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.

J.R. Smith gets shirtless as Browns win first game since 2016 (VIDEO)

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LeBron James may be a Los Angeles Laker now, but JR Smith is still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Media day is right around the corner, and so NBA players are trickling in to their respective cities from their offseason locations.

Thankfully for us, Smith is already in Cleveland.

On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns of the NFL won their first regular season game since Dec. 24, 2016. In attendance was none other than Smith, and lo and behold he was once again shirtless.

Just the way we like him.

Via Twitter:

Smith was famously shirtless in 2016 during the Cavaliers’ championship parade (and seemingly for much of that summer) after they beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Someone even printed out a shirt you could wear that turned you into a shirtless JR.

There probably won’t be much celebrating in Cleveland for Smith this season, and therefore not many reasons for him to get shirtless on everyone. The Browns winning a Thursday night game seems like an appropriate arena for this type of thing now.

Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, John Wall team up for Hurricane Florence relief

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Along with Michael Jordan, several other NBA players, teams, and the league have decided to team up in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Relief for the eastern seaboard, specifically the Carolinas, has been the subject of many charitable efforts thus far.

Now we can add Chris Paul, John Wall, and Stephen Curry to the list of players trying to help the beleaguered coastal states.

All three players are natives of North Carolina, with Curry being from Charlotte, Wall being from Raleigh and Paul being from Winston-Salem. The three are the public face of an effort to raise $500,000 to help aid in post-hurricane relief.

Via Twitter:

The damage from Florence has been significant. According to one report from NBC News, home losses in the town of New Bern, NC (pop: 30,101) have reached an estimated $32 million.

Moody’s Analytics released a report that said that a conservative estimate of total damage caused by Florence is in the range of $17 billion.

Video from the North Carolina Department of Transportation published on social media this week confirmed how great the flooding was just in terms of visual scale.

If you’d like to help donate to the effort, you can do so by clicking the link in Curry’s tweet or following the link here.

Richard Jefferson’s father killed in drive-by shooting in Los Angeles

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Richard Jefferson Sr., 65, the father of NBA veteran Richard Jefferson Jr., died on Wednesday when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles.

The report comes to us from TMZ, who says that it is still unclear whether the elder Jefferson was the target of the attack or if it was something more random.

Via TMZ:

Richard Jefferson Sr. was in front of a liquor store in a primarily residential area around 6:52 PM when a vehicle rolled up and someone inside opened fire.

Jefferson Sr. was struck multiple times in the torso. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Sources say Jefferson Sr. was with 2 other men at the time of the shooting. It’s unclear if Jefferson Sr. was the target.

The Los Angeles Police Department is still investigating the shooting, and we of course are hoping they will get to the bottom of this crime.

Thoughts are with Jefferson at this time, who according to ESPN grew closer to his father in recent years. Jefferson’s parents split when he was young and Junior grew up in Arizona with Senior residing in California.

Knicks won’t rush Kristaps Porzingis or future building plans

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kristaps Porzingis is back with his teammates, though the New York Knicks don’t know when he’ll be back on the court.

Joakim Noah won’t be back, though the terms of his departure still are being negotiated.

So while there are questions, the Knicks also feel they have certainty with the way they are building their team.

They insist their future first-round draft picks will be used to select players for their own team, not to be dangled in trades that could land them an established player.

“We’re committed to following a plan and not just shifting and pivoting because we see something that we think is attractive and might fast track something,” Knicks president Steve Mills said Thursday. “I’ve seen that happen and go wrong too many times and that’s not what we’re going to do.”

It’s happened in New York, where the Knicks traded young players and future assets in 2011 to acquire Carmelo Anthony, rather than sign him the following summer as a free agent with the cap space they had. This time, they say they will wait for the summer of 2019, when Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard could be among the free agents – even if one of them suddenly became available by trade now.

“We don’t want to jump at the shiny things,” coach David Fizdale said. “We want to make solid decisions and be patient with this process.”

They will be patient with Porzingis, their All-Star forward who is still recovering from a torn ACL in February. He is back in New York and working out with his teammates, but faces more testing and rehab before the Knicks know when he can play.

“As he meets certain milestones, we’ll continue his rehab process,” Mills said, “all toward the direction of when he feels 100 percent comfortable and we feel 100 percent comfortable that we’re not taking any risks with him, then he’ll be ready to come back.”

Not so for Noah, despite the two years left on the $72 million deal he signed in 2015. He has been away from the team since clashing with former coach Jeff Hornacek last season. The Knicks remain in discussions with Noah and his representation to determine how he’ll leave the club.

“The hope is that we can come to a resolution that is both advantageous to both Joakim and to the Knicks, and so that’s where it sits right now,” general manager Scott Perry said.

Porzingis is eligible for an extension this fall, but the Knicks seem prepared to wait until next summer. That would allow them to have more salary-cap space in July if they try to sign a player they won’t mortgage any of their future for now.

“We feel comfortable with our organization and where we’re going and what we’re developing here,” Mills said, “and we think that when it’s time for us to go after free agents, we’ll be a place to attract free agents and we shouldn’t use our draft picks like that.”