So… what exactly are the Sixers?

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From SBNation’s excellent Sixers’ blog Liberty Ballers (pardon the extensive blockquote, but I need it for context):

Denver, Atlanta, Miami. That was the “tough stretch” Jordan wrote about early last week. Finally, after 13 games where the opponents winning percentage was a lowly .371, they’d play some actual competition. Now, we’d find out if this team really had some marbles or if they were pulling the wool over our eyes with deceiving teaminess. 79% of you voted that they would win at least two of those three games.

Well, you know what happened. A crushing overtime loss to Denver at the spiteful hands of Andre Miller kicked it off. Next, the the Hawks came to town and it looked like they were going to upend the Sixers as well before a second half hurricane came through and blew Atlanta out of the water. And then last night, in what was the toughest game scheduled, a road game in Miami on the second night of a back-to-back, the defense couldn’t stop LeBron James and Chris Bosh, allowing them to pull away late in the third due to coaching miscues and frontcourt abandonment.

So where do we stand now? At 11-5, they have a commanding lead over the Atlantic, that much is certain. And with the 2nd place Knicks dealing with injuries and chemistry issues, a 5-game lead this early lets them breathe a little bit. But in terms of their place in the East come playoff time, have you gotten any indication that they could beat any of the better teams? Or does the record speak for itself and they’re still legit? I’m just interested in what you think, considering that the only two teams over .500 the Sixers have beaten are the Al Horford-less Hawks and the Danny Granger-less Pacers. The next best team they defeated is the 6-9 Suns. Just something to think on…

via Re-Assessing the Sixers After The Three Game Test – Liberty Ballers.

When you follow the league to the extent many of us do, that is, to a borderline-obsessive, even-beat-writers-think-we-should-get-a-life extent, you tend to get irritated with this idea that the end results tend to validate the preconceived notions.

To wit, the Philadelphia 76ers were considered a mediocre team before the start of the season, losses to top teams proved that they are such despite their record, and an inevitable first or second-round elimination will cement that as their identity. Except the Sixers aren’t a mediocre team. They’re a very good team that lost to the hottest team in the West outside of OKC (the Nuggets just went 4-0 in a four-games-in-five-night road trip with injuries,which is insane), and arguably the best team in the league. Furthermore, you watch enough 20-point losses, you learn which feel like 20-point losses and which don’t. The Sixers hung with the Heat. They made some plays. The Heat simply overpowered them because when the Heat are engaged, and not doing… whatever they were doing on that three-game road trip… they are nigh on unstoppable.

The Sixers are extremely well coached this season. And while it’s a virtual lock that Philadelphia’s bench unit will not continue their insane pace, they still have exceptional depth. Andre Iguodala took six shots against the Heat. For comparison, Joel Anthony took nine Saturday night. This isn’t to say the Sixers are as good as the Heat. They aren’t. They’re going to lose in the second round to either Chicago or Miami in all likelihood. But the Sixers’ lack of consistent competition creates a significantly small sample size, and we shouldn’t toss out their superb play against weak teams, because some of the best teams struggle with poor teams. Consistency is the mark of real value in this league, and the Sixers have been strikingly consistent. Their effort level doesn’t fluctuate game-to-game, half-to-half, quarter to quarter. They’re committed to one another, have balance, speed, depth and youth.

You can write the obituary for the Sixers now, barring one of the most miraculous runs in NBA history, but that doesn’t mean that the shotgun, first-glance perceptions we had in preseason reveal the identity of this team.

You have to watch Philadelphia to understand Philadelphia.

 

Bucks, 76ers, other teams practicing with “4 point line” to improve spacing instincts

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Space is the name of the game in the modern NBA.

Milwaukee is thriving in part because of the addition of three-point bomber Brook Lopez (still weird to type that) and a coach in Mike Budenholzer who encourages his players to shoot from deep, opening up the floor for Giannis Antetokounmpo to drive the lane.

How Budenholzer reinforces that spacing — adding a four-point line on the practice floor and color-coding parts of the court — is part of a fascinating story by ESPN’s Malika Andrews on how coaches are “gamifying” practices to get through to players. The 76ers, Hawks, Nets, Bulls, and Bucks are the teams we know are using a four-point line in practice right now.

To explain how the Hawks’ 4-point line — which is painted onto the floor 5 feet beyond the regular 3-point line — helps his team, [Atlanta Hawks coach Paul] Pierce walks onto the court to physically demonstrate. The condensed version of Pierce’s 36-minute explanation, which is punctuated by wild gesticulation, is this: “Spacing changes the whole game.”

Atlanta targeted Young out of Oklahoma in the 2018 draft lottery, with hopes of building an offense around his long-range shooting and passing skills. Because Young is willing and able to shoot off the dribble from well beyond the 3-point arc, defenders are forced to step out to defend him almost as soon as he crosses half court. Although he already had that range before he joined the Hawks, Young acknowledges that not everybody has the natural instinct to pull up from that deep, so it helps to have a visual reminder…

Lloyd not only wants Young to shoot from the 4-point line but to make plays from there, too. Expanding the floor outward, in turn, creates space in the paint for big men such as second-year breakout John Collins. If a guard like Young can initiate a play from behind the 4-point line, defenses are forced to cover more ground and, eventually, make difficult choices and compromises.

While Young is struggling with those deep shots this season — 24.1 percent from three — the principle is still valid, and just his and the Hawks’ willingness to shoot from there has stretched defenses (they just don’t have the talent and experience yet to exploit those defenses properly). It’s what Stephen Curry brings naturally to the Warriors (that team has the talent and experience yet to exploit defenses).

It’s not just the four-point line. In Philadelphia, the corner-three spot on the court is a different color, a reminder to players they want to be and shoot from there. In Milwaukee, there are five taped-off boxes on the court, each about the size a person takes up standing there, a reminder of where Budenholzer wants players to be in a five-out offense.

For young players raised on computer learning and video games, the color coding — what Brett Brown called “gamification” of the court — works as reminders. Ones that, ideally, carry over into games themselves.

Don’t forget, Boston reportedly “hawking” Anthony Davis, too

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If Anthony Davis hits the trade market — and that’s still an “if” because the Pelicans are pushing to win now, they are active on the trade market, and they will put a $235 million guaranteed contract in front of him next July, $40 million more than anyone else can offer — there’s been a lot of talk about how the Lakers are poised to pounce.

But don’t sleep on Boston — GM Danny Ainge has eyed Davis for a while and the Celtics have a lot of assets to throw in a deal. Something Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on the Woj&Lowe NBA trade season broadcast special recently.

“Boston has been hawking Anthony Davis for years. They always hoped that it would be—whether it’s the end of this season or the beginning of next before the trade deadline—that they would gather up all those assets, all those picks Danny Ainge has, young players, and they’d be the team to be able to get Anthony Davis.

“But now you have L.A., and if they get shut out in free agency, they’re going to have to take all their young players to try to use them to get Anthony Davis.”

If Davis becomes available, the Celtics and Lakers will be at the front of a very long line.

Boston would throw their best assets in a trade for Davis — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and draft picks — that may be more interesting to New Orleans than Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. (Boston could have four first-round picks in next June’s draft, but trading them is complicated because the draft is weeks before July 1 when the Pelicans make their offer to Davis, it’s possible to delay signing the rookies to keep them tradable but that’s not the norm; also if the Clippers miss the playoffs this year then Boston has their 2020 pick lottery protected).

Also, know that other teams are going to jump in with offers, the way Oklahoma City did with Paul George and Toronto did with Kawhi Leonard. New Orleans is obligated to get the best trade for New Orleans, not to send Davis somewhere he wants to go. If another team comes in with an over-the-top offer the Pelicans may jump at it.

Right now, NBA GMs are just watching what is happening with Davis like hawks. Or, maybe more accurately, vultures.

Not so fast: Austin Rivers reportedly will not sign in Memphis, other teams interested

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Austin Rivers is a below-average guard (his 7.1 PER this season is well below his 10.4 career average, and that was already troublingly low) and certainly was not the most popular guy in the Clippers’ locker room, but for a team in desperate need of guard depth, they could do worse. Especially for a minimum contract the rest of this season.

Which is why the rumors of Rivers to Memphis after he clears waivers from the Suns made some sense (Rivers was traded to Phoenix from Washington in the Trevor Ariza deal). Mike Conley is a borderline All-Star but behind him the Grizzlies are giving Shelvin Mack, MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden, and others regular run. Maybe Rivers could help.

But…

Rivers will not be signing in Memphis, reports the well connected Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian.

Contrary to today’s reports, a source with knowledge of the negotiation tells The Daily Memphian that while the Grizzlies considered the matter, the team is not signing Rivers. Unlike on Friday night, when early reporting seemed to reveal some internal confusion among the NBA teams involved in a proposed transaction, this seems merely to be a case of a premature report.

Even The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who first broke the news, has backed off.

There is not a huge demand for Rivers’ services, but some team in need of depth will role the dice.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse fined $15k for criticizing refs on behalf of Kawhi Leonard

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After the Raptors lost to the Nuggets on Sunday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse said:

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said in a two-part rant that will earn him a fine from the league office. “So he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.

“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Predictably…

NBA release:

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

This obviously doesn’t come close to putting the Raptors over the top for Leonard in free agency next summer. Los Angeles teams are still favored. But this bodes well for Toronto re-signing Leonard.

Not only did Nurse endear himself to Leonard, the coach might even help Leonard get a more favorable whistle going forward. If that happens, it’ll make the Raptors more likely to win and therefore more likely to keep Leonard.