San Antonio Spurs defense suddenly their weakness

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When they were winning rings, San Antonio did it with defense. Sure there was Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, but it was the defense that set them apart.

Right now, the Spurs defense is ranked 25th in the NBA.

They re giving up 103.7 points per 100 possessions, the league average is 99.8 (via Hoopdata.com). It comes down to this simple fact — opponents are shooting the ball very well against the Spurs — 46.6 percent on the season. Only four teams are worse. If you prefer something more sophisticated like True Shooting Percentage (which accounts for free throws and three pointers) the picture isn’t any better, they are still 25th in the league.

So far they have scored enough to keep their record at 7-4, but Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan pulled no punches about the defensive numbers to the Spurs blog of the Express-News.

“That just won’t get anything done,” Popovich said. “That will portend a very mediocre basketball season for the San Antonio Spurs.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Duncan said. “We’ve got a long ways to go to get to where we believe the Spurs’ defense should be.”

When the Spurs were great they defended the paint and the three point line very well, intentionally giving you a little more room to take a long two-point shot.

This season they are allowing an average number of shots per game at the rim (22.9) but teams are shooting 68.7 percent on those — only two teams allow opponents a higher percentage at the rim. As for opponents at the three-point line, they are a little more middle of the league pack. Not elite, but not the biggest problem. With the long two pointer — the shot they want you to take — again the numbers are pretty much near the league averages (middle 10 teams).

Where teams are hurting the Spurs? Rotations, which used to be their strength.

For example, opponents are taking 14.3 percent of their attempts against the Spurs in isolation sets and shooting 45.8 percent — only one team in the NBA is giving up a higher percentage against isolations (stats via My Synergy Sports). Watch the plays and you seen the initial defender get beat and he gets a long way into the paint before the help arrives, leading to quality looks.

Another area is handling the roll man on the pick-and-roll — those guys are shooting 57.9 percent against the Spurs. On the video you see the big men show out hard to slow the ball handler but Matt Boner and Duncan and the rest of the Spurs bigs cannot recover fast enough to their man and the results are open layups or good midrange looks on the pick-and-pop.

The Spurs are still a good team. But with this defense it feels like last season, where they can get to the playoffs but then their flaws will be exposed and things will end quickly. This is a veteran team, there is certainly time to make adjustments and changes. The minds are willing. The question is do they have the bodies to do it?

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.