Posts Tagged ‘David Lee’

Warriors Run Out Of Gas Against Nets Before They Can Make History

VIDEO: Nets snuff out Warriors

NEW YORK – No team in NBA history had ever swept a road trip of seven games or more.

There’s a reason for that, and for why that bit of trivia still applies after Wednesday’s game in Brooklyn. Playing seven road games in a row is really hard.

The Golden State Warriors made it through six straight wins – including a victory in Miami last Thursday – but didn’t have enough gas in the tank to get win No. 7 on Wednesday, falling to the Brooklyn Nets, 102-98.

As much fun as it is to watch Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson launch 3s, to watch the second-best passing forward in the league, to watch David Lee‘s brilliance on the pick-and-roll, and to watch Andrew Bogut‘s craftiness inside, the Warriors’ 10-game winning streak and 19-3 record with both Curry and Andre Iguodala healthy was about defense.

During the streak, the Warriors scored 103.4 points per 100 possessions, a little over the league average for offensive efficiency. But they allowed just 93.3, a little over what the Indiana Pacers — the No. 1 defense in the league — have allowed this season. In the 22 games that Curry and Iguodala had played, they had allowed 94.9. Overall, they ranked fourth in defensive efficiency entering Wednesday’s action.

And it was on defense where fatigue affected them most in Brooklyn. The Warriors got off to a hot shooting start, held the Nets to just 16 points on their first 24 possessions of the night, and led by 16 late in the first quarter. But over the final 12 1/2 minutes of the first half, Brooklyn scored 43 points in 26 possessions.

The Warriors were a step slow on most possessions, two steps slow on others. Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston seemingly strolled to the rim on a few occasions. And really, as the Nets took a seven-point lead into halftime, it looked like the Warriors (and the streak) were done.

But they fought back, took the lead late in the third quarter, and went down to the wire. And again, they just didn’t have enough in the tank, shooting 1-for-8 (0-for-5 from 3-point range) in the final four minutes.

The Warriors’ lack of depth certainly contributed to their fatigue. Back-up guards Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore had an atrocious stretch in the second quarter, so Curry and Thompson played the entire second half. Curry led all scorers with 34 points, but went 0-for-8 from 3-point range after making his first two bombs in the first period.

And that’s the issue with the Warriors going forward. They’ve been terrific when they’ve been healthy, but their lack of a competent back-up for Curry could wear him down by April. So it’s no wonder they’d love to acquire Andre Miller or Kyle Lowry.

Still, a 6-1 trip is impressive. A top-five defense will win them a lot of games. A potent offense could help them deep in the playoffs. And the toughness they showed in Brooklyn on Thursday will help them in big spots down the line. Though the end-of-the-trip fatigue was obvious to any observer, the Warriors weren’t using it as an excuse.

“It’s a long road trip,” Curry said, “but we can’t let that be an excuse for how the game ended. We have to find a way to win.”

“Give them credit,” added head coach Mark Jackson. “They got in a rhythm, put us in tough situations with their pick-and-rolls, and they made plays.”

Indeed, the Nets deserve credit. They’re playing their best basketball of the season and have found some success with a small lineup. Now they have the longest winning streak in the league at four games. Three of the wins have come against teams with winning records and two have come without Deron Williams.

But this game was as much about the Warriors’ schedule as it was about how well the Nets have played in 2014. Seven games in seven cities over 11 days is rough, especially when the trip ends with a back-to-back in Milwaukee and Brooklyn.

“It was a frustrating way to end the streak,” Lee said, “but overall, a 6-1 road trip is very positive.”

Film Study: The Roll Of David Lee

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat entered Thursday’s game in Miami as top 10 defenses. Neither looked like one during a 123-114 victory for the Warriors, their seventh straight victory.

The Dubs got 36 points and some ridiculous shots from Stephen Curry. They also got 32 points and 14 rebounds from David Lee.

Lee had just three assists, but it was his ability to handle the ball out of the pick-and-roll that was a big key to chewing up the Heat’s aggressive defense to the tune of of 123 points on 101 possessions.

For the most part, Miami’s big men would stay with Curry as he came off Lee’s screens, and when Curry’s defender recovered, they had Curry trapped. Lee acted as a release valve for his point guard, and when he got the ball, the Warriors typically had a three-on-two situation on the weak side of the floor.

Here’s Lee with the ball on the Warriors’ fifth possession of the game …

20140102_lee_3on2

Shane Battier has chased Curry out to the left sideline and Mario Chalmers has recovered to his man, leaving Chris Bosh and LeBron James on the weak side to cover Lee, Andrew Bogut (in the paint) and Andre Iguodala (in the corner).

It seems pretty simple, but the key is having a big man who can provide a passing lane for his point guard, and then handle the ball well enough to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness.

Over the course of 48 minutes, the Heat switched up their coverages and the Warriors ran different wrinkles to keep Miami on its toes.

Here are six different pick-and-roll plays from Thursday night, all involving Lee and all resulting in a Golden State basket …

Play 1 – Attacking the 3-on-2

This is the play from the image above. Lee attacks that three-on-two situation and gets help from Bogut, who holds off Bosh.


VIDEO: David Lee attacks the 3-on-2 situation vs. Miami

Lee was 8-for-10 in the restricted area on Thursday.

Play 2 – Weak-side flash

Here, the Warriors run a Curry/Lee pick-and-roll from the side of the floor. When Battier and Chalmers trap Curry, it’s Bogut who acts as the release valve, flashing to the foul line from the weak-side block. The trap up top forced Bosh to try to defend both bigs, and he gets caught in the middle.


VIDEO: Andrew Bogut flashes from the foul line from the weak-side block

Play 3 – Taking the Heat off their game

At this point in the game, Lee had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting. The threat of the roll forces Bosh to make an adjustment on the high pick-and-roll, leaving Curry a lot earlier than usual in order to stay with his man. But Norris Cole doesn’t recover in time and Curry beats him to the basket.


VIDEO: Steph Curry gets a good look due to Norris Cole’s poor defensive recovery

Play 4 – Empty strong side

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Warriors run a pick-and-roll with nobody on the strong side of the floor. Bosh is back to blitzing Curry, who gets the ball back to Lee at the top of the key. As Lee attacks the paint, Curry doesn’t stop moving, leaving both Bosh and Cole in the dust. They have a two-on-one against Dwyane Wade‘s weak-side help and Curry gets a layup.


VIDEO: Curry gets a layup off of the Warriors’ two-on-one action

Play 5 – Curry off the ball

With about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Curry wasn’t getting open for any free looks from the perimeter. So the Warriors took him off the ball and had Iguodala run the pick-and-roll with Lee, who attacks the paint and kicks the ball out to the perimeter, where Chalmers is caught between Klay Thompson on the wing and Curry on the perimeter. How would you like your dagger, Mr. Chalmers?


VIDEO: Lee attacks the paint and finds Curry cutting to the rim

Play 6 – Mouse in the house

On the next possession, we have another Iguodala/Lee pick-and-roll. Instead of trapping it and falling victim to another three-on-two situation, the Heat switch it. The Warriors see the mismatch, get the ball to Lee at the high post, and he makes quick work of Wade.


VIDEO: Lee operates in the high post and scores on Dwyane Wade

The key against the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense is to get rid of the ball quickly. The easiest way to do that is for the screener to stay high and give the ball-handler a passing lane. But for most teams, having a big man with the ball 20 feet from the basket isn’t necessarily a good thing. If the screener isn’t adept at both passing and handling the ball himself, Miami can recover back and/or force turnovers.

The Warriors did commit 20 turnovers on Thursday and they have the league’s worst turnover rate. But they also forced the Heat to make adjustments defensively, because they got the ball to Lee quickly and he made the right decisions with it.

Lee has his issues on defense, but he’s one of the most skilled bigs in the league. And there’s not a better passing frontline in the league than Iguodala, Lee and Bogut. With Curry and Thompson (and Iguodala) providing the perimeter shooting, the Golden State starters have been the best offensive lineup in the league (minimum 100 minutes played).

The issue, of course, is their depth. While the starters have scored 117.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Golden State lineups have scored just 99.8.

Warriors efficiency

Lineups GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starting lineup 19 360 99.3 117.4 97.0 +20.5 +137
Others 34 1,285 99.2 99.8 98.9 +0.8 +19

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

The Warriors have a top-five defense and an offense that has played at a top-10 level when both Curry and Iguodala have been healthy (they’re 16-3 in those games), but they need one more guard to keep them afloat when the starters keep them off the floor. Their turnover ratio is higher with Curry off the floor (19.9 per 100 possessions) that it is with him on (16.2).

Still, for one night, while their defense struggled against the second best offense in the league, the skills of their starting lineup had enough to pick up their seventh straight win.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks at Miami’s deficiencies at defending the pick-and-roll

Curry Makes Biggest Impact Offensively


VIDEO: Stephen Curry lights up the Mavs and hits the game-winner

The List

Biggest on-off-court differential, OffRtg

On floor Off floor
Player Team MIN OffRtg MIN OffRtg Diff.
Stephen Curry GSW 744 112.0 370 86.5 25.5
Kevin Love MIN 748 109.5 313 86.0 23.5
John Wall WAS 755 104.6 230 83.9 20.6
Paul George IND 809 106.2 252 89.1 17.0
Klay Thompson GSW 872 107.1 242 91.8 15.3
Marcin Gortat WAS 691 104.3 294 89.4 14.9
Luol Deng CHI 656 101.3 324 86.6 14.7
Corey Brewer MIN 748 107.0 313 92.5 14.6
David Lee GSW 774 108.1 340 94.0 14.2
Ricky Rubio MIN 716 107.3 345 93.3 14.0

Minimum 300 minutes on the floor
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions

The Context

Last season, the leader in this category was Damian Lillard. The 2012-13 Blazers scored 11.5 more points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor than they did with him on the bench. Right now, Curry’s differential is more than twice that.

With Curry on the floor, the Warriors have scored 2.5 more points per 100 possessions than the best offense in the league (Portland). With Curry on the bench, they’ve scored 7.2 fewer than the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee).

Curry is one of the most dangerous weapons in the league and a unique challenge to defend, because he’s one of the league’s two or three best shooters, but also has the ball in his hands to start most possessions. He leads the league with 15.8 pull-up jumpers per game, including 5.1 from 3-point range.

Curry not only gets buckets himself, but the threat of him pulling up clearly creates openings for his fellow perimeter players. Klay Thompson has shot 7.4 percent better from the field and 9.9 percent better from 3-point range with Curry on the floor, while Andre Iguodala has shot 31.1 percent better from the field and 43.7 percent better from beyond the arc.

The Warriors have not only shot better with Curry on the floor, but they’ve turned the ball over 6.1 fewer times per 100 possessions. Both Nemanja Nedovic and Kent Bazemore have turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions.

Iguodala’s absence is certainly a factor in the offensive drop-off when Curry steps off the floor. Iguodala, who is the team’s back-up point guard in addition to being the starting small forward, and who also has a tolerable turnover rate, has missed the last 10 games with a hamstring injury.

But before Iguodala’s injury, the Warriors were still pretty bad offensively with Curry off the floor and Iguodala on, scoring only 93.7 points per 100 possessions over 195 minutes. They were strong defensively, however, and that’s where Iguodala’s absence has been felt most. Golden State has allowed 104.1 points per 100 possessions over the last 10 games after allowing just 96.5 over their first 13.

Even when Iguodala returns, backcourt depth will be an issue. Mark Jackson hasn’t been able to trust Nedovic and Bazemore, who have played a total of 114 minutes over the 10 games that Iguodala has missed. Curry, meanwhile, has played 40-plus in eight of the 10. Both Curry (11th) and Thompson (seventh) now rank in the top 11 in minutes per game. They’re young, but that’s a heavy burden to shoulder.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Golden State has been included among the teams interested in trading for Kyle Lowry. What they’d have to offer the Raptors is the issue. They don’t have much of value beyond their top six players.

The Warriors have played a tough schedule, with 14 of their 23 games on the road and 19 of the against the Western Conference. But their lack of depth has become a real concern. Nobody can come close to replicating what Curry gives them when he’s on the floor, but they need somebody who can at least keep their offense from falling completely off the map.

The Video

Here are Curry’s nine 3-pointers against the Clippers on Oct. 31, here are his 15 assists in Memphis from Saturday, and here’s his game-winner against the Mavs on Wednesday.

The bottom of the list

The Pacers have scored 14.7 more points per 100 possessions with Ian Mahinmi on the bench (106.5) than they have with him on the floor (91.8). Yeah, there’s still a big drop-off when Frank Vogel goes to his bench, but the reserves do their jobs defensively, Luis Scola has given them more offense than Tyler Hansbrough did, and Roy Hibbert‘s minutes are up from 28.7 per game last season to 30.7 this season.

Just ahead of Mahinmi is the Lakers’ Steve Blake at -14.6, and I wrote last week how L.A.’s bench has been so much better than their starters. Ahead of Blake are the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (-13.8), Vitor Faverani (-13.4) and the Pacers’ Orlando Johnson (-12.7).

Trivia question

What player has scored the most points without a single one coming from outside the paint? Hint: He’s a Western Conference big man who was once a top 10 draft pick by an Eastern Conference team.

More on-off-court notes

  • The presence of three Warriors in the top 10 further illustrates their lack of depth. Also in the top 10 are two Wizards, and when you take defense into account, John Wall has the largest on-off-court NetRtg differential. Washington has outscored its opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and has been outscored by 24.1 with him on the bench. That Eric Maynor addition hasn’t worked out too well.
  • It’s also interesting to see Luol Deng on the list. We understand how important Deng is to the Bulls’ defense, but it’s now clear that, without Derrick Rose, they desperately need Deng offensively. With him out over the last three games, Chicago has scored a brutal 79.8 points per 100 possessions against three bottom 10 defensive teams (Detroit, Milwaukee and New York). And no, D.J. Augustin isn’t going to help much.
  • At the top of the list defensively? Nate Robinson. The Nuggets have allowed 15.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with Robinson on the floor than they have with him on the bench. Seems crazy, but the Nuggets have been just awful defensively in the first six minutes of games, allowing 121.2 per 100 possessions, more than 20 over the league average of 100.9 during that time. That has forced them to play catch-up when their reserves enter. Nate for DPOY!

Trivia answer

Andrew Bogut, who has 164 points, all from the paint (150) or from the free throw line (14).

O’Neal, Warriors Need Each Other

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring.

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring in Oakland.

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal has in motion multiple business ventures ranging from technology to restaurants to real estate. A “retirement house” — his words — under construction in an upscale suburb northwest of Dallas is less than a month away from completion. His wife, 7-year-old son and a 14-year-old, nationally ranked volleyball-playing daughter are already settled in their strategically chosen retirement city.

O’Neal, 35, has spent the past six years meticulously planning each detail of his family’s approaching future together beyond basketball.

“Sometimes as a black athlete we get judged by what we can do with our feet and our hands and not enough of what we can do with our minds,” O’Neal said. “I want to show people just how successful I can be away from basketball.”

Still, one nagging detail hovers over an NBA career that started in 1996. O’Neal sought out the team for what is likely his final season as thoughtfully as he went about setting up the next chapter for his life. The Golden State Warriors, a young team bursting with talent and expectation, seemed the logical landing spot for a wise, grizzled veteran to share battle stories and hunt down team glory one last time.

In this respect, O’Neal needs the Warriors right now as much as they just might need him.

“He’s a guy we went and got for that reason,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.

“I don’t have very many regrets because the NBA has been a life tool for me in many different ways, but one thing I do regret, and I tell these guys a lot, is not respecting the moment,” O’Neal told NBA.com last week during the stop in Dallas. “The moment is when you get an opportunity to be a great team, have a chance at doing something that’s extremely special, that’s very difficult to do. Not capturing that moment and doing what’s necessary to seize that ability, that championship smell and everything, thinking that you’re going to have next year and the year after and the year after; that next year may never come.

“Here I am in my 18th season still looking for that moment.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal scores on a driving layup vs. the Pelicans

O’Neal, averaging 6.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 18.8 mpg backing up starting center Andrew Bogut, reflects on the nonsensical twist his greatest shot at a title with the the Indiana Pacers took as if it were yesterday.

“We were young and we were built to be good for a very long time. You couldn’t have told me at any point that we weren’t going to be able to compete, and then the brawl happened (at Detroit in 2004), I got hurt and then it was all downhill after that,” O’Neal said. “As a player you respect every player that wins a championship, but you envy it sometimes because you know the time you put in, you know the heartache, the blood, sweat and tears you put in over many, many years and you haven’t got the opportunity to taste that champagne, feel the emotions of winning it, having the tears of joy.

“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Warriors second-year forward Draymond Green figures he was six or seven years old when he first remembered watching a young O’Neal play for the Portland Trail Blazers. Growing up in Michigan, Green watched O’Neal dominate in the Eastern Conference with the Pacers. From 2001-07, the 6-foot-11, six-time All-Star recorded six consecutive seasons of 19-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and at least two blocks. In the first three he averaged a double-double.

O’Neal is one of five first-round picks from the ’96 Draft still going: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Derek Fisher. Warriors forward David Lee laughed as he suggested that George Mikan was also in that class. And before Green could answer the question about the first time he recalled seeing O’Neal play, Lee butted in: “I was in my crib” — no slang intended.

That’s OK because O’Neal not only accepts the role of wise, old veteran, he relishes it. He’s been exceptionally vocal in the locker room recently as an already wounded team lost defensive ace Andre Iguodala to a hamstring injury.  Adversity has come early in a season that, at 10-8, hasn’t followed a championship script.

“I keep telling the guys these are the things that build the character of a team,” O’Neal said. “You go through the trials and tribulations to start the season and you learn how to depend on your team rather than depend on just two or three guys. We don’t have any conference finals, NBA Finals experience outside of me, so it’s my job to give these guys the stories and sometimes the hard love of what it takes to get to that level because it’s a very difficult thing. And they listen. This is a situation where everybody really likes each other. I was kind of blown away when I got here just how good these young guys were and what the limits were for our team, and the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Following last Friday’s loss at Dallas, O’Neal sat at his locker with ice bags wrapped around both knees and his right thigh. He flexed a sore wrist. All-in-all though, the oft-injured center who recently missed five games with a knee bruise and a groin strain, said he’s feeling pretty good.

He nearly retired two seasons ago. His knees ached so badly he played in just 49 games in two seasons for the Celtics. With two surgeries already on his left knee, O’Neal said he was on the verge of retirement. That’s when Kobe raved to him about the treatments he’s received in Germany, and urged him to try the Regenokine therapy that has yet to be approved by the FDA. O’Neal has gone to Germany the last two summers and swears by the treatment, resuming workouts he said he abandoned many years ago.

Still, this is it O’Neal truly believes. His business ventures are in place. The house is almost finished. His family is entrenched in the Southlake, Texas community, and is ready for him to become a permanent fixture in their lives.

“I tell these guys all the time that I’m one of the rare players that sat on probably every aspect of professional basketball, all the good, all the bad,” O’Neal said. “You look at one point we were rolling — shoe deals, commercials, max deals, whatever it was — to being broken down physically and mentally with injuries; to being rolling with a team, being one of the best teams in the league to basically being devastated by the brawl.”

So now here he sits, knowing this is very likely one-and-done, knocking on wood, telling his stories and hoping for the best.

“If I can get an opportunity to play for that championship,” O’Neal said, “it would almost be storybook-like.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal explains why he signed with the Warriors

Spurs’ Bench Propelling Hot Start


VIDEO: Spurs bench players Marco Belinelli and Matt Bonner connect for a nice play

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Spurs’ starting lineup was a big part of their defensive improvement last season. It was the best defensive lineup in the league and outscored its opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions in its 364 minutes.

This season, that same starting lineup hasn’t been too good It’s been pretty bad offensively (with Tim Duncan shooting less than 40 percent) and has actually been outscored by four points in 99 minutes. Yet the Spurs are 13-1 and rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, because they have the best bench in the league right now.

While the Spurs’ starters have basically broke even, all other San Antonio lineups have outscored their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions, playing great on both ends of the floor.

Spurs efficiency

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starters 10 99 95.8 93.5 92.7 +0.8 -4
Other lineups 14 572 97.2 108.3 92.2 +16.1 +173
Total 14 671 97.0 106.1 92.3 +13.9 +169

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

There are two aspects to having a great bench, and neither have to do with how many points the players off the bench score. You just have to go back to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls for an example of a great bench that didn’t score a lot of points. That group built on leads because they were great defensively.

Building on leads (or decreasing deficits) is obviously the most important trait of a good bench. But keeping your starters fresh is also critical (and obviously related to how well you build leads). Through Tuesday, every player on the Spurs is averaging less than 30 minutes a game and the five starters have played just 52 percent of the teams total minutes. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the season from a roster.

No other contender in the Western Conference has had the bench success that the Spurs’ “Foreign Legion” crew has had, but some have done well with their reserve minutes.

Note: Before the season started, six West teams would have been considered as “contenders.” Portland has been added to this group, because they’re off to such a hot start and also because their bench was their primary issue last season.

Efficiency from lineups other than starters

Team GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Golden State 15 532 98.3 97.8 97.2 +0.6 -1
Houston 15 665 100.4 106.4 101.5 +4.9 +36
L.A. Clippers 15 448 100.4 107.1 105.9 +1.2 +10
Memphis 14 513 91.8 99.4 104.0 -4.6 -47
Oklahoma City 12 483 99.6 106.0 96.1 +9.9 +81
Portland 15 442 97.1 106.9 101.6 +5.2 +64

Note: This includes lineups with 1-4 starters on the floor. It also includes lineups that started games when regular starters weren’t healthy or before a coach (Kevin McHale) made a lineup change.

Each team is its own case. Some have had their starters healthy for every game, some have not, and one – Houston – has already made a major change to its starting lineup.

Golden State

The Warriors’ starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – has been ridiculously good offensively, scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions in 192 minutes together. Combine that with solid defensive numbers and they’ve been the league’s best lineup (minimum 75 minutes) thus far.

Bench units (which include lineups that have started games that Curry and Iguodala have missed) have been strong defensively, but weak offensively. When Curry has been off the floor, the Dubs have scored an ugly 87.5 points per 100 possessions.

Breaking even will do when your starting lineup is so good, and the Warriors are in good shape if they’re healthy. But it’s clear that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry will be missed if injuries keep popping up.

Houston

The Rockets moved Terrence Jones into the starting lineup just seven games ago and have been without James Harden in three games since then, so their optimal starting lineup has played just 69 minutes together and their numbers above include lineups that have started 11 of their 15 games. That set includes lineups with both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik that we know were bad offensively.

So it’s difficult to gather much from these numbers. We do know that the new starting group, with Patrick Beverley and Harden in the backcourt, has been terrific so far. And we do know that the Rockets have been strong defensively – allowing just 95.7 points per 100 possessions – with Asik on the floor without Howard. So that’s a good sign for their bench … at least until Asik gets traded.

L.A. Clippers

As we all expected, the Clippers’ starting lineup has been great, especially offensively. It currently ranks as the fifth best lineup in the league. But the five starters have played over 68 percent of the team’s minutes, the second highest mark among the seven teams we’re looking at here.

Last season, when the Clippers had a great defensive second unit, that number was 51 percent. This season, they’re suffering on both ends of the floor when they go to their bench and though their starters have been solid on defense, they currently rank as a bottom 10 defensive team.

A healthy Matt Barnes will help, but a defensive big off the bench is needed. Lamar Odom was exactly that for them last season and you can understand why the Clips are monitoring his progress as he works his way back into shape.

Memphis

The Grizzlies’ starters weren’t what they were last season, when they outscored their opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions after the Rudy Gay trade. This season, they were just a plus-0.8 in 169 minutes together. But losing Marc Gasol (out indefinitely with a sprained MCL) is obviously a huge blow.

The new starting group (with Kosta Koufos in Gasol’s place) was an encouraging plus-12 in 33 minutes against the Spurs and Rockets. But the impact of Gasol’s injury might be felt most in the bench units, which have been poor already. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter, two guys who are supposed to bring offense off the bench, have shot a combined 32 percent.

Oklahoma City

We thought that, in the wake of Kevin Martin‘s departure, bench production was going to be a problem for the Thunder. But OKC’s bench units have been terrific, ranking second to only the Spurs in terms of NetRtg. The Thunder have outscored their opponents by an amazing 17.7 points per 100 possessions with Reggie Jackson on the floor.

The issue with the Thunder is the starting lineup, which has been outscored by 12.4 points per 100 possessions in its 97 minutes. Of the 27 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together this season, that ranks 25th, ahead only the original starting lineups of the Kings and Jazz. In those situations, both coaches have already made changes.

Scott Brooks will surely have more patience with his group, which was excellent (plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions) last season. The starting group has basically been bad in three games (minus-31 against the Pistons, Wizards and Nuggets) and OK in three games (plus-7 against the Suns, Mavs and Clippers). And the success of the bench units has far outweighed the starters’ struggles. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Portland

Last season, the Blazers’ “other lineups” got outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. No team suffered more offensively when a particular player stepped off the floor than Portland did when Damian Lillard sat down. So the bench, along with better defense from their center position, was the focus of their summer moves.

So far, so good, as the Blazers’ bench units have basically turned that number around, outscoring their opponents by that same 5.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ve scored a solid 103.5 points per 100 possessions when Lillard has sat, and he doesn’t have to lead the league in minutes this year.

The issue is that those bench units still include a lot of minutes from the starters. Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez account for more than 72 percent of the team’s total minutes. It’s obviously a younger group, but compare that with the 52 percent the Spurs’ starters account for.

Preseason China Trip Could Impact All-Star Vote For Warriors


VIDEO: Warriors visit the Great Wall of China

HANG TIME WEST – The other part of their China trip began Friday, with the start of voting for the 2014 All-Star game and the possibility that the Warriors playing in Beijing and Shanghai in October could help them with New Orleans in February.

It is one of the ancillary benefits of the preseason trip for two games against the Lakers, and it is far down the line even among those trickle-down factors, but it cannot be completely overlooked: Golden State has one returning All-Star (David Lee), another very strong candidate (Stephen Curry) and other possibilities (Andrew Bogut, if his minutes increase, and maybe Andre Iguodala), and now they have a new connection with the most populous nation in the world as balloting opens via several electronic platforms.

“That’s an interesting point,” Lee said. “With the sheer numbers, it can, I guess, make a difference.”

The problem for the Warriors is that it would have to make a huge difference in the fan balloting that determines the starting lineup for the midseason showcase, before coaches choose the reserves in their respective conference. A season ago, after all, Curry finished eighth among guards while Lee was 10th in frontcourt voting. They need a massive jump just to get in contention, and while playing catchup in popularity with Kobe Bryant, Jeremy Lin, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, Steve Nash and Chris Paul in the top 10 of jersey sales in China in 2012-13 among West players alone.

But Curry in particular is better known everywhere after his star turn in the playoffs and subsequent major marketing deal with Under Armour that has included overseas personal appearances. The higher profile plus the good start to 2013-14 for a team that should challenge for the top half of the West playoff bracket, plus the new China connection, should generate a spike at the ballot box. The uncertainty is whether it will be enough of a bump, even with injuries to Bryant and Nash, for Curry to make up close to the 1.42 million votes he finished behind Bryant and the 760,000 votes he finished behind Paul, and that’s just to get into the conversation for starter.

“I haven’t thought about the voting,” Curry said. “It’s not motivation to do it. But I know if you come over to China and the hopefully the plans we have with the shoe company (Under Armour) and all that other extra stuff, it’s all part of a plan. All-Star voting is kind of secondary to all that.”

Lee similarly finished far behind the starters in the frontcourt, Durant (1.39 million more votes), Dwight Howard (756,000 more) and Griffin (698,000). He has the same benefit as Curry of the Warriors being more visible than a year ago at this time, but unlike his teammate did not seem to reach new individual levels of prominence since finishing 10th in fan balloting for the 2013 game before coaches sent him to Houston as a reserve.

As Lee noted, though: the sheer numbers. Even a small fraction of new support from China, a country with about four times the population of the United States and Canada combined, can impact.

“I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s a good point,” he said during the October trip to China. “One of the really cool things about being over here is interacting with a whole new fan base that we would have had no other way of interacting with unless we were over here. I hadn’t thought about it that way (with regards to All-Star voting). But with their huge population over here, I’m sure it’s going to make a lot more Lakers and Warriors fans after this week.”

The Lakers didn’t need the additional global presence. But the Warriors may soon find out if the visits to Beijing and Shanghai paid off with unexpected benefits.

New And Improved Warriors Are More Than Just An Offensive Machine




VIDEO: Check out the Warriors’ rout of the Sixers via Phantom Cam

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Golden State Warriors’ offensive prowess sells tickets in Oakland and beyond. Their ability to score points in bunches is what makes them one of the NBA’s most entertaining teams.

But it’s their defensive work that will set them apart this season. It’s what will make them the contender they appear to be (the contender some of us went out on a limb and predicted them to be this season) through the early stages of this season.

Their underrated defensive work was on display in Monday night’s rout of the surprising Philadelphia 76ers team, a crew that had already scored big wins over the reigning champion Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls in the first week of the season.

The Warriors weren’t having it. They made sure their offensive aggressiveness worked double-time for them. They attacked Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams, taking him out of the comfort zone he’d been in with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson attacking him non-stop, and unleashed Andre Iguodala on his former teammates in a way that put both teams in a different light after the Warriors were finished.

Mark Jackson‘s team is not the one-trick outfit you assume them to be, as Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune pointed out in the aftermath in Philly:

Curry attacked him relentlessly on offense, either losing him off the dribble or running him off screens. He set the tone for Golden State’s vibrant ball movement, which had the offense clicking from the outset. Through three quarters, the Warriors had 98 points on 49.3 percent shooting with 25 assists on 37 made baskets.

On the other end, the Warriors dispatched Thompson to use his size and length to keep Carter-Williams out of the paint. Carter-Williams finished with 18 points on 4-of-17 shooting with four assists, six rebounds and six turnovers.

With the head of the snake in check, the 76ers managed just 35.2 percent shooting with a season-high 24 turnovers and a season-low 19 assists.

“I give them credit,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a very underrated defensive team. … They’re noted for their offense, and they’re noted for their barrage of 3-point threats and scorers, but they actually are an excellent defensive team with all the pieces.”

Brown’s perspective should be duly noted by other coaches who will face these Warriors this season. They are a deeper and more experienced team than they were last season.

They’ll also be more formidable on the defensive side of the floor with the addition of Iguodala, not to mention healthy bigs Andrew Bogut and David Lee.

But the real beauty of what Jackson has working with the Warriors this season will be his unleashing of Curry and Thompson as whirlwind offensive forces that put so much pressure on opposing backcourts to either keep pace with them that they force said opposition into uncomfortable positions all over the floor.

The ability to deploy Curry and Thompson in that way is what will elevate the Warriors this season and allow them to become much more than just an offensive machine.

Five Fearless Predictions For 2013-14





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We can talk all we want about what we saw in the preseason, but it doesn’t mean a thing come Tuesday night. The real NBA season starts then, opening night of the 2013-14 campaign, flush with three matchups that we’ve all been waiting to see for months.

We get to see contenders in all three instances. The Pacers host the Magic in their opener at 7 p.m. ET (League Pass) as an appetizer for the Heat hosting the Bulls on banner night at 8 p.m. ET (TNT) and we finish things off with the Clippers and Lakers squaring off at Staples Center at 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT), capping a fine opening night with the LA upstarts trying once again to upset the establishment.

We don’t have to wait until opening night to unveil our five fearless predictions for the 2013-14 season. We can do that right now with all the certainty in the world that our crystal basketball will serve as our guiding force throughout this season.

Call me crazy (and believe me, you will after this) … but this is what these eyes see on the horizon:

1) The Heat’s Three-Peat Dream Will Not Be Realized
No one will dispute the fact that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat have been stellar champions in each of the past two seasons. What they’ve done, what they have overcome to hoist the last two Larry O’Brien trophies has been nothing short of remarkable, given that they’ve played with a giant bulls eye on their chests in each of the past three seasons. But fatigue and the competition catches up to the champs this season. They have worthy adversaries within the conference (Pacers, Bulls, Knicks, Nets) and a stacked crew from the Western Conference (Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Warriors, Rockets and others) ready to tear each other apart to get a shot at the Heat. The Heat make it back to The Finals for a fourth straight time this season but are bruised and battered from a brutal Eastern Conference playoff road when they get there. Another seven-game conference final, this time against the Bulls, pushes them to the limit. They fail to seal the deal in The Finals, falling to an inspired Golden State Warriors team that shot the Houston Rockets out of the Western Conference finals in six games.

2) The Return Of Rose Is Real 
Derrick Rose was right and you were wrong. He did not need to rush back last season from ACL surgery and the Bulls will be better this season because of that decision. That also means Rose reclaims his spot among the top five players in the league and as the top (ahem, sorry Chris Paul) point guard in the game with his triumphant return. Go ahead and wipe your eyes and look at it again. The preseason show Rose put on in limited minutes (24 points, six assists, three rebounds plus 50 percent shooting from the floor and 42 percent from deep) will continue as the regular season goes on. The Bulls showed us last season that they were still be a problem in the East without Rose. Now that he’s back and they are healthy, with the ranks reinforced, Tom Thibodeau‘s team will resume its quest to knock off the Heat and earn a long-awaited trip back to The Finals. That’s a year off, but the conference finals is a stage Rose gets his chance to shine on this year. While Kobe BryantRajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others ponder their returns from significant injury, they’d be wise to pay attention to the way Rose handled his (his critics owe him the kind courtesy of admitting they were wrong) and adjust accordingly.

3) Say Hello To Your New MVP … Kevin Durant
One unintended side effect of Russell Westbrook’s lingering injury issue will be the appreciation gained by voters in the MVP race for just how unbelievably spectacular Kevin Durant has and continues to play during his climb to the top of the superstar food chain. Durant’s two-way game has improved with time and the 2013-14 season will offer him a chance to showcase those skills while Westbrook eases his way back into position as his partner in crime. Durant has sharpened his skills after each season in the league and with every postseason teaching point (you always learn more about yourself when you fail) he has rebounded with yet another quality piece to his growing arsenal of skills. He’ll be a better and more aggressive playmaker and rebounder with Westbrook on the mend. And the three-time scoring champ will continue to be the most dangerous scoring machine in the league with Kobe Bryant finding his way back into the mix in Los Angeles and Carmelo Anthony still the doing his thing in New York. Durant’s much improved all-around game and the load he’ll have to tote for the Thunder this season, however, is what earns him his first MVP trophy.

4) Dwight Howard Is The Best Big Man In Basketball … Again!
We’ve had our fun at his expense the past two seasons, and rightfully so. When you exit the premises in Orlando and Los Angeles, respectively, the way Dwight Howard did, you deserve whatever vitriol fans in those cities and elsewhere dish out. Lost in the madness, though, is the fact that Howard has maintained a reasonably high standard for a player dealing with all of that extracurricular drama, not to mention the back surgery and recovery he endured during the 2012-13 season he spent with the Lakers. With big man tutors in both Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon and Celtics great and Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, Howard can’t help but improve his skill-set and take back the seat Marc Gasol kept warm for him last season. What sets Howard apart, and always has, is the fact that there is not another traditional big man in the league with his combination of size, athleticism and natural gifts from the basketball Gods. Howard swears Houston is the ideal situation for him to finally put it all together. He needed a fresh start, somewhere he could reintroduce himself to the basketball world without any of the excess baggage he’s accrued over the years following him. The Rockets and their championship-starved fan base offer just that and more.

5) Yes, The Warriors Shock The World And Win It All!
You thought I forgot about that Warriors prediction from No. 1? Sure, it’s a reach for a team whose fortunes depend on the continued good health of several key players (Steph Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, etc.). But an injury to the wrong man can rearrange the short-term and long-term plans of any franchise, just ask the folks in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Los Angeles (Lakers) how that works. What I love about what Mark Jackson and the Warriors have going on right now is their absolute fearlessness in challenging the Western Conference establishment. They don’t care that the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Rockets all have what appears to be better chances of surviving a cutthroat playoff chase. They have the pieces in place, Andre Iguodala being the most noticeable new face, to challenge conventional wisdom this season. They also play a style that, if sustained, no other team in the West or the league will be able to match in the postseason. Of course, Bogut and Lee have to stay out of the training room as much as possible and Curry has to avoid the recurrence of the foot and ankle injuries that seem to plague him every season. But if ever there was a time to crash the Western Conference party and spice up the championship picture and shock the basketball world, that time is now for the upstart Warriors.

One Team, One Stat: Warriors Go From Worst To First On The Glass

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Golden State Warriors, who are looking to build on just their second trip to the playoffs in the last 19 years.

The basics
GSW Rank
W-L 47-35 10
Pace 96.8 4
OffRtg 104.2 10
DefRtg 102.6 13
NetRtg +1.7 11

The stat

75.5 percent - The Warriors’ defensive rebounding percentage last season, a mark that led the league.

The context

One of the most amazing stats of last season was that the Warriors led the league in defensive rebounding percentage after five straight seasons of ranking dead last. They didn’t just go from worst to first, they went from worst to worst to worst to worst to worst to first.

In fact, before last season, Golden State ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage in 12 of the prior 13 seasons, under nine different coaches. Just that part is amazing itself.

Somehow, they managed to turn it completely around last season, when the rebounding improvement helped the Warriors improve from 27th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to 13th. Better 3-point defense also played a part…

Warriors defense, last two seasons

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA/FGA Rank
2011-12 48.0% 17 36.5% 28 69.1% 30 15.5% 14 .318 27
2012-13 47.3% 11 34.7% 7 75.5% 1 13.8% 28 .282 22

DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions

One thing that was different was the way the Warriors defended pick-and-rolls. In Mark Jackson‘s first season, the big man defending the screener came out pretty high to stop the ball-handler. It wasn’t a hard hedge like the Heat or the Pelicans employ, but it took the bigs far away from the basket…

20131019_gsw_11-12

Last season, the Warrior bigs sagged into the paint more on pick-and-rolls…

20131019_gsw_12-13

That kept them closer to the basket and helped David Lee increase his defensive rebounding percentage from 20.0 percent to 24.5 percent. Also, ’12-13 Festus Ezeli (16.6 percent) had a better defensive rebounding percentage than ’11-12 Ekpe Udoh (11.9 percent) and ’12-13 Andrew Bogut (23.5 percent) was better than ’11-12 Andris Biedrins (20.0 percent). So was ’12-13 Andris Biedrins (24.6 percent).

Another result of the change in pick-and-roll coverage was that Warriors opponents took 28.0 percent of their shots from mid-range, up from 26.5 percent in ’11-12. Those are the shots you want to force.

The Warriors also got better rebounding numbers from their guards and wings. And one thing you’ll notice from these clips from an April 9 game against the Wolves is how the Golden State guards crash the glass to often put five guys in the paint when the ball is coming off the rim…


The Wolves, who were an above-average offensive rebounding team, missed 57 shots in that game and grabbed just six offensive boards.

We learned from the Spurs last season that contesting shots is much more important than rebounding, but the Warriors had to get better on the glass. When your opponent gets an offensive rebound, it’s more likely to score than it was on the initial possession.

You would think that sending five guys to the glass would hurt the Warriors’ transition offense. But they ranked ninth with 14.7 fast break points per game (up from 13.0 in ’11-12) and fifth with 2.13 fast break points per steal (up from 1.63). Stephen Curry ranked fourth in individual fast break points, while Klay Thompson ranked 19th, with both guys doing a lot of their damage from the perimeter. Curry had almost 100 more fast break points from outside the paint than any other player in the league…

Most fast break points from outside the paint

Player FBPs Outside paint
Stephen Curry 364 222
Kyle Korver 142 125
Russell Westbrook 463 120
Klay Thompson 260 119
O.J. Mayo 324 111

A healthy Bogut and the addition of Andre Iguodala should improve the Golden State defense even more. In particular, Iguodala will help force more turnovers and, as one of the best finishers in the league, will also make the running game more potent.

If the Warriors can match a Top 10 offense with a Top 10 defense, they can count themselves as serious contender in the Western Conference this season.

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

New Bonds Begin To Take Root In China




SHANGHAI, China – The plan was to play the Lakers on Friday night, leave Mercedes-Benz Arena, bus to the airport, take off 1 a.m. Saturday, stop in Anchorage, Alaska, to refuel and land in Oakland at 1 a.m. Saturday. Depart from one continent and arrive in another at the same hour.

The Warriors are into pulling off some tricks lately, ending their two-game series with the Lakers in China (a 115-89 Golden State victory Friday morning before 17,482 here) while trying to replicate the chemistry of last season with a new-look roster.

The most important personalities from last season’s promising finish are back. Stephen Curry and David Lee, emerging as leaders, and Andrew Bogut leading with a chip on his shoulder to offset the team’s nice-guy image, are all here. Coach Mark Jackson, a commanding presence in that room, returns to force feed so much positive reinforcement that players have no choice but to believe.

But two of the key veteran presences, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, left as free agents. Although one of the newcomers, Andre Iguodala, is expected to fit in without difficulty, his arrival will likely trigger a lineup shuffle that will send either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson, both starters a year ago, to the bench, which could disrupt things.

“That was, I would say, the biggest factor in what happened last year with us and how we got the most out of our talent,” said Lee, the All-Star power forward. “Everybody was on the same page. We never had any issues within the team. This year, it usually takes until a little way through the regular season for that to come together. It’s not something that can be rushed. It’s just kind of something that happens. I think we’ve done a very good job of integrating everybody and getting everybody on the same page on the court and off the court.”

It’s all worked out, so far. The trip to China played a big part in it.

The Warriors were forced into close quarters with a schedule of appearances in Beijing and Shanghai. Significant others were on the trip, from the plane ride that left Oakland last Friday to some activities to the team hotels to the same long ride back. Teams often overstate the bonding effect of long trips, but there may have been real value for a team that relied so heavily on camaraderie last year.

“Probably the thing that you forget is that it forces you to spend time together and, moreso, with your significant other. There’s guys that brought girlfriends or wives, and we’re around them. They get to see me or their teammates as people,” Jackson said. “Valuable time. Not, ‘That’s the shooting guard’ or ‘That’s the center’ or ‘That’s the coach.’

“I’m not going to minimize the impact that those guys last year [who have left the team] had in the locker room, on the plane, on the bus, on the court. I don’t take it for granted. I have total appreciation for them and what they did. I’m confident that this group will develop chemistry. Jarrett Jack had a voice. Carl Landry had a voice. Those guys had a voice. They played a role. It takes time to develop that, but I’m very confident that these guys will be tied together and we’ll move forward.”

The Warriors are down to two exhibition games, a back-to-back in Sacramento and at-home against the Trail Blazers, before opening the regular season Oct. 30. Then, they’ll face the expectation, not the hope, of playing into May.

The quicker they can prove that this group can mesh as well as the last — and it may not happen for a while —  the quicker they will take their next step forward. They’re already on their way.