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More than ever, shooting at a premium


VIDEO: Pistons: Augustin And Butler Introduction

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if you want to win, you have to be able to shoot. There are lots of factors that go into good offense and good defense, but the most important are how well you shoot and how well you defend shots.

Over the last two seasons, 3-point shooting has taken a big jump. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the league took from 22.2 to 22.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range. Then in 2012-13, that number jumped to 24.3 percent. And last season, it jumped again to 25.9 percent.

The correlation between 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency is strong. And shooting a lot of threes is almost as important as shooting them well.

Ten of the top 15 offenses in the league were above average in terms of 3-point percentage and the percentage of their total shots that were threes. Four of the other five were in the top 10 in one or the other. And teams that didn’t shot threes well or often were generally bad offensive teams.

3-point shooting and offensive efficiency, 2013-14

Team 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank OffRtg Rank
L.A. Clippers 693 1,966 35.2% 22 29.1% 9 109.4 1
Miami 665 1,829 36.4% 12 29.2% 6 109.0 2
Dallas 721 1,877 38.4% 2 27.4% 13 109.0 3
Houston 779 2,179 35.8% 16 33.0% 1 108.6 4
Portland 770 2,071 37.2% 10 29.0% 10 108.3 5
San Antonio 698 1,757 39.7% 1 25.7% 16 108.2 6
Oklahoma City 664 1,839 36.1% 14 27.1% 14 108.1 7
Phoenix 765 2,055 37.2% 8 30.0% 5 107.1 8
Toronto 713 1,917 37.2% 9 28.5% 11 105.8 9
Minnesota 600 1,757 34.1% 26 24.5% 19 105.6 10
New York 759 2,038 37.2% 7 30.2% 3 105.4 11
Golden State 774 2,037 38.0% 4 29.1% 8 105.3 12
New Orleans 486 1,303 37.3% 6 19.3% 29 104.7 13
Brooklyn 709 1,922 36.9% 11 30.1% 4 104.4 14
Atlanta 768 2,116 36.3% 13 31.6% 2 103.4 15
Memphis 405 1,147 35.3% 19 17.1% 30 103.3 16
Denver 702 1,959 35.8% 15 27.8% 12 103.3 17
Washington 647 1,704 38.0% 5 24.6% 18 103.3 18
Detroit 507 1,580 32.1% 29 22.2% 26 102.9 19
Sacramento 491 1,475 33.3% 27 21.8% 28 102.9 20
L.A. Lakers 774 2,032 38.1% 3 29.1% 7 101.9 21
Indiana 550 1,542 35.7% 17 23.5% 23 101.5 22
Cleveland 584 1,640 35.6% 18 23.6% 21 101.3 23
Charlotte 516 1,471 35.1% 23 21.9% 27 101.2 24
Utah 543 1,577 34.4% 25 23.7% 20 100.6 25
Milwaukee 548 1,553 35.3% 20 23.1% 24 100.2 26
Boston 575 1,729 33.3% 28 25.1% 17 99.7 27
Chicago 508 1,459 34.8% 24 22.2% 25 99.7 28
Orlando 563 1,596 35.3% 21 23.5% 22 99.3 29
Philadelphia 577 1,847 31.2% 30 25.8% 15 96.8 30
TOTAL 19,054 52,974 36.0% 25.9% 104.0

 

Top 5 3P% Top 5 %FGA Top 5 OffRtg
6-10 3P% 6-10 %FGA 6-10 OffRtg
Above-avg 3P% Above-avg %FGA Above-avg OffRtg

%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. Minnesota had a top-10 offense without shooting threes well or often. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, getting to the free throw line often, and grabbing lots of offensive rebounds.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were top 10 in both 3-point percentage and percentage of shots that were threes, but were a bottom 10 offense overall, because they didn’t get to the line much and were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

Threes aren’t everything, but three is greater than two. And if you have shooting threats on the perimeter, other guys have more space to operate inside. The teams near the bottom of the table above know that to win more games, they have to score more efficiently. And to do that, they need more shooting in their rotation.

Here’s how some of them addressed their lack of shooting…

Detroit Pistons

OffRtg: 102.9 (19), 3PT%: 32.1% (29), 3PA%: 22.2% (26)
If the Sixers hadn’t played conscious-less offense at the league’s fastest pace, the Pistons would have ranked dead last in 3-point percentage. Josh Smith took 265 threes at a 26 percent clip, partly because Joe Dumars thought he could play small forward and partly because he lacks self-awareness. Of 315 players in NBA history who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, Smith ranks 314th (ahead of only Charles Barkley) in 3-point percentage.

So priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy is to get Smith to stop shooting threes, or get him to shoot threes for some other team. If we don’t consider Smith a small forward (and we shouldn’t), Detroit would have a frontcourt log-jam if Greg Monroe (a restricted free agent) is brought back. Though it’s not completely up to Van Gundy (he would need a trade partner), a choice between Monroe and Smith needs to be made.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t have many other options from beyond the arc last season. So Van Gundy added four shooters in free agency, signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to contracts that will pay them about $15 million this year. Of the 70 available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, those four ranked 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th respectively in 3-point percentage, all shooting better than 39 percent.

There’s still a question of how much of that shooting can be on the floor at one time. If Smith is traded, then the Pistons can play a decent amount of minutes with Butler or Luigi Datome playing stretch four. But in that scenario, their defense (which was already awful last season) would suffer.

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 99.7 (28), 3PT%: 34.8% (24), 3PA%: 22.2% (25)
The Pistons grabbed the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter from last season (Augustin), who will be replaced by Derrick Rose. Rose has never been a very good shooter, but obviously creates a lot more open shots for the guys around him than Augustin or Kirk Hinrich.

That will benefit Jimmy Butler (who regressed from distance last season), Mike Dunleavy (who took a smaller step back), Tony Snell (who was pretty shaky as a rookie) and rookie Doug McDermott.

In his four seasons in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau has never had a big man who can step out beyond the arc. But the Bulls’ other rotation rookie – Nikola Miroticshot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons for Real Madrid. So he gives the Bulls the ability to space the floor more than they ever have in this system.

The Bulls also added Aaron Brooks, who, at 38.7 percent, ranked 20th among available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. But if Brooks is playing a lot, it would mean that there’s another issue with Rose.

Charlotte Hornets

OffRtg: 101.2 (24), 3PT%: 35.1% (23), 3PA%: 21.9% (27)
Josh McRoberts (36.1 percent) and Marvin Williams (35.9 percent) shot about the same from 3-point range last season. But that was the first time McRoberts was a high-volume shooter from distance, while Williams has had a more consistent history.

And he should get more open shots playing off of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson than he did in Utah. But neither Walker nor Stephenson is a very good 3-point shooter themselves and the Hornets lost their best 3-point shooter from last season – Anthony Tolliver – in free agency.

The hope is that, with Stephenson taking some of the ball-handling burden away, Walker can improve as a shooter. Gerald Henderson‘s 3-point percentage has improved every season, and a healthy Jeffery Taylor could help. Still, without any much proven shooting on the roster, the Hornets’ offense has a ceiling.

Cleveland Cavaliers

OffRtg: 101.3 (23), 3PT%: 35.6% (18), 3PA%: 23.6% (21)
LeBron James changes everything. And the biggest beneficiary could be Dion Waiters, who shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season. With James attacking the basket and drawing multiple defenders, Waiters will get a ton of open looks.

James himself shot a ridiculous 48.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, so he should be able to play off Kyrie Irving pretty well and make the Cavs a more potent team from deep. Mike Miller (45.9 percent) will obviously do the same.

It’s Irving who will have to adjust to playing off the ball. He shot just 32.1 on catch-and-shoot threes last season. And at this point, the Cavs don’t have a second forward that can both shoot threes and defend the four (the Shane Battier role). Anthony Bennett could develop into that role and Kevin Love would obviously be that guy if the Cavs pull of a trade with Minnesota.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.5 (22), 3PT%: 35.7% (17), 3PA%: 23.5% (23)
There was a lot of bad shooting (and bad offense, in general) in the Central Division last season. The Pacers poached C.J. Miles (39 percent on threes over the last two seasons) from Cleveland and added a stretch big in Damjan Rudez, but lost Stephenson’s playmaking.

So there’s a ton of pressure on Paul George to create open shots for everybody else. Unless another shake-up is in store, it’s hard to see the Pacers escaping the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 103.3 (16), 3PT%: 35.3% (19), 3PA%: 17.1% (30)
The Grizzlies replaced Mike Miller (44.4 percent from three over the last three seasons) with Vince Carter (39.2 percent). That’s a slight downgrade from beyond the arc, but Carter brings more playmaking to take some of the load off of Mike Conley.

Still, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince remain integral parts of the Grizzlies’ rotation. So unless Jon Leuer emerges as a reliable stretch four off the bench, they lack the ability to put more than two (and occasionally three) shooters on the floor at once. They’ve ranked last in made 3-pointers for two straight seasons and could definitely make it three in a row.

New Orleans Pelicans

OffRtg: 104.7 (17), 3PT%: 37.3% (6), 3PA%: 19.3% (29)
Those are some strange numbers. Great shooting, but only the Grizzlies attempted fewer threes.

The absences of Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday over the last 50 games of the season was a huge issue. Another was that two of the Pelicans’ best 3-point shooters – Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow – played the same position and spent just 192 minutes on the floor together, while Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu – two perimeter guys who can’t shoot a lick – ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes played.

Evans still takes a starting perimeter position (and $11 million of salary) without supplying a reliable jumper. And replacing Jason Smith with Omer Asik also hurts floor spacing. But the Pels were ridiculously good offensively (and awful defensively) in limited minutes with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor last season, Aminu has been replaced by John Salmons, and better health will go a long way.

Additional notes

  • As noted above, the Pistons added four guys who ranked in the top 20 in 3-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts) among available free agents. The only other team that added (not re-signed) more than one was the Clippers, who added Jordan Farmar (3rd) and Spencer Hawes (5th). The Mavericks added Richard Jefferson (7th) and re-signed Dirk Nowitzki (13th), the Suns added Anthony Tolliver (6th) and re-signed P.J. Tucker (19th), and the Spurs re-signed both Patty Mills (4th) and Boris Diaw (10th).
  • The Cavs (Hawes and Miles) and Lakers (Farmar and Meeks) were the two teams that lost two of the top 20.
  • Of those 70 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only three shot above the league average (36.0 percent) and are still available. Those three are Chris Douglas-Roberts (38.6 percent), Ray Allen (37.5 percent) and Mo Williams (36.9 percent).

How good can the Cavs be?


VIDEO: LeBron James: On Returning to Cleveland

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James is back in Cleveland, leaving Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh behind and joining a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he took his talents to Miami in 2010. Kyrie Irving is an All-Star, but he’s also just the second No. 1 pick in 10 years to not make the postseason in his first three seasons.

As he wrote on SI.com, James knows that this is a different situation than the one he had upon arriving in Miami.

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach.

But the Eastern Conference looks to be wide open. And if you have the world’s best player and some decent talent around him, you have to be considered one of the favorites. But how good can the Cavs be this season? That’s a question that requires a two-part answer. To truly contend, you need to be very good on both ends of the floor.

Offense

The Cavs ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency last season, scoring just 101.3 points per 100 possessions. They improved on that end after trading for Luol Deng, but weren’t much better offensively with Irving on the floor than they were with him on the bench.

The Cavs’ coaching change could have changed things by itself. David Blatt has coached one of the best offenses in Europe over the last few years.

And obviously, the addition of James means that we can just throw last year’s numbers away. James’ teams have ranked in the top six in offensive efficiency each of the last six years.

The last two seasons in Miami were the best of those. The Heat found their space-the-floor offensive identity in the 2012 playoffs, complemented James with a bevy of shooters, and basically eviscerated opposing defenses for two years straight.

So, with the Cavs, just how good they are offensively (Top 10? Top 5?) is going to be a matter of how much shooting they can put around James.

Last season, the Cavs had two guys who shot better than 37 percent on at least 100 3-point attempts. Both of them – Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles – have left via free agency.

So the pressure is on Irving (35.8 percent from 3-point range last season) and Dion Waiters (36.8 percent) to improve from beyond the arc. No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins should be adjusting his pre-camp training to work more on corner threes. And Cavs GM David Griffin obviously has to make shooting the priority as he pursues other free agents (like Ray Allen and Mike Miller).

Playing with James should make everybody a better shooter. According to SportVU, Waiters shot 41.6 percent (72-for-173) on catch-and-shoot threes last season.

Irving will need to learn how to play off the ball. The good news is that he can’t be a worse 3-point shooter than Dwyane Wade. But Irving was better on pull-up threes (38.8 percent) than he was on catch-and-shoot threes (32.1 percent) last season.

A huge key for Miami was having another forward (Shane Battier mostly, Rashard Lewis in the 2014 playoffs) who can spread the floor offensively and defend opposing bigs (somewhat competently) on the other end of the floor. Maybe that’s Anthony Bennett some day, but right now, Cleveland doesn’t have that guy.

With the best player in the world and a smart head coach, it’s hard to imagine the Cavs not ranking in the top 10 offensively. But without enough complementary shooting, it’s also tough to see them in the top five.

Defense

Cleveland was one of the most improved defensive teams last season, allowing 2.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did in 2012-13 (as league efficiency improved). They ranked 13th on that end of the floor overall, but got worse defensively (and ranked 20th) after the Deng trade.

Again, we can throw that all out with the coaching change and the addition of James, who has the ability to be the best defensive player in the league when he has enough in the tank to do it. If Blatt’s system can take some of the offensive load off his shoulders, James can get back to contending for DPOY after what was his worst defensive season in several years. It will help that Irving can play more games and carry a bigger offensive load than Wade could.

But Irving’s defense has to improve. If he isn’t staying in front of the ball, the Cavs’ defense will break down early and often. Also key is Anderson Varejao‘s health. He’s Cleveland’s best interior defender, but he’s played just 146 games in the four years since James left. (For comparison, James has played 381.)

Elsewhere, the Cavs just don’t have any proven defenders. With another coaching change, their young players have to learn a new system. And the fatigue factor (four straight years of going to The Finals) still applies to James.

Without that Battier-esque “other” forward, James will either have to defend bigs (which he doesn’t like to do) or play more at the three. Two true bigs on the floor could help with paint protection, but will hurt the offense. Still, this may be the end of the floor where they truly need a year or two to develop before they can call themselves title contenders.

James will make the Cavs much better. They will surely be a top-five team in the East. But as he said, his patience will be tested. The Cavs are likely a year or two (and a player or two) away.

Raps keep Lowry, still have more work


VIDEO: Free Agency: Lowry Remains a Raptor

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Toronto Raptors have taken care of the important business, agreeing to terms with Kyle Lowry on a new four-year, $48 million contract. After winning their division for the second time in franchise history and returning to the postseason after a five-year absence, they’re bringing back their best player. Lowry is a bulldog on both ends of the floor, and if he wasn’t the best point guard in the Eastern Conference last season, he was right there with John Wall.

The Raptors had one the conference’s best benches as well. Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson arrived in the Rudy Gay trade in December and made big impacts. Patterson spaced the floor at the power forward position, while Vasquez’s passing was infectious. Toronto recorded assists on just 49 percent of its baskets before the trade and 60 percent after it.

The numbers spell out how important Patterson and Vasquez are. They had the two best on-court NetRtg marks on the team, with the Raptors outscoring their opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions with Patterson on the floor and by 8.5 with Vasquez on the floor. In the playoffs, Toronto outscored Brooklyn by 53 points with Vasquez on the floor and was outscored by 64 with him on the bench. Patterson was a plus-30.  As it was in the regular season, they were at their best with those two guys on the floor.

If the Raptors want to build on last season’s success, they need to keep the bench together. If Lou Williams (acquired in a trade for John Salmons) is healthy, it could be even better than it was last season.

On Friday, Toronto reportedly agreed to terms with Patterson, a restricted free agent, on a three-year, $18 million contract. That’s Step 2.

Vasquez is another restricted free agent, meaning the Raptors can match any offer sheet he receives from another team. But with the new contracts for Lowry and Patterson, the addition of Williams, and the possibility of adding rookies Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira, Toronto is approaching the luxury tax line. And they want to make one more move.

After Joe Johnson beat them up in that playoff series, the Raps acknowledged that they need more size on the wing. Even if Caboclo is less than “two years away from being two years away,” that size would have to come in free agency, perhaps from an Al-Farouq AminuAlan Anderson, Jordan Hamilton or Richard Jefferson. The Raptors have the mid-level exception (or a portion of it) to spend on an outside free agent.

Adding one of those guys, keeping Vasquez, and staying under the tax line will be a challenge. If Darren Collison can get the full mid-level exception (from Vasquez’s former team) in Sacramento, Vasquez should surely be worth that much. Complicating matters is that Toronto is already paying small forwards Landry Fields and Steve Novak almost $10 million to ride the pine.

Back in January, SportsNet’s Michael Grange reported that the Raptors would be willing to go over the line “at the right time.” But if they bring everybody back, they’re still a team that lost in the first round.  Even if they add a piece, they still have a ceiling, especially if LeBron James remains in Miami. And if Jonas Valanciunas gets a lucrative contract extension next summer, it will overlap with the last two seasons of Lowry’s deal (and the last of DeMar DeRozan‘s), which may be the time to think about paying the tax.

So Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has his work cut out for him over the next couple of weeks. He got the most important deal done. But his team’s depth is just as critical to its success as its best player.

Nets move quick, hire proven Hollins


VIDEO: GameTime: Bucks-Nets Coaching Situation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It didn’t take long for the Brooklyn Nets to find a replacement for Jason Kidd. It’s as if they’ve done this coaching search thing before.

The Nets announced Wednesday afternoon that they have reached an agreement with Lionel Hollins, who will be their fourth coach in the last two years. Avery Johnson was fired, P.J. Carlesimo was never considered to be more than an interim replacement, and Kidd thought that, after half of a season of success, he was ready for bigger things.

Hollins arrives after year off from coaching, which followed a 4 1/2-year stint in Memphis, in which the Grizzlies improved every year.

Grizzlies pace and efficiency, Lionel Hollins’ four full seasons

Season W L Win% Pace Rk OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg Rk
2009-10 40 42 0.488 96.1 8 104.8 17 107.6 24 -2.9 20
2010-11 46 36 0.561 94.5 15 104.4 16 102.5 8 +1.9 10
2011-12 41 25 0.621 93.4 18 101.0 21 98.9 7 +2.1 12
2012-13 56 26 0.683 91.1 29 101.7 18 97.4 2 +4.2 8

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Hollins’ teams have never been better than average offensively, despite having Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for most of those four full seasons. The Grizzlies were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, but they didn’t shoot well. And shooting is much more important than rebounding.

In Hollins’ last season in Memphis, no team made or attempted fewer 3-pointers. When you’re playing Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Randolph at the 2, 3 and 4 spots, you’re not going to space the floor very well.

Last season, Brooklyn ranked 10th or 11th in 3-point makes, 3-point attempts, and 3-point percentage. And that was with a starting guard — Shaun Livingston — who shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Livingston is gone and his departure will hurt the Nets’ defense. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, is a free agent. And we don’t know for sure that Kevin Garnett will return for the last year on his contract. Those three and Kidd were Brooklyn’s biggest acquisitions last summer.

So the Nets could be hitting the reset button, going back to their core from their first season in Brooklyn, with Hollins on the bench. Even without Pierce or Garnett, they’d be above the luxury tax line, with only the tax payer’s mid-level exception to use on free agents. That could go to Croatian small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.

No matter what Pierce and Garnett do, Hollins’ success in Brooklyn will depend on the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, their two former All-Stars who could still be in their prime, with emphasis on the word “could.”

Williams had surgery on both ankles in May. Lopez had a third surgery on his right foot in January. They will be the team’s biggest questions come October.

The good news is that Hollins can’t get off to a worse start than Kidd, who saw his team go 10-21 in the first two months of last season. If Williams and Lopez are healthy, Hollins will have three guys — Joe Johnson being the third — who can consistently draw double-teams offensively. Their guards and forwards will be able to spread the floor much better than Hollins’ Grizzlies did.

Though offense was the issue in Memphis, defense will be a bigger question in Brooklyn, where Hollins won’t have Allen or Gasol.

This is still one of the more talented teams in the league though. And it’s playing in the weaker conference. Hollins has an opportunity to keep it near the top.

Wade needs to take a lesson from Kidd


VIDEO: Pat Riley on Big 3 Staying in Miami

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The big question surrounding the Miami Heat in the next few weeks is if their secondary stars — Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – will accept less-than-max contracts, so that Pat Riley can build a better supporting cast around them and LeBron James.

At this point in their careers, it seems impossible that either Wade or Bosh could get better themselves. But there is clear room for improvement with one of the two.

Wade is one of the worst high-volume 3-point shooters in NBA history. Of the 315 players who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, only three — Charles Barkley, Josh Smith and Ron Harper – have shot them at a worse rate than Wade (28.9 percent).

Lowest 3-point percentage, minimum 1,000 3PA, NBA history

Player 3PM 3PA 3P%
Charles Barkley 538 2,020 26.6%
Josh Smith 337 1,207 27.9%
Ron Harper 523 1,811 28.9%
Dwyane Wade 350 1,211 28.9%
Isiah Thomas 398 1,373 29.0%
Corey Brewer 307 1,042 29.5%
Derrick Coleman 326 1,105 29.5%
Reggie Williams 373 1,253 29.8%
Jamaal Tinsley 397 1,326 29.9%
Kendall Gill 315 1,051 30.0%

In the four seasons since James came to Miami, Wade’s 3-point shooting hasn’t gotten any better. He shot 28.9 percent before James arrived and he’s shot 28.9 percent since. And you make think that it’s too late for Wade to turn into a reliable shooter from long distance.

But Wade is just 32 years old, a year younger than Jason Kidd was when he started working with a shooting coach. Kidd wasn’t as bad as Wade from 3-point range at that point in his career, but he went from shooting 33.2 percent from beyond the arc through his 12 seasons to shooting 37.3 percent over his last seven.

That’s not a huge increase, but it’s a difference of more than 12 points per 100 attempts and, more importantly, it’s the difference between defenses leaving you alone on the perimeter and defenses having to respect you.

With his improved 3-point shot, Kidd was better able to complement Dirk Nowitzki when he was traded to Dallas. He spaced the floor for Nowitzki, Nowitzki created open shots for him, and he hit some big ones to help them win a championship.

Over the last four years, Wade has changed his game to better complement James. He can be effective without the ball in his hands, because he’s one of the best in the league at off-the-ball cuts, always able to take advantage of a defender who has turned his head toward the ball. And though he’s lost some of his explosion, he still has enough talent and old-man game to usually keep the Miami offense afloat when James is resting.

But the best complement for the league’s best player is a guy who keeps the defense honest no matter where he’s standing on the floor. When Wade is on the perimeter, defenses need not guard him. He barely shot threes at all (32 attempts in 58 games) this season. His attempts per game have gone down in each of James’ four seasons in Miami.

Here’s one of the Heat’s first few possessions of Game 5 of The Finals. With James driving to the basket and Wade in the strong-side corner, Danny Green isn’t too concerned about his man…

20140619_wade_spacing

At 28.9 percent, a Wade 3-pointer is worth just 0.9 points per shot. A shot by James near the basket, meanwhile, is worth 1.5 points per shot. So that decision by Green to help is pretty easy.

If Wade shot the league average from 3-point range (36.0 percent), that decision still wouldn’t be too difficult, but the Heat would be able to better punish the defense for making it. Wade is an above-average mid-range shooter (43 percent this season), but even elite mid-range shooters (50 percent) don’t punish the D all that much. Step behind the arc, however, and the shot is worth 1.5 times as much.

When Wade doesn’t have strong legs under him, as was the case in the last two games of The Finals, he can look like an average player. You need legs to shoot threes, but not as much as you need them to drive through traffic and score in the paint.

Heat president Pat Riley was asked about Wade when he met with the media on Thursday.

“You have to reinvent yourself,” Riley said of Wade. “What does he have to do mentally and physically and spiritually to get him to another level at that age of 32?”

Riley was specifically asked about Wade adding a 3-point shot. But he doesn’t necessarily see that as the best way Wade can reinvent himself.

“Sometimes, it is [the way an older player can remain effective],” Riley said. “But some players who are drivers, slashers, dunkers, medium-range jump shooters, the mechanism on how you shoot the ball has to change. Will he be a high-percentage, James Jones, Mike Miller type of 3-point shooter? No. But I can guarantee he’ll make one when it counts.

“He’s not going to be spotted up, standing in the corner somewhere. He’s going to be slashing to the basket, posting guys up, getting out on the break, that kind of stuff. That’s been his game for 11 years now.”

The Heat can’t live only on James’ drives and post-ups. They do need that stuff from Wade as well. And this season, defense was obviously a bigger issue than offense.

But if Wade can be more of a threat from the outside, it can only help his team. He only has to look at Kidd to know that he can still get better at this stage in his career. For the Heat, a shooting coach could be as valuable as a roster upgrade.

What do FIBA stats tell us about David Blatt?


VIDEO: Cavaliers 2013-14 Season Recap

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Multiple reports have the Cleveland Cavaliers in negotiations with David Blatt to be their next head coach.

Blatt, an American, has been a head coach in Europe for more than 15 years. He was also the coach of the Russian national team from 2006-2012.

Interestingly, the numbers from his last few years of FIBA competitions paint a different picture of Blatt’s style than the last few years of Euroleague competition.

Blatt’s Russia teams have been better defensively than offensively. They’ve also played slow and shared the ball at a high rate.

Russian national team rankings

Year Event Pace OffRtg DefRtg AST/FG
2010 World Championship 17 12 5 2
2011 Eurobasket 21 6 2 2
2012 Olympics 9 5 2 2

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The high assist rate corresponds with Blatt’s Princeton background. He played under Pete Carrill at the Ivy League school. Those Russia teams did not have an offensive star, but rather a lot of solid players who worked well together.

But while Blatt’s Maccabi Tel Aviv teams have also played slow, they haven’t assisted at a high rate. And they’ve been better offensively than defensively.

Maccabi Tel Aviv rankings

Season Pace OffRtg DefRtg AST/FG
2010-11 8 1 3 12
2011-12 15 6 12 19
2012-13 17 4 7 15
2013-14 17 4 13 11

via gigabasket

The good news is that Blatt has had success on both ends of the floor. The bad news is that he’ll likely have much of the same roster that Mike Brown had this season. Under Brown, the Cavs were the seventh most improved defensive team in the league, but they actually regressed defensively after acquiring Luol Deng from Chicago and finished with below average marks on both offense and defense.

For Blatt to succeed, he’ll need to get Kyrie Irving to share the ball, put some effort into the defensive end of the floor, and take on a leadership role. Really, how well this works out is more about Cleveland’s supposed franchise player than it is about their new coach.

Spurs and Heat help prove that defense wins championships


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks with the GameTime crew after the championship clincher

SAN ANTONIO – Entering the 2014 Finals, the 2000-01 Lakers were the last team to win a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season.

They still are.

The 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs, who — in a season between championships — allowed 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, were one of the best defensive teams in NBA history. The Spurs’ D continued to rank in the top three over the next four years, but could only go downhill after that incredible 2003-04 season. And it proceeded to go downhill every single year for eight years, until it dropped out of the top 10 in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (see table below).

Out of the top 10 is not where you want to be. Over the last 37 years (since the NBA started tracking turnovers in 1977-78), only three teams have won a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. Twice as many champs have ranked outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency.

And though their offense had developed into a beautiful machine that ranked in the top two those two seasons, the Spurs knew they had to get better defensively.

“We thought that’s what was missing against Oklahoma City [in the 2012 conference finals],” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said a year ago, “that we couldn’t make stops when we needed to. We would call them ‘stops on demand.’ In fourth quarters and big games you have to be able to do it.”

You can’t just flip a switch in the playoffs. Habits have to be built throughout the season, so that when the time comes, you can fall back on what you have developed.

“We slipped a little bit,” Tony Parker said, “and we knew if we wanted to get back to the top, we needed to get back to where we were [defensively] when we were winning championships.”

So the Spurs went back to the drawing board in the summer of 2012. And as a team that has embraced analytics, they dug into the numbers and realized that being a great defensive rebounding team (which they were) didn’t matter if you didn’t defend shots well enough (which they didn’t).

“What we found,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told NBA.com last week, “were that teams who weren’t as effective defensive rebounding were still ranking incredibly high in defensive efficiency. The areas that they were focused in appeared to us to be field goal percentage defense. So we felt like we needed to go back to parts of our system that would improve our defensive field goal percentage.”

Basically, they needed to better contesting shots, both inside and outside. Easier said than done, but some shifts in personnel certainly helped. Tiago Splitter had two years in the Spurs’ system under his belt, Kawhi Leonard had one under his, and both have played bigger over the last two seasons.

In that time, the Spurs allowed just 93.4 points per 100 possessions in 1,907 minutes with Leonard and Splitter on the floor, the lowest on-court DefRtg of any two-man pair in the league that has played at least 1,200 minutes together over the last two seasons. The tandem of Splitter and Tim Duncan has protected the paint as well as any big man combination in the league. And Leonard has quickly become one of the world’s best perimeter defenders.

Their teammates and coach were quick to point out the importance of those Leonard and Splitter, but also said that there has just been a better collective focus on the defensive end of the floor over the last two years.

“[It was] just coming in here from day one in training camp and making it a priority,” Duncan said, “making them understand that every game, every film session, everything else, this is what we’re going to hang our hats on.”

“We just worked at it,” Popovich added. “I mean, it’s basketball. There is nothing magic about it. You know, we worked at it and the guys committed to it, and we got better defensively.”

With better defenders and a better focus, the Spurs went from 11th in defensive efficiency in both ’10-11 and ’11-12 to third last season. Not coincidentally, they got back to The Finals for the first time in six years and came within six seconds of winning a championship.

This season, they brought back their core (and the best defensive lineup in the league) with one more year together in their system. Though no player averaged 30 minutes per game, they again ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency. And in the Western Conference playoffs, they got those “stops on demand,” holding the offenses of both the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder well under their regular season efficiency marks and setting up a Finals rematch.

The Miami Heat have gone in the opposite direction in the last two years. After ranking in the top five defensively in their first two seasons together, the Heat ranked seventh last season and 11th this year.

Dwyane Wade‘s “maintenance program” — he played just 54 games in the regular season — had something to do with this year’s regression. But so did bad habits. The Heat’s defensive scheme can overwhelm offenses when it’s sharp, but can also get broken down pretty easily when it’s not. It was inconsistent all season, pretty darn awful at times (especially in January), and finished just outside the top 10.

It got better in the playoffs, but the champs never really put 48 minutes of great defense together. In the conference semifinals and finals, they allowed both the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers to score more efficiently than they did in the regular season. Getting through the first three rounds was about how good the Heat were offensively, especially in the fourth quarter, than an ability to get consistent stops.

That wasn’t enough in The Finals. The Heat finally ran into a team that was great on both ends of the floor. And they got slaughtered.

The Spurs’ offense, of course, was a thing of beauty. And once it got going, the Heat could do nothing to stop it. They didn’t have a great defense to fall back on. They couldn’t get stops on demand.

Their not-top-10 defense, those bad habits and that inconsistency, had come back to bite them.

“We were always trying to conjure something,” Shane Battier told Bleacher Report after Game 5. “But you can’t win a championship trying to conjure something. It has to be who you are, and it has to be pure, and that wasn’t the case for us this year.

“We just didn’t have the fundamentals to stop an offensive juggernaut like the Spurs. And we were exposed.”

But you don’t get the largest point differential in Finals history (70 points over five games) with what happens on just one end of the floor. The Spurs didn’t just eviscerate the Heat defense, they shut down what had been a ridiculously good offense through the first three rounds, particularly in Games 4 and 5, when they held the Heat under a point per possession.

“We felt confident coming into the series that we were going to be able to score,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Maybe not as much as we typically are used to, but coming off of some very good defensive teams and series in the Eastern Conference, we felt we could rely on that. But they shut us out of the paint pretty consistently.”

Don’t let anyone tell you that “defense wins championships” is just a cliché, because it has plenty of evidence — including the result of the 2014 Finals — to back it up. These were two great offensive teams. But only one had been defending at a high level all season.

As a result, they’ll be holding a parade down the Riverwalk.

Spurs defense, Tim Duncan era

Season DefRtg Rank Lg. OffRtg Diff. Playoffs
1997-98 96.2 2 102.0 -5.8 Lost conf. semis
1998-99 92.1 1 99.2 -7.1 Won Finals
1999-00 95.7 2 101.2 -5.6 Lost first round
2000-01 94.9 1 100.2 -5.4 Lost conf. finals
2001-02 96.5 1 101.6 -5.1 Lost conf. semis
2002-03 96.6 3 100.7 -4.1 Won Finals
2003-04 91.6 1 100.0 -8.5 Lost conf. semis
2004-05 95.8 1 103.1 -7.3 Won Finals
2005-06 96.9 1 103.4 -6.5 Lost conf. semis
2006-07 97.4 2 103.7 -6.3 Won Finals
2007-08 99.5 3 104.7 -5.3 Lost conf. finals
2008-09 102.0 6 105.4 -3.5 Lost first round
2009-10 102.0 9 104.9 -2.9 Lost conf. semis
2010-11 102.8 11 104.5 -1.7 Lost first round
2011-12 100.6 11 101.8 -1.2 Lost conf. finals
2012-13 99.2 3 103.1 -4.0 Lost in Finals
2013-14 100.1 4 104.0 -3.9 Won Finals

DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The Finals Stat: Game 5


VIDEO: Spurs’ Third-Quarter Clinic

Game 5 basics
MIA SAS
Pace 92.0 92.0
OffRtg 92.7 115.4
EFG% 44.7% 55.1%
OREB% 12.8% 14.3%
TO Ratio 12.8 8.9
FTA rate 0.360 0.295

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs are NBA champions for the fifth time, having defeated the Miami Heat four games to one in The Finals. One stat stood out from the rest as the Spurs closed it out with a dominant 104-87 victory on Sunday.

The stat

70 - Total point differential of The Finals.

The context

That’s the largest point differential in Finals history, surpassing the Boston Celtics’ plus-63 in the 1965 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat won Game 2 by two points, while the Spurs won Games 1, 3, 4 and 5 by an average of 18.0.

The was a complete destruction of the two-time defending champions. The Spurs’ offense was an efficient machine, scoring 118.5 points per 100 possessions over the five games. They assisted on 66 percent of their field goals and averaged just 11.5 turnovers after committing twice that many (23) in Game 1. They got contributions from everyone in their rotation.

And if you got caught up in the precision ball movement and ridiculous perimeter shooting, you might not have noticed how good their defense was. You don’t beat a team by 70 points over five games with great play on just one end of the floor.

The Heat had the best offense through the first three rounds, scoring 113.7 points per 100 possessions in 15 games, including 114.3 in the conference finals against the No. 1 defense of the regular season. But in The Finals, they scored just 101.3. LeBron James averaged 28.2 points per game in the series, but only 4.0 assists. He didn’t get much help.

It was really on the Heat’s end of the floor where Game 5 changed. Miami had scored 29 points on its first 23 possessions, leading by 16 points midway through the first quarter. But they were then held to just 11 points over their next 26 possessions, as the Spurs took over the game and eventually built a 22-point lead.

For the Heat, it was death by execution.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

Heat defense pushes Spurs to pass


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down the Spurs’ pass-happy offense

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs’ offense has been a thing of beauty all season. But if the ball movement seemed like it reached a new level in Games 3 and 4 of The Finals in Miami … well, it did.

According to SportVU, the Spurs passed the ball 362 times in Game 3 on Tuesday, an average of 4.21 times per possession, their highest mark of the season. And in Game 4 on Thursday, they passed the ball even more, 381 times, or 4.54 times per possession.

This series is a race between the Spurs passes and the Heat’s rotations. And most of the time, it’s been like a race between Usain Bolt and Charles Barkley. Miami’s defense is meant to disrupt the opponent’s offense, but it has essentially pushed the Spurs to do what they do best.

In fact, before Game 3, the Spurs’ highest passes-per-possession mark came on Jan. 26 in … Miami. So the three games that they’ve moved the ball most have been the three games that they’ve played at American Airlines Arena.

Most passes per possession, 2013-14 Spurs

Date Opp. Res. Passes Poss. PPP PTS OffRtg
June 12 @ MIA W 381 84 4.54 107 127.4
June 10 @ MIA W 362 86 4.21 111 129.1
Jan. 26 @ MIA L 381 91 4.19 101 111.0
Jan. 28 @ HOU L 374 90 4.16 90 100.0
May 27 @ OKC L 370 92 4.02 92 100.0
Feb. 12 @ BOS W 364 91 4.00 104 114.3
Mar. 14 vs. LAL W 390 100 3.90 119 119.0
Mar. 24 vs. PHI W 373 96 3.89 113 117.7
Nov. 11 @ PHI W 360 93 3.87 109 117.2
Feb. 18 @ LAC W 381 100 3.81 113 113.0

via SportVU
PPP = Passes per possession
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

Tony Parker knows that he has to share the ball and trust his teammates more against the Heat than he does against other opponents. And once he gets rid of it, it can be like a hot potato, with Boris Diaw acting as a de facto point guard in the middle of the floor. The more the ball moves (especially from one side of the floor to the other), the more likely it is that the Spurs will get an open shot.

There’s no real correlation between how often the Spurs have passed the ball and how efficiently they’ve scored. Games against the Rockets and Thunder in the above list were pretty poor offensive games by San Antonio’s standards. And they’ve had games where they’ve scored efficiently (like Game 7 vs. Dallas and Game 1 vs. Portland) without moving the ball much (2.86 and 2.78 passes per possession, respectively).

But the Heat seem to bring out the Spurs’ best ball movement. If Miami can’t find a way to slow it down in Game 5 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), its season will likely come to an end.

The Finals Stat: Game 4


VIDEO: Charles Barkley feels the Miami Heat will lose this series

Game 4 basics
MIA SAS
Pace 84.9 84.9
OffRtg 99.1 128.9
EFG% 51.4% 63.6%
OREB% 15.8% 36.4%
TO Ratio 15.0 16.9
FTA rate 0.282 0.357

MIAMI – For the second time in three days, the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Miami Heat on their home floor, taking Game 4 of The Finals with an easy 107-86 victory. One stat stood out from the rest as the Spurs took a 3-1 series lead and gave themselves a chance to win a championship at home Sunday.

The stat

38 - Total point differential in the first quarter of the series.

The context

The Spurs have begun the second quarter with at least a six-point lead in all four games. They’ve won first quarters by six, seven, 16 and nine points.

It’s been dominance on both ends of the floor. The Spurs have scored a ridiculous 129 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter and have held the Heat to a paltry 87.

The first quarter has been the Heat’s worst all season and through the playoffs. In their first round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, they won the first quarter by only one point. In their five-game series against the Brooklyn Nets, they won the first quarter by only three points. And in the conference finals, the Indiana Pacers outscored them in the first quarter.

Against lesser opponents, the Heat could deal with bad starts, climb themselves out of holes, and rely on fourth-quarter execution. But the Spurs are much better than any of the teams they faced in the first three rounds.

The Spurs were at their best in the first quarter in the regular season, outscoring their opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions. They had some early struggles in the Conference finals, but have otherwise been strong in the first quarter in the postseason.

Two nights after dropping 41 on the Heat in the first 12 minutes, the Spurs’ early success was more about defense. They held Miami to just 17 points on 23 first-quarter possessions. Their rotations were quick and sharp, and they just swarmed the Heat whenever they got near the basket. The team that led the league in field goal percentage in the restricted area began the game just 2-for-7 from there. Dwyane Wade finished the game shooting just 2-for-10 in the paint.

And the Spurs never let the Heat off the mat. The rout was on and San Antonio is just one win away from its fifth championship.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA