Posts Tagged ‘Chris Andersen’

Pick-and-roll Data Likes The Suns

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the Washington Wizards’ first possession of their big, triple-overtime win in Toronto on Thursday, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a side pick-and-roll. The same primary action produced two big free throws in the final minute of the second overtime and a huge three-point play in the third OT.

SportVU cameras captured every pick-and-roll run in the 63 minutes of basketball at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The folks at STATS LLC have been tracking pick-and-rolls via SportVU this season, opening a new door as we look to learn more about the game, and have provided some of the data to NBA.com.

Note: All pick-and-roll stats included are through Wednesday’s games.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Wall and Gortat had run almost 200 more pick-and-rolls than any other combination in the league. They’ve been a pretty solid combination, with the Wizards scoring 1.06 points per possession when the pair ran a pick-and-roll. That mark is a notch better than the league average of 1.03 (on pick-and-roll possessions) and ranks 87th among 209 pairs of teammates who have run pick-and-rolls on at least 100 possessions.

But there’s a big difference between a Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll and a Wall-Nene pick-and-roll, which has produced just 0.85 points per 100 possessions. That’s one reason why Washington ranks 29th in pick-and-roll efficiency (better than only the Milwaukee Bucks).

Wizards’ most-used pick-and-roll combinations

Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Wall Gortat 784 731 772 1.06
Wall Nene 349 324 275 0.85
Beal Gortat 240 226 224 0.99
Wall Booker 147 139 128 0.92
Beal Nene 121 116 110 0.95
Wall Ariza 111 111 119 1.07
Ariza Gortat 113 108 105 0.97
All other combinations 1,295 1,249 1,077 0.86
TOTAL 3,160 3,004 2,810 0.94

Wall has been more likely to pass to Nene than Gortat, but that hasn’t been a good idea, as Nene has shot just 16-for-48 (33 percent) on those plays.

John Wall pick-and-roll partners

Screener Scr. P&R Poss. JW FGM JW FGA JW FG% JW PTS Pass to S S FGM S FGA S FG%
Gortat 784 731 74 183 40.4% 171 188 42 85 49.4%
Nene 349 324 24 71 33.8% 56 129 16 48 33.3%
Booker 147 139 15 49 30.6% 33 34 6 13 46.2%
Ariza 111 111 14 23 60.9% 41 29 5 9 55.6%
Seraphin 85 81 4 11 36.4% 10 27 3 15 20.0%
Others 149 143 6 22 27.3% 17 25 2 10 20.0%
TOTAL 1,476 1,386 131 337 38.9% 311 407 72 170 42.4%

You see that Wall has shot worse when he’s come off a Nene screen, perhaps because Gortat sets a better pick and/or because Nene’s defenders are more mobile and able to defend Wall on a hedge or switch.

The Wizards will miss Nene, who’s out six weeks with an MCL sprain, but mostly on defense. The Wizards have allowed slightly less than a point per possession when he’s been the big defending a pick-and-roll. They’ve been almost seven points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Offensively, they’ve been a point per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. And their pick-and-roll game might actually get better in these six weeks without him.

Top of the list

The Dallas Mavericks have been the most prolific pick-and-roll team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns have been the best, scoring 1.09 points per pick-and-roll possession, just a hair better than the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, team

Team Screens Scr/100 Rank P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Phoenix 2,640 47.8 24 2,162 2,362 1.093
Houston 2,480 44.2 27 2,091 2,282 1.091
Portland 2,805 49.7 23 2,295 2,499 1.089
Oklahoma City 2,834 50.0 22 2,354 2,554 1.08
New York 2,782 51.9 16 2,292 2,452 1.07
Miami 2,768 54.0 12 2,145 2,294 1.07
Dallas 3,955 69.6 1 3,031 3,226 1.06
San Antonio 2,752 50.7 20 2,224 2,361 1.06
Indiana 2,420 44.6 26 2,015 2,139 1.06
Toronto 3,529 66.2 2 2,696 2,848 1.06

Scr/100 = Screens per 100 possessions

The Suns’ success starts with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, the aggressive ball-handler and the 6-foot-11 floor spacer. They’ve been the league’s top pick-and-roll combination among those with at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, tandem

Team Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
PHX Dragic Frye 425 392 510 1.30
MIA Wade Andersen 131 124 160 1.29
OKC Durant Collison 119 114 143 1.25
OKC Westbrook Durant 156 148 185 1.25
NOP Holiday Anderson 130 125 156 1.25
SAC Thomas Gay 168 165 202 1.22
POR Batum Lopez 183 180 220 1.22
POR Williams Lopez 121 111 135 1.22
IND Stephenson Hibbert 147 144 175 1.22
OKC Durant Perkins 209 196 238 1.21

Minimum 100 pick-and-roll possessions

Dragic has run almost the same amount of pick-and-rolls with Miles Plumlee (407 screens on 390 possessions) as he has with Frye (425, 392). But the Suns have  scored only 1.03 points per possession on the Dragic-Plumlee pick-and-rolls. Clearly, Dragic prefers to have a screener who pops out for a jumper, rather than one who rolls to the rim.

On those 390 Dragic-Plumlee possessions, Dragic has passed the ball 232 times, but only 59 times (25 percent) to Plumlee. On the 392 Dragic-Frye possessions, he’s passed the ball 234 times, and 113 of those passes (48 percent) have gone to Frye.

Overall, the Suns have been efficient when Dragic has the ball, scoring 1.16 points per possession from his 1,238 pick-and-rolls. That’s the best mark among 46 starting point guards and other high-usage perimeter players who have been the pick-and-roll ball-handler for at least 300 possessions. And who’s next on the list might surprise you.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, ball-handler

Ball-handler Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss. Top Partner Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss.
Goran Dragic 1,172 1,361 1.16 Channing Frye 392 510 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 690 793 1.15 Amir Johnson 261 303 1.16
Kevin Durant 732 813 1.11 Serge Ibaka 284 286 1.01
Jeremy Lin 528 586 1.11 Dwight Howard 166 181 1.09
LeBron James 659 729 1.11 Chris Bosh 188 225 1.20
Damian Lillard 1,121 1,238 1.10 LaMarcus Aldridge 441 526 1.19
Dwyane Wade 469 516 1.10 Chris Bosh 155 144 0.93
Jrue Holiday 783 859 1.10 Anthony Davis 245 256 1.04
Monta Ellis 1,451 1,583 1.09 Dirk Nowitzki 500 554 1.11
George Hill 619 672 1.09 David West 258 279 1.08

Among 46 starting point guards and other perimeter players in the top 25 in usage rate.
Top partner = Player with whom he’s run the most pick-and-rolls.

DeRozan’s numbers seem a little fluky. He’s shot just 41 percent out of pick-and-rolls, has recorded an assist on just 5.8 percent those 690 possessions (the fourth lowest rate of the group), and averages less than one secondary assist (where his pass directly leads to somebody else’s assist) per game. But he has drawn fouls on 9.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, a rate on par with that of LeBron James.

Some more notes from this list…

  • It’s interesting that James has had good success with Chris Bosh, but Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Wade has actually shot better (18-for-32) than James has (14-for-31) coming off Bosh screens, but Bosh has shot better when receiving a pick-and-roll pass from James (15-for-22) than he has when getting one from Wade (9-for-25). The shooting numbers, of course, are some small sample sizes.
  • Of the 46 pick-and-roll ball-handlers I looked at, the most likely to shoot is Tony Wroten, who has taken a shot on 31.0 percent of the screens he’s come off of. Next on the list are Nick Young (30.7 percent), Reggie Jackson (30.0 percent), Jamal Crawford (29.6 percent) and Rudy Gay (29.6) percent.
  • The players least likely to shoot are Kendall Marshall (12.4 percent), Patrick Beverley (12.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (14.5 percent), George Hill (15.9 percent) and Ty Lawson (16.3 percent).
  • James (20.1 percent) is less likely to shoot than Chris Paul (21.3 percent), Dragic (21.7 percent) or Wall (22.1 percent).
  • The guy most likely to pass to the screener is Stephen Curry. Of Curry’s 830 passes out of pick-and-rolls, 56.3 percent have gone to the screener. Next on the list are Russell Westbrook (55.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (52.1 percent), Deron Williams (50.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (48.7 percent).
  • The guy least likely to pass to the screener is James Harden (27.2 percent). So when they come off pick-and-rolls, Curry is twice as likely to pass to the screener than Harden is. After Harden comes Carmelo Anthony (27.4 percent), James (28.0 percent), Jrue Holiday (29.0 percent) and Tyreke Evans (30.3 percent).
  • Six of the 46 have shot better than 50 percent when coming off a pick-and-roll: Chalmers (54.8 percent), Dragic (53.2 percent), James (52.5 percent), Wade (51.3 percent), Kevin Durant (50.2 percent) and Tony Parker (50.2 percent).
  • Get this: Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent).

Location is key

SportVU keeps track of where every pick-and-roll takes place. As you might expect, the closer to the basket the screen is set, the more likely the offense is to score. The most efficient pick-and-roll spot on the floor is at the high post (around the foul line, inside the 3-point arc), which produces 1.05 points per possession.

But high post pick-and-rolls account for only 4 percent of all pick-and-rolls. The most common location is the top of the key, which sees 41 percent of pick-and-roll action. Next is the wing (foul-line extended), which sees 28 percent and the “sideline point” area (out by the coach’s box line) at 25 percent.

Pick-and-rolls by location

Location Most PCT PPP Best PCT PPP Worst PCT PPP Lg. avg. PPP
Center Point NOP 53% 1.05 POR 42% 1.12 MIL 41% 0.90 41% 1.02
Wing CHI 39% 1.05 GSW 16% 1.11 ORL 19% 0.93 28% 1.02
Sideline Point DAL 32% 1.10 OKC 31% 1.17 WAS 25% 0.92 25% 1.03
High Post PHI 7% 1.03 HOU 3% 1.31 GSW 3% 0.80 4% 1.05
Corner MIA 7% 0.97 MIN 2% 1.28 BOS 3% 0.76 3% 0.99

PCT = Percentage of total pick-and-rolls run from that location.
PPP = Points per possession on pick-and-rolls run from that location.

We’re just scratching the surface here. And that’s the issue with SportVU. There’s so much data to digest, it has to be compartmentalized and put into the proper context. But we’re really starting to see how much it has to offer.

Next week, I’ll take a look at pick-and-roll defense. (Hint: Indiana good, Portland bad.)

Film Study: When The Heat Aren’t Engaged


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks handle the Heat at MSG

NEW YORK – This week’s Film Study could look a lot like last week’s. For the second straight Thursday night, a team picked apart the Miami Heat’s pick-and-roll defense.

The New York Knicks only scored 102 points (compared to the Warriors’ 123 last week) in their victory on Thursday, but it was a very slow-paced game. The Knicks had the ball just 86 times, so, in terms of efficiency, they were on par with what the Warriors did against the Heat in a much faster game a week earlier.

New York actually scored less than a point per possession (43/47) in the first half. But in the final 24 minutes, they scored a remarkable 59 points on just 39 possessions.

Like the Warriors, they executed well. The Knicks got the Heat defense moving with pick-and-roll, they moved the ball to the open man, and they made shots, hitting nine of their 16 mid-range jumpers and seven of their 18 above-the-break threes.

Having a healthy point guard helps. Raymond Felton racked up 14 assists on Thursday, while committing just two turnovers. He’s been in and out of the lineup this season, and not very effective when he’s been (relatively) healthy.

But last season, the No. 3 offense in the league was at its best when Felton was on the floor. A healthy dosage of pick-and-rolls keeps the Knicks from getting too iso-heavy and allows Carmelo Anthony to shoot off the catch, instead of off the dribble. Though Anthony led the league in usage rate last season, Felton had the ball in his hands about 70 percent more (5:40 per game vs. 3:21 per game, according to SportVU).

So, going forward, the Knicks will be better if Felton is healthy and they’re moving the ball. They’re most efficient when they’re picking and rolling, which was the game plan on Thursday. They knew that the Heat could be beat and open shots could be had with quick passes and ball reversals. And they took care of the ball against the team that has forced more turnovers per 100 possessions than any team in the last 15 seasons.

The Heat can be the best defensive team in the league when they want to be. But they generally don’t want to be during the regular season. Their disruptive defensive scheme requires a lot of energy, more than they can come up with over 82 games.

And while the Knicks deserve a ton of credit for their offensive execution, the Heat were clearly not at their best defensively. Here are some examples from a stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters when the Knicks turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead …

Play 1 – Ole!

With the Heat up three late in the third quarter, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire ran a side pick-and-roll. Dwyane Wade came to help from the weak side, but, instead of putting himself between Stoudemire and the basket, he just swiped at the ball as he ran by. And that’s not going to get it done.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade’s pick-and-roll defense leaves much to be desired

Play 2 – Ole! Part II

A couple of possessions later, the ball was swung to Andrea Bargnani, who was being defended by Chris Bosh, who bought on a pump fake from a guy who has shot 30 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons. Wade again comes over to help and again just takes a swipe at the ball. The result is an and-one and a lead the Knicks would never relinquish.


VIDEO: Andrea Bargnani easily drives on the Heat defense

Play 3 – Amar’e all alone

Two possessions after that, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis double-teamed Anthony in the corner. After the ball was swung around the perimeter, Stoudemire was wide open under the basket, because neither Cole nor Lewis rotated.


VIDEO: Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis fail to rotate on defense

The Heat’s semi-lackluster play spilled over to the offensive end of the floor. As the Knicks were making their run, Miami scored just two points (against a bottom-10 defensive team) over 10 possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. They weren’t attacking and they often settled for a decent shot when a better one could have been had with a little more work.

Play 4 – Carelessness

This is just a careless pass by Chris Andersen as Cole curls out from the baseline. Andersen takes one hand off the ball and doesn’t wait until Cole has created any separation from Felton.


VIDEO: Chris Andersen throws a careless pass to Norris Cole

Play 5 – Settling

Here, Wade settles for a contested, mid-range jumper early in the shot clock instead of running the offense and putting pressure on the Knicks’ D.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade takes the contested shot rather than pressure the Knicks’ defense

The Heat have had their moments this season, but there have been a lot of games/halves/quarters/possessions when they’ve been disengaged. The same was true early last season and they went on to win 27 straight games and their second straight championship. But even in the playoffs, they seemed to turn their defense on and off, failing to win consecutive games against the Pacers or Spurs until they pulled out Games 6 and 7 in The Finals.

They still have LeBron James and they’re still the favorite to win another title. But in the middle of the season, you’re going to see teams take advantage of their indifference.

Heat’s Change Comes From Within

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ORLANDO, Fla. – The Rockets are over the moon with the arrival of Dwight Howard. The Nets are busy loading up on veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. The Bulls figure they’re right back in the picture with the return of Derrick Rose. The Clippers and Warriors are on the rise with additions of Doc Rivers and Andre Iguodala, respectively.

summer-league-logoSo is there any reason to be concerned that the two-time champs from Miami have done little more than sit on the beach this summer?

During his visit to the Orlando Pro Summer League, coach Erik Spoelstra said the improvement to the Heat will come from themselves.

“Even our veteran players, even guys that are over 30 years old, you have to continue to try to get better,” Spoelstra said in an interview on NBA TV. “And the only way we’ll get better, and you see the competition around the league is getting better, our guys have to get better.

“Our best players take that upon themselves, so it’s easy for the other guys to follow. But even a guy like LeBron (James), coming off of an MVP year the year before, people thought that was probably the highest level that he could play at and he played at an even more historic level last year. We’re going to need that from quite a few players next year.”

In an era where change is always in the air, the Heat with back-to-back titles can afford, are using cohesiveness and consistency as their strength built around the core of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The Heat re-signed free agent center Chris Andersen and now the only member of the playoff roster not under contract for next season is Juwan Howard.

“It was important for (Andersen), for us, to be able to get him back,” said Spoelstra. “It was one of the biggest signings, we thought, during the year.

“His style fits very much to how we like to play, defense and toughness and rebounding, he finds a way to get open. But his personality also fits. And he’s got that great TV personality that you all see, but inside the locker room, you have to be a little bit out of the box to fit in our locker room.”

Spoelstra said the most important thing for the Heat going forward is to continue blending and refining the talents of the Big Three.

“It’s taken some time,” he said. “I think you probably forget what we looked like when we first put the group together. It was rough offensively.

“I think early on, we were able to develop our defense and create an identity and play off of that. But offensively it’s taken some time to get into a comfort level and gain some confidence. Another year, hopefully will do that. But we also have to have an improvement from within.”

Report: ‘Birdman’ Won’t Fly Heat’s Coop

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From NBA.com staff reports

On Jan. 20, the Heat took a flyer on Chris “Birdman” Andersen, signing the free-agent center to the first of two 10-day contracts. By Jan. 30, Andersen, who was amnestied by the Denver Nuggets prior to the 2012-13 season, had a season-long deal with the defending champs.

Come playoff time, Andersen more than proved his value to Miami as his defense, hustle plays, tenacity and more helped spark the Heat off the bench. He had a stretch in the East finals where he made his first 15 shots and was critical in a Game 1 victory over the Pacers. His play was vital to Miami repeating as NBA champs and, as the play above shows, he came up with some key plays in a Game 7 victory over the Spurs in The Finals.

As such, Andersen became the offseason free-agent priority for team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra, and as Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports, will be with the Heat for one more season:

Chris Andersen – the famous Birdman – has agreed to a one-year contract to return to the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Andersen played a telltale part in the Heat’s championship run, signing in January and immediately impacting the Heat during a 27-game winning streak that turned into a prelude to another NBA title. The Heat were 37-3 in the regular season with him.

Andersen, 34, was spectacular in the Heat’s Eastern Conference finals series against the Indiana Pacers, making 15 consecutive shots.

In less than 15 minutes a game, Andersen averaged nearly five points and four rebounds for the Heat. He also gave Miami a formidable and physical presence around the basket.

Andersen played 32 games for the Denver Nuggets in the 2011-12 season, before the Nuggets used the NBA’s amnesty clause to waive him. He’s played parts of 11 seasons with Denver, New Orleans and Miami.

And as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst point out, Andersen re-signed with the Heat for less money than he likely would have commanded in the open market:

Anderson could have commanded longer deals elsewhere, but sources said he couldn’t bear to leave such a good situation in Miami, where he emerged as the Heat’s best big man after joining the team in January.

The Heat had made bringing Andersen back an offseason priority but are limited somewhat financially because they are facing a $30 million luxury tax bill this upcoming season.

Andersen’s return, coupled with the decisions on the options of free agents Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers, ensures the Heat’s core players will be together for another title run.

Who Should Stay And Who Should Go

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HANG TIME, Texas
— The start of free agency always has plenty of decisions. The most basic are which players should look for greener pastures and who should be smart enough to realize what they’ve already got.

Here’s a quick look at a handful of players that need to find a new address and five more who should stay at home:

FIVE WHO SHOULD GO


Dwight Howard
, C, Lakers

Let’s face it. There hasn’t been an NBA marriage this shaky that didn’t involve a Kardashian. Howard went to a team where Kobe Bryant was already firmly entrenched as the alpha dog and then found himself on a leash that included geezers Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. Toss in a coach like Mike D’Antoni who has never favored playing a low post game and it was a recipe for disaster. Another several years of playing in the harsh glare of the Lakers spotlight might be too much for Howard to bear. The overly sensitive must flee to someplace that will give him a big hug before he turns into a pillar of salt.

Josh Smith, F, Hawks

If you were building a 21st century basketball player in a lab — speed, strength, leaping ability, size — chances are you would come up with someone resembling J-Smoove. After nine NBA seasons, he’s got career numbers that rank him among the greats. After nine years in his hometown of Atlanta, he’s about worn out his welcome with all of those wild, late, long shots. In the right situation, with the right coach, he might take a team to the next level or send it over the edge. A man has got to know when it’s time to change the scenery.

Tony Allen, G, Grizzlies

He’s the guy who introduced the grind into the Grindhouse and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He can cut to the basket and score, but that’s about all he can do offensively and that hole in his game was badly exposed by the Spurs in the Western Conference finals. The new analytics-driven Grizzlies have Tayshaun Prince to fill the defensive role and they’re not likely to fork over the kind of money Allen wants for a one-dimensional figure. It’s time to take those defensive claws to another contender or wannabe and show the Grizzlies what they’ll be missing.

Tyreke Evans, G, Kings

Was it just three years ago when Evans was a 20-5-5 guy and winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Kings? His fall from grace was like an anvil being tossed off the edge of a cliff. Now that new management was able to reel in shooter Ben McLemore in the draft, it would seem that there’s little room left for Evans. Will the Kings even think about matching four-year, $44 million offer from the Pelicans? This is a separation that’s been that’s been coming for a while.

Monta Ellis, G, Bucks

It just wasn’t a good idea to put together two small guards that need the ball in their hands together in Milwaukee. It’s definitely isn’t a good idea to re-sign both of them as free agents. Brandon Jennings is hardly the model of efficiency, but Ellis makes him look like a Swiss knife in comparison. He needs to find a new home where he can be a designated scorer and not asked to do anything else, because he won’t.

FIVE WHO SHOULD STAY


David West, F, Pacers

He may yearn for one more big pay in another location, but at the end of the day West and the Pacers know that they’re made for each other. He’s a very efficient scorer, a hard-nosed defender and played a big role in Indiana taking the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals. He also has great leadership skills and has always managed to fly below the radar while delivering in a big way almost every time out.

Andre Iguodala, F, Nuggets

He exercised his right to opt out early from his contract and maybe it was only about maximizing his earnings. Or maybe he needed time to digest what the change from George Karl to Brian Shaw as coach could do to the Nuggets’ style of play and how he fits into the attack. At the end of the day, the Nuggets still have plenty of players who can get up and down the floor in transition and it Shaw wants to place even more emphasis on defense, he’s most capable of delivering and thriving.

Chris Andersen, F, Heat

This is a perfect fit in so many ways. The Heat gave Andersen a place where he could continue this career and make a significant contribution. Andersen gives the Heat the kind of rugged, tough guy, free spirit personality that is a nice balance inside a locker room filled with three mega-stars. When you’ve got LeBron, Wade, Bosh and all of the hullaballoo that constantly swirls around them, almost no one even notices the Birdman. Almost. It’s a long grind from October to June and it helps to have an iconoclast like Andersen on the court and in their midst to keep the Heat fresh.

Nikola Pekovic, C, Timberwolves

New Wolves president of basketball operation Flip Saunders is likely to let free agent Andrei Kirilenko walk out the door in order to find someone cheaper and with better shooting range. But the big man Pekovic is a must-keep asset not just for his size, strength, rebounding and scoring efficiently, but also to show Kevin Love that the team is serious about building a team that — barring injury — can jump into the rugged Western Conference playoff race and thrive. Pekovic’s numbers in points, rebounds and blocks have gone up in each of his first three seasons and at 27 he can grow more into a dominant inside force.

Tiago Splitter, F, Spurs

The difference in Splitter from his first to second playoff seasons was a quantum leap. Of course, it also helped that he had a full training camp and was healthy. He’s a quietly efficient scorer who can be trusted to hold down the middle while the Spurs continue to monitor and limit the minutes played by Tim Duncan. He is a perfect complementary part for now and his role can increase in another couple of years. There are lots of teams that would like to have the 28-year-old, but he’s at home with the franchise that patiently waited for him to arrive and there is no reason to think the Spurs would want him to walk out the door.

Playing Games: The Tao Of Pop

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It was two weeks ago when the Spurs wrapped up their final practice before the start of The Finals and I had just walked out of their training facility on the northwest side of San Antonio when a shiny Mercedes-Benz pulled up along side of me in the parking lot.

The automatic window slid down on the passenger side and a voice yelled out: “Hey, could you answer a question for me?”

When I bent down to look in, Gregg Popovich pulled off his sunglasses and asked several: “Could you please tell me why I’m driving to the airport right now? Could you tell me why I’m making this trip to Miami? Could you tell me why I should even bother wasting my time with a foregone conclusion?”

When I smiled, he kept on going.

“I don’t know what everybody expects out of us, out of me. I mean, I’ve got Timmy Duncan. He’s 37 and a broken down old man. I’ve got another old man with Manu Ginobili, who’s always falling apart. I’ve got this skinny French kid Tony Parker. And then just a bunch of guys.

“They’ve got LeBron James. He’s the greatest player in the league right now, maybe the greatest of all time. And they’ve got Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This is lopsided. This is unfair. This is ridiculous.”

So the Spurs have a 3-2 lead and a chance to clinch the fifth NBA championship in franchise history tonight at American Airlines Arena.

This, of course, is why we play the games and don’t settle them on paper or in the minds of the so-called experts. Otherwise, we’d already be joining in the James’ proclamation from the summer of 2010: “Not one, not two, not three…”

Standing in the Texas swelter that afternoon in the parking lot, the daunting image of the defending champions rose like the shimmering heat off the blacktop, the team that had a league-best 66-16 record and won an incredible 27 consecutive games — second-best streak in NBA history — in the regular season.

But that was all before a 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard stoically accepted the challenge of matching up with the best player on the planet and began to do everything he could to keep him from blowing like the top off a volcano dome. He’s making shots inside and outside. He’s rebounding. He’s passing. All while having primary responsibility on the series’ biggest threat.

The Spurs have used a smothering, suffocating, double- and triple-teaming effort to keep the cork in James’ bottle and have held him to 21.6 ppg in The Finals, down from 29 in the Eastern Conference finals and down from 25.6 ppg for the playoffs. He is shooting just 41.2 percent. James has certainly made his presence felt, but not as an unstoppable force who can take over a game singlehandedly. Rave over all those 3-pointers by the Spurs, if you must. It says here that Leonard is the MVP to date, along with the coach who entrusted him.

That was all before the Spurs had for the most part kept Wade from hitting their beach like a tsunami. Before Danny Green became the reincarnation of “Mr. Clutch,” Jerry West. Before Popovich lit a fire under the struggling Ginobili by inserting him into the starting lineup for Game 5. Before Parker hit his iconic “up-off-the-knees” banker to win Game 1. Before Duncan showed just how much professionalism a 37-year-old big man can still deliver. And before the Spurs have been able to match Miami’s small-ball lineup effectively and thereby kept the nuisance effectiveness of Chris Andersen chained to the bench.

That was all before the Spurs have done what they’ve always done — kept their heads down and focused solely on the task at hand, never doubting themselves and never wavering, even in the six years that it’s taken them to get back to The Finals.

They’re too old, too worn out, too overmatched by the high-flying marquee names of the Heat. Until they’re not.

All I can think of is leaning into the window of Popovich’s car, while wondering why the floor in front of the passenger seat is filled with dozens and dozens of empty plastic water bottles.

“Is this an eco-friendly green machine that you bought from Al Gore or are you just a slob?” I asked him.

Pop finally stopped his rant.

“The truth is I’ve been looking for a recycling center for weeks now, but I can’t find one,” he said. “You know what? That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll just keep driving around town until I find a place to dump all of these bottles instead of going to the airport.

“I mean, really, what’s the point of going to Miami if you’re the San Antonio Spurs? What can happen there?”

He pushed the sunglasses back on his nose, shifted the car into gear, gave a wave and drove away, grinning.

Right & Wrong: Ginobili, Green Deliver

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SAN ANTONIO – With Manu Ginobili‘s 24 points and 10 assists in the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 5 win Sunday night over the Miami Heat, each member of each team’s Big Three has now had a big moment.

In Game 5, LeBron James (8-for-22 from the floor), Dwyane Wade (10-for-22) and Chris Bosh (7-for-11) didn’t shoot great, but they did combine for 66 points, 16 rebounds and 19 assists. Sounds like a winning formula just as the statistics of the Spurs’  Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and surprise starter Ginobili do: 67 points, 15 rebounds and 16 assists.

With such even production, what was the difference in the Spurs’ 114-104 win in Game 5?

The role players.

San Antonio’s continue to come up big. Danny Green hit six more 3-pointers and scored 24 points. Kawhi Leonard went 6-for-8 from the floor for 16 points, plus eight rebounds and three steals. Boris Diaw used his girth to make James uncomfortable for much of the game.

With Ginobili in the starting lineup, the Spurs’ first five all scored between 16 and 24 points. For Miami, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers combined for seven points on 2-for-11 shooting.

RIGHT: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich‘s decision to insert the struggling Ginboili into the starting lineup paid tremendous dividends. Playing alongside Parker more often allowed Ginobili to play off the ball more with less defensive attention — and often with Miller on him — and he was aggressive with his drives. He knocked down his first two shots early in the first quarter and dished a couple of assists and confidence that had been so elusive rushed back. Ginobili finished with a season-high 24 points and 10 assists and the Spurs moved to 23-2 this season when Ginobili has at least six assists.

WRONG: One reason Popovich put Ginobili in the starting lineup is because Heat coach Erik Spoelstra changed up his starting lineup for Game 4, going for offense with a smaller lineup that included Mike Miller instead of rugged forward Udonis Haslem. Off the bench, Miller was on fire, canning 9-for-10 shots from the beyond the arc. In two games as a starter, Miller is a combined 0-for-2 from the field (both shots from 3-point range) for zero points in nearly 46 minutes.

RIGHT: A few days ago Danny Green said he’s still waiting for someone to pinch him and wake him up. Yeah, well, the Spurs would like for that person to stay away for at least one more win. Green is on an historic hot streak and after he dropped another six 3-pointers in Game 5 on 10 attempts, he’s 25-for-38 (65.8 percent) from beyond the arc. He surpassed Ray Allen with the most 3-point baskets ever in an NBA Finals — and it’s only Game 5. He’s hit four, five, seven, three and six 3s in the first five games. Remarkable.

WRONG: The Heat’s defense on Green. As Parker said after Game 5, how in the world is Green open, ever, beyond the arc at this point in the series? Now, as Green said, he’s not actually open every time, he’s hitting contested 3s as well. The Spurs move the ball so well that it’s impossible to contain Parker, Ginobili and Duncan and still protect the 3-point arc. If the Heat want to stay alive for a Game 7, they’ll have to figure this out.

RIGHT: Dwyane Wade has really dialed back the clock. He had the huge 32-point, six-rebound, four-assist, six-steal Game 4 and followed it up with 25 points and 10 assists in Game 5.

WRONG: Have the tables turned for the Heat? Should we now be saying Wade can’t do it alone? James had his struggles in Game 5, scoring 25 points on 8-for-22 shooting, which included a ghastly 2-for-11 in the second half and 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter with just one free throw attempt in 10:54.

RIGHT: Another example of Pop pushing the right button at the right time was his use of Boris Diaw in Game 5. Diaw logged nine and 11 minutes, respectively in Games 1 and 2 and didn’t play at all in Game 3 before logging another 11 minutes in Game 4. In Game 5? Diaw played 27 minutes and much of that time was spent putting his weight on James, who finished 8-for-22 from the floor.

WRONG: Another example of the Heat getting nothing out of a role player is Chris “Birdman” Andersen — not that it’s his fault. He’s become a victim of Spoelstra’s small-ball lineup. A significant contributor in the East finals against Indiana, Birdman didn’t miss a shot until Game 7 of that series. He played the first three games of this series until Speolstra inserted Miller into the starting lineup and starting bringing Haslem off the bench. So not only have the Heat gotten no scoring out of Miller, they’ve kept their energy guy on the bench.

Film Study: Birdman’s Smart Defense Puts Spurs’ Parker In A Game 2 Cage

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MIAMI – Even before the Miami Heat went on a 33-5 run spanning the third and fourth quarters of Game 2 on Sunday, they were enjoying a much more efficient game than they played three nights earlier. Game 2 was played at a glacial pace, keeping the score looking more like a game played in the mid-90s than one played in the mid-80s. But it was a better offensive game than it may have seemed.

Miami’s 50 first-half points were scored on just 39 possessions. And before the 33-5 run started, they had scored 61 points on 54 trips down the floor, an efficiency of 1.13 points per possession, up from 1.02 in Game 1. And this was with LeBron James shooting 2-for-12 at that point.

Other Heat-ers were shooting 23-for-44. They were keeping their turnovers down and giving themselves second chances on the glass. Though the Spurs had already committed more than twice as many turnovers as they had in Game 1 and Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were all having an off night, San Antonio had a one-point lead.

That’s when the Heat locked down, allowing the Spurs to score just five points over their next 15 possessions, a span that included six turnovers. The stops turned into points on the other end for Miami, and by the time that 15-possession stretch was over, the Heat had a 27-point lead and the Spurs’ big three was done for the night.

The lineup that did most of the damage for the Heat (plus-17 in seven minutes) was a unit of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, James and Chris Andersen. And while the MVP had the ridiculous block on Tiago Splitter, it was Birdman who played the biggest role defensively.

Defensive priority No. 1 for the Heat has been containing Parker, which Andersen did that during the Heat’s run.

With the Heat up seven in the final minute of the third quarter, Andersen stopped two Parker/Duncan pick-and-rolls and then challenged Parker’s short jumper in the lane. After the Spurs got the rebound, Parker isolated on Chalmers, and Andersen was there to help …


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Duncan would throw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds play.

On the Spurs’ final possession of the quarter, Anderson was there to contain Parker once again …


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Duncan was open for a flash, but James was on the back line ready to rotate. Getting the ball to Duncan at the dotted circle would have required getting the ball over Andersen, who didn’t leave Parker until he had given up the ball.

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The Spurs’ first possession of the fourth quarter was one the Heat’s best defensive possessions of the game. Andersen was there to snuff out a Ginobili/Splitter side pick-and-roll (easier said than done when Ginobili is going to his left). Then Mike Miller, after helping on the roll, closed out hard on Gary Neal in the corner. When Neal tried to go baseline, Andersen was there to cut him off and the Heat forced another turnover…


Miller’s defense in this series may be just as important as Andersen’s. We know he’s shooting much better than Shane Battier these days, so if he can hold his own defensively, there are really no questions or issues with Erik Spoelstra‘s rotation. Miller is looking a lot more spry than he did a year ago and he’s busting his tail on defense to make himself even more valuable.

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Tony Parker in Game 2

Tony Parker’s Game 2 shot chart

Parker was 4-for-9 in the paint in Game 2, not that far off from his 5-for-9 performance in Game 1.

But he had just one bucket from outside the paint, down from the four he had on Thursday, in part because the Heat’s bigs stepped out on those pick-and-rolls and made him give up the ball.

Turnovers were also a big difference. Parker had five of them, with Chris Bosh forcing two straight early in the first quarter by stepping out on screens.

Interestingly, the Heat scored just nine points off the Spurs’ nine live-ball turnovers. So it’s not like the Spurs’ sloppiness really killed them on the other end of the floor. Miami was just much more efficient in half-court situations and on the secondary break.

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As we saw in the conference finals, the Heat run pick-and-rolls from all angles. They’ll run the standard high pick-and-roll. They’ll set the screen at the elbow (like on Chalmers’ and-one). They’ll run side pick-and-rolls (the Spurs’ bread and butter). They’ll run them toward the baseline. And they’ll run them out of the corner.

One wrinkle we saw on Sunday was the Heat rejecting those screens out of the corner. In fact, here’s a clip of three different Miami ball-handlers — Dwyane Wade, Norris Cole and Chalmers — using a dribble to get their defender’s body moving toward the screen, then crossing over, and taking the open lane on the baseline.

Wade’s drive produces an open three for Chalmers, Cole’s produces an easy tip-in for Andersen, and Chalmers gets a floater for himself…


Heat’s ‘Birdman’ Grounded For Game 6



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Miami Heat won’t be able to lean on Chris “Birdman” Andersen in their quest to finish off the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The backup big man was suspended for one game without pay by the NBA this evening for a Flagrant-1 foul on Pacers’ forward Tyler Hansbrough that was upgraded to a Flagrant-2 foul, a penalty announced by NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson.

Losing Andersen is a blow for a Heat team that has struggled to find consistent help for LeBron James in this series. Andersen is a perfect 15-for-15 shooting in five games against the Pacers, averaging 7.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 18.4 minutes. His energy and effort on both ends of the floor have been critical to the Heat’s cause.

Things went overboard, though, Thursday night in Game 5. Andersen was shoved from behind by Indiana’s Paul George, while chasing a rebound, and instead of checking to see who delivered the blow he went after Hansbrough, knocking him off of his feet as the two ran upcourt after the play.

Hansbrough and Andersen went chest to chest immediately after Hansbrough got back to his feet. Andersen followed that contact with  a shove to the chest and then had to be restrained by official Marc Davis, who Andersen was quick to shove aside as he continued barking at Hansbrough.

The video of the sequence went viral immediately. And even though there was no suspension, we all knew what was coming. The Heat’s paper-thin depth up front will be tested Saturday night. The Pacers will attack with Roy Hibbert and David West, as they should.

No offense to the Birdman or his legion of followers, but the Heat aren’t going to win or lose Game 6 based on Andersen’s contributions — not if Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade continue to struggle the way they have against the Pacers.

The Heat need a better all around effort from the entire supporting cast, and the usual spectacular work from James, if they have any chance of snatching another game on the road in this series. If the series does go to a seventh game, Andersen will back for that tilt Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

But he’ll sit for Game 6, as he should, for allowing his emotions to get the best of him in what has turned out to be an unbelievably tense series for both sides.

Birdman Should Sit For Manhandling Ref

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When the Eastern Conference finals shifts back to Indianapolis for Game 6 Saturday night, Miami’s Chris “Birdman” Andersen needs to spectate from his hotel room or his aviary or whatever other perch he can find outside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Because the NBA needs to deliver a one-game suspension for Andersen’s actions in a second-quarter skirmish.

Not just for what Andersen did to Pacers reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough, either. For his tussle with referee Marc Davis.

By now, the sequence of events involving Andersen and Hansbrough is widely known: Miami’s tightly wound big man, while trying to rebound, got nudged from behind by Indiana’s Paul George. Only he didn’t get George’s license plate — he apparently thought Hansbrough had delivered the bump. So as the two ran upcourt behind the play, he bumped “back” at Hansbrough, the collision sending the Indiana player sprawling.

Hansbrough, startled at first, took exception and Andersen was all too willing to continue what he had started. The two closed the distance between them and bumped chests, at which point Andersen sharply shoved Hansbrough back with two hands.

OK, that should have been enough to eject Andersen right there. The only difference between what Andersen did on the shove and what Chicago’s Nazr Mohammed did in shoving LeBron James in Game 3 of the semifinals was that James went sprawling, sliding several feet in what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau referred to as a “flop.”

Hansbrough’s mistake, even as the NBA seems ripe to wring out flopping, looks to be not (ahem) selling the play to refs Danny Crawford, Jim Capers and Davis. He couldn’t even had he tried, because teammate Roy Hibbert was there to catch him.

So Andersen delivers two blows — both of which sure looked to be “unnecessary” and “excessive” — and yet, upon review, gets slapped only with a flagrant-1 foul. But the skirmish wasn’t over.

One of the referees, Davis, gets in front of Andersen and moves him backward away from Hansbrough to stop a possible escalation of the beef. What does Andersen do? He pushes back. He grabs Davis’ wrist with his right hand. He pushes on the referee’s arm with his left. All of this physical contact with a game official because he’s steamed, because he didn’t like getting bumped from behind or because, in some misguided way, he’s trying to ignite (incite?) his Heat teammates and/or the crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena.

That was the most disturbing thing about the incident. Andersen did enough to be ejected then — or, a little late, suspended now for one game — with his hits on Hansbrough. But he crossed the line by getting physical with Davis.

No way should any NBA referee be subject to that sort of wrestling or manhandling, lest people assume they’re just part of the act in Andersen’s dumb WWE display.