Posts Tagged ‘TrueHoop’

Assigning proper responsibility for the Magic’s inability to box out Josh Smith

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

In general, Kevin Arnovitz does a solid job breaking down the different “actions” involved in a NBA game.

In this instance, however, he has incorrectly pointed an accusing finger in the direction of Rashard Lewis for Orlando’s apparent failure to box out Josh Smith on the last second follow-up dunk which was the difference in last night’s victory for Atlanta.


The Incredible Finish in Atlanta

Just over a minute later, Vince Carter deadens the crowd when he nails an off-balanced, contested bomb from beyond the arc.

Game tied.

The Hawks must race the ball up the length of the court with no timeouts and 9.9 seconds left on the clock: 


Watch the play again. How does Josh Smith get free for the follow?

Ask Rashard Lewis.


If you take a closer look at what transpired during this sequence, you should be able to see is that: 



Carter Left Back Court Defend dribble Johnson Left Back Court Dribble-up
Redick Left Wing Defend in passing lane Horford Left Wing Fill lane
Nelson Middle of Floor Sag into middle Williams Right Side Trail Spot up for 3
Lewis Right Wing Sag into middle Smith Right FTLX Spot up for 3
Howard Middle of Floor Protest basket West Right Elbow Spot up for 2
Carter Left Front Court Defend dribble Johnson Left Back Court Dribble-up
Redick Left Corner Defend in passing lane Horford Left Wing Spot up for 3
Nelson In Middle of Lane Step toward Williams Williams Right Side Trail Spot up for 3
Lewis Right Wing Sag into middle Smith Right FTLX Spot up for 3
Howard Middle of Floor Protect basket West Right Elbow Spot up for 2
Carter Left Wing Defend dribble Johnson Left Front Court Drive to Left Short Corner
Redick Left Corner Defend in passing lane Horford Left Corner Spot up for 3
Nelson In Middle of Lane Sag into middle Williams Middle Trail Spot up for 3
Lewis Upper Right Block Sag into middle Smith Right Wing Prepare to Off Reb
Howard Left Block Slide over to help vs drive West Right Elbow Prepare to Off Reb
Carter Left Short Corner Prepare to Def Rebound Johnson Left Short Corner Rises for pull-up jump-shot
Redick Left Corner Prepare to box out Horford Horford Left Corner Prepare to Off Rebound
Nelson In Middle of Lane Prepare to box out Williams Williams Middle Trail Spot up for 3
Lewis Upper Right Block Step over to box out West Smith Right Corner Off Reb below Right Block
Howard Left Block Stop and watch flight of ball West Right Elbow Off Reb above Right Block
Carter Left Short Corner Def Reb Johnson Left Short Corner Fall out of bounds
Redick Left Corner Box out Horford Horford Left Corner Move to Off Reb
Nelson In Middle of Lane ?, Watch flight of ball Williams Middle Trail Spot up for 3
Lewis Upper Right Block Box out West Smith Right Baseline Off Reb below Right Block
Howard Left Block ?, Watch flight of ball West Right Block Off Reb above Right Block

the Orlando player who was most responsible for allowing Josh Smith to go unchecked during the rebounding phase of this defensive possession was actually Dwight Howard.

i.e. When Joe Johnson stopped his drive towards the basket and, instead, pulled up for his running jump-shot, from the Left Short Corner, it was Dwight Howard’s responsibility to:

I. Recover back to the weak side of the floor [i.e. where the majority of rebounds are directed];


II. Box out, either:

A. Josh Smith [which would have alllowed Rashard Lewis to concentrate on boxing out Mario West, exclusively];


B. Mario West [which would have allowed Rashard Lewis to concentrate on boxing out Josh Smith, exclusively];

… instead of trying, in vein, to box out both Josh Smith and Mario West.

Unfortunately for Orlando, Dwight Howard did neither of these 2 things.

Holding specific basketball players accountable for their individual failures at the defensive end of the floor, or in terms of executing their defensive rebounding assignments properly, can be tricky business, even for the very best of bloggers.

Until that happens all they have is this song …

Monday, February 8th, 2010

An ode to the memory of the SuperSonics and their loyal fans everwhere …

[courtesy of TrueHoop]


Internet Gold! :-)

Breaking down the reasons why the Thunder have trouble scoring points

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010


Sincere thanks and commendations to Kevin Arnovitz for tackling this specific topic in the first place.


Although Kevin does a good job of providing his own insights on why he thinks Oklahoma City struggles to score during this specific series of possessions, from a technical basketball perspective, there are certain observations included in his analysis which could well be considered less than complete, or somewhat off base, given what was supposed to happen in each of these possessions during this sequence.


Hopefully Kevin sees this blog entry and approves of what’s been written here as a complementary analysis to his initial thoughts on this subject. :-)

[at least, this is one of the specific goals of this exercise]

To wit:

[the Bolded regular type below marks the thoughts and ideas of yours truly]


Saturday night during the tight fourth quarter, we got a glimpse of the Thunder’s struggles when they went more than five minutes without draining a shot from the field. There’s a particularly ghastly stretch of seven possessions over which Oklahoma City generated only a single point on a Durant free throw.

What happened to the Thunder in those moments? Was Durant not finding shots he likes? Was it something akin to what the Lakers or Cavs experience at times when the other four guys on the floor stand around watching Bryant or James? Was Durant forcing the issue? Not forcing it enough?

Possession 1 (5:35)
Inefficient offensive units often have a tendency to squander a good 10 seconds before getting into their sets. Finding good shots against a defense as stingy as Cleveland’s is a tough business, and the more time you budget to generate those looks the better. By milking 10 seconds off the clock, you also let your opponent off the hook because it requires far less energy to defend for 14 seconds than 24 seconds.

On this possession, rookie combo guard James Harden has the ball up top. It appears that the Thunder might be running a pin-down with Russell Westbrook on the right side to free up Durant, but if that’s the case, Westbrook misses Durant’s defender, Anthony Parker, altogether. When Durant gets the pass up top and begins working against Parker, James leaves Harden to double team. No surprise there.

Durant, sometimes criticized for being an unwilling passer, kicks the ball out to Harden, who passes up the 3-pointer (he’s a 37.7 percent shooter from that distance). Harden instead works off the dribble, but it isn’t long before he tosses the grenade back to Durant with the clock expiring. Durant has to settle for a long, contested shot from beyond the arc:



The most important things at work in Poss. #1 are the following:

- OkC initiated this set play by making a high wing pass, from their PG/Westbrook to their OG/Harden, at the 17 sec mark on the shot clock [i.e. 7 rather than 10 secs into the possession]

- Cleveland’s individual defensive match-ups are in a cross-match scenario with James/SF checking Harden/OG and Parker/OG checking Durant/SF

- when a 1-3 pin down screen is executed on the baseline it takes time to run properly

- the first error which occurs in the Thunder’s execution of the play involves Ibaka not recognizing immediately that he is supposed to be located on the ball side of the floor [i.e. in the low post], not on the weak side

- Durant fails to set up his cut properly by engaging his individual check with a mis-direction move going towards the basket before attempting to use the screen by Westbrook

- Westbrook fails to execute a mis-direct cut, as well, prior to setting his pin down screen for Durant in the weak side corner

- Westbrook does a solid job of jump stopping into his pin down screening position

- Durant does a very poor job of using Westbrook’s screen properly [i.e. to either: i. curl into the lane vs a trailing defender; or, ii. flare out to the wing vs a cheating-up-the-middle defender]

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Durant.

- Westbrook cuts to the left corner properly, in order to clear out the right side of the floor for Durant’s isolation vs Parker

- Parker does a solid job of recognizing OkC’s set play and influences Durant back towards the middle of the floor where his “early help” … i.e. James, who is sagging off Harden [3FG% = 37.7] … is waiting

- instead of “facing up” immediately vs Parker … which is precisely what Durant SHOULD have done, in this situation … KD executes a crab dribble toward the middle of the key, where James is waiting for him [i.e. playing right into Cleveland's defensive strength in this specific scenario and abandoning the right side of the floor where the original isolation play was intended to be run by the Thunder]

* This is an error of inexperience commited by Durant.

- When James comes to double team Durant, KD does a good job of recognizing this and kicks out properly to Harden

- Westbrook and Ibaka do a good job of recognizing properly that they should cut to the right side of the floor in response to Durant’s pass to Harden

- Harden does a poor job of being patient with the ball on the perimeter and … instead of taking his time with a delayed shot fake vs James followed by a quick drive into the lane, after Westbrook has cleared out towards the right corner … rushes his fake, then, hurriedly drives back towards the middle of the key before Ibaka and Westbrook are in their proper positions

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Harden.

- Durant then fails to recognize the situation properly and, instead of spacing out towards the right foul line extended, does nothing and stands still at the top of the key [i.e. TOTK] beyond the arc, which allows his check to, both, [i.] provide “early help” vs Harden’s middle drive AND [ii.] be able to recover to effectively contest KD’s perimeter jump shot

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Durant. 


Possession 2 (4:46)
Another half-hearted down screen for Durant, this time by Jeff Green. Now might be a good time to send some film to the Thunder supporting cast of Kendrick Perkins laying out for Boston’s perimeter scorers. Space matters, and the more room a team can generate for its primary scorer to work, the more efficient that offense is going to run. Fortunately for Durant, Serge Ibaka gets himself between Durant and Parker. This gives Durant one of his better looks at the basket in the fourth quarter, though it’s not wide open. Why not?

Check out Shaquille O’Neal! You won’t see him step up to challenge a shooter on a pick-and-roll very often, but here he sticks a big limb in Durant’s face:


The most important things at work in Poss. #2 are the following:

- OkC is executing a basic NBA set play referred to as “Zipper, 35″

- Westbrook does a poor job of initially taking his dribble to the foul line extended, from where this set play is supposed to originate

* This is an error of experience committed by Westbrook.

- When Green first sets up to execute his stationary ball side elbow down screen for Durant he [i.e. Green] is not being guarded properly by his defender [i.e. with Hickson between him and the basket, while denying him an easy entry pass] and should have immediately abandoned his designated screening assignment in favour of calling for the direct entry pass from Westbrook  

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Green.

- When Durant uses this screen by Green he does a poor job of initially mis-directing his defender by either posting up strong or faking a cut away from his intended direction toward the TOTK [i.e. this is specifically what prevents Durant from gaining any separation from parker]

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Durant.

- Ibaka does a good job setting a solid pick for Durant at the TOTK

- Parker does a good job of “fighting over” this pick

- O’Neal does a good job of “contesting” Durant’s pull-up jump shot

- Durant does a poor job of:

i. Turning the corner to attack O’Neal off the dribble for a quick drive to the basket; or,

ii. Turning the corner, facing up, then being patient to properly assess Cleveland’s defensive rotation

Instead of taking a hurried pull-up 2PT jump shot, in this instance, against a “contesting” O’Neal, Durant should have waited for Ibaka to complete his “roll” to the basket … which would have occupied Gibson and/or Hickson … and then executed a “throwback pass” to Westbrook [who was spotting up on the perimeter along with Green/3FG% = 43.2]

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Durant.


Possession 3 (4:23)
It’s not a coincidence that Oklahoma City draws a foul early in the possession. Notice how much more quickly and decisively they challenge Cleveland, as Durant makes Parker chase him from the moment they cross the time line?

After the inbound, though, the Thunder have a difficult time freeing up Durant. Throw some credit Anthony Parker’s way. Time and time again in the fourth quarter, he dodges Thunder picks, not yielding an inch to Durant. There’s a telling moment at the 10-second mark. Watch:

See how Westbrook picks up his dribble? He assumes that he’ll lob a simple entry pass to Durant, but Parker is doing such a good job denying that pass that Westbrook has to swing the ball over to Sefolosha in order to get his dribble back on the return. At that point, Westbrook has to freelance, and Daniel Gibson — yes that Daniel Gibson — blocks his runner as the clock expires.


The most important things at work in Poss. #3 are the following:

- Because Durant had experienced difficulty being able to free himself up on the perimeter for each of the previous 2 possessions by initially coming off screens/picks set by his teammates, on this trip OkC decided to first have KD set a screen, himself, in hopes of creating more initial separation from his defensive check

- Parker does an excellent job of:

i. Following Cleveland’s specific game-plan vs Durant and remembered not to “switch and/or even momentarily help off” him;

ii. “Fighting over” the attempted “Big-to-little Hand-off pass and Pop-out” from Green to Durant; and,

iii. Fouling Durant to prevent this specific action from generating an open/uncontested shot for OkC

[Please Note: When the Thunder use Green ... i.e. checked by Hickson ... to set a "high middle pick" for Durant and "pop out to the perimeter", it works much better [i.e. by creating better spacing on the floor], compared to when they use Ibaka … i.e. checked by O’Neal … to set this “pick and roll” to the basket.]

After the ensuing inbounds pass is made to westbrook …

- Ibaka does a poor job of setting two stationary screens for Durant [i.e. 1st - going to the basket; 2nd - going to the ball side wing]

- Durant does a poor job of reading his defender properly and then using either of Ibaka’s 2 screens …

i.e. when Durant first cuts to the basket/baseline, Parker does not follow him completely; but, instead, stops on low side of Ibaka’s screen and waits for him to re-use Ibaka’s 2nd screen

- the inactivity of Green and Sefolosha on the weak side of the floor, tells the Cleveland defenders located there that Durant has no intention of coming out from this initial cut to the left side of the floor

[Please Note: In general, Cleveland did an excellent job of scouting the Thunder's set plays for this game.]

- Parker then influences Durant to come up the inside of Ibaka’s 2nd screen and does a good job of “trailing on his hip” to contest the initial entry pass from Westbrook, as Durant attempts to curl around Ibaka and move out to the right wing position   

- Durant failed to make the proper read, given the way that Parker was defending him, and should have cut up the middle of the lane to the TOTK, in order to receive an uncontested entry pass from Westbrook

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Durant. 

- Westbrook does a poor job of picking up his dribble when he sees that there is no uncontested wing entry pass to Durant available on the ball side of the floor

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Westbrook.

- Green and Sefolosha do a poor job of spacing out on the weak side of the floor … i.e. one should have been positioned above the the foul line extended, while the other was below the foul line extended [either in the low post or the deep left corner]

* This is an error of inexperience by both Green and Sefalosha.

- When Sefolosha receives the pass from Westbrook, he makes a hurried return pass, instead of using his dribble to attack the defense towards the “open side” of the floor with 8 seconds remaining on the shot clock

* This is an error of inexperience by Sefolosha.

- When Westbrook receives the return pass from Sefolosha he reacts properly by using his dribble to attack the right/open side of the floor

- Durant fails to move appropriately, however, on the perimeter and, instead of sliding further towards the right corner … in order to occupy his defender … simply stands and watches as Westbrook initiates a 1-on-1 attack vs Gibson, without Durant being in an effective offensive rebounding position

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Durant.  


Possession 4 (3:43)
First Ibaka rushes out of his pick for Westbrook, which gives the Thunder’s point guard nothing. Then the ball goes over to the other side of floor where Green tries to execute to dribble-handoff for Durant. Parker sniffs it out and stays directly on Durant’s left hip. With both Green’s defender (J.J. Hicks0n) and Parker attending to Durant, Green heaves up a jumper a step inside the 3-point line. It’s an open look, but Green is only a 29 percent shooter between 16 and 23 feet. With 12 seconds left on the shot clock and at least 10 feet between Green and O’Neal underneath the basket, why not step in?

Oklahoma City gets an open jumper for Ibaka off the inbound, one of their better opportunities of an otherwise barren stretch. But that shot rims out as well.


The most important things at work in Poss. #4 are the following:

- OkC is executing a basic Horns Formation, ”1-5 Middle Pick and Roll/pop”

- Ibaka and Green set good initial picks for Westbrook

- Gibson does a good job ”fighting under” Ibaka’s pick, as he should vs a 26.5% 3PT-shooter [i.e. Westbrook]

- Ibaka does a poor job of stopping his roll toward the basket at the front of the rim and, instead, extends his roll further, almost into the left low post position … which allows O’Neal to effectively seal him on the low side and eliminate a “high-low” pass from Green

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Ibaka.

- Westbrook makes the proper read and executes a “throwback pass” to Green

- Green [3FG% = 43.7] fails to face-up to the basket and, instead, rushes his dribble attack towards the left side of the floor against a still closing-out [and, therefore, highly vilnerable] Hickson, in order to initiate a dribble-hand-off pass with Durant

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Green.

- Durant does a poor job of working against his own defender … e.g. by first stopping then starting, or mis-directing his initial cut against Parker … to create space for himself, when receiving and then coming off this dribble-hand-off pass 

[Please Note: Durant is not "helped" at all by the poor position of Ibaka, who mistakenly rolled into the left low post position.]

* This is an error of inexperience committed by both Ibaka and Durant.

- Green then rushes his wide open long distance 2PT jump shot … with 10+ secs left on the shot clock … when Hickson [in error] and Parker [correctly] both go with Durant … and, turns down the opportunity to drive the ball toward an undefended basket

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Green.


Possession 5 (3:08)
Basketball can be a cruel game. The Thunder finally gets Durant some space to drive off a high screen from Ibaka, but Durant loses control of the handle as he scampers into the paint.


The most important things at work in Poss. #5 are the following:

- OkC now decides to shift Durant into one of the “picking” positions in their Horns Formation, in an effort to create a better scoring opportunity for him

- As was mentioned earlier, however, whenever the Thunder use Ibaka to set this High Middle Pick on Durant and, subsequently “roll” him towards the basket … while Ibaka is being checked by O’Neal … it simply creates “bad spacing” on the floor [as you should be able to see clearly with the congested lane, in this instance] which then results in Durant losing control of his dribble and a Turnover for the Thunder 

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Scott Brooks.


Possession 6 (2:57)
Sefolosha has undoubtedly made the Thunder a better basketball team, but here’s where he hurts Oklahoma City a bit on the offensive end. Watch the action underneath the basket. Pay special attention to how Durant runs his man, Parker, off Green, then flashes to the foul line:

Notice how James picks up Durant without incident while Parker recovers? It’s a luxury the Cavs have because they’re more than willing to live with an open Sefolosha on the weak side perimeter for a second or two. Now imagine that’s Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter, [fill in sharpshooting 2 of your choice] spreading the floor? James has to at least think about that switch, maybe hesitate for a split second, lest Westbrook swing a skip pass to the open shooter on the wing. Either way, that baseline screen that disrupts Parker forces Cleveland to make a much more difficult choice and makes the Thunder much tougher to defend.

As it turns out, Durant is able to beat James off the dribble and draw a foul on O’Neal inside. He sinks one of two free throws for the Thunder’s only point of this stretch.


The most important things at work in Poss. #6 are the following:

- OkC is executing a basic NBA set play with their other wing player and their 2 Bigs setting independent but coordinated screens for their scoring wing player, who starts his cut to the perimeter from beneath the basket … i.e. #1 [wing player] and #2 [Big 1] are baseline cross screens; #3 [Big 2] is a middle down [clean-up] screen

- Parker does a terrific job of fighting around Sefolosha’s 1st cscreen and then getting between Durant and Green on the 2nd screen

- Durant recognizes this properly and changes his direction to cut up the middle of the lane off screen #3 [by Ibaka]

- As was mentioned earlier, however, Cleveland has done an outstanding job of scouting OkC, in advance of this game, and has implemented a series of highly specific schematic defensive “counters” designed to nullify the first option of a specific set play like this by the Thunder …

i.e. in this instance, the defensive counter calls for James to initiate a designated “switch” between the 2 defenders assigned to check the weak side wing player [i.e. Sefolosha] and the shooter/scorer [i.e. Durant] attempting to use the middle down screen.

- By all appearances, OkC was caught off guard by this strategy … i.e. notice how Ibaka attempts to jump out to his right, in order to still try and screen Parker [who was moving to defender Sefolosha on the right wing], even though he was no longer involved in defending against Durant … and was totally unprepared to attack the Cavaliers’ counter in an appropriate way

[e.g. Ibaka should seal O'Neal at the front of the rim, as Durant clears out high to the TOTK, and then demand the ball in the middle of the lane to work 1-on-1 against a much slower interior defender]

* This is an error of inexperience committed by either Ibaka or Scott Brooks.

- When Durant eventually drives to the right side of the floor against James and draws three defenders towards himself, he then fails to execute a kic-out pass to a wide open Sefolosha or Green, positioned properly in the right and left corners, respectively

* This is an error of inexperience committed by Durant.


Possession 7 (2:24)
Oklahoma City clearly likes what it saw on the previous possession because they run the same set. The only difference? Sefolosha is set up on the ball side this time around, which prevents James from helping out Parker on the recovery. Unfortunately for Durant & Co., the action down low doesn’t generate nearly the amount of separation that Durant was able to get the time before:

If the Thunder could stitch together the best attributes of Possession #6 (separation) with Possession #7 (spacing), they’d have a little chalkboard jewel. Instead, Durant misses short on a rushed attempt with Parker in close pursuit. 


The most important things at work in Poss. #7 are the following:

- OkC is executing a basic NBA set play which involves their 2 Bigs setting coordinated staggered screens for their preferred shooting/scoring wing player, to cut to either the TOTK or the weak side wing, while their non-preferred wing player is positioned in the ball side corner, as a decoy

[Please Note: It is no coincidence that Ibaka sets the 2nd screen in this set play, since it works much better when an immobile defender like O'Neal is forced to help defend against the 2nd obstacle in the way of the shooter/scorer's defensive check.]

- In this case, Durant does a much better job of changing his initial direction, in order to properly mis-direct his individual defender, and then also does a better job of reading the eventual route his defender takes in order to recover on him, by going around the 2nd screen … either: i. curling vs the trail [which is what happens here], or ii. flaring vs the up-the-middle-cheat 

** This is an instance of sound play calling by the Thunder’s head coach/Scott Brooks and Point Guard/Russell Westbrook.


It’s Early Yet
NBA defenders are a wily bunch and Oklahoma City is still an incredibly young team. They’re just beginning to tackle the inordinately difficult task of finding open shots against the world’s longest, most agile and most intuitive defenders. Right now, those defenders are zeroing in on Kevin Durant. That’s going to force everyone on the Thunder to be more resourceful. The coaching staff will have to find new ways to get Durant open. Durant’s teammates will have to learn how to run better interference between Durant and defensive aces like Anthony Parker. Most of all, Durant will have to figure out how to make defenses pay for overplaying him.
It turns out there’s some relevant precedence for this. Remember the Cavs’ 2007 50-32 squad that made the Finals? That team was 19th in offensive efficiency. And while LeBron James has always been an instinctive passer — something you can’t really say about Durant — it took some time for him to establish that trust with teammates. Durant’s just getting started. The strides we’ve seen Durant make in his game over the past three months will likely translate into an improvement in his team’s overall offensive efficiency.  


The most important things at work here are the following:

- A major part of the reason why defenders are able to zero in on Kevin Durant is due to the fact that OkC, on occasion, attempts to run as many as 7 consecutive possessions directly through their principal scorer, in the first place

- This fact is then compounded when several of their set plays, as seen here, are properly executed without involving more than 2 or 3 passes and, in general, do not require other players to touch the ball, make plays, passes and reads which can create open shot opportunities for themselves or their uncovered teammates [including Kevin Durant]

- Learning how to “run better interference for Durant” may not in fact be a major component of the Thunder’s current struggles to score the ball with greater efficiency … at least, in direct comparison with:

#1. Improving Kevin Durant’s own ability to set-up his individual defender properly with initial mis-direction cuts to make better use of the different screens and picks which are already being set for him by his teammates;

#2. Improving the present abilities of their exceptionally young core of players … e.g. Durant, Green, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden, and Sefolosha … to make the proper individual “reads” involved in playing the game of basketball in an efficient way, in concert with one another, at the highest level possible.

#3. Improving Scott Brooks’ understanding of offensive basketball and identifying properly what specific strategies and techniques will in fact work best for the individual players on his roster, given the unique skill-sets which they possess, as some of the most talented young players in the NBA today.  



At this relatively early stage of their development curve, if the Oklahoma City Thunder can continue to make these subtle improvements in the way they approach the offensive side of the game, there is little doubt that they are poised to become a solid contending team in the Western Conference for years to come.

5 Men On A Single String … Kudos to Larry Brown

Monday, January 25th, 2010

What the No. 1 Team Defense in the NBA looks like, up close and personal:


When yours truly has to read repeated nonsense like this …

“The actual contributions which a head coach makes to a successful NBA team are quite minimal, in comparison with the overall quality of the players on a team’s roster” – NBA Team Fan X …

scattered across the internet, it can be nauseating. 

The simple facts are these:

1. Great Team Defense does not happen on its own.

2. Great Team Defense does not happen just because a specific squad is filled with outstanding players who have top notch “NBA talent/athleticism”.

3. Great Team Defense comes from actually having a great coach who knows exactly how to teach his/her players to execute with tenacity, discipline and teamwork, at the defensive end of the floor, on each and every possession.

4. A great defensive basketball coach is capable of making:

i. A collection of “poor” players exponentially better than the sum of their individual talents, and into a highly competitive team. 

ii. A collection of ”good” players substantially better than the sum of their individual talents, and into a legitimate contending team.

iii. A collection of ”outstanding” players significantly better than the sum of their individual talents, and into a league title-winning team.

What the Charlotte Bobcats look like on D, in this specific video clip, should serve as Defense 101 for aspiring basketball coaches everywhere.

Those who seek to de-value the actual contributions which are made by a top notch NBA head coach to the formulation of a first rate contending team simply do not understand how this game works.

Understanding how advantageous mismatches actually work in the NBA

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Mismatches are not magic

Early in the Sixers loss to the visiting Blazers, Portland had an obvious mismatch. The 6-7 Martell Webster was being guarded by the smallest guy on the court, Allen Iverson, who is listed as 6-0 but was once described by then-teammate Aaron McKie as 5-10, which seems plausible.

Webster can shoot from the outside, and is strong and athletic enough to score in the paint. In theory, he could feast on a small defender.

The Blazers force-fed Webster again and again. The smaller Iverson battled. “Just trying to fight him early,” said Iverson after the game. “Trying to push him out as much as possible, and front him if I had to.” He also used some veteran tricks. Not once, but twice on an early play Iverson yelled and threw his body around, pretending Webster had fouled him.

The referees weren’t buying it.

Webster went to work.

He ran Iverson off screens, Reggie Miller-style. He posted up. He shot long jumpers. He fought into the paint.

And just about none of it worked. Webster missed a layup. He made a mid-range jumper. He missed a 3. He missed a tip-in. He missed a short jumper.

In one telling play, Webster posted Iverson, rushed a move into the helping Samuel Dalembert, and missed a tough shot over the longest arms on the court.

Another time, the Blazers fought to get Webster the ball in the corner and looked to create something off the dribble. But he didn’t have a lot of room to operate, and ended up having to escape to the top of the key. By the time he determined there were no easy shots for him, he swung the ball into a shot-clock violation.

After all that, Portland was down six, and had scored just five points in the game’s first five minutes. Webster missed one more shot, then Portland stopped going to Webster.


The fact is …

Just because:

Martell Webster is 6 feet 7 inches, and weighs 235 lbs,


Allen Iverson is 6 feet 0 inches, and weighs 165 lbs,

it does not mean Portland’s young buck has a skill-based advantage in an array of different areas within his individual game that supercedes those of Mr. Iverson’s.

According to the Full Play-By-Play and the details provided by Henry Abbott:

BEGIN – 1st Quarter, 12:00
No. 1, Webster missed a 2PT layup. [10:52]
No. 2, He made a 2PT jump shot. [09:09]
No. 3, He missed a 3PT jump shot. [08:42]
Rebound: Offensive [08:26]
No. 4, He missed a 2PT tip-in shot. [08:26]
No. 5, He missed a 2PT jump shot. [07:37]
Turnover: Shot Clock Violation [07:05]
Personal Foul vs Iguodala, shooting [06:52]
No. 6, He missed a 2PT jump shot. [06:35]
END – 1st Quarter, 04:56, Subbed Out

BEGIN – 3rd Quarter, 12:00
No. 7, He missed a 2PT jump shot, blocked shot by Iguodala. [11:37]
No. 8, He missed a 2PT jump shot. [10:09]
Rebound: Defensive [03:48]
No. 9, He missed a 2PT dunk shot, blocked shot by Dalembert. [02:56]
Personal Foul vs Iverson, shooting. [02:50]
END - 3rd Quarter, 02:31, Subbed Out

BEGIN – 4th Quarter, 00:41.1
END – 4th Quarter, 00:00


Where, exactly, would you say Martell Webster has an individual match-up advantage over Allen Iverson?

… since, according to Nate McMillan’s own words:

Martell is not normally on the block for us. We wanted to make Iverson work some, so they didn’t just rest him. We wanted to go into the post with our guards … we tried Martell a few times.

You don’t want to take yourself out of rhythm by going to a guy who’s not normally in that position. We went to it a couple times, but we felt like we were trying to force some things there and we went away from that, and went back to what we normally do.”


Part I

If you look at the NBA Hotspots Chart for Martell Webster, to-date, what you should be able to see is that he is actually shooting/scoring the ball relatively poorly from a host of different spots on the floor … including:

A. From an interior location:

#3. Middle Lane 2PT shots, 1-6/.167
#4. Right Low Block 2PT shots, 0-6/.000

B. From a mid-range location:

#6. Left Elbow 2PT jump shots, 2-8/.250
#7. Free Throw Line 2PT jump shots, 1-5/.200
#9. Right Wing 2PT jump shots, 3-12/.250


C. From a perimeter location:

#13. Right Angled 3PT jump shots, 17-54/.315

with the exceptions being …

A. From an interior location:

#1. Layups/dunks/tip-in shots, 49-93/.527
#2. Left Low Block 2PT shots, 5-9/.556

and, predominantly, well AWAY from the basket area …

B. From a mid-range location:

#5. Left Wing 2PT jump shots, 10-23/.435
#8. Right Elbow 2PT jump shots, 6-13/.462


C. From a perimeter location:

#10. Left Corner 3PT jump shots, 19-52/.365
#11. Left Angled 3PT jump shots, 14-37/.378
#12. Middle Top 3PT jump shots, 9-19/.474
#14. Right Corner 3PT jump shots, 18-42/.429

Part II

A mismatch advantage CAN ONLY OCCUR in a specific aspect of the game where:

* Player X is being checked by Player Y; and, 
* Player X has a skill-based advantage, compared to Player Y …

- because that particular skill is a regular part of what Player X brings to the table each and every time he plays the game against an opponent who is similar to Player Y

- within the specific context of how Player X’s team usually operates.


Yes, indeed, the NBA game is about …


i] Creating individual match-up advantages;

ii] Exploiting individual match-up advantages; and,

iii] Minimizing individual mis-match disadvantages;

in order to create high percentage open shots:

A. Within the context of a specific game; and,

B. According to the specific strengths and weaknesses of the involved players …

but – first and foremost – it is absolutely crucial to actually know what exactly qualifies as a legitimate mis-match advantage when Team 1 plays against Team 2 and Player X is assigned to check Player Y.

As such, Martell Webster vs Allen Iverson does not qualify as a favourable mismatch advantage for the Blazers vs the 76ers, UNLESS MR. WEBSTER IS ACTUALLY BEING USED PROPERLY, by Nate McMillan, through a series of:

I. Post-ups in the Left Low Block position; and,

II. Weak side spot up opportunities when the ball is …

* Fed into the Low Post position and then kicked out


* Driven into the interior of the defense and then kicked out

to Webster, specifically, for mid-range/perimeter jump shots over a much smaller defender, after several passes have already been made by his teammates.

Personal Foul

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Those who would seek to discredit Tim Donaghy for failing to tell the absolute truth in his recent talk with 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon, about what was involved with his wagering on NBA games, are off-base.

If you’re someone who has considerable personal experience with both basketball and the world of sports wagering then you know full well that what this former NBA official had to say in this interview is highly accurate and an authentic telling of the facts.

NBA officials are, first and foremost, human beings … and, human beings the world over have inherent biases which they must live with on a daily basis.

What Tim Donaghy did, as a NBA official, he should not have done … but, the way that David Stern has chosen to conduct himself in this situation is also reprehensible and has failed to address adequately the problem which the league has had with the quality [i.e. consistency] of its officiating for a good number years.

In every basketball game there are, in fact, 3 teams on the court.

1. The home team.
2. The away team.
3. The supposedly “neutral” team, assigned to officiate the contest.

Unfortunately and all too often it’s a member[s] of the 3rd team who fails to perform his/her job properly and, thereby, decides the outcome of a specific game in favour of either Team 1 or Team 2.


Tim Donaghy’s claims on trial

Wayne Winston is not bashful, nor should he be

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Finally … a stats guru speaks who is at least on the right track.

How stats apply to individual match-ups for elite level NBA coaches
WW: Tracy McGrady is a player who has never helped his team as much as people thought. Allen Iverson — for one or two years he was really good.

The best player of the decade, though, I’d say, was Kevin Garnett. We have a rating over the last eight or nine years, and Garnett comes out number one. And I think everybody else [other stat experts] has that too, so that’s nice.

Although I don’t like Garnett. When I watch on TV, he’s turning too edgy. Chippy attitude.

Another guy who is totally overrated is Amare Stoudemire. I mean, he’s a stat stuffer. Troy Murphy gets great stats, but never does much for the team.

(UPDATE: Winston amends this statement: “With Golden State Troy Murphy was a stat stuffer who did little to help the team but with Indiana the last two years he has improved to where he is an above average NBA player.”)

There’s a bunch of guys like that.

Andre Iguodala, though. Whenever he’s on the court for Philadelphia, they’re great. Whenever he’s off, they suck. God knows why he’s a good player. I watch him play, and I don’t know. (More on Iguodala.)

Jason Kidd is a little like that, but you can see why he makes guys better. But not Iguodala.

HA: Sometimes I feel like I can see Kidd’s greatness, but other times, at this stage of his career, I can’t. 

WW: Kidd can’t guard a fast guard. They go right by him like he’s standing still. They always did. Against Chris Paul … Jason Kidd might as well be standing still on defense.

But the interesting thing: Devin Harris can nail Tony Parker. But Steve Nash can beat Devin Harris. But Parker can beat Nash.

It’s not transitive. We can show that. That’s really interesting. That shouldn’t be. But it is. There are probably a lot of other things like that.

If coaches see other examples of things like that, we can back them up with data. Del Harris really got to like us, I think, because a lot of times our numbers confirmed what he thought. It’s hard to argue with the numbers when you’ve got a full amount of data on it.

Last year [Maverick assistant] Terry Stotts did a really great job asking us questions. Before the Spurs series, they asked us about Antoine Wright.  He’s not on the team anymore, thank god. OK, he had a bad rating in our system. But the fascinating thing was, when he played small forward, he was good. When he played shooting guard, he was terrible. So we can break that down. I can find every combination where he was small forward and he was good. Every combination where he was shooting guard he was terrible. 

Against the Spurs, they used him as a small forward and he was great. Every time he played for Howard at small forward, they killed the Spurs.

Things like this … I needed the coach to ask me the question because I would have never thought of it. You don’t just throw the numbers at the coach, because, I mean, 500,000 numbers! But if the coach understands what he’s doing, and says “I think Antoine Wright can play small forward can you tell me if that’s true?” That’s how you use the stuff.


THIS is the direction in which basketball analysis NEEDS to go.

Sincere thanks to you … Wayne Winston! :-)


PS. It’s the job of an elite level basketball coach to answer correctly the questions which Wayne Winston doesn’t happen to have the specific training, knowledge base and experience to discern properly on his own … e.g. What really makes Andre Iguodala as good as he is given what the “average” stats/numbers have to say about his level of play?  Those who can DO THAT are the ones with the type of Basketball Analysis/Acumen you SHOULD BE listening to in order to better understand, How The NBA Game Actually Works, Based On Individual Match-ups.

PPS. Class for NBA 101 is now finished for today … or, in fact, for some of you, at least, it may just be starting … from scratch. ;)

PPPS. Btw … What Wayne Winston had to say in this piece about there being no distinction necessary between the use of players like Brandon Bass [#4/PF] and Dirk Nowitzki [#5/C], on the court together, regardless of their position, and the effect/thinking of Mike D’Antoni, just happens to be wrong. ;)


Identifying TOP NOTCH NBA TALENT, well ahead of others

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

It can be rather amusing to read some of the comments submitted to this blog from certain individuals who attempt to point out just how mis-directed and WRONG yours truly can be when providing opinions & analysis of all things related to the NBA game, either, here or elsewhere on-line.

In sharp contrast to this type of nonsensical claim …

This is what was written in a specific comment on Hoops AddictJun 10, 2008 … 13 months ago, prior to the 2008 NBA Draft … by yours truly, regarding Anthony Randolph:


    I know first-hand just how good Anthony Randolph is … and he is going to be a star in the NBA.

    Watch & See … if he lands with the right team/head coach/management … his upside is tremendous.

    PS. As a basketball player, in the NBA, his game is NOTHING like Chris Bosh’s.


Well … 

Last night [10:30 PM, Jul 14, 2009], this is the story which appeared on TrueHoop, courtesy of Kevin Arnovitz, regarding Mr. Randolph’s exploits at the Vegas Pro Summer League this week:


Anthony Randolph Blows Up

For the fourth time in five days, Warriors big man Anthony Randoiph went berserk at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.
This afternoon, he tied a Summer League record as he dropped 42 points on the Bulls. Previous record holders include Von Wafer and Marcus Banks, who both went for 42 in 2007.

Randolph’s dominance this week can’t be overstated. The scoring exploits are impressive, but Randolph has been at it defensively (12 blocks and nine steals in four games), on the glass (8.5 rebounds per game), and passing out of double teams with poise and precision (zero turnovers today). Randolph isn’t only the primary scorer on the floor, but the most creative facilitator.


If there’s anyone who can point the way to a critique of Anthony Randolph that appeared anywhere somewhere on-line prior to Jun 10, 2008 … which also called for him to become a “star” in the NBA … it would very much be appreciated.

Thanks, in advance. :-)


PS. If not … thanks for that piece of valuable information, as well. ;)


Video update:



Appropriate comparisons for Anthony Randolph

2009 NBA Finals Jeopardy, Orlando’s chance of a lifetime

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Courtney Lee

Alex Trebek: Stan, where to next?

Stan Van Gundy: Thanks, I’ll take, ‘Great Last Second Plays, Courtney Lee’ … for the Win.

Alex Trebek: [The Answer] So Close … but, Oh, So Far.

Stan Van Gundy: [The Question] What’s an open lay-up that might NEVER come again?

Alex Trebek: I’m afraid that’s not THE exact question we’re looking for. The correct question is, “What’s the Difference Between Winning & Losing Game Two?”

Let’s see how much you wagered.

Stan Van Gundy: The whole shh-bang, Alex. Everything I have!

Alex Tribek: Oh, Stan, I’m awfully sorry; but, hopefully, the parting gifts will bring you some consolation.

Stan Van Gundy: Thanks, but no thanks, Alex. When you think like we do. My brother, Jeff, and me. The ONLY thing that counts … at this level of competition … is actually WINNING!

Can we possibly make ‘Best 4-out-of-7?

Alex Trebek: Sorry, Stan. That’s not how it works around here.

Stan Van Gundy: Thanks, Alex. YOU CAN’T BLAME a guy for TRYING [his very best]. Sometimes, things just don’t work out the you’ve planned.


Related: A Career-Defining Moment, Missed

The No. 1 Buffalo Brave of All-Time, RIP

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Randy Smith will always be the first NBA player these eyes ever Truly, Madly Deeply learned to appreciate.


Randy Smith: Athlete turned Baller
Some players only see the world through a prism of their own statistics and accomplishments. Others have no choice but to be a part of team – to be a spokesman for something larger than themselves.

That’s how it was with Randy Smith, who died unexpectedly last night of a heart attack. He was the spokesman for the old Buffalo Braves. He not only realized that but came to embrace that role.

“Sometimes I felt like I was the last of the Mohicans,” Smith told me during the writing of “Buffalo, Home of the Braves.” “But I was the guy who was there pretty much from the beginning to the end. I guess you could say I became the institutional memory of that team.”

Nobody loved the Braves and nobody loved Buffalo more than Smith. After starring as a soccer player at Buffalo State, the basketball Braves drafted him in the seventh round of 1971 draft. After working on his jump shot and then thrilling fans with his two-handed slam dunks in the preseason, he surprisingly made the NBA team.


In a sense, I suppose a small part of me passed away, as well, last night with this sad news … as myriad thoughts & images of Chuck Healy, Van Miller, Dr. Jack Ramsay, Ernie D., Len Elmore, Bob Weiss, Jim McMillan, Bob McAdoo and, most of all, Randy Smith come flooding back to the mind of a young boy listening, late at night, in the dark of his room, to the crackle of a transitor radio, eminating from a distant place which was but a stone’s throw away in the imagination. 



The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine [Anymore]