Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Draymond at the 5

At RealGM, a look at the big picture implications of the most dominant line-up in basketball.

Beating The Warriors 2.0

Over at RealGM, I've got a big picture look at the Warriors five-out line-ups and how they represent the end-point of the small-ball revolution. At this point, I'm thinking the only question in the NBA right now is whether there's any line-up out there that can beat Draymond Green at the 5.

There are three possible counters to Golden State’s five-out line-ups.

1) Play two traditional big men and punish them at the 5 and the 4. (3-out basketball)

That's the Grizzlies strategy. It didn't work for a couple of reasons. There were holes in their big men's game - Marc Gasol is more of a facilitator than a scorer and Z-Bo is more of a scorer than a facilitator - and they didn't have enough perimeter shooting to force Golden State out of the paint. The Warriors moved Green from Z-Bo to Gasol and they basically double-teamed Z-Bo with Barnes and Andrew Bogut and dared Tony Allen to beat them from the perimeter. They cracked the code of the Grizzlies in that series and it's hard to see Memphis being able to make a run at them anymore unless they find another wing player they can put next to Courtney Lee and Mike Conley who can defend, shoot and create his own shot off the bounce. They've tried Rudy Gay and Jeff Green in that spot and neither one has been able to make up the difference.

The Clippers are going to try with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and we saw the downsides of that approach last night. DeAndre can’t score with his back to the basket so the Warriors can hide Barnes on him without any fear. Nor do they have the shooters who can give Blake space to operate while also being able to defend Golden State’s wings. They are either playing perimeter players who kill them on defense (Jamal Crawford + Paul Pierce) or who kill their spacing (Lance Stephenson). My guess is the Clippers are going to need to go to option #2 with Blake at the 5 if they are going to have any chance of beating the Warriors.

If they meet again in the Finals, the Cavaliers are going to try and give the Warriors a different look with Kevin Love at the 4 and Tristan Thompson at the 5. There are two basic problems with this approach - Tristan can't score to save his life and Love can't defend to save his. Maybe he can punish Harry Barnes on the box and he can definitely do some damage on the offensive boards but is it going to be enough to make up for what happens if the Warriors put him in the two-man game? If they run a 1/4 pick-and-roll with Barnes picking for Curry, the only way for Love to defend would be to give him a broom to whack Steph on the head as he goes around him or block his shot as he raises up for an open look off the bounce. That's why I'm not so sure a #fullsquad Cleveland team would be that much better against Golden State.

The Hawks are interesting because they have mobile big men who can defend in space - Paul Millsapp and Al Horford - and who can spread you out, attack you on the box and play high-low. They play five-out basketball with a 6'10 guy and a 6'7 guy upfront so they would have most of the advantages of playing big against Golden State without many of the disadvantages. If they want to really get freaky, they could play Paul Millsapp at the 5, which is apparently a thing that has worked well against the Warriors in the past. Their problem, of course, is that they still have to get through Cleveland and LeBron James.

The Thunder have a lot of different options if they want to stay big against Golden State and they might have to do that considering how much they have invested in the 4 and 5 spots. I just wonder if Adams + Ibaka can punish the Warriors enough on offense and if Kanter + Ibaka can play enough perimeter defense. Adams + Kanter might be their max interior offensive combo but it's hard to see them spreading the floor well enough to counter Golden State packing the paint (especially if Roberson and another iffy shooter are on the perimeter). If they are going to stay big, it's going to come down to Enes Kanter and then it becomes a matter of Kanter post-ups vs. Kanter defending the two-man game and which is going to be more efficient. Mitch McGary is another wild card they could throw out there but he hasn't been able to get consistent playing time under Donovan yet.

The Spurs are probably the team with the best chance of beating the Warriors with a conventional line-up. They have two big men who can shoot, score and pass - Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge - and they can put three perimeter players who can space the floor, defend and control tempo around them. I just wonder if Duncan and Aldridge can score enough points in the box to make up for the points they would give up defending on the perimeter. If they meet Golden State in the playoffs, it will be the last stand of the two-post team. Of course, the Spurs would also have the versatility to try options #2 and 3, which is what would make a chess match between Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich so fascinating.

2) Play one traditional big man who can attack Green at the 5 and surround him with 4 wings. (4-out basketball)

I think this has a much better chance of working than 3-out basketball. You can think of 5-out vs. 4-out vs. 3-out as being on the earthquakes scale. The level of difficulty in running efficient offense increases logarithmically as you move up. It's much easier to space the floor and move the ball with one big man in the paint as opposed to two and it becomes child's play when you have five guys spread out along the three-point line. I think last year's playoffs pretty much proved that 3-out isn't going to work against the Warriors. This year's playoffs is going to be about 4-out.

The Pelicans actually gave the Warriors some trouble in the first-round with Anthony Davis at the 5 because they have enough wing players - Quincy Pondexter, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Norris Cole - to fill out a respectable line-up on both sides of the ball around him. Of course all those guys have to be healthy at the same time and they are going to have to dig out of a massive hole just to make it too the playoffs.

If I was the Clippers, I'd go with this line-up: Paul, Redick, Wesley Johnson, Lance, Blake.

- I don't think DeAndre makes enough of a difference on the boards to make up for the fact that he constantly leaves Steph open on the 1-5 pick and roll and can't do anything to attack a smaller player on defense.

- If they went with this group, they could have Blake switch on Steph (which he did reasonably well in the 4Q last night) and they would give him a lot more space to operate on offense.

- There's just no way they can have Paul Pierce or Jamal Crawford out there against the Warriors. They are too old and too slow to defend in that type of space.

- That would be their best defensive 5 and you would hope Lance could be in the Iguodala role of the iffy shooter whose spacing isn't as big a deal when playing in max space. I still haven't given up on Lance and he's more than big enough to match up with Harry Barnes at the 4.

- I think A) that 5 could give the Warriors a run B) it's the only 5 on the Clippers that could and C) Doc won't use it. He's too committed to DeAndre, Pierce, Jamal and Austin Rivers and those guys aren't going to get it done against Golden State.

The problem with the Cavs going 4-out against the Warriors is the same with them going 3-out - all their bigs are at least somewhat one-dimensional. We already saw that Tristan + LeBron isn't going to work and Blatt went away from Mozgov + LeBron in last year's Finals. Love + LeBron is going to get slaughtered on defense. I think they have to go 5-out to have a chance.

The Thunder can go 4-out with Ibaka at the 5 but he can't punish Draymond on the box which negates a lot of the value of having a big man out there.

- My guess is they would try something like this: Serge + KD + Roberson + Waiters + Russ. The idea being that Roberson's lack of shooting is less of an issue in 4-out and that Waiters is a better two-way player than Morrow or Augustin. I'm not sure why Kyle Singler has been so bad in OKC but they really need to figure out how to get him going because he's (theoretically) their best two-way player on the wing after KD.

The Spurs can go 4-out with LaMarcus at the 5, Kawhi at the 4 and Green, Manu and Parker on the perimeter. My question with that is Manu and Parker and whether they can hold up athletically against the Warriors perimeter on either side of the ball.

- Given how much age they have on the wing, they might be better off going LaMarcus - Diaw - Kawhi - Green - Mills and playing a hybrid 3.5 out style of basketball. I'd really like them to have one more 6'6+ athletic wing next to Green and then initiate the offense with Diaw and Kawhi. I'm thinking the Spurs are one player away from really being able to run with the Warriors.

- The reason I have them going with LaMarcus over Duncan at the 5 in a 4-out offense is the long big man has to be able to defend in space and the younger and more athletic player seems much more suited to do that than the 37-year old. Duncan is still the better interior defender but the thing about the Warriors going 5-out is they are going to spread you out and force everyone to guard 25+ feet from the basket. A prime TD could do that but it seems like an elderly TD has to play back.

3) Try to beat them at their own game and play 5 wings at the same time.

Oklahoma City: KD - Singler - Roberson - Waiters - Russ

- Roberson's shooting shouldn't be a huge issue in 5-out spacing and if you close your eyes you maybe can envision Singler and Waiters as two-way wings who can stay with Barnes and Iguodala. From there, you have Roberson guarding Klay and then Russ vs. Steph and KD vs. Draymond. The reason those two guys are so great in Golden State is because they are playing in maximum space and I'd love to see what KD and Russ can do in a similar scenario. I'm not saying they should go this line-up in Game 1 but I hope they would at least try it at some point in the series.

- You know who they could really use? My man Jeremy Lamb whose currently killing the game in Charlotte. I can defend a lot of the decisions that OKC's front office has made in the last few years but the decision to go with Waiters over Lamb is absolutely indefensible not just from a results standpoint but a process one as well and it makes me question what exactly is going on over there. They obviously have a great drafting department but are the people who are making the draft picks the same as the people who are making the NBA decisions?

-- Waiters per-36 in 2014: 15.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 39.2% shooting, 31.2% from 3
-- Lamb per-36 in 2014: 16.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists on 41.6% shooting, 34.2% from 3

-- Waiters per-36 in 2015: 13.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists on 40.7% shooting, 46.4% from 3
-- Lamb per-36 in 2015: 19.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists on 54.7% shooting, 35.7% from 3

-- To top it off, they gave up a first-round pick to get the significantly worse player and gave away the significantly better player for nothing.

View post on

- I spent a lot of time over the last few years defending OKC because I figured they would eventually bust out a line-up of Serge - KD - PJ3 - Lamb - Russ except they never did. Lamb has already proven them wrong and I haven't given up on PJ3 yet either.

San Antonio: Kawhi - Kyle Anderson - Green - Manu - Parker

- You have to stretch a bit to really give the Spurs a 5-out line-up but I could see Anderson being a bigger part in these types of line-ups as the years go by.

Cleveland: LeBron - James Jones - Smith - Shumpert - Kyrie

- I know LeBron doesn't want to play as a 5 but if Draymond can do it he really has no excuse. If he wants to lose to Golden State in the Finals again he can keep on being too cool to bang in the paint.

Here's how I'd handicap how these teams stack up against the Warriors in large part because of the amount of trust I have in their respective coaches to go with the line-ups that would actually have a chance:

1 - Spurs
2 - Cavs
3 - Thunder (Too soon to say with Billy D but I was never too impressed with his tactical flexibility at Florida)
4 - Clips (Doc's a good coach but it feels like he has some blind spots with "his guys" and his son)

The bottom line is that if you don't play your optimal line-ups against the Warriors, you are going to get slaughtered. And if you are going to beat them in a seven-game series you have to be as willing to think outside the box as Kerr was in last year's playoffs.

If none of those work, I'm thinking the best counter to the 5-out offense is the complete 7'0 - a guy who can score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend in space and at the rim. That's the counter-revolution to the small-ball revolution and those guys are just starting to come into their own in this league - Davis, Towns, Porzingis - but that's an article for another day. The possibility definitely exists that the Warriors rampage through the league until the next great generation of 7'0 is ready to play with them and they move the zeitgeist back to the big men.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Duke vs. Kentucky

When it comes to draft evaluations, a game like Duke vs. Kentucky is worth its weight in gold. There's NBA prospects up and down each roster so in just about every sequence you can learn something about different parts of multiple player's game. A game like this is the closest thing you will see to an NBA game so how a guy looks here goes a lot farther for me than how he looks against NJIT or Siena. 

This was my first chance to see most of the freshmen on these two teams. There were a lot of interesting things going on and I reserve the right to change my opinion but here were my first impressions (and second and third for some of the older guys) on all the top NBA draft prospects in this game. It's a lot of irresponsible speculation based on a laughable small sample size with nothing to back it up but my own hunches but this is a blog so what did you expect really. **There's nothing here on Brandon Ingram because I have a big thing coming on him at The Cauldron.

1) Skal Labissiere didn't show all that much

He was in foul trouble for most of the night, which is understandable for a 7'0 shotblocker playing on the biggest stage of his career. He never got into much of a rhythm and Kentucky almost never featured him in the offense so it was hard to get a great feel for what he could do on the offensive end of the floor.

Skal (6'11 225) really struggled with Marshall Plumlee's (7'1 250) size and physicality. Plumlee pushed him around on the offensive glass, particularly in the first half, where he almost single-handedly kept Duke in the game.

When you make a play like that in the paint, you tell the other big man "weight room". In this one, Plumlee just pushes Skal out the way like he's not even there.

Plumlee is 23 and Skal is 19 so it's somewhat understandable that he got manhandled. At the same time, when Skal gets to the NBA, they are all going to be that big. If he thinks Marshall was a problem, wait until he goes up against Miles and Mason.

Here's where I worry about Skal. He's kind of frail and he doesn't have a really wide frame so I'm not sure he'll ever have the type of size to bang with guys like Andre Drummond much less someone like Karl Towns or Derrick Favors. He's an undersized 5 and he's not all that long (7'2 wingspan) and he's not an elite athlete. He's a good athlete but he's not bouncing off the floor and playing above the rim on the level of someone like Nerlens Noel. 

And while he could possibly play as a 4, that's going to come down to his offensive game. Can he shoot 20+ foot jumpers, much less 3's? Can he put the ball on the floor and attack guys off the bounce? Can he make passes on the move and read the defense? Does he have the type of high-level post game that will allow him to leverage his size at the 4 position, especially in the modern NBA where fewer and fewer teams are trying to score with size at the 4? Those are the things I'm going to be watching with Skal because if he doesn't have great offensive game I'm not sure he has the physical tools to be a Top 5 pick type of big man.

This is pretty much the extent of how Skal was used against Duke. 

A roll man:

(Also notice Tyler Ulis making a great pass to find Skal.)

Offensive boards:

You can see the combination of skills with Skal. He's long, athletic and he can finish in the paint. He'll have a long career in the NBA, no matter what. The question is what type of offensive game he can develop because if he's just going to be a roll man at his size and athleticism than maybe he's just Ed Davis. It's obviously way too early to come to any firm judgments about his game but I'm thinking that's his floor. 

2) Jamal Murray isn't very athletic

Murray did a lot of really good things on Tuesday and he was a huge part of Kentucky's win but what really stood out to me initially was his overall athleticism. When I think of a John Calipari PG going in the Top 10, I think of guys like John Wall, Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight. That's not Murray at all. He's a below the rim player who isn't very explosive and isn't very fast. He's smart and crafty which makes sense given his physical limitations.

He just has very little lift off the ground. He can't finish over the top of Marshall Plumlee. Here's Murray getting blown by on defense by Matt Jones, who isn't exactly a speedster with the ball in his hands.

This was probably his best play all night. It's a fantastic move to get around Plumlee but you can still see how much work Murray has to do to finish at the rim in traffic against NBA-caliber size and length. 

That's the type of play that Andre Miller has to make. There's nothing wrong with this fast break play here between Murray and Isaiah Briscoe but it does showcase the athletic limitations of Kentucky's two McDonald's All-American combo guards. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe they ain't.

Murray is so big for a PG (6'5 205) and he's such a smart player that he should be a pretty good NBA player regardless. I just wonder how he's going to be able to match-up with the elite athletes at his position at the next level and whether that puts a ceiling as to how good he can be. In terms of athleticism, you can't even compare him to a guy like Kris Dunn.

3) It's the same story for Isaiah Briscoe 

Where to begin? Here's Grayson Allen, who had a terrible night in his own right, getting right around Briscoe and getting into the heart of the Kentucky defense.

Even when he gets around a guy like Ingram, there's not a ton he can do when he gets into the lane.

Briscoe can't finish over the top of the youngest Plumlee and he certainly can't finish through him. This was by far the best game I've ever seen from Marshall and he gave Kentucky trouble all night. He's pretty old (23) and unaccomplished to be an NBA prospect but Miles didn't exactly light the world on fire before his senior season either.

So as not to be accused of hating, here's Briscoe being very creative about getting his own shot in the lane and using the rim to protect him from a shotblocker. These are the type of plays that Briscoe and Murray are going to have to make all season and I'm really curious to see how they will look with the type of length and athleticism that LSU can throw at them on the perimeter.

4) Grayson Allen got a wake-up call

After rampaging through two mid major teams to start the season, Allen got a taste of what life in the NBA is like courtesy of Kentucky's interior defense. He repeatedly got into the lane and he repeatedly got his shit sent right back in his face.

Coming out of half, the sideline reporter said the Duke coaches told her these were the exact shots that Allen was getting and making in the first two games. That's the difference between playing in the NCAA and playing in the NBA. Skal and Marcus Lee are NBA big men and they aren't going to let you just walk into the lane and throw up weak garbage. Grayson better learn that discretion is the better part of valor and just pull up for the mid-range jumper or bust out a floater. This is also why you see NCAA big men put up absurd block rates. NBA guards are eventually going to stop taking the ball at you after you pack their shot 1-2 times. Grayson went 2-11 on Tuesday, mostly on shots like this.

His defense in this game was no great shakes either. He's Tyler Ulis blowing right by him in transition like he's not even there.

5) Tyler Ulis was out here doing things

Ulis was the best player on the floor for Kentucky for most of the night and he was really the difference in terms of winning the game for them. He could go wherever he wanted to go on the court and he had the sense to know when he could look for his shot and when he was better off setting up his teammates. He knows exactly who he is and he doesn't make a lot of bad decisions with the ball in his hands.

He's crazy fast and the Duke guards had a very difficult time staying in front of him.

You can never count on a guy Ulis size (5'9 160) being able to play in the league but he has done a fantastic job of maximizing his physical ability. He has everything you would want in a guard except for size and if he had Murray or even Briscoe's body he'd be a lottery pick for sure. He can shoot 3's, get his own shot off the bounce, run the offense and be a pest on defense. He might as well stay four years at Kentucky and become an NCAA legend because he'll never be as effective in the NBA as at this level.