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One Stat, One Play: No D, No Run, No Dunk


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: The Clippers’ up-close problems

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers are generally considered to be a title contender.

They were one of four teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. They were a possession away from taking a 3-2 lead in the conference semifinals. And they’re in their second season under Doc Rivers.

But the Clippers are off to a disappointing start, holding a 6-4 record after Wednesday’s win in Orlando. Their four losses are all to teams with winning records, but haven’t looked sharp on either end of the floor, have home losses to the Kings and Bulls, and are one of four teams that has regressed by at least two points per 100 possessions on both ends of the floor.

One disturbing stat is that the Clippers rank last in shots in the restricted area. They’re the only team getting fewer than 20 attempts per game from the most efficient spot on the floor.

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That’s a problem when you have two of the league’s best finishers. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were two of five players who shot better than 70 percent in the restricted area on at least 300 attempts last season.

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Griffin’s attempts in the restricted area are down from 8.1 per game last season (48 percent of his total shots) to 6.2 this year (34 percent).

Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper and his mid-range field goal percentage has improved from 35 percent in 2012-13 to 37 percent last season to 39 percent this year. And part of his reduced attempts at the rim is a desire to show off his improvement from the outside.

“When you’ve deposited a lot of money,” Griffin said early this season about the work he’s put in on his jumper, “you feel good about writing checks.”

But another part of it is that Griffin isn’t getting out in transition as much as he has in the past. According to SportVU, just nine percent (15/166) of Griffin’s shots of come in the first six seconds of the shot clock, down from 18 percent last season.

That takes us to the Clippers’ defense, which ranks 22nd through Wednesday, allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions, 2.2 more than they did last season. And fewer stops leads to fewer opportunities to run.

The video above is our fourth installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at how the Clippers have been scrambling defensively after sending their big man away from the basket to aggressively defend pick-and-rolls. Does that scheme need to change or do the Clips just need to buckle down and execute it better?

They visit the Miami Heat in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

One Stat, One Play: The Draw of DeRozan


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: The Draw of DeRozan

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In general, the more you get to the basket, the more you get to the free-throw line. The Toronto Raptors are the exception to the rule.

Last season, the Raptors ranked dead last in shots (both made and attempted) in the restricted area. But they also ranked sixth in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), getting to the line 31 times for every 100 shots from the field. That (and shooting those free throws at the league’s fifth highest percentage) helped them rank ninth in offensive efficiency.

“There’s a knack by our guys to get in the mid-range area and get fouled,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in the preseason.

Indeed. According to SportVU, DeMar DeRozan led the league in shooting fouls drawn from 10 or more feet from the basket.

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Right below Stephen Curry on the above list was DeRozan’s backcourt-mate Kyle Lowry, who drew 46 fouls from 10 or more feet from the basket.

And guess what? The Raptors are at it again. They’re getting to the basket more than they did last season, but they’re still getting to the line at a disproportionate amount. They rank second in free throw rate, now getting to the line 41 times for every 100 field goal attempts, in part because they’ve added a third guy with that knack for drawing fouls away from the basket.

According to SportVU, DeRozan, Lowry and Lou Williams are all in the top 10 in shooting fouls draw 10 or more from the basket through Wednesday’s games.

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The video above is our third installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at how the Raps put DeRozan in position to draw fouls on helpless defenders outside the paint. It will be something to keep an eye on as Toronto’s No. 3 offense faces the Chicago Bulls in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

One Stat, One Play: Drives, Rolls & Space


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Drives, rolls and space

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Dallas Mavericks ranked third in offensive efficiency last season, scoring 109.0 points per 100 possessions, with a near-impossible-to-guard duo of Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki.

Ellis led the league in drives, while Nowitzki was arguably the best mid-range shooter in the league. Only three guys shot better than 50 percent or better on at least 100 mid-range attempts last season, and Nowitzki had a lot more attempts than the other two (Courtney Lee and Greivis Vasquez).

This season, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has more weapons at his disposal. Tyson Chandler, returning to Dallas after three years, is one of the best roll men in the league. He can set a good screen, roll hard to the basket, get up high, catch and finish. Chandler Parsons and Jameer Nelson, meanwhile, are two more guys who handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter. The Mavs take this season’s No. 1 offense (by a wide margin) into Portland for the second game of TNT’s Thursday double-header (10:30 p.m. ET).

The video above is our second installment of “One Stat, One Play,” a look at the position the Mavs put opposing defenses in when Ellis has the ball in his hands and Chandler is rolling to the basket with three shooting threats on the perimeter.

One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Cleveland Cavaliers led the preseason in offensive efficiency, even though LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love only played together in two of their seven games.

They’re a safe bet to lead the regular season in offensive efficiency too, and some smart people believe that they have a shot at being the most efficient offensive team in NBA history.

When you have James, Irving, Love, and some guys that can knock down shots, you’re going to score a lot of points. You could probably take away Irving or Love and the Cavs would still finish with a top-three offense.

But there’s one aspect of the Cleveland offense that I still have a question about. It’s regarding who else is on the floor, and how much space the Cavs will provide for one of the best finishers the league has ever seen.

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The above video is the first installment of “One Stat, One Play,” and it deals with James’ trips into the paint.

Knicks face tough schedule with rough offense


VIDEO: Bulls vs. Knicks

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks have admitted freely that the Triangle offense would take time to learn. Exhibit A: Their 104-80 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first game of the season on Wednesday.

The Knicks’ offense looked slow, robotic, disjointed, clumsy, and just flat-out brutal. They only had 12 turnovers, but there were some ugly ones, like passes going straight out of bounds because guys weren’t on the same page.

And the shots …

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There was an occasional layup off a back-door play on the weak side, a Triangle staple. But most of the Knicks points were not a product of the offense, but of their ability to improvise after things broke down. They still have some talented offensive players on the roster.

But when Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy combine to take four 15-20 footers in the first quarter, something is very wrong. The Knicks took 21 shots from the restricted area and 17 3-pointers. They took just as many shots (38) from mid-range, with another nine from the similarly inefficient area of the paint outside the restricted area.

It wasn’t as old-school (and bad) as the Lakers’ shot chart on Wednesday, but that kind of shot selection isn’t going to win you many games. You can credit the Chicago defense some and also note that New York was without starting point guard Jose Calderon (strained right calf). But the offensive disfunction was just as clear in the preseason against lesser defenses and with a healthy Calderon.

UPDATE: The Knicks announced Thursday afternoon that Calderon is out 2-3 weeks.

“We’re going somewhere,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said after Wednesday’s game. “But at the beginning of where we’re going, it’s going to be difficult to get wins.”

Knicks president was a little more blunt. “Not ready for Showtime, were we?,” he responded when asked by the Daily News for his reaction to Wednesday’s performance.

20141030_nyk_schedNot at all. If the offense was bad, the defense was worse. But with the personnel the Knicks have, the defense probably won’t get much better over the course of the season, so the pressure is on the offense to start functioning, because the wins and losses count now.

And the Knicks play a tough early schedule as they try to look a little less disjointed every game. They will help Cleveland welcome back LeBron James on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) and then head back home to face East playoff teams Washington and Charlotte.

Their worst opponent in their first eight games is probably the Pistons, but that game is in Detroit, on the second night of a back-to-back for the Knicks. The eight games are all against East teams that could push New York out of a playoff spot, and the stretch includes three back-to-backs.

So you have to wonder when the Triangle will start to work, at least to a point where the Knicks have a chance to score consistently against NBA defenses.

“There’s not a calendar date,” Fisher said when asked about his team’s learning curve on offense. “It really just depends on our team and our players and our willingness to stick with the process.”

Nash’s greatness found in the numbers


VIDEO: Steve Nash Will Miss The 2014-15 NBA Season

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Mike D’Antoni, Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns changed NBA offense forever. They showed us what can be accomplished with a simple pick-and-roll, floor spacing and a willingness to share the ball.

Elements of D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less” offense are seen throughout the league today. But Nash was running the NBA’s best offense long before D’Antoni was. In his last three years as the starting point guard in Dallas, the Mavericks ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency.

Nash took that streak to Phoenix and continued it for another six years. He ran the No. 1 offense with Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley, even with Antoine Walker shooting 82-for-305 (27 percent) from 3-point range in 2003-04. In fact, when you compare teams’ offensive efficiency with the league average, that Mavs team had the No. 1 offense of the last 37 years (since the league started counting turnovers in 1977).

In Phoenix, Nash ran the No 1. offense with Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson, and kept it at No. 1 when Johnson left for Atlanta and Stoudemire missed all but three games in 2005-06. Even when Shaquille O’Neal arrived and supposedly bogged down the Suns’ attack, they had the most efficient offense in the league.

The Suns played at a fast pace, but we’re not looking at points per game, here. We’re looking at points per possession. And not only did Nash run the No. 1 offense of the last 37 years, he’s run each of the top five offenses of the last 37 years.

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Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain each led the league in scoring for seven straight seasons. Steve Nash ran the league’s best offense for nine straight, a run that started when Shaq and Kobe Bryant were at their best and ended when LeBron James was winning multiple MVPs.

Nash hasn’t said whether his career is over now that he’s been ruled out for the entire 2014-15 season, but it’s reasonable to guess that it is. It’s also reasonable to believe that we’ll never see another streak like the one he had between 2001 and 2010.

You can debate the merit Nash’s MVP awards or his place in the NBA’s all-time point guard rankings. But there’s no debating that he was one of the best offensive players of his generation. The numbers speak for themselves.

Numbers say Warriors should pass more


VIDEO: Warriors Season Preview: Steve Kerr

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – As was written in this space last week, there was no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency on the league level last season. There were top-10 offensive teams (Oklahoma City and Phoenix) that didn’t move the ball a lot and bottom-10 offensive teams (Charlotte, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the Lakers) that did.

Does that mean that the Golden State Warriors (12th in offensive efficiency, dead last in passes per minute in half-court possessions) should aim to move the ball more this season?

Here’s Bleacher Report‘s Howard Beck on new coach Steve Kerr‘s goal to make the Warriors more Spurs-ish

Nearly 11 percent of the Warriors’ possessions last season were isolation plays, the third highest rate in the league, per Synergy Sports. Nor were the Warriors efficient on those plays, scoring just .842 points per isolation, which ranked 14th.

The Warriors’ internal analysis was just as damning. By one assessment, the Warriors were among the league leaders in possessions in which the ball never changed sides of the court. And yet the Warriors had their best success in games in which they averaged three to four passes per possession.

These are the numbers that Kerr and his staff—led by veterans Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams—are trying to hammer home as they work to change bad habits.

According to SportVU, the Warriors were indeed better offensively in the games they passed the ball more (though they averaged more than three passes per possession in only four games).

  • In the games they registered their 20 highest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.63 to 3.14), the Warriors scored 107.5 points per 100 possession and went 16-4 (6-3 against playoff teams).
  • In the games they registered their 20 lowest passes-per-possession numbers (a range of 2.09 to 2.35), they scored 105.3 points per 100 possessions and went 9-11 (1-10 against playoff teams).

The difference in efficiency (2.2 points per 100 possessions) isn’t that huge. And if you take the entire season on a game-by-game basis, there’s just a minimal correlation between how frequently they passed the ball and how efficiently they scored. There were some bad offensive games in which they passed the ball a lot and some good ones in which they didn’t.

But that 16-4 record when they moved the ball a lot is hard to ignore, while the 1-10 record against playoff teams when they were more stagnant has to be a concern.

Looking at individual possessions, SportVU tells us again that the Warriors were more efficient the more they passed the ball. In fact, on possessions in which they passed the ball less than four times, the Warriors barely cracked a point per possession, a mark that would rank in the bottom 10 in the league. But on possessions in which they passed it four or more times, they scored close to 1.2 points per possession, a mark that would rank No. 1 in the league, by far.

As one of the league’s two or three best shooters with the ball in his hands, Stephen Curry is a matchup nightmare. He doesn’t need a pass — just a screen or a little bit of space on the break — to get an good look at the basket. Curry and Carmelo Anthony tied for the league lead with 456 unassisted field goals each last season, and Curry (142) had 54 more unassisted 3-pointers than any other player.

But Curry is still a better shooter off the pass than off the dribble. Last season, he made 48.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers and 43.7 percent of his pull-up jumpers.

So yes, there is motivation for the Warriors to pass the ball more. Less than 25 percent of Curry’s jumpers were of the catch-and-shoot variety last season. If the Warriors can get him off the ball more, they should be a more efficient offense.

Good news. In the five Golden State preseason games of which we have video, Curry has taken more catch-and-shoot jumpers (23) than pull-up jumpers (17). Some of those catch-and-shoot attempts have come after just one or two passes, and he was sometimes off-balance as he tried to get off a quick shot after coming off a pin-down screen, but the team’s intent to get Curry shooting more off the pass is there. And he seems willing to give the ball up early in a possession in order to get it back for a better shot.

The Warriors ranked third in defensive efficiency last season. Ranking 12th offensively was a disappointment given their talent. With their shooting in the backcourt and their passing in the frontcourt, the potential is there for an elite offense.

If Kerr can help the Warriors realize that potential without regression on defense, the Warriors will be a championship contender.

Measuring ball and player movement


VIDEO: Spurs Season Preview: Year in Review

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With the way the San Antonio Spurs eviscerated the Miami Heat defense on their way to the largest point differential in Finals history, ball movement has become a hot topic around the NBA. (You could say that the Spurs have spurred a ball-movement movement.)

The Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Thunder and Warriors are among the many teams who have given lip service to moving the ball better this season. And why not? More movement should make your team tougher to guard and give it a better chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

In the past, there wasn’t a great way to measure ball movement. We had assist ratio (AST/FGM), but an assist could be recorded without a lot of ball movement, a lot of ball movement doesn’t necessarily lead to an assist, and assigning assists is ultimately at the discretion of the official scorer.

Now, we have SportVU. And the presence of its cameras in every arena can give us a much better picture of how much teams really move the ball … and move themselves. The cameras track every movement on the court, both by the players and the basketball.

The Spurs are the first team that come to mind when discussing ball movement. But they ranked fourth in passes per possession last season, according to SportVU, behind Charlotte, Chicago and Utah.

Those three were all bottom-seven offensive teams, though. One reason they passed more often is because they often went deep into the shot clock without finding a good shot. The Jazz took a league-high 21 percent of their shots in the final six seconds of the shot clock. The Bulls (20 percent, fourth highest rate) and Bobcats (17 percent, 10th highest rate) took a lot of their shots in the final six seconds too.

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20141016_passesTo account for that, SportVU can look at passes on a per-minute basis. And to simplify things, it can isolate passes and player movement in the frontcourt on possessions that lasted more than six seconds (to eliminate fast breaks).

When we do that, we see that the Spurs do moved the ball more than any other team, more than 15 times per minute. The Bobcats were still near the top of the list, but the Jazz (14.1) and Bulls (13.9) ranked ninth and 11th respectively.

The league average was about 13.6 passes per minute (one every 4.4 seconds), and the Golden State Warriors are at the bottom of the list at 11.7 passes per minute, a number which might change with a new coach.

The Sacramento Kings were just above the Warriors at 11.9 passes per minute, but interestingly, ranked high in terms of player movement.

Player movement

20141016_distanceNot surprisingly, the Spurs were at the top of this list, too. Not only is the ball moving in San Antonio’s offense, but so are the players. Tony Parker is passing off and circling under the basket before getting the ball back at the top of the key. Tiago Splitter is setting multiple screens on most possessions. And Danny Green is running from corner to corner to get open while his defender is focused on the ball.

The Bobcats, Sixers, Wizards, Jazz and Bucks also ranked in the top 10 in both ball and player movement. The Warriors, Pistons, Knicks and Thunder, meanwhile, ranked in the bottom 10 in both.

The anomalies

There was a decent correlation between ball movement and player movement, but there were teams that ranked high in one and not the other.

The Kings and Pelicans each ranked in the top five in player movement, but in the bottom five in ball movement. New Orleans ranked third in the league in drives, but was the team most likely to shoot on those drives.

On average, about 65 percent of drives would result in a drawn foul or a shot by the driver. Tyreke Evans (70 percent), Eric Gordon (79 percent) and Austin Rivers (82 percent) were all guys who drove a lot, but not for the purpose of finding an open teammate.

The Kings’ offense featured a lot of cutting, but not a lot of passes. Isaiah Thomas led all starting point guards in seconds (of possession) per touch (5.45). And DeMarcus Cousins (1.95) led all power forwards and centers in the same category.

On the other side of the ledger were the Clippers and Lakers, who ranked high in ball movement (eighth and fifth, respectively), but low in player movement (22nd and 25th).

The Clippers’ offense is a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and a solid helping of post-ups, each of which draw extra defenders to the ball and create open looks for other guys. But those other guys aren’t moving that much when they’re not involved in the primary action. The Lakers, with far less talent, often swung the ball around the perimeter until somebody had enough space to launch a three.

Is better ball movement the answer?

The Spurs move the ball beautifully, move themselves often, ranked sixth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and took it to a new level in The Finals. But the Spurs are special.

There is no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. Three top-10 offenses — Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Toronto — ranked in the bottom 10 in ball movement (passes per minute in half-court possessions). And five bottom-10 offenses — Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Utah, Charlotte and the Lakers — ranked in the top 10.

If you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you don’t need to move the ball that much. And if you have the combination of Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, you’re going to get some great shots by just running a pick-and-roll. If you don’t have enough talent, it’s not going to matter much how much you move the ball.

The same goes with player movement. As noted above, the Clippers ranked 22nd in player movement (team distance per minute in half-court possessions), and they had the No. 1 offense in the league.

You might think that better ball movement allows you to better sustain your offensive success in the playoffs, when you’re facing defenses that know all your players and aim to take away your primary actions. But last year, there was no correlation between teams that moved the ball well in the regular season and those that improved offensively in the playoffs.

Again, the Spurs are special.

Talking numbers with Raptors’ Casey


VIDEO: 2014-15 Raptors Team Preview

NEW YORK – To be a true title contender, a team must be among the league’s best on both ends of the floor.

There were four teams who ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. Three of them should be no surprise. But four months later, it’s still strange seeing the Toronto Raptors as the Eastern Conference’s only representative on the list.

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The Raptors were a surprise in the standings too. After five years outside the playoffs and a 6-12 start, the Raps went 42-22 over the final four months and finished third in the East.

But the Raps still finished one possession short of the conference semifinals. So they have to find ways to keep getting better after making jumps on both ends of the floor last season. (more…)

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford


VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA – The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.

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Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically.

NBA.com spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense

NBA.com: Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?

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Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there.

NBA.com: Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in.

NBA.com: What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack.

NBA.com: Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.

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Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things.

NBA.com: Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J

NBA.com: But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?

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Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way.

NBA.com: Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future.

NBA.com: Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.

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Balance and priorities as a head coach

NBA.com: Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again.

NBA.com: Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never.

NBA.com: You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well.

NBA.com: How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense.

NBA.com: What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year.

NBA.com: In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany.

NBA.com: Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority.

NBA.com: So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.