The Extra Pass: Warriors stumbling into the All-Star break

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The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at what has gone wrong with the Golden State Warriors lately.

There has been no bigger darling of the first half of the NBA season than the Golden State Warriors. Pegged as a fringe playoff team heading into the campaign, the Warriors have surprised nearly everyone with inspired play on both sides of the ball and a firm place in the standings as one of the West’s better teams.

That success, however, has not been there recently. The Warriors have lost 5 straight games and 6 of their last 10, leading to a fall in the standings from 4th to 6th in the ultra competitive West. And if you listen to Andrew Bogut tell it, the Warriors seem to have too high an opinion of themselves as a team:

And we’re not there–we’re not who we think we are. I think we thought we were maybe a little better than we were.

Bogut has a history of not pulling any punches when critiquing his team (or himself) and his comments reflect the idea that while the Warriors have played well to this point in the year, they’re now struggling to adapt to the idea that they have to bring it every night. Complacency — especially amongst top teams — can be common in the NBA and it seems the Warriors, if you listen to Bogut, have caught that bug.

It’s one thing to talk about a mindset, however, and quite another to look at where the team is failing on the court; where they’re not executing. For the Warriors, it’s mostly been their defense that has been letting them down.

One of their keys to success this year has been a commitment to defending better. Head coach Mark Jackson has implemented simpler defensive schemes and has put players in position to succeed by drilling them on their responsibilities on any given action. With players understanding where they need to be and when they need to be there, Jackson has been able to turn average individual defenders into a group that was posting a top 12 defensive efficiency before their recent skid.

Lately, however, things are breaking down all over the floor. Individuals are allowing their man to beat them too often and that’s forcing the team into too many help situations. Once you force a team to help it only takes one breakdown from a secondary defender to turn a possession into a win for the offense. These breakdowns have become commonplace for the Warriors with individuals not only failing to stop their own man, but back line and secondary help defenders not doing their jobs to rotate and snuff out what the offense wants to do. Bigs have been late to stop dribble penetration and wings haven’t been digging down to the paint and still recovering back to the wing to contest shooters when the ball is kicked back out.

The resulting numbers have been downright miserable.

In their last 5 games Golden State has allowed a defensive efficiency of 117.1, a mark that would rank them last in the league by nearly 9 points per 100 possessions if given up over an entire season. Teams have been shooting 48.8% from the field and 43.8% from behind the arc during this stretch. Some of these numbers are surely opponent based. They’ve played the Rockets and Thunder a combined three times in those five games, both top 5 teams in offensive efficiency. However, in the other two losses they let the Mavs score 116 points and allowed a bottom 10 efficiency Grizzlies team to put up a mark a full 5 points (per 100 possessions) above their average. So it’s not as simple as chalking up these numbers to the excellence of the other team.

The Warriors have also seen a slip in their offensive performance. They’re scoring under a point per possession in their losing streak and have seen dips in every statistical category on that side of the ball. Most telling is their dip in three point shooting where they’re not only being held to fewer attempts per game but are also worse percentage wise. At the heart of these issues are the recent struggles of Steph Curry (38.5% shooting over the last 5) and Klay Thompson (40% shooting over the last 5), prompting questions about whether or not this duo is able to effectively play together long term.

And when you add the back court struggles to the dip in production from All-Star David Lee and the integration of Bogut (who, after returning from his ankle surgery, is still on a minutes restriction and unable to play on back to back nights), there are just too many things that have not been in this team’s favor lately.

In this regard, the All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Warriors. Their last game before the break was last night’s loss to the Rockets and they don’t play again until a week from now. That rest should allow them to recharge their batteries mentally and physically and reset their season.

That said, if they come back displaying the same lack of effort on defense while continuing to struggle to meet their season standards on offense, their slide will continue. They must get back to defending with purpose and finding ways to work better together on offense while integrating Bogut on both sides of the floor. If they can get that done, they’ll regain their form and compete for a top 4 seed come playoff time.

But if they don’t, their slip in the standings will continue and they may end up proving all those pre-season projections correct by being a fringe playoff team after all.

*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com

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.