Monday, February 8, 2016

Virginia Tech

At Vice Sports, a look at the blueprint Buzz Williams is using to turn around one of the worst Power 5 programs in the country.

OKC and the Modern NBA

At RealGM, a look at how the Thunder got caught in the transition from a big man's league to a small man's league.

Robert Carter III

Purdue vs. Maryland on Saturday was an NBA scout's dream. It featured six different 6'9+ players who are NBA prospects, three on each team. The hardest part about judging big men at the NCAA level is they rarely get the chance to go up against guys who are just as big, just as skilled and just as fast as them. The ability to dominate smaller players who don't have NBA-caliber athleticism doesn't mean all that much - that's why I wasn't too concerned that Diamond Stone racked up 39 points against Penn State earlier this season. Play well against guys your own size and that means something.

Stone is widely pegged as a lottery pick but he wasn't even his team's best big man on Saturday. The win over Purdue was all about Robert Carter III, the Maryland junior who had transferred from Georgia Tech. RC3 hasn't gotten much publicity in NBA draft circles (he's currently No. 71 on the DX Top 100) but he can really play and he showed off every facet of his game in a dominating performance against a Purdue team that featured a guy who should be a first round pick in 2016 (AJ Hammons), another mammoth C with a chance to play in the league (Lucas Haas) and a  talented young PF who should be a first-round pick down the road (Caleb Swanigan).

RC3: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists on 0 turnovers, 2 blocks and 1 steal on 7-10 shooting

Carter can score in a number of ways

The most impressive part of his game was his three-point shooting. There aren't many guys with his size (6'9 235 with a 7'3 wingspan) who can so comfortably run the pick-and-pop:

RC3's 3-point shooting has jumped considerably from his sophomore season at Georgia Tech, going from 26.4% on 2.6 3PA's to 35.1% on 2.4 3PA's. He clearly spent a lot of time in the gym working on his shot during his transfer season, going from 65.3% on 3.3 FTA's to 76.1% on 3.0 FTA's. None of the Purdue big men could stick with Carter on the perimeter and the threat of his shot (4-6 from 3) opened up the rest of his game.

He can play closer to the basket as well. He knows how to leverage his speed to get around bigger defenders and score over the top of them:

Carter is a skilled big man with a great feel for the game

What makes Carter stand out from a lot of big men is his ability to handle the ball. He has the skill-set of a guard in that he can take the ball up the court, start the break himself and find the open shooter:

Someone has to pick up in transition or he's going to end up making plays like this. This is the type of play that the best big men in the modern game can make. It's the kind of thing that Draymond Green does all the time.

He just has a great feel for the game. This is an outlet pass that Kevin Love could be proud of:

Carter plays bigger than his size on defense

Carter is not an elite shot-blocker but he is capable of protecting the rim:

Much more intriguing is his speed and his ability to move his feet on the perimeter and contest shots:

Carter is a prototype small-ball 5

A generation ago, Carter would have been a 4. He was 6'9 and he had prototype size and the ability to play on the perimeter and in the post on both sides of the ball. These days, height isn't as important a consideration at the C position while speed and shooting is more important than ever. The problem with most small ball 5's is they just don't have the size and the strength to wrestle with the bigger C's at the NBA level. They don't need to dominate bigger players - they just need to be able to hold their own against them. That was the most encouraging part of Carter's performance on Saturday to me. Watch how he's able to hold off Haas (7'2 300) in the block. This is a guy whose not afraid of getting physical and guarding bigger players:

What makes that skill so valuable is what it allows you to do on the other end of the floor. If RC3 can hold his own in the post and provide some modicum of rim protection, he puts opposing C's in a world of hurt on offense. There's no way that guys like Haas and Hammons can stick with Carter at the 3-point line, much less contest his shot while still being able to prevent him from getting to the rim. There's a lot of different thing that a coach can do with a multi-dimensional big man who can guard 5's while being able to handle, shoot and pass.

The real question to me is whether Maryland would be better off playing Carter at the 5 than a future lottery pick like Diamond Stone. RC3 is versatile enough that he can make their super-sized front-line work as a 4 but imagine how much space he would create for guys like Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman at the 5. According to the numbers at, Maryland has a slightly better offensive rating (1.16 PPP vs. 1.12) and they are about the same on defense (0.94 PPP vs. 0.95) when Carter and Layman are on the floor and Stone and Damonte Dodd - their two traditional 5's - are off. They haven't played a huge number of possessions with that line-up (165) but the fact that they can at least stay even with it gives Mark Turgeon a very interesting card he can deploy to alter the dynamic of the game.

The way the game is going, I'm not sure how much value a traditional 5 adds over a small-ball 5 unless they are a really special player. Diamond Stone is a better interior player on both sides of the ball than Carter but Carter is a better perimeter player on both sides of the ball than Stone. Just as important, the difference between Stone and Carter on the interior is way smaller than the difference between the two players on the perimeter. Here's another way to look at it - Carter is 235 pounds with a 7'3 wingspan and Stone is 255 pounds with a 7'4 wingspan and I'm not sure the extra 20 pounds and one inch of reach makes up for the dramatic differences in skill and athleticism. 

My guess is that RC3 is ultimately going to come off the bench at the next level as a 4/5 but if a true 5 doesn't project as a high level two-way player (which means he will ultimately be a bench player on a good team) than I'd rather my backup 5 provide more line-up versatility. This is a unfair because of the age gap but RC3 is a better NCAA player than Stone right now and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being the better NBA player. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Warriors vs. Thunder

1) Kevin Durant on Draymond Green

Billy Donovan made the initial salvo when it comes to the chess match between the two coaches by starting KD on Green on defense. That was a great adjustment by the OKC coaching staff and it had a number of benefits for them over the course of the game. The most important was that it allowed them to switch the Draymond/Steph Curry pick-and-roll without having to contort the rest of their defense. That's the John Stockton to Karl Malone P/R combo of the modern NBA and the only way to even try and defend it is to switch it and let the other 3 defenders stay at home on their man. Beating the Warriors starts with figuring out how to contain that P/R and putting either your SG or your SF on Draymond is the best counter I've seen for it yet.

What really makes it effective is Draymond doesn't have the height to be a go to post scorer and take advantage of the mismatch. For one thing, he's only 6'6 and KD is 6'11. Guarding Draymond with a PF is playing right into the Warriors hands because he'd much rather have the speed edge than the power edge on offense and he's a better defender when he's giving up size than when he's giving up speed. There are 3 other storylines to this match-up that will be important to watch going forward:

1 - Can KD keep Draymond off the offensive glass? KD is used to using his supernatural length to be a factor on the boards but he has to put a body on Draymond, especially late in the game. Not doing that in the last 2 minutes of the 4Q resulted in Draymond keeping the possession alive and eventually finding Steph for a lay-up.

2 - Can Russ handle Draymond in the box? The Warriors didn't try to exploit the mismatch on the switch too much in this one and that's one adjustment to the Thunder's adjustment that they can make going forward. Draymond isn't a great back to the basket guy but he does have a significant height advantage on Russ and if he can pick up any cheap fouls on the switch that would be huge, especially considering the reckless style that he plays leaves him more vulnerable to foul trouble. The one thing the Thunder can't do is start doubling him in the box because you want to make him beat you as a scorer and not a passer.

3 - Can KD handle Steph on the switch? Sometimes he did on Saturday and sometimes he didn't. A lot of it was hand down man down but a lot of it was just Steph's ability to hit stupid shots. There's a very good chance that the final minutes in a few games of a potential WCF comes down to Steph going 1-on-1 against KD. The Narrative kind of writes itself with that one.

2) Serge Ibaka on Harry Barnes

The domino effect of putting KD on Draymond was that it left OKC's PF guarding GSW's SF and that was a little more troubling for the Thunder. Golden State squeezed a lot of offense out of Harry B in the first half because Serge was very uncomfortable chasing him around screens and guarding him 25+ feet from the basket. On the other side of the floor, it's not like the Thunder were going to run a lot of offense through Serge anyway, regardless of who was on him. Barnes and Ibaka are two huge X factors in a potential playoff series and I don't think OKC can win if this happens consistently:

Barnes: 19 points and 4 rebounds on 13 shots
Serge: 8 points and 3 rebounds on 5 shots

When it comes down to making adjustments in a 7-game series, it all comes down to the domino effect. One switch has a cascading effect on everyone else in the line-up and shoring up a weakness in one spot can create one somewhere else if you aren't careful. That's what makes going up against the Warriors so tough and why it's going to be almost impossible to beat them 4 out of 7 times - they don't have a lot of discernible weaknesses in their line-up so Steve Kerr can make just about any type of adjustment over the course of a series and not worry about negative side-effects. That's what happened against Memphis and Cleveland - Kerr made the right adjustment and the opposing coach couldn't find an adjustment to his adjustment because there was nothing to exploit.

Here's where things stand with Golden State at the moment: You need a perimeter defender on Draymond but you still need a perimeter defender on Klay, Steph and Barnes, which leads me to my next point.

3) You aren't going to beat the Warriors playing 3-out

That was the story of last year's playoffs to me. A bigger team can't exploit the Warriors lack of size upfront without giving up too much on the other end of the floor. If you are going to beat Golden State playing two big men at a time, you need two big men who are elite post threats, elite passers, elite perimeter defenders and elite interior defenders. You need two guys who can give you all the pluses of having extra size on one end without any of the minuses of playing all that size on the other. In other words, if you cloned Karl Towns you might have a chance to beat Golden State playing 3-out.

Maybe San Antonio can do it. Maybe. They at least have four big men who can legitimately kill you in the post and whom can all play high-low and at least space the floor out to 20+ foot to give their frontcourt partner a chance. The question with all of their big men is what happens on defense. I'm not sure any of their 5 bigs - Duncan, LMA, West, Diaw and Boban - can guard 25+ feet from the basket and only Duncan and Boban provide much rim protection.

That goes double for the Thunder because their big men can't even beat you with size on offense anyway. The only one you would be comfortable posting up is Kanter and we already know the types of problems that he can have on defense. The story of the first half of this game was the way the Warriors absolutely shredded the Thunder's two big men line-ups. It doesn't matter whether you are playing Kanter and Adams against Golden State's 1rst or 2nd unit or some combination of the two. They can't play together in this series.

4) Billy Donovan can see two feet in front of his face

As someone who watched plenty of Florida basketball over the years, I wasn't too big a fan of the Donovan hire. This wasn't a Brad Stevens at Butler situation - Donovan wasn't winning all those games at the NCAA level because he was running rings around people with his X's and his O's. He won all those games because he had better players and he got out of their way when he could. It's no knock on the coach to say that a lot of guys could win at the NCAA level with Joakim Noah and Al Horford upfront. That's just unfair.

But while Donovan hasn't exactly lit the world on fire in his first few months in the NBA, he does seem to be learning. He learned and made adjustments in real-time over the course of the game on Saturday, which is not something I was seeing Scotty Brooks doing all that much. The story of the first-half was some of the silly line-ups that Donovan had out there - you can't have Russ and KD out at the same time against Golden State, you can't play Adams and Kanter together and you don't want to have all your bad defensive players in the same line-up.

None of that happened in the 2nd half, which is why the game got so interesting, Donovan cleaned up a lot of his mistakes and he stopped giving the Warriors any own goals. His first half line-ups still probably cost them the game but that's not a big deal as long as he uses it as a learning experience. That's what regular season games are for - figure out what works and what doesn't work. The Thunder had a lot of things that didn't work tonight, which might be the most encouraging aspect of the game for them considering how close the final score still was.

5) Steph looked mortal in this one

The flip side for the Warriors is that they still won the game despite the MVP scoring 26 points on 25 shots and being only +3 in 38 minutes. Steph is such an alien on offense that it's hard to analyze anything that he does one way or the other. He missed a lot of stupid shots but those are the shots that he usually makes at a crazy high clip and you have to figure they will start going down more often the next few times they play OKC. That said, I do think that the switching defense did have some effect on Curry. That's not to say that he's not going to get his points next time but that the odds are so much in his favor that you have to do everything in your power to even them out on every possession just to give yourself a chance. I don't like trapping him on the pick because that lets him split it or start ball movement that winds up in an open 3 and I don't ever want to have a big man guarding him on the P/R if I can help it.

6) Golden State can't get cute on KD and Russ on D

It's the same thing with OKC's two superstars. This game featured the best 3 scorers in the world (all of whom are 27 years old and at the very peak of their abilities) which means you never want to give them something easy because they can beat you when you are giving them something hard or nothing at all. Golden State started the game with Steph on Russ and Harry B on KD and there's no reason for them to do that. It's nice that Steph is more willing to guard his man on D and not count on Klay to switch but discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to guarding Westbrook.

As far as Harry Barnes goes, it's the same thing as with LeBron in last year's Finals. He can't guard elite players and there's no reason to make him do so when you have Andre Iguodala on the bench. The Warriors are probably going to want Iguodala to mirror KD's minutes as much as possible. Or at least Livingston. They tried Draymond on KD in the 4Q and that didn't really work. KD's longer and faster than him - he can shoot over the top of him and get around him pretty easily and he's pretty immune to Draymond's bully-ball tactics on D. KD is going to get his but you at least want to give him a challenge. He had 40 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists on 25 shots on Saturday, though the 5 turnovers is something he's going to want to clean up.

Defensive Player of the Year is probably going to come down to Kawhi Leonard vs. Draymond Green and I think I'd give the award to the guy who can do the best job on KD. Being able to play great D against garbage teams is great but who cares really. Let me see you play great D against the best of the best.

7) Dion Waiters couldn't guard Klay Thompson

Thompson didn't have a huge game from an efficiency perspective (18 points on 15 shots) but I thought he was able to pretty comfortably shoot over the top of Dion Waiters, which wasn't a huge surprise since he's 6'7 and Dion is 6'4. Klay is another X factor in this series because the Thunder need to use Russ and KD to try and corral Steph and they really can't afford to switch either on to the Warriors 2nd option. What Steve Kerr is really going to want from Klay is the ability to dictate line-ups - Klay needs to make Andre Roberson guard him and force Waiters, Singler or Morrow off the floor if they get stuck in this match-up. That would force Billy Donovan into a lot of tough decisions and that's why I think OKC is going to have to make a trade to find a legit 3-and-D wing.

I've been saying this for awhile - Courtney Lee for Mitch McGary makes too much sense not to happen.

8) The ghosts in the box score

Both teams had a pretty clean slate of health coming into this game and there were only two notable absences from the proceedings - Roberson and Festus Ezeli. OKC is going to have to be very careful when it comes to using Roberson in a series because of how comfortable GSW is going to the no-respect defense and ignoring bad shooters. I think where he'd have the most value is on the 2nd unit when he could guard Shaun Livingston and where his lack of shooting wouldn't be as big an issue with OKC going to smaller line-ups. The Warriors didn't really miss Ezeli in this one because of the unexpected emergence of Marreesse Speights but he would provide a nice counter at the C position because he gives you more speed than Bogut and more defensive ability than Speights.

9) Can Andrew Bogut play in this series?

Bogut had the worst plus/minus (-11 in 20 minutes) of any of the Warriors starters and I don't think that was a coincidence. The Thunder don't have a post scorer that Bogut really needs to guard in their starting line-up - Adams is more of a roll man and they were able to put Bogut in the 2-man game with either KD or Russ and really expose his lack of footspeed. Nor is he much of a threat on offense in the 2-man game, which is big because the only way for the Warriors to get the Thunder big men involved in the pick-and-roll on defense is to utilize Bogut heavily. When you start breaking down the minutes and allocating a huge chunk of the ones at 5 to Draymond Green, I wonder whether the Warriors need Bogut at all in a series against the Thunder. I'd rather have Festus or Draymond out there and Speights has shown he can be a nice little change-up too. I wouldn't be surprised if A) the Thunder played him off the floor or B) Kerr pre-emptively took him off the floor like he did against the Cavs in the Finals.

10) KD at the 4 and all 4-out, all the time

That was the big take-away from this game for me. If OKC's going to pull off the upset, they are going to need Kevin Durant to play 40+ minutes a night at the PF position. I'm not wasting any time not playing optimal line-ups against the Warriors and the only reason he's coming off the floor at all is so that he doesn't collapse on the court. If it came down to a Game 7 in Oracle, which would be one of the biggest games in the history of the NBA, I'm coming into the game thinking that KD is playing all 48. Russ needs a break because of the way he plays but KD is just so valuable on and off the ball for the Thunder that they can use him even when he's not dominating the ball and he's taking a few plays off.

With KD at the 4, you run 4/5 pick-and-rolls with either Kanter, Adams or Ibaka right down the Warriors throat and you run Bogut off the floor. All you need from there is enough shooters to space the floor and that's where a trade comes in. The problem with running KD at the 4 full-time is that the Thunder barely have enough wings to throw out there when they are running 3-out, much less 4-out. They are one piece (a 6'5+ wing who can give them 40+ minutes of versatile D and 40+ minutes of 3-point shooting) from being right there with the Warriors and giving us possibly the greatest playoff series in NBA history. Let's make this happen and let's have these teams play 7 times in June.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


1) Miami needs (to be able to) shoot more 3's

Miami came into their game in Dallas on Wednesday ranked 26th in 3-point makes, 25th in 3-point attempts and 28th in 3-point percentage. You could really see it in the way the game played out - the Heat had match-up advantages up and down the line-up but they couldn't really take advantage of them because they didn't space the floor and there was no one who could take advantage of the ball movement their stars created. Instead, the game was played at a crawl and the Heat allowed a Mavs team that was completely gassed coming off a stretch of 19 games in 32 nights and was missing Deron Williams and Devin Harris to hang around to the very end and almost steal one in in the final seconds.

When you have Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia guarding Chris Bosh and JJ Barea and Ray Felton guarding Goran Dragic, there's no reason the game should be all that competitive. If the Mavs had to play 2-on-2 against those match-ups, they would lose 100 out of 100 times. The problem was that Miami couldn't space the floor to let those guys do what they do nor did they run the offense through them. Dwyane Wade held the ball for most of the game even though he had the Mavs best defender (Wesley Matthews) on him and the only guy on Miami who could really space the floor for him was Bosh, which prevented him from fully utilizing the massive speed advantage he had on the Mavs lumbering pair of big men. There was one play where he faced up Zaza and dunked on the entire Dallas roster. 
2) Enter Whiteside

If you wanted to see the value of what Whiteside can bring to the floor, this game was a perfect example. Whiteside came off the bench and was +7 in 18 minutes with 10 points on 5-5 shooting, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks (and at least 5 more altered shots). He completely took over the game on both sides of the floor and there was nothing the Mavs could do to slow him down. This play kind of summed up the night for Whiteside:

He has absolutely demolished the Mavs in their two games against Dallas this season and I wonder how much (if any) that will play into their free agent thinking. In terms of his skill-set, Whiteside is a better version of DeAndre Jordan.. At 7'0 265 with a 7'7 wingspan (!), Whiteside is a plus athlete with stupid length who alters the geometry of the game. He's like DeAndre with touch, post moves and the ability to occasionally make free throws. His per-36 minute numbers are just stupid - 15.4 points, 14.0 rebounds and 4.8 blocks a game on 61.3% shooting. Imagine what he could on a team that spaced the floor and gave him free runs at the rim. There's no telling the type of numbers he could put up in a true 4-out offense like Dallas that could put 4 3-point shooters around him. The only way the Heat could field that many shooters at one time is if they traveled back in time and abducted Mike Miller and James Jones.

Everyone talks about Hassan's plus-minus numbers, which I think is terribly unfair. For one, his main back-up is Chris Bosh sliding down a position, whose one of the best players in the NBA and one of the best small-ball 5's in a league where that style has become all the rage. Second, the Heat have the same offensive rating whether or not Dwayne Wade is on the bench and a worse defensive rating when he is on the floor and no one says anything. There's a lot of people in Miami who want to live in the past and not face up to the reality of who their franchise superstar is at the moment.

Look at from a logical perspective. What skill-set is going to have a more negative impact on the floor? A 5 who blocks shots and rolls to the rim or a 2 who doesn't play defense, holds the ball and can't shoot 3's? It's just very hard to win in the modern NBA without enough shooting on the floor and the SG position is one of the places where you almost have to have shooting - there's a reason "shooting" is in the name of the position. You aren't necessarily going to get shooting from the other 4 positions so a non-shooter at SG really boxes you in terms of the types of line-ups you can throw out there.

3) Where will Whiteside go?

A lot of the talk in Dallas is that the Mavs will pass on Whiteside because they are worried about his attitude and the way he behaves off the court. What I want to know is why you are paying a coach almost $10 million a year if you don't think he's capable of getting the most out of the players you give him? It's great that Rick Carlisle has been able to use smoke and mirrors to keep this franchise on the fringes of the playoffs every season but they haven't won a playoff series in 4 seasons and they seem no closer to being able to do that this season. If they don't end up as the 5 seed, they are going to be swiftly ejected from the playoffs like they were never even there.

Is this really a franchise who can afford to pass up a dude who would be the perfect fit for them on both sides of the ball? Just because their coach doesn't want to coach him? Rick Carlisle probably wants to coach JJ Barea for the rest of his life. That's why you don't give a coach complete control of your personnel decisions. There has to be someone in charge whose thinking big picture.

The other option for Whiteside that I've been spit-balling around is Washington, who desperately need to shake things up after one of the most disappointing seasons in the league. Imagine this starting 5 of the future:


That's pretty much the ideal 4-out line-up and they would actually be capable of playing at the fastest pace in the league. I'm not sure how you defend Wall to Whiteside P/R's with three shooters around them - I'm pretty sure you don't. They would be a better version of the Detroit Pistons with a much better triggerman running the show. The Original Sin in Washington was passing up on Andre Drummond and bringing in Whiteside would be the closest move they could make to making that right.

4) Free The Dragon

I feel terrible watching Dragic walk the ball up the floor, stand in the corner and then watch Wade isolate for 20+ seconds. I'm not sure he touched the ball more than 2-3 times in the final few minutes of the game. Did the Heat really give up two unprotected first-round picks to acquire Dragic and then sign a max contract in order to turn him into a glorified version of George Hill?

The numbers check out. Of the 10 players that Dragic has played the most minutes with, his 2nd worst rating is with Wade (+0.9) and his worst is with Luol Deng (-0.8). Contrast that with the 500+ minutes he has played with Justise Winslow (+8.7), Gerald Green (+7.8) and Chris Bosh (+5.3).

Here's a few more fun numbers. Of the 10 players that Wade has played the most minutes with, how many have a better rating than the +0.9 he shares with Dragic? The answer is 2. One of them has barely played this season - Josh McRoberts (75 minutes) - and the other - Winslow (+2.1) - would probably have a positive net rating if paired with a Roomba. Long story short, there aren't many guys who are playing that well when sharing the floor with D.Wade. Make of that what you will.

5) Justise Winslow

His defense is as good as advertised and he is incredibly impressive to watch in person. He bullied Chandler Parsons and he forced a guy who has been the Mavs best player for most of the last month off the floor in the final minutes. There was just nothing Parsons could do - Winslow was stronger than him, faster than him, just as long as him and he wasn't making any of the type of rookie mistakes you would expect for a 19-year old being asked to defend an opposing team's primary option. At 6'6 225 with a 6'11 wingspan, he has the body of a grown man and a super-high basketball IQ and there's no ceiling to how good he can be defensively.

The only question with Winslow is the 3-point shot. He reminds me a lot of Kawhi Leonard when he was at San Diego State - he's a point forward who can defend just about every position on the floor but whom the defense doesn't have to guard beyond 15+ feet. The thing about it is that basically no one ever makes the leap that Kawhi made - if Justise became a 45% three-point shooter he could be a Top 10 player but the odds of that happening are pretty slim indeed.

Even in the modern NBA, though, you can still afford to have one non-shooter on the floor on the perimeter, especially if that guy can create his own shot and move without the ball in his hands. The problem is that you definitely can't have two. And what I wonder is if Miami would be better off having Winslow in that non-shooting slot than Wade. I'm not a big fan of giving guys passes and I'm not much for sentiment either. This is a business and if you aren't helping your team and there are guys who could fill your role better than you your team has to at least think about taking your ass off the floor. The alternative is losing in the first round and costing themselves tens of millions of dollars. It's sweet that Miami gave Wade a $20 million get well present this season but this could quickly devolve into a co-dependent Kobe in LA situation if they aren't careful.

6) Would Miami be better with Wade and Deng out of the starting line-up?

Here's another way to ask the question - which distribution of roles would get the most out of Dragic and Bosh? Line-up A or Line-up B?

Line-up A
Line-up B

At the very least, it's something to think about.