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.

Short offseason, uncertain financial outlook may mean fewer coaches fired

76ers coach Brett Brown
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Already this season, Kenny Atkinson was out in Brooklyn, the New York Knicks fired coach David Fizdale, and John Beilein was shown the door in Cleveland (with J.B. Bickerstaff hired to replace him). That was just the tip of the iceberg in expected NBA coaching changes this offseason, the buzz around the league was between four and up to 10 more coaches would be fired.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Now those same teams are looking at a shortened offseason, while at the same time the owners have taken a financial hit and aren’t thrilled about paying two coaches at once, and suddenly it looks like a lot more coaches are safe. Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps touched on that in their story about next season at ESPN.

After much chatter before the stoppage of changes in the coaching ranks, several league executives told ESPN that teams might be more likely to hang on to coaching staffs longer than planned to avoid paying out millions to coaches fired in current market conditions.

A lot of people around the NBA are saying the same thing.

Expect a few changes. Mike D’Antoni’s contract is up in Houston and few around the league expect him to return next season. Jim Boylen is considered the walking dead in Chicago where there is a new front-office regime. New York and Brooklyn still have to hire their guys.

However, other guys considered almost certainly gone — Brett Brown in Philadelphia or Scott Brooks in Washington, for example — may keep their gig another year because of the uncertain waters of the NBA right now. Maybe not, there could be firings, but don’t expect the tidal wave of coaching changes to wash over the NBA that everyone expected back in February.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.