Knicks struggling to deal with perimeter pressure in early days of learning the Triangle Offense

2 Comments

NEW YORK — On the very first possession of the game, after the Knicks won the opening tip, the ball landed with Carmelo Anthony about 30 feet from the basket. Paul Pierce, savvy veteran that he is, was right there with him, refusing to allow even an ounce of space for Anthony to operate.

It was a wise maneuver, given the way that the Knicks have conducted themselves in the early part of this season, and one that would be a sign of things to come. The Wizards applied constant perimeter pressure defensively, especially in the second half, which disrupted New York’s new-look offense and resulted in the Knicks suffering a 15-point loss.

“They just pressured us,” Iman Shumpert said afterward. “Nothing special. They just pressured us.”

Pressure was the word used over and over by the Knicks to describe what the issue was, but it’s one that both Washington and Chicago have used in the early part of the season to completely stifle New York’s offensive plans. The team is in the early stages of learning and attempting to execute the Triangle Offense, and when the defense overplays the ball without the proper counters being used, the results can be disastrous.

“They upped their pressure,” said Knicks head coach Derek Fisher. “They got more aggressive in the third quarter, and really got into our guys even more. They started the game that way the first few minutes, kind of caused us some problems but we settled into the first quarter, and we were still able to get some things done.”

Getting things done on the offensive end of the floor for the Knicks this season has meant knocking down a high percentage of traditionally inefficient midrange shots. In a first half against Washington where New York led by five at the intermission, 21 of the team’s 40 shots came from outside the paint, but the Knicks went 7-of-14 from midrange and 4-of-7 from three-point distance.

The Wizards didn’t cause this; these are the shots the Knicks have been comfortable taking through the first four games of the season. New York ranks second in the league in field goal attempts 15-19 feet from the basket, and fifth in the league in attempts from 10-14 feet out.

The Knicks have plenty of guys who can make them, which has been both a blessing and a curse; Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Jason Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire have all shown consistency from there at times this season. But when the opposing teams know that’s what you’re looking for, and you have no means to create with dribble penetration or with motion to relieve some of the defensive pressure, you get what happened Tuesday — stifling perimeter defense that worked to perfection.

“We’ve just got to get better with our pressure releases,” Carmelo Anthony said afterward. “Teams are going to try to start doing that all the time now — getting in the passing lane, denying. So I think we’ve just got to trust it, and not let the other team speed us up at times throughout the game.”

Easier said than done, obviously. And Fisher knows there’s a temptation for his players to abandon the offense when things aren’t going as planned, especially in the season’s early stages.

“That’s the toughest part of this,” Fisher said. “Early on, when you’re still trying to figure out who you are within what we do, is to still trust it and have faith that things will work out without reverting back to what you normally do in these situations. And that’s tough for guys to do. When the game’s getting away from you, the feeling for each guy is to feel like, ‘I can do it. I can help us get this back.’ It’s actually the reverse. You have to stay together even more.

“Their pressure caused us some problems in terms of our execution,” he said. “I think it got frustrating for all of our guys out there tonight, not to be able to execute the things that we’re capable of doing, but the Wizards took us out of a lot of it.”

Despite the evident struggles, there have been some positives to come out of the new offensive system. Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal notes that fewer of the shots are coming from isolation sets, the team’s percentage of assisted baskets is up significantly, and Anthony has fewer pull-up jumpers and more catch-and-shoot attempts that he did last season — all of which means that the ball is moving, which will eventually create the desired results.

The players, however, will need to stick with it, even when things are at their darkest. And that can be counterintuitive at times.

“It’s not about going to ISOs and things like that,” Anthony said, when asked about whether it was difficult to stay the course offensively. “But I think as players out there, when you see something that’s not working at the time, your first instinct is to use another option. Whether that option is to break out of the system, the offense — sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t. And tonight was one of those nights that it didn’t work.”

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

0 Comments

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
0 Comments

Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
0 Comments

Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.