Monday, June 20, 2016

Give LeBron, Cavs Credit

As hard it was to write the title to this post, LeBron James and the Cavs deserve a tip of the hat for winning the Cavs first NBA championship. While there's a slew of excuses Warrior fans will come up with for why they lost, at the end of game seven the Cavs took it all and for Golden State, it's time to regroup this off season and come back better than ever.

While overall LeBron winning the Finals MVP made sense, it was surprising to hear no one bothered giving Kyrie Irving a vote. Kyrie Irving was the most consistent offense assassin for the Cavs, could create his own shot at will and Kyrie never shied away from taking and making clutch shots. LeBron was much more multifaceted, making a more noticeable defensive impact, but his jump shot was only consistent for two (maybe three) games. Either way, the final decision stands, but to say Kyrie Irving was anything but fantastic is a misnomer.

Congrats again to Cleveland, Ohio, LeBron and the whole Cavs organization. It was an entertaining series, someone had to lose, but adversity and momentary discomfort is the only way to truly transform and grow. The Warriors are planting next seasons seeds now and their organization is full of extraordinary gardeners!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Magic Squeak Past Hawks

The Magic squeaked past the Hawks 96-94, thanks to a game winner by Nikola Vucevic.

Check out the game winner:

Tough shot from Vucevic! Falling away, with Al Horford all over him, but he still canned it. The Magic were in command throughout this game, the Hawks had another flat start (which seems to be common for them). Nikola Vucevic was the main catalyst in the second half. Vucevic was playing both ends brilliantly and showing how versatile he is.

Elfrid Payton made most of his offensive contributions in the forth quarter, which was also crucial. Payton started hitting outside shots, a part of his game that still needs work. Most players go under the screens and dare him to shot. Payton needs to watch the film from this game, focusing on how he took advantage of what the defense gave him. Force guys to fight over screens, stay with you and then Elfrid Payton could easily get into the paint or create a shot for a teammate.

The Hawks needs to come out aggressive when they play the Magic again tomorrow. The game's in Atlanta and the Hawks need to make a statement. Tell the Magic that they will not break your hearts again and prove to them that you're the premiere club you are Hawks!

Great way to end the week if you're the Magic! Put a spell on them again tomorrow, Orlando!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Thunder Steal One in New York

Kevin Durant Shooting (photo by Keith Allison)
The Thunder stole a win in New York 128-122 in overtime. Kevin Durant came up huge in this game, putting up 44 points. KD made up for what was a lackluster outing for the Thunder bench (aside from Cameron Payne). The Knicks bench, on the other hand, was outstanding. Derrick Williams and Langston Galloway combined for 40 points off the Knicks bench.

Russell Westbrook was nice as always, he almost had a triple double (just two rebounds shy). Westbrook looked to pass early and got Steven Adams some easy shots. It would be great to see Westbrook have a more consistent balance between passing and shooting. This Thunder team doesn't have great offensive firepower beyond KD and Rus, but with penetration Westbrook can create shots for others.

New York kept this game close despite being without Carmelo Anthony (he sat out with a sore knee). The offense was balanced well until crunch time in the fourth quarter and overtime. When the game was winding down, New York went away from moving without the ball and passing. Aaron Afflalo had his share of horrible isolation heaves and the Knicks did themselves in because of that.

Carmelo Anthony is a decent isolation player, though Anthony wasn't playing in order to allow that to play out, but abandoning what's kept you close all night makes no sense if you're New York. The triangle offense is about moving with and without the ball and taking what the defense gives you. Why should the type of plays that are run change so dramatically because the game is near its close?

Cameron Payne showed some offensive prowess last night. Payne hit timely three's, showed the ability to penetrate and looked like a solid backup. Plus he's left handed! Cameron Payne is a young guard to watch, hopefully Payne will continue to get minutes at the backup point.

This was an exciting game, close for the duration. Kevin Durant was the key to a thunderous equation. Duping and hooping, now it's time for the Knicks to reflect on their follies and have a libation!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Warriors Dominate Spurs

Stephen Curry Mural photo from Thomas Hawk
The Warriors absolutely dominated the Spurs 120-90. The Warriors forced early turnovers, which allowed them to play their pace and skate through the Spurs. Stephen Curry was the catalyst, as usual, posting 37 points in just under 28 and a half minutes of play. Talk about efficiency!

The Warriors are firing on all cylinders right now. They're gambling at the right time for steals, consistently draining jumpers and moving the ball brilliantly. It's tough to watch film and say the Warriors could do better - they've been that good.

The Spurs couldn't get off the snide from the get-go. Turnovers coupled with bad transition defense are a formula for disaster and to top it all off they didn't hit shots consistently. Luckily for the Spurs this was the first of what will be four meetings with the Warriors. There's plenty of chances for the Spurs to play better and this is no indicator of how the defending champs will always perform.

@HPbasketball (an account you all should follow if you don't already!) summed it up best:
The Warriors played a fabulous game but that's not to say that in March when the Warriors and Spurs face off in San Antonio it won't be different. The Spurs are run like a well oiled machine and they will keep churning away. The Spurs will watch loads of film and make the proper adjustments. Don't ever count out the Spurs until the game clock hits zero.

One place where the Spurs need to really improve is bench scoring. The bench players who came in during the second quarter couldn't stay close with the Warriors. Keep in mind the Spurs were only down six after the first quarter, but down 15 at half. Guys like Ginobili, Diaw and Mills must score for the Spurs to stay within striking distance.

While this was quite the convincing Warriors W, don't forget we're in late January. There's still a ton of basketball to be played and injuries can always change the entire dynamic of squads. Let's hope the Warriors and Spurs stay at full strength and can play a competitive game come March.

Tip of the hat to the Warriors making it look easy!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Salah Mejri Does the Intangibles

foto original @APazosL
Salah Mejri is a Tunisian baller playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Salah Mejri got the start last night for the Mavs with Zaza Pachulia sitting out. Salah Mejri played a real solid game, both statistically and by way of his activity level. Salah Mejri grabbed one more offensive rebound than defensive, got under the skin of the Rockets and showed that he deserves a spot in the rotation. Despite the Mavs 115-104 loss, Rick Carlisle certainly got a chance to see Salah Mejri in action.

Activity on the offensive glass is almost as rare as post up players are in todays NBA. Salah Mejri is old school in that way, he hits the offensive boards hard and consistently. Occasionally he'll even pickup a lose ball foul trying to fight for position, but it's all within the right frame of mind. Mejri has a knack for tapping the ball out for the Mavs to retrieve it, beating his man for position on the glass and generally being an irritant.

While you never want to play against an irritant like Salah Mejri, the Mavs must be glad to have him on their side. Mejri won't start when Zaza Pachulia is active, but he's a great second option. Energy and activity with the second unit of a team can propel them after a slow start. Sometimes the Mavs come out looking flat and quite old, so Mejri should fit perfectly in a bench role.

Hats off to the Dallas Mavericks for bringing in Salah Mejri, he was a great find. We'll see if the scouting reports on Mejri start to come about, because the Rockets didn't look at all prepared to combat what Mejri brings to the game.

Go Salah Mejri!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Knicks Beat Jazz in OT

Knicks logo from Michael Tipton
The Knicks survived and thrived to beat the Jazz 118-111 in overtime. This game was great and close throughout the second half. The Knicks didn't come out super strong, but they finished with a flurry. The Jazz played a spirited game, but just didn't have enough offensive firepower down the stretch.

The Knicks prevailed and derailed the Jazz because the Knicks had a more balanced scoring attack, and Carmelo Anthony moved the ball and played brilliantly in the second half.

Melo really propelled the Knicks in this game. His dishing and swishing was pivotal, but, more importantly, Melo trusted his teammates. Melo doesn't make the Knicks offense become stagnant near as often as he used to. Melo is buying into the Knicks system and it's paying off.

Not only are the Knicks are a more cohesive unit on the floor, but the body language and off the court moods seem much better. Winning certainly helps that, but also give the Knicks front office credit for putting some more talent around Melo. The Knicks are on a path to continual improvement.

The Jazz really gave the Knicks defense problems. Rodney Hood went off for 29 points on 11-21 from the field and he gave the Knicks fits all night. Hood is certainly a swingman to watch. Rodney Hood is left handed, can shoot the ball and is an efficient offensive player.

One big point of emphasis for the Knicks should be perimeter defense. Langston Galloway gets into guys and plays tight perimeter D (at times), but most of the Knicks are hit and miss on patrolling the outside. If the Knicks wanna go further, they need to contain shooters, get their hands up more and pressure the ball more aggressively.

The Jazz weren't able to groove their way to a win, but hats off to them for playing the Knicks tight. Solid win Knicks, solid.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Warriors Embarrass Cavs

The Warriors completed a wall to wall victory over the Cavs 132-98. This was a classic blowout, the Warriors had a 13 point lead after one quarter and the Cavs seemed to drift further and further away as the game went on. LeBron James certainly was frustrated as this went on, even picking up a technical foul at one point. Stephen Curry and the Warriors small lineup looked impenetrable. The Warriors continually played at their pace, hit an array of shots and the Cavs had no answer.

Pace is huge in basketball. The Warriors want to get out, push the ball and even run off of opponents made baskets. Throughout this game, the Warriors got shots up quickly and often, forcing the Cavs to try and adapt to how the Warriors played. The Cavs want a more methodical pace, their offense last night was tough to watch.

J.R. Smith seemed to be the only ray of light in the Cavs early offense. As the game went on and it become obvious that the Warriors would be victorious, the Cavs offense might as well have dribbled the ball until the shot clock hit zero. It was that bad.

The Warriors weren't just hitting three's last night. The Warriors were getting dunks off of penetration and fast breaks, occasionally hitting mid-range J's (Shaun Livingston is amazing at them) and kept the offense varied in the 34 point blowout.

The Cavs defense was as pitiful as their offense. Letting that Warriors shot about 54% from the field must have had David Blatt wanting to rip his hair out. No resistance was the formula last night, the rotations weren't crisp at all and the Cavs gave the Warriors anything they wanted.

Time for the Cavs to watch this film and get to work. A more fluid offense, actual defensive intensity and shot making are necessary. If you're the Warriors, you watch film and say why didn't we win by 45? How can we further shut down J.R. Smith? LeBron was pissed off, let's continue to make that happen.

Overall this game was so boring, it was a straight route from the Warriors. Hopefully the Cavs learn from this blowout. The Warriors need only to be ever more perfect.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Jahlil Okafor Belongs In the ROY Conversation

The 2015 NBA draft class is shaping up to be very strong, with a number of youngsters blossoming into key role players and a few potential stars in the mix. But while some later lottery picks have cracked rotations regularly in the first half of the 2015-16 season, it's predictably a couple of top-five picks who are getting all of the early Rookie of the Year buzz: Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.

Just this past week, the basketball section at CBS Sports took a crack at analyzing the performance of these rookies and determined that, in a way, they're on an historic pace. Specifically, Towns and Porzingis are sweeping the Rookie of the Month awards in their respective conferences thus far, and the last pair of rookies to pull off that feat over the course of an entire season was LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The point of the article was that we could be in for the rare Rookie of the Year race that's genuinely exciting to see.

While it's exciting to pit two players against each other for this award, and particularly two players who came into the league in such different circumstances, this writer's opinion is that ROY honors might still go to neither of them. We're a little less than halfway through the NBA season, and there's one other player who's performing well enough to be projected as a future All-Star: 76ers center Jahlil Okafor.

I'll start the argument by addressing a few reasons why a lot of people are counting Okafor out. The first has nothing to do with basketball. He has gotten himself in trouble a few times already, having been busted for speeding and gotten into altercations with hecklers. It's certainly not a good look for a rookie, but as media members have acknowledged, Okafor at 19 is in an exceedingly difficult position as the most prominent member of a team that invites mockery. That doesn't excuse his behavior, but it emphasizes the reminder that he's still a "kid." How he responds and grows from the incidents will say more than the incidents themselves.

The basketball argument against Okafor is that by virtue of playing for the 76ers—by far the worst team of the three boasting ROY candidates—he ought to be able to put up the best stats among rookies. This in part is how Michael Carter-Williams rose to a fairly easy ROY win with the Sixers a few years ago. Yet looking at John Hollinger's PER rankings—believed by many to be the best metric for measuring a player's total performance—both Towns (21.68) and Porzingis (17.95) are outperforming Okafor (16.12). The thinking is that Okafor ought to be leading this category given that he's just about the only Philadelphia player who looks like a potential career pro.

These two main criticisms, regarding attitude and PER, are at the heart of the reason why Okafor remains behind in the ROY conversation. In fact, Betfair's sports section keeps a running list of the odds for prominent rookies to take home the award, and by those numbers Okafor has more than Towns to worry about. Four players have better odds to win ROY than Okafor, and Porzingis isn't even one of them (with the oddsmakers still catching up to the Latvian's surprising performance thus far). Once viewed as a favorite for the award alongside Towns, Okafor simply seems to have lost the faith of most analysts.

I've already addressed the attitude concerns. As for the basketball issues, the simplest argument in favor of Okafor is that this year's 76ers are so bad that added opportunity for individual stats is outweighed by the often inept play of the rookie's teammates.

Consider this: Okafor is scoring more than Towns and Porzingis, and is more secure with the ball, despite his team scoring less, assisting less, and turning the ball over more than Porzingis's Knicks or Towns's Timberwolves. I'll clarify that here:

  • Philadelphia: 92.9 pts., 19.6 ast., 17.5 to. per game

  • New York: 98.1 pts., 20.3 ast. 13.4 to. per game

  • Minnesota: 99.7 pts., 21.6 ast., 14.5 to. per game

  • Okafor: 17.1 pts., 5.9 AST (percentage of possessions that end in an assist, per Hollinger's PER), 11.5 TO (percentage of possessions that end in a turnover)

  • Porzingis: 13.2 pts., 7.0 AST, 11.5 TO

  • Towns: 15.9 pts., 6.6 AST, 11.9 TO

The easy takeaway from those numbers is that Okafor is not just averaging the most points among the three rookies being discussed, but he's doing it with his team scoring about seven fewer points per game than the Knicks or Timberwolves. But we can also see that while Okafor is involved on fewer possessions resulting in an assist than either of his counterparts, his team is assisting less overall. He's also responsible for fewer turnovers (relative to team performance) than either Porzingis or Towns.

Doing the math (player AST/team assist average), the totals nearly even out, with Porzingis maintaining a slight edge. Okafor is involved in 30.1% of his team's assisting plays, Porzingis 34.4%, and Towns just 30.5%. The same math for turnovers shows that Okafor is involved in only 65.7% of the Sixers' league-worst 17.5 turnovers per game, whereas Porzingis is involved in 85.8% of turnover possessions and Towns 82.1%.

Add that all up and you see that Okafor scores more and contributes more to ball security than either of his competitors. That's not to say that he should be the favorite in the race, but he belongs in the conversation. Simply put, his performance in key categories relative to his team is stronger than that of Towns or Porzingis. In this case, the Sixers aren't bad enough to give Okafor more opportunity—they're so bad they're hindering his production.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Kristaps Porzingis: Zero Shots in the Fourth?

Kristaps Porzingis wasn't at all featured in the Knicks fourth quarter offense in a loss against the Cavs. Why wouldn't the Knicks feature their top rookie, who scored 23 points in the previous three quarters? It's bewildering.

Kristaps Porzingis (and the entire Knicks squad) put in a solid effort, especially without Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks offense in the fourth quarter was mostly Arron Afflalo post ups, which had mixed results. New York struggled coming out of timeouts too. Overall the Knicks fourth quarter execution was poor.

Giving Kristaps Porzingis some post touches or running him off of some screens away from the ball for a jumper would have done wonders for the Knicks. Kristaps Porzingis was 4-5 from the three and if he hit another jumper in the fourth that would've opened up the floor more for Afflalo's post ups.

Surely Derek Fisher and his coaching staff will watch film and realize Kristaps Porzingis needed to be involved. While the triangle is an offense based on continuity, this young Knicks team struggles to score and Kristaps Porzingis can put the ball in the basket.

Sometimes the best systems make simple tasks complicated. Just give Kristaps Porzingis a look!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mavs Steal One in Boston

Dirk Nowitzki talking to ref. Photo from Keith Allison
The Mavs absolutely stole a win in Boston tonight. Boston came out really hot, but the Mavs experience and perseverance won out. The Mavs hit timely three's, stole the ball and Boston showed their youth. Deron Williams was a big catalyst for the Mavs, as was Wesley Matthews.

Mavs basketball was not on display in the first quarter. The Mavs came out super flat, turned the ball over and the Celtics (specifically Avery Bradley) were on fire. After the tough start, the Mavs won every quarter by an average of more than six points per quarter. Boston cooled down, the Mavs hit more shots and played their pace.

The second half was where the Mavs really played their pace. Pace is a huge part to winning games and it was a tale of two conflicting paces tonight. Boston wants to run the ball, while the Mavs are a more methodical, older squad. Once the Mavs slowed the game down and committed less turnovers, they were able to relax and play better.

The Mavs are real lucky to get this win though. Boston played the better overall game, they just are inexperienced and don't execute great down the stretch. There was one particular shot by Isaiah Thomas late that was way too early in the shot clock (an out of control three taken off the dribble). So the Mavs need to be more energetic to start games.

Coming out missing shots, not penetrating on offense and turning the ball over will only make getting wins harder. When the Mavs watch this game film, surely they'll notice a huge difference in their intensity and game pace after the first quarter.

The Mavs are a solid squad who got this win. If the Mavs want to go far, they must play a complete 48 minutes and not 36 minutes.