After 9 days on the road I finally got back in town to catch up on a few games. I don't have a real hook for this post (oh wait, yeah I do) other than some random thoughts on some random Western Conference teams. Andele!
|Monty Williams' coaching has gone overlooked in the NBA backwater of New Orleans|
New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets currently sit at 10-31, just about what might have been expected after the Chris Paul trade. But that mark masks the excellent job Monty Williams has done of late with an injury-depleted roster. Saturday, the Hornets defeated Minnesota on the road with a starting lineup of Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Gustavo Ayon, and Chris Kaman. This unit (with only a few changes) has started the last ten games despite lacking a single player who might have been deemed above-average before the season. While the Hornets have gone 3-7 in that stretch, this Bobcatsesque roster has looked remarkably competitive, including close road losses against the Bulls and Pacers.
|Well, at least he dresses more professionally than Jim Buss.|
Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban’s tweet carping about the Mavs’ recent stretch of 9 games in 12 nights smacks of his usual paranoia. While I seriously doubt that the schedule has been unfair to the Mavs on a season-long basis (and I don’t see Mark volunteering to return the money from the 3 extra games per month the Mavs are playing), he might have a point that this stretch has negatively affected the team. The last two games have seen the Mavs give up over 110 points to the Kings and Warriors, desultory defensive efforts which belie the Mavs’ #4 ranking in defensive efficiency this season. Research has shown that defense in particular suffers in the second halves of back to backs, and it seems reasonable to assume that heavy stretches of games could exacerbate that effect. One question though: If defense suffers more than offense in the second half of a back to back, then why have the two compacted lockout seasons on record seen massive drops in offensive efficiency?
Los Angeles Clippers Vinny Del Negro’s coaching has been much-derided throughout the ballosphere, but I have to give him some credit. The Clippers successfully executed a strategy I’ve long advocated at the end of the Clippers’ 81-78 loss to the Suns on March 2. After a Chris Paul 3 brought the Clips within 2 with 26 seconds remaining, the Clips successfully double-teamed and denied Steve Nash* the ball on the following live-ball inbounds play. Unable to get the ball in to Nash, Phoenix called timeout and moved the ball to half court. The Clips then denied Nash again, forcing another timeout. On their third attempt, the Suns finally got the ball in to Nash, but the Clips trapped him rather than fouling and forced him to give the ball up to Jared Dudley. It was all for naught when Dudley made both free throws, but the coaching was impressive, especially to have the team ready to execute the denial on the fly in a live-ball situation after the Paul 3. Being organized enough to keep the ball out of the hands of the opponent’s best free throw shooter in a must-foul situation would seem a very easy way to increase a team’s chance of a comeback, yet few teams successfully execute this strategy.
*Let’s all say it with Mike Breen: “One of the greatest free throw shooters in NBA history.”
San Antonio Spurs The transformation of the Spurs into an offensive team has continued apace this year, as they now rank 6th in offensive efficiency and a mere 16th in defensive efficiency.* The Spurs’ biggest defensive hole is at power forward, where neither Matt Bonner or DeJuan Blair excel at the running, sliding, or jumping facets of the game. What must be quite vexing for the Spurs is their inability to play their two most effective interior players together. Tim Duncan long insisted on being listed as a “power forward” when he clearly played center for the Spurs; how ironic that he is now too slow to actually play power forward alongside fellow center Tiago Splitter.
*On the NBA TV set, Bruce Bowen’s bow tie inexplicably begins to spin wildly.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Sad news this week out of Minnesota, as rookie phenom Ricky Rubio tore his ACL in a collision with Kobe Bryant on Friday night and is out for the season. He’ll miss the Olympics, taking some of the luster off the much-anticipated Spain/Team USA matchup.* It has been posited that Spain won’t miss Rubio, and that may be true on offense assuming Jose Calderon is healthy. But Rubio was Spain’s only defensive option to match up against the dynamic Team USA point guards, as well as the only Spanish defender who can reasonably be characterized as disruptive. Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro don’t have a prayer of staying in front of Derrick Rose and Chris Paul.
*For some reason we’re required to call our international teams “Team USA.” None of the other countries get this moniker.
Bonus Timberwolves: Kevin Love’s ascension to superstar status has been accompanied by a significant decline in his offensive rebound rate from 10th in the league last year to 28th this year. But this makes sense in context. Love’s usage rate (the rate at which he ends possessions in a shot, assist, or turnover) has increased to 25% of the Timberwolves' possessions this year.* If he’s shooting more (especially jumpers), he’s not in position to get as many offensive rebounds. Love’s defensive rebound rate remains a solid 9th in the league.
*20%, of course, is league average since there are five players on the floor.
Meanwhile, teammate Nikola Pekovic has completely insane rebounding stats. His 17.8% offensive rebound rate leads the league, but his defensive rebounding rate of 13.7% ranks him 159th. He is the only player in the top 50 whose offensive rebound rate exceeds his defensive rebounding rate, and it does so by 4 percentage points.
In far more important news, after much consternation I finally figured out who Pek reminds me of: Non from Superman II! You’ll remember* Non as General Zod’s bearded sidekick who never said anything and had no idea of his own strength.
*No you won’t, but that’s ok.
|Nikola Pekovic's strength is oddly reminiscent of another foreigner|
Pek not only looks like Non, but plays like him too.