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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

For Spurs to win, Parker knows he needs to be pass-minded first


VIDEO: Sounds of the Finals from Game 3

MIAMI – After his 29-point performance in Game 3 of The Finals on Tuesday, Kawhi Leonard got several punches to the chest from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich as he approached the bench.

Pop had actual words for Tony Parker, as we heard near the end of our “Sounds of the Finals” video (above).

“Great leadership,” Popovich told his point guard. “You didn’t get 30. You used great leadership and solid, solid play with the ball and your teammates. Great job.”

“I have to trust my teammates in this series,” Parker responded.

“Exactly,” Popovich said.

Parker was the Finals MVP the last time the Spurs won the championship, having torched poor Daniel Gibson for 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting in the 2007 Finals. If San Antonio gets two more wins before the Miami Heat get three in this series, Parker won’t be winning another MVP.

But he might be the Spurs’ most important player.

Back in October, before his team began its season by upsetting the Heat in its home opener, Philadelphia 76ers coach (and former Spurs assistant) Brett Brown was asked what the key would be for rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams in his first game against the Miami defense.

“Getting off the ball,” Brown responded.

Parker is no rookie, but the same holds true for him. The Heat defense is attacking him with a second defender when he comes off pick and rolls …

20140612_parker_dbl

… and the best thing he can do is get rid of the ball, so that it can eventually find the open man. And the faster he gets rid of the ball, the better shots his teammates will get.

“You have to move the ball against this team,” Brown said back in October. “The ball cannot stick.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Popovich talked about the ball sticking after the Spurs lost Game 2 on Sunday. And Parker was clearly the main culprit, having stopped the ball movement in attempts to go one-on-one too often.

In Game 3, Parker kept the ball moving. He had a couple of big games in last year’s Finals (including 26 points in a Game 5 win), but Parker knows that the offense generally has to come from somewhere else against the Heat, who are looking to get the ball out of his hands, either by doubling him on pick-and-rolls or defending him with LeBron James.

“It’s our key,” James told David Aldridge, “just to try to limit what he does.”

“For me the key is to find a happy middle between being aggressive or being patient,” Parker said Wednesday, “and looking at the advantage that we have. Because if LeBron’s guarding me, that means we have an advantage somewhere match-up-wise with Kawhi [Leonard] or Manu [Ginobili] or Danny [Green], so I have to be patient and make sure I call the right stuff.

“We talked about it with Pop after Game 2 because that’s the kind of series for me I just have to trust my teammates and move the ball. They’re trapping me on the pick-and-rolls, and then in the fourth quarter they’re putting LeBron. So I just have to be patient and look at what’s available for us, and just move the ball because Danny and Kawhi are going to have plenty of opportunities if LeBron’s guarding me.”

The numbers back up the notion that the Spurs are better when Parker is most willing to pass. His usage rate is lower in their five Finals wins against the Heat over the last two years (22.6 percent) than it is in their five Finals losses (26.8 percent).

And as he’s faced more aggressive defenses in this postseason, Parker’s usage rate has dropped every series, while the rate that he passes the ball has increased.

According to SportVU, Parker passed the ball 69 times per 100 touches in the first round against Dallas. That number stayed about the same in the conference semifinals against Portland. But it increased to 74 times per 100 touches in the conference finals against Oklahoma City and is up to 77 per 100 through three games against the Heat.

He still has the ball in his hands quite a bit. The offense still runs through him, but this is a trust-your-teammates series for Parker. The Spurs will have a better chance at another championship if he has little chance to be the Finals MVP.

Tony Parker by series

Round MIN TOP Poss% Touches Passes PP100T USG%
Reg. season 1,997 410.8 20.6% 5,136 3,767 73.3 26.6%
First round 231 48.4 20.9% 566 392 69.3 31.8%
Conf. semis 145 34.3 23.6% 364 251 69.0 30.4%
Conf. finals 167 31.4 18.9% 413 306 74.1 25.0%
Finals 105 21.4 20.4% 265 205 77.4 23.9%

TOP = Minutes with the ball
Poss% = TOP/MIN
PP100T = Passes per 100 touches
USG% = Percentage of team’s possessions used (via shots, assists or turnovers) when on the court.

Film Study: Spurs swing and attack


VIDEO: GameTime: Role players shape Game 3

MIAMI – The ball did not stick in Game 3. And the results were remarkable.

After his team lost Game 2 of The Finals on Sunday, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich remarked how the ball “stuck” too much in his team’s offense.

According to SportVU, the Spurs made exactly the same number of passes in Game 2 (337) as they did in Game 1, and on fewer possessions (88 vs. 95). But some passes are better than others, especially against the Miami Heat defense. When you say the ball sticks, you could mean that it sticks in one guy’s hands or that it sticks to one side of the floor.

In the first half of Game 2, the Spurs swung the ball from one side of the floor to the other with a pass just 19 times (on 46 possessions). They were passing, but they didn’t necessarily move the ball effectively. Here’s an example of a possession where the ball was passed four times, but stayed on the right side of the floor.

In the first half of Game 3, the Spurs swung the ball from side to side with a pass 30 times (on 44 possessions), which led to a relentless attack of the paint.

Monday’s Film Study noted the Heat’s ability to close out on shooters and force the Spurs’ into 23 mid-range shots in Game 2. On Tuesday, the Spurs attempted just eight mid-range shots, the same number as they attempted in their Game 1 victory.

When the ball is coming from the other side of the floor, closing out on shooters is tougher. The Heat’s weak-side defenders are generally in the paint, ready to help on a drive or cut. So when the ball is reversed, they have a longer distance to travel than if the ball is coming from the top of the key or the same side of the floor. They may get to the 3-point line, but their momentum keeps them from being able to stay in front of their man as easily.

And when the defender is coming from far way with that momentum, attacking those close-outs is easier. With the ball moving from side to side on Tuesday more than it did on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green went right at the Heat’s recovering defenders.

Here are a few examples…

Play 1: Swing and attack

The ball movement wasn’t crisp on the Spurs’ third possession of the game, in part because they were trying to take advantage of a mismatch – Mario Chalmers guarding Leonard. But once they saw that they couldn’t get the ball to Leonard in the post, the ball swung from the right side of the floor to the left. And when the ball came back to the right side, Leonard had just enough of a lane to the paint…

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Leonard drew a foul on Chalmers on the play, but also could have hit Tony Parker for an open 3 in the left corner…

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Play 2: Got him with the rocker

A few possessions later, the Spurs quickly swung the ball from the left side of the floor to the right, and then reversed it back to Leonard at the top of the key. With 16 seconds left on the shot clock, the Heat were already scrambling, with LeBron James having totally lost contact with Leonard and Dwyane Wade forced to switch out …

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Leonard looked to swing the ball to Green, but James recovered well enough. Wade displayed some great awareness to see James on the baseline and know that he had to go guard Leonard. And because Leonard first looked to pass (and because Chris Bosh also hedged over), Wade was able to get in front of him. But a simple rocker move got Wade leaning to his left, and Leonard was able to get him on his hip, get into the paint, draw a foul on Bosh, and hit a nifty scoop shot.

Play 3: Green gets in the act

The ball stays on the right side of the floor on this play, but it’s another example of Leonard’s and Green’s attack-the-close-out mentality. After Parker gets a sideline screen from Tim Duncan and takes the ball toward the right corner, he reverses it to Green. Wade closes out and positions himself to force the ball to the sideline …

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… but Green uses Wade’s momentum against him. He attacks that right leg and gets into the paint for a runner.

Play 4: Taking what they give you

The Heat are trying to push the ball to the sideline on their close-outs. They do not want the ball in the middle of the floor, where layups can be had and passes can more easily be made to whoever is open.

We were still in the first six minutes of the first quarter when Parker and Duncan ran a standard high pick-and-roll. A quick pass put the ball in Boris Diaw‘s hands with Ray Allen sinking down to the right block on the weak side…

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Two passes and 1.5 seconds later, the ball was in Green’s hands on the right wing. Allen closed out and, just like Wade, positioned himself to force the ball to the sideline…

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Unlike Wade in the play above, Allen has help in the presence of Duncan and Chris Andersen, who are preventing Green from attacking that right leg. But Green still uses Allen’s momentum to get to the basket. He just goes the other way.

Where the title will be determined

Green set a Finals record with 27 3-pointers in last year’s series. And Leonard’s mid-range shooting has improved quite a bit since he came into the league. But the pair were a combined 12-for-12 in the paint in Game 3, because of how well the Spurs moved the ball from side to side and because of how well they attacked the Heat’s close-outs.

There’s a reason all three Finals Film Studies thus far have been about the Spurs’ end of the floor. The Heat have been solid offensively throughout the series, especially when James has been able to stay on the floor. They’ve scored at least 105 points per 100 possessions in eight of the 11 quarters in which his body didn’t shut down.

In order to win their third straight championship, the Heat will need to get more consistent stops. They’re trying to be only the fourth team in the last 35 years to win a title after not ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. And there’s a reason why only three teams have done it in that span.

The Finals Stat: Game 3


VIDEO: The Spurs explode for 41 points in the first quarter

The basics
MIA SAS
Pace 90.7 90.7
OffRtg 104.9 116.3
EFG% 57.6% 61.2%
OREB% 16.8% 21.6%
TO Ratio 19.9 17.2
FTA rate 0.267 0.346

MIAMI – The San Antonio Spurs thumped the Miami Heat, 111-92, in Game 3 of The Finals on Tuesday. One stat stood out from the rest as the Spurs took a 2-1 series lead and regained home-court advantage.

The stat

1 - Number of times the Heat defense got consecutive stops in the first half.

The context

The shooting numbers were ridiculous. The Spurs shot 25-for-33 (76 percent) in the first half, hitting seven of their 10 3-point attempts. That’s an effective field goal percentage of 86 percent. Kawhi Leonard (6-for-7) and Danny Green (6-for-6) were on fire.

That’s obviously not sustainable, but the Spurs also got to the free-throw line (17 attempts) and took care of the ball (only five turnovers) in the first half. Their 71 points came on just 44 possessions. And it took 38 possessions (and more than 20 minutes) for Miami to finally get two stops in a row.

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After they did that, the Spurs proceeded to score 11 points on their final six possessions of the half. They hit some ridiculous shots, but also got good shots.

They had almost four times as many attempts in the paint (18) as they had from mid-range (5). For the game, San Antonio took just eight shots from mid-range, the same number they attempted in their Game 1 victory. In their Game 2 loss, they took 23 mid-range shots.

The Spurs made a change in the starting lineup, replacing Tiago Splitter with Boris Diaw. Their original starting lineup had played only 12 total minutes in the first two games, so it wasn’t a major adjustment. But the Spurs’ offense has always been better with Diaw on the floor, so the offensive explosion can’t be completely dismissed as a coincidence.

The Spurs aren’t going to shoot this well again, but the Heat do have to figure out a way to get stops. This was their worst defensive season since they came together in 2010, and they’ve got to find a new level soon.

Spurs’ first-half shot chart
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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