The Inbounds: The Pierre-Bargnani Defensive Mirror

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Some of you will be aware of this, but for those of you aren’t, let me catch you up real quick. You know how Andrea Bargnani has this reputation as being the very definition of a horrible defender? It’s not entirely a fictional archetype, but it’s also not really so much in love with the truth that the two have announced the relationship on Facebook. Synergy Sports ranked Bargnani in the 88th percentile in post defense on a per-possession basis, and the 56th percentile in isolation defense last season (with a gaudy 95th percentile overall). It wasn’t all Dwane Casey’s wizardry last season (though his work with Bargnani’s defense should not be ignored, but we’ll get there. In 2011, he was 47th percentile in post and 83rd percentile in isolation. 2010? 72nd percentile in the post, 28th in isolation. Bear in mind these numbers are regardless of the number of possessions, so someone that defended in the post once successfully logs in at the top of the chart. So basically, he’s even better than these numbers indicate, relative to his position.

But as so many people that don’t understand nuance, statistics, or empirical information suggest, “numbers don’t tell the whole story.” It’s easy to say that, but what about who he was guarding, etc. Unfortunately, if you have too much time on your hands, as I have over the past four years, you can actually watch the game video and discover that, whoops, often Bargnani was actually defending the better offensive threat due to his raw height. Surprise! Andrea Bargnani is a pretty good man defender. Let your world shake into a new comfort. Even with the problems afforded Synergy and the metrics used in that glorious environment, it’s impossible to deny that Bargnani at least does a decent job of distracting the guy he’s matched up with into missing his shot a lot of the time.

But notice I said “man defender” there and not “defender.” Because the reason Bargnani has so consistently been set aflame by Twitter, bloggers, and your average Raptors fan is because he is, at his heart, an absolutely atrocious help defender. He never crowds the lane on perimeter penetration. He doesn’t nail the weakside block. He fails to rotate the first time, much less the second, and too often is already out of position for a rebound when the ball is in the air. There’s a lot to dislike.

Modern NBA defensive criticism is interesting because it specifically targets centers with fault for failing to cover for the mistakes of their teammates. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Why is it Andrea Barganani’s fault that Jose Calderon can’t contain perimeter penetration? Why should Bargnani have to clean up the mess for DeMar DeRozan? No one’s blasting wing defenders for not committing to the double team when Bargnani’s outmatched. This isn’t to suggest Bargnani’s victimized, it’s fair criticism. It’s just worth noting that for a fanbase that tends to lean towards traditional models of personal responsibility, we hold centers culpable for the wellbeing of the entire defensive state. They’re supposed to raise themselves up by the bootstraps and take care of their neighbor, so to speak.

And in another way, it’s hard to fault Bargnani for the thought process. He’s essentially torched because he fails to abandon the man he’s been tasked with keeping from scoring.  Think about that. He’s a bad defender because he carries out his assignment too much (while failing to execute other assignments that, depending on the time, have a greater priority). That, again, seems contradictory to our model of what we hold one another too. But it’s how it is, and when you consider the essential manner each defender is dependent on every other, the criticism rings true.

So what does Bargnani need to do this next season to make the major leap forward he started last season prior to injury? He needs to emulate JaVale McGee. And McGee needs to be like the seven-foot Italian. McGee is a block machine. He’s able to swat nearly any shot out of the air, even hooks from seven footers. He can alter any possession with his athleticism, and has great timing when he manages to channel his boundless energy into a significant play.

He also has defensive ADD. He sees the rabbit and dives after it, despite the electronic collar. He’s always chasing the weakside block. Too often he goes to close on a driving player who has been successfully corralled by a teammate, only to lose his man who sneaks weakside for the dump-off score. He’s chasing the bunny rabbit and loses the buck behind him.

So Bargnani is hammered for not helping his teammates enough, and McGee is hammered because he abandons his responsibility in pursuit of helping those same teammates too often.

But for each, it may mean something different. McGee speaks of wanting to lead the league in blocks. If you have the ability to defend the shot, even if your teammate has it well covered and the player is unlikely to convert, how can you not swat that thing? If you have your guy locked down, why are you worried about what someone else was or was not able to do?

We’ve seen over the past four-to-six years a familiar trend from the past reasserting itself. Older big men are blossoming. It’s really 26-plus when players come into their own. Because nowadays, system defense is what matters, what makes an impact, and that takes time to add to a skillset. Bargnani is 26. McGee is 24. To make the adjustments they need to reach the next level, it means letting go of their own personal concepts of right and wrong defensively, and playing as one cog in a greater system. The singular great defensive player is gone, even Tyson Chandler relies on teammates funneling players to where he can achieve.

If the two hyper-long freak athletes are going to fulfill their potential, they have to recognize the value of what’s on the other side of the mirror. It’s not a skill question, an ability question, or toughness question. It’s just bout understanding the big picture and being able to bridge those gaps in knowledge. If they can, the big men in the league could be in for a jolt. Defense has evolved from checkers to chess, and next season represents a chance for the young players to learn the game they’ve been fumbling through for years.

Steve Kerr on Chris Paul: ‘More than anything, I feel bad for Chris’

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul didn’t play in Game 6 on Saturday night. The Rockets failed to eliminate the Golden State Warriors, who forced a Game 7 with a 115-86 win in Oakland.

Paul’s status for Game 7 is still unclear, although things aren’t looking good. Paul’s hamstring injury will be hard to heal in such a short amount of time, even with round the clock treatment and the power of will the veteran point guard brings to the table.

The Point God has a tendency to get hurt at just the wrong time. Paul famously broke his hand in April of 2016, and along with Blake Griffin‘s quad injury, allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to get the better of the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs that year. Paul also missed two games against the Rockets in the playoffs with a sore hamstring in 2015, a series the Clippers and Paul lost in seven games.

The NBA is not blind to Paul’s bad luck, either. Opposing head coach Steve Kerr commented on it to reporters, outlining not only what he thought they might do rotationally but his feelings about Paul’s injury history.

Via ESPN:

“More than anything, I feel bad for Chris,” Kerr said before the Warriors’ 115-86 rout of the Rockets at Oracle Arena. “The guy’s a phenomenal player and competitor and pretty much willed his team the last two games. He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career, and it’s a shame. I hate when anybody gets hurt.”

Kerr mentioned that he knew the reality of the situation is that by the end of the season, not everyone is going to be healthy. No doubt it’s a good thing for Kerr and the Warriors that Paul will likely miss Game 7. It’s unfortunate for a veteran like Paul, whose stellar career is dogged by unfair narratives of playoff failures.

Maybe Houston can try again next year when they have LeBron James?

Rockets doctors to evaluate Chris Paul Sunday then make Game 7 call

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Officially, Chris Paul is questionable for Monday’s Game 7 against Golden State.

Mike D’Antoni said the call on whether he can play will be made by team doctors on Sunday.

“The team doctors will check him out tomorrow morning and see how far he’s got (in his rehab) and what the possibilities are,” the Rockets’ coach said, adding that the doctors will make the call, not him.

Sources suggest there is pessimism about if Paul can play around the team, but with his competitive nature nobody wants to rule it out. Nobody is quite sure where things stand.

“I don’t think he’s tested it at all, so he’s just getting treatment and trying to make sure it calms down and everything,” D’Antoni said. “And I would think our doctors and trainers are working on him 24 hours a day almost, and they will tomorrow morning re-evaluate it again.

“If I get a nod from Chris and the doctors he’s good to go. Probably if any of those disagree he’s probably not going. I think it’s a game-time decision.”

The Rockets got off to a fast start without Paul in Game 6, led by Eric Gordon raining threes. However, the Rockets missed Paul’s defense and steadying influence when he has the ball as things started to go sideways in the second half — the tempo got up, the Rockets missed shots and turned the ball over, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson got hot. Paul may well have not been able to stop this run, but the Rockets would have had a better chance with him.

Without him, even with the Rockets at home, Vegas opened the Warriors as five-point favorites.

 

Friends raise more than $20,000 for LGBTQ youth to honor memory of Bo Churney

via @byjanehammond on Twitter
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The name Bo Churney might sound familiar to you if you’re a member of NBA Twitter. A leading online voice around the Atlanta Hawks and a former writer for various outlets — including ESPN, Turner Sports, and Hardwood Paroxysm — Churney sadly took his own life last week.

The outpouring around Churney’s untimely passing has been significant. After his death, friends of Churney quickly decided to organize a fundraiser in his name, and in less than a week had $20,000 in donations from the online community.

The fundraiser will donate the money to Lost N Found Youth, an organization that helps at-risk LGBTQ youth in the Atlanta area. Churney had come out of the closet a few years before his death.

Via EverydayHero:

A lot of people have reached out asking if there’s anything they can do or help with after the death of our dear friend Bo Churney. We wanted to do something in memory of Bo in the Atlanta community that he loved and helped make a better, more fun place. Lost N Found Youth is an organization that provides outreach, crisis support, services, clothes, food, and safe shelter for homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth between 13-25 in the Atlanta area. Anything you can give would be tremendous or even sharing and spreading the word. Thank you.

As of writing there have been 473 donations in Churney’s memory, with people leaving messages and sums large and small. Churney’s impact was vast, and the fundraiser has been mentioned everywhere around NBA media including TV, newsletters, and articles like this one.

You can click the links above to donate to the Bo Churney Memorial Fund or directly to Lost N Found Youth.

If you need to speak to someone, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline here.

Report: Mavericks employee looked at porn at work, created hostile environment

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The Dallas Mavericks were at the center of a Sports Illustrated investigation into their alleged corporate culture of that included an “Animal House” atmosphere, including sexual harassment.

The blowback from the report and subsequent investigations was severe, with former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery and former Mavs.com reporter Earl K. Sneed at the center of the story in Dallas.

Now a report from the Dallas Morning News says another employee was known for creating a hostile work environment in the ticketing office. That employee, Chris Hyde, was a senior account executive in charge of selling tickets for the team. According to the report from the Morning News, Hyde continually showed explicit photos to co-workers, rubbed himself while at work, and did so even after being warned to stop by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Via Dallas Morning News:

His co-workers called him “Pants DJ.” He would sit at his desk in the Dallas Mavericks ticket sales office, stare at pornographic images on his cellphone or computer and rub himself below his belt line.

He’d often call co-workers over to show them pictures on his phone that he’d taken of women in lingerie, topless or naked. He once dropped a used condom onto the office floor.

This pattern of behavior, described by seven current and former Mavericks employees who spoke to The Dallas Morning News on the condition of anonymity, continued for six years despite a warning from owner Mark Cuban that he stop viewing pornography on his office computer.

Hyde worked for the Mavericks for 15 years, leaving the team in 2014. According to the Morning News sources, Hyde was not let go for his workplace behavior, and apparently was one the team’s top salesmen.

Read the full report in detail, as it gives even more insight into what has allegedly been going on inside the Mavericks organization for some time.

Cuban has said that he is open to any kind of cooperation he and the team need to have as an investigation into their corporate culture is ongoing. Meanwhile, Dallas has hired several HR executives as a means to turn things around in the front office.