Gregg Popovich discusses three-point shot, changing roles for bigs in NBA

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It’s changed. Charles Barkley may not want to hear it, but the NBA has changed. Call it small ball, call them “jump shooting teams,” or define it how you want, the three-pointer has become a cornerstone part of a modern NBA offense. It’s an evolution, an adaptation in part due to changes in the game’s rules and how they’re enforced.

There’s no better example of that evolution than Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. When he and the Spurs won their first title in 1999, it was about getting the ball inside to Tim Duncan and David Robinson,. Those Spurs attempted 10.4 threes per game and hit just 33 percent of them. The 2014 title Spurs, on the other hand, attempted 21.4 threes per game and hit 39.7 percent of them. Duncan was still there, still the keystone to the arch, but the roster was loaded with guys like Danny Green and Marco Belinelli, who were there to knock down the three ball specifically (and Tony Parker, who is there to penetrate then kick out to those shooters).

Popovich did a rare 25-minute interview with former NBA player Tom Tolbert of KNBR, and Pop talked openly about the evolution of the game (hat tip to Uproxx for the transcription).

“You pay the price if you don’t make threes, and you pay the price if you don’t get those threes off. One way that big guys are gonna still be valuable is if you have a big guy that demands a double-team. If you have a big guy that you don’t have to double-team? You’re in trouble. But if you got a big guy, he better be somebody who is good enough that he commands a double so it can get kicked, and moved, and you can penetrate or pitch for the threes.

[The three-pointer] is so much more valuable than a two-pointer that you can’t ignore it. So, you try to have a balance between penetrating and [jump-shooting]. But when you penetrate you always think about kicking it to that uncontested three-point guy. So, what we’re doin’ now isn’t gonna change a whole lot across the league because of that three-point line.”

It took a few things for the three pointer to become this much more valuable in the NBA. The first part was to have more guys who could make the shot — when it was introduced in 1979 guys in the NBA had grown up getting yelled at by their coaches if they shot from that far away from the basket. Why reduce the odds of making the bucket when it counted the same as a shot that was closer? Today’s NBA is full of guys who grew up knowing that shot had value in an extra point if they could hit it, so they grew up practicing it and with coaches who encouraged it.

Then the NBA adapted their defensive rules to allow a zone to be played (although with a defensive three-second rule, unlike other levels of basketball). This reduced the advantage of just throwing the ball into the post to a big man because the double team could already be on him, not having to come at him from an angle he could see. Out of that grew the Tom Thibodeau overload (or whatever term you wish to use) defense, which put an extra defender on the strong side with the ball (usually a big man on the edge of the block), reducing the advantage of isolation basketball players on the wings because their path to the basket was clogged. One of the key counters to that is to quickly move the ball from strong to weak before the defense could react (or drive and draw the defense, and then kick out to the weak side), and if you could get the ball to the weakside and to a three point shooter, you had an extra point coming. (Another counter to the classic Thibodeau style defense is to attack from the top rather than the wings, think Golden State Warriors.)

Phil Jackson isn’t wrong in the sense that teams need to have penetration still to make and offense work, that things need to flow inside out to get good looks at threes. It’s just how you need to get those has evolved; you can’t just throw the rock into Shaq in the post and think he’ll be single-covered by Vlade Divac anymore. It’s an evolution (if you think it’s better or worse, that’s a value judgment you put on it, nothing more).

And nobody has evolved like Gregg Popovich.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.