to help fans register to vote so that they can have a voice in elections.”

The teams are partnering with Democracy Works, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses technology to make voting easier. Teams involved in Rally the Vote — which also includes the MLB’s White Sox, Giants, and A’s, plus the NFL’s 49ers — will encourage fans to register to vote this election season. Through team mobile apps, websites and social media platforms, fans will be directed to TurboVote, a Democracy Works tool that allows voters to register, file for an absentee ballot and receive election reminders. 

Kings’ rookie Marvin Bagley III even recorded a PSA for the project. Fans attending games for these teams in the coming weeks will see that PSA and hear about it though arena announcements, plus the teams will make pushes on other platforms to get people involved.

It’s an important cause, and good on Ranadivé and the Kings for spearheading this push. More people voting, more people taking advantage of their rights and expressing their voice, the better. Like at a sporting event, it’s just more fun with more people involved.

 

 

Ted Leonsis’ goals for Wizards: Win 50 games, make conference finals

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Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis is setting the bar high. Incredibly high.

Las Vegas set the under/over on wins for Washington at 44.5, which was sixth highest in the East. That sounds about right (Washington won 43 games last season and did not make big moves this off-season, the team’s hands tied by the salary cap). Three of the past five seasons this team has been solid but not spectacular, winning in the mid-to-high 40s during the season, then reaching the second round before bowing out of the playoffs.

While this team has talent, John Wall and Bradley Beal have never really meshed (and both have battled health issues), now Dwight Howard is the starting center, and a lot of is asked of Otto Porter, Markeif Morris, and other role players. The Wizards have never been more than their parts, they have never added up to as much as it looked like they should on paper.

Leonsis expects that to change this season as they move into a new practice facility. He set the bar for this team higher than it’s been in years, as he told Ben Standig of TheSportsCapital.com (a fantastic site covering Washington D.C. sports).

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins* and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round^ then we didn’t meet our goals. We have to improve upon last year, but this is a really good team practicing in a world-class building. I think it’s the most complete team and we want to focus on everyone’s health. John (Wall) last year missed half the season. Otto (Porter) struggled at the end of the season (with hip, leg injuries). If we can keep them healthy and they’re well-treated and well-tended and well-compensated, we should have high expectations for them.”

(* The Wizards last won at least 50 games in the 1978-79 season.)

(^The franchise hasn’t advanced to the conference finals, the bar now set by Leonsis, since the Washington Bullets lost in the 1979 NBA Finals.)

Beating out all but one of Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Indiana to make the conference finals seems… unlikely. I get that Leonsis sees reaching the conference finals as the next step forward, it’s just hard to see how this roster does it. The Wizards keep changing the pieces around the core — this year it’s Marcin Gortat out, Dwight Howard in — and still coming up short, which suggests maybe it’s not the pieces around the core that’s the problem.

The Wizards are locked into this core for another year after this — Wall will make $38 million the season after this, Beal, and Otto Porter will make north of $20 million, plus don’t forget Ian Mahinmi will make more than $15 million each of the next two seasons. If Leonsis is frustrated with this squad, it will not be easy to change, not for a while.

Report: Tom Thibodeau met with Jimmy Butler Monday, tried to convince him to come to camp

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Tom Thibodeau REALLY wants to keep his job doesn’t want to trade Jimmy Butler. In fact, he was going to refuse to honor Butler’s trade request, but owner Glen Taylor stepped in and told him and GM Scott Layden to get it done. Sooner rather than later.

Butler was not participating in media day Monday and will not take part in camp this week. Thibodeau is still trying to get Butler into camp, hoping that time around the team can fix issues, and said he expects Butler to show up if no deal is struck quickly. More than that, he met with Butler and tried to convince him to show up.

This is not going to work on Butler, who is as stubborn as Thibodeau. Plus, the Timberwolves owner does not want the drama, he wants this resolved. Add to that that Karl-Anthony Towns wanted this resolved, he’s the future of the franchise, and he’s about to sign a massive max extension to his rookie deal.

There are a number of teams at least testing the water on Butler — the Heat have been very aggressive, most sources I talk to around the league like the Clippers’ chances, but the Cavaliers, 76ers, Pistons, Wizards, Blazers, and others have at least checked in on a trade. Teams, however, are being cautious about what they will offer — Butler can be a free agent this summer, and even if a team can re-sign him (the Clippers were on his short list) there is concern from them about how well he will age through that next deal considering Thibodeau has played him heavy minutes for years, and he was already battling some injuries last season.

Still, expect a deal to get done sooner rather than later. Despite what Thibodeau would prefer.

‘He has more to give’: Dwyane Wade’s last dance with Heat begins

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade doesn’t know how this whole notion of his final season being called “The Last Dance” even started.

Fun fact: He can’t dance.

But the three-time champion and 12-time All-Star can still play, and the Miami Heat are hoping – and expecting – Wade to still be extremely valuable in this, his 16th and last season in the NBA. And at Heat media day Monday, Wade said that even he doesn’t know what to fully expect from what will be the last months of his playing career.

“I have no idea what I want out of this year,” Wade said. “We’re going to be able to figure this thing out as the year goes on. It’s going to take on a life of its own. … To me, that is the beauty of it, is that I do not know and we do not know.”

Starting Tuesday, the story starts getting told.

Wade and the Heat head about 45 minutes north to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida for training camp – five straight days of workouts preceding Sunday’s preseason opener at San Antonio. Decisions will have to be made quickly about playing time and roles, and part of that formula is figuring out how Wade best fits into coach Erik Spoelstra’s plan.

“Most pro athletes, unfortunately, they don’t get to know when the end is – or at least they’re the last ones to know and it’s certainly not on their terms,” Spoelstra said. “He has this incredible blessing to know when that finish line will be and be able to have the perspective to make every day matter. It’s the right player, the right organization, the right coaching staff, the right timing for all of this.”

Wade announced his decision on Sept. 16 that he was coming back for a final season, after at one time leaning about “90 percent” toward retirement over the summer. He agreed to a minimum contract worth $2.4 million, or roughly about $200,000 less than he made in his rookie season after the Heat took the Marquette guard with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft.

His decision wasn’t about money or role. It was about making sure the right ending to a career gets written.

“At the end of the day, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “He still can produce. He showed that last year. He can still take over a game at any time. And just to have him on the court is special. His ability, his aura, his presence on the floor, it influences everyone. It’s contagious, know what I mean? His confidence spreads, his ability, it’s a feeling that’s so good for us.”

Wade returned to the Heat in a trade last February, after spending the 2016-17 season with Chicago and the start of last season with Cleveland. For his career, he’s a 22.5-point scorer and the Heat all-time leader in points, assists, steals and games played.

“He has more to give this game,” Spoelstra said.

Wade enters this season 113 points shy of Clyde Drexler for No. 30 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The legacy was secured long ago. That’s not why he’s still on the court. Wade has turned much of his basketball attention already to his son Zaire, a rising high school junior who has Division I offers and will surely be getting more.

Before he becomes a full-timer in the bleachers at his kid’s games, there’s the last dance.

“I’m going to continue to be very uncomfortable with this whole thing,” Wade said. “The farewell tour is not something I wanted. I think people around me know I really, really, really didn’t want this. So I just look at it as this is me just saying `goodbye’ more than anything.”