Posts Tagged ‘SportVU’

You can’t protect the rim if you’re not there


VIDEO: Inside The NBA: Rachel Nichols sits down with Anthony Davis

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Rim protection is a key element to a good defense. But your center can’t protect the rim if he isn’t there.

And while *our SportVU defensive impact numbers tell us how well opponents shoot when a player is at the rim to defend it, it helps to know just how often he’s actually there.

* Note: After you navigate to the defensive impact page, it helps to set a filter of >= 4 Opp FGA at Rim per game to narrow the list down to big men. At this point in the season, an additional filter of 15 games played eliminates anybody with a small sample size. The filters are found by clicking on the gear on the right side of the blue header bar.

And a further dig into SportVU data can tell us just how often a rim protector is at the rim to protect it.

The defensive impact page shows shots that were taken within five feet of the defender when he was within five feet of the rim. So the shot could have been taken from more than five feet out. To see what rim protectors were most often protecting the rim, I asked the SportVU folks to just show me shots from five feet and in.

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So Denver opponents have attempted 202 shots within five feet of the basket with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor, and he’s been there to defend 115 of those shots. Of course, he hasn’t defended them particularly well for a guy who’s seven feet tall.

Andrew Bogut and Rudy Gobert, however, protect the rim pretty well. And by keeping them near the basket, their teams allow them to protect it more often than not. These numbers also don’t account for shots at the rim that they’ve prevented.

Here’s the other end of the list…

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Most of the guys on this list spend some time at power forward. LaMarcus Aldridge has played about 75 percent of his minutes with either Robin Lopez or Chris Kaman. But he did play some center after Lopez got hurt and before he was injured himself.

Anthony Davis is a more interesting name on this list. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Pelicans allow the highest percentage of opponent shots in the restricted area. That’s still true, the Pelicans still rank as a bottom-six defensive team even though they employ both Davis and Omer Asik, and that’s still rather baffling.

Davis is the power forward when Asik is on the floor. And that he’s sometimes guarding Dirk Nowitzki or Markieff Morris partially explains why he’s on this list.

But Davis would still be on this list if he was the Pelicans’ full-time center. In his minutes without Asik, Alexis Ajinca or Jeff Withey on the floor, Davis has been at the rim to protect only 33.8 percent (125/370) of opponent shots there.

Note: Asik has been at the rim to defend 50.2 percent of opponent shots there, a rate which ranks 19th on this list of 69 centers and PF/Cs. He could certainly be higher on the list himself.

In total, no player 6-foot-8 or taller has been on the floor for more opponent shots within five feet of the basket than Davis. Yet, 20 different guys have been at the rim to defend more of those shots.

Gobert is a few inches taller than Davis, but they’re similarly long-armed and bouncy. For every 100 opponent shots at the rim, Gobert is there to defend 56 of them. Even when he’s playing center, Davis is there for just 34. That’s a big difference.

It’s cool that Davis blocks jump shots, but it would be better if he was defending more shots near the basket. The biggest reason the Pelicans rank in the bottom 10 defensively and can’t win more than two games in a row is that they don’t protect the rim.

One Stat, One Play: The Draw of DeRozan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers say Warriors should pass more


VIDEO: Warriors Season Preview: Steve Kerr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring ball and player movement


VIDEO: Spurs Season Preview: Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ball movement

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

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

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

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

Player movement

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

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

The anomalies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is better ball movement the answer?

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

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

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

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

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

Again, the Spurs are special.

Heat defense pushes Spurs to pass


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

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

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

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

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

Most passes per possession, 2013-14 Spurs

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

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

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

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

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

Pacers paying no penalty for leaving Bosh open in series

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime: Pacers-Heat Talk Game 3

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Miami Heat started small, with Shane Battier and LeBron James at forward. In Game 2, they started big, replacing Battier with Udonis Haslem.

The Heat won Game 2, but the bigger lineup didn’t really work. They were outscored by 18 points in 17 minutes with Haslem and Chris Bosh on the floor together. Add that to the combination’s Game 1 numbers and Miami is a minus-28 in 25 minutes with Bosh and Haslem both in the game.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Heat are better off playing small, because they’ve played well when Bosh has shared the floor with Chris Andersen. That pair is a plus-15 in 22 minutes together.

Still, that’s a minus-13 in 47 minutes with two bigs on the floor vs. a plus-7 in 49 minutes with just one big on the floor.

These small sample sizes, though, could be swung by one stretch of 5-6 minutes where James takes over (as he tends to do sometimes), where the Heat defense takes a rest (as it tends to do) or where the Pacers go ice cold (as they tend to do).

But all you have in a playoff series are small sample sizes. And they don’t get much bigger if you add in regular season meetings when one or both teams could have been playing the second night of a back-to-back. You sometimes have to make decisions and adjustments based on what’s happened in portions of games here and there. And it has to be a combination of what the numbers say and what your eyes are seeing.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will continue to mix small lineups with big lineups, in part because Battier can’t give Miami what he used to. When this version of the Heat won its first title in 2012, Battier was the guy – as a small-ball four who could shoot and defend – that really unlocked their floor-spacing identity.

He averaged more than 33 minutes per game in that postseason, but has played less than half that in all but three games in these playoffs. And neither Rashard Lewis nor Michael Beasley has been able to take over that role (or has seen the floor in the conference finals thus far).

“We’ve balanced [big and small] as much as we have in the three years this year,” Spoelstra said before Game 2. “And that was what this season required. So we’ve played a lot of different lineups. We have enough experience, different rotations to be able to play different styles of basketball without compromising what we do best.

“That might be what this series requires, but we have great versatility. We have confidence in our versatility. If we have to utilize all of it, whatever’s necessary.”

Not only has Lewis been removed from the rotation in this series, but so has James Jones, whose on-court numbers have been ridiculously good in the playoffs. So it would help if Bosh could make some shots.

Haslem is a decent mid-range shooter, but decent mid-range shooting doesn’t hurt the opposing defense. Andersen is a strong finisher and his well-timed dives to the rim have been successful against the Pacers in the past, but his range doesn’t extend beyond three feet.

It’s Bosh’s shooting that can really take Pacers center Roy Hibbert away from the basket or punish him for staying there. He did the latter on the one 3-pointer he’s hit in this series (which sparked Miami’s Game 2 comeback), but Bosh has missed the other eight threes he’s taken. And according to SportVU, six of the eight misses have been uncontested, including the very first shot of the series.

In six games against Indiana this season, Bosh is 4-for-20 (20 percent) on uncontested threes. Against other teams, he’s shot 37 percent. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he shot 15-for-33 (45 percent) on uncontested threes. Then he went to Indiana and hit the side of the backboard.

For the most part, Hibbert has remained in the paint against the Heat. And for the most part, Bosh hasn’t been able to do anything about it. It’s become clear that this is not a good matchup for him, but open shots are open shots and they’ll continue to be there if he’s being defended by Hibbert. But whether the Heat are playing big or small, he’s going to have to start making some.

Film Study: Splitter D keys Spurs

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If there was a postseason Defensive Player of the Year award, the early leader would have to be Tiago Splitter.

After seven games of keeping Dirk Nowitzki in check in the first round, Splitter has done the same to LaMarcus Aldridge in the conference semifinals, helping the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-0 series lead.

The Spurs’ offense has been ridiculously efficient, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. They basically won Thursday’s game with a stretch of 12 possessions (spanning the first and second quarters) in which they scored 29 points.

But their opponents have been two of the three worst defensive teams (among those that made the playoffs) from the regular season. And maybe more impressive is that they’ve held two top-five offensive teams under a point per possession over their last three games.

A big key to that has been Splitter’s ability to defend both Nowitzki and Aldridge one-on-one. They are the two of the most prolific mid-range shooters in the league. But if you can contest those mid-range shots, they’re better for the defense than layups or 3-pointers. And the best way to avoid the layups and 3s is by not helping the defender guarding Mr. Mid-Range.

Splitter allows the Spurs to do that. And if he can keep his man from shooting too efficiently, his team is in really good shape.

According to SportVU, Nowitzki shot 21-for-45 (47 percent) against Splitter’s defense in the first round. In the conference semis, Aldridge has shot 8-for-25 (32 percent) against Splitter, including 2-for-13 in Game 2.

Aldridge’s favorite spot on the floor is the left block. Nine of his shots in Game 2 came from that spot with Splitter defending him. He made his first one, and then missed the next eight.

Here’s a compilation of those nine shots …


VIDEO: Splitter Defends Aldridge

From the same spot, Aldridge was 2-for-3 against Boris Diaw. When he hit two straight turnaround jumpers (here and here) midway through the fourth quarter, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately sent Splitter back into the game.

On another day, Aldridge would certainly have made more than one of those nine shots. But Splitter has the size and discipline to use a simple and effective method for defending him. Stay in front, stay on the ground and contest the shot.

Aldridge can get more open looks by getting away from Splitter, as he did a few times on Thursday.

Early in the first quarter, he got a wide-open elbow jumper off a pick-and-pop with Damian Lillard, with the three Spurs who weren’t defending either Lillard or Aldridge staying at home on their man …

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Midway through the second quarter, Aldridge got two straight layups (one he made, one he missed) by curling off a pin-down screen from Lillard.

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The Spurs cleaned up their defense on those after that, but Aldridge clearly got better looks at the basket when he caught the ball on the move. That will be something to look for in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).

Film Study: Open looks for the Clippers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Clippers vs. Thunder: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Oklahoma City Thunder evened their conference semifinals series with the Los Angeles Clippers at one game apiece on Wednesday.

Russell Westbrook recorded his third triple-double in his last five games, with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Durant added 32, 12 and nine, and OKC scored an efficient 112 points on 95 possessions (118 per 100). But the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 was on the other end of the floor.

These are two of the three teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the regular season. But the Clippers weren’t so balanced against their strongest competition. No team’s difference suffered more when it played against teams with winning records. At the same time, they were the only team that was better offensively against winning teams.

So, the team that gets just enough stops — not giving up any 30-point quarters will do the trick — will be the one that wins games in this series. In Game 2, that was the Thunder.

The biggest difference in the Clippers’ numbers from Monday to Wednesday was their 3-point percentage. After shooting 15-for-29 (52 percent) from beyond the arc in Game 1, L.A. shot 9-for-27 (33 percent) in Game 2.

Did the Thunder defend the 3-point line better? Sort of, but they still didn’t defend it very well.

According to SportVU, the Thunder contested just 23.6 percent of their opponents’ jump shots in the regular season, the second-lowest rate in the league (higher than only that of New York). In the playoffs, that number is down to 20.4 percent.

The Thunder got away with it in the first round, with Memphis shooting just 33 percent from outside the paint. Grizzlies not named Mike Miller shot a brutal 17-for-78 (22 percent) from 3-point range.

But the Clippers have five guys in their rotation who shot better than the league average (36.0 percent) on at least 2.4 attempts per game. They can make you pay for not contesting on the perimeter.

They did that early in Game 2, hitting their first four 3-pointers. The first 3 came as a result of OKC over-helping on pick-and-rolls.

(Click links for video)

1. Matt Barnes being left all alone on the left wing, because Thabo Sefolosha went all the way to the other side of the paint to help on a J.J. Redick/Blake Griffin pick-and-pop…

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2. Redick being left alone in the left corner, because Sefolosha had both feet in the paint on a Chris Paul/Griffin pick-and-pop…

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3. Barnes being left alone on the right wing, because Durant went over to help on another Paul/Griffin pick-and-roll…

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This is how the Thunder defend. And only four teams allowed their opponents to shoot a lower percentage in the paint. But their tendency to over-help yields a lot of open jumpers.

In Game 1, 50 of the Clippers’ 54 jumpers (93 percent) were uncontested. In Game 2, 43 of their 58 jumpers (74 percent) were uncontested.

After L.A.’s 4-for-4 start, the Thunder did do a slightly better job of recovering out to the 3-point line. Here Steven Adams doesn’t sag too much and is in position to contest Jamal Crawford in the corner after Glen Davis sets a back-pick on Derek Fisher

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But there were also more open shots and the Clippers let OKC off the hook a little, not getting many more weak-side looks off the pick-and-roll. A lot of their 3-point attempts came off the dribble, off of post-ups, or on the strong side. Some came too early in the shot clock, before the Clips could really make the Thunder defense collapse.

As with any defense, the more you make it work, the more likely you’re going to get an open shot. Against the Thunder, those open shots are more likely to come on the perimeter.

Paul isn’t going to shoot 8-for-9 from 3-point range (like he did in Game 1) again. But the Clippers will continue to have opportunities to beat the Thunder’s defense from the outside.

Credit Grizzlies for contesting Thunder

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mike Miller and Russell Westbrook duel in Game 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Oklahoma City Thunder rank first in postseason defensive efficiency, having allowed the Memphis Grizzlies to score just 99.1 points per 100 possessions. But the Grizzlies were the worst offensive team among Western Conference playoff teams. The 99.1 points per 100 possessions they’ve scored through five games is 4.2 fewer than they scored in the regular season.

The Thunder’s efficiency, meanwhile, has dropped off twice as much, making it clear that the Grizzlies have been the better defensive team in the series.

Biggest drop-off, regular season to playoff OffRtg

Team Reg. season Rank Playoffs Rank Diff.
Oklahoma City 108.1 7 99.7 14 -8.4
Memphis 103.3 16 99.1 16 -4.2
San Antonio 108.2 6 105.7 7 -2.5
Charlotte 101.2 24 99.6 15 -1.6
Atlanta 103.4 15 101.9 11 -1.5
Dallas 109.0 3 107.5 5 -1.4
Toronto 105.8 9 104.7 10 -1.1
Golden State 105.3 12 105.2 8 -0.1
Indiana 101.5 22 101.5 12 -0.1
Chicago 99.7 28 100.4 13 +0.7
Miami 109.0 2 109.8 4 +0.7
Washington 103.3 18 104.8 9 +1.5
Houston 108.6 4 110.4 3 +1.7
Brooklyn 104.4 14 106.3 6 +1.9
L.A. Clippers 109.4 1 111.9 2 +2.5
Portland 108.3 5 112.5 1 +4.2

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

Using the same method, the Clippers have been the best offensive team in the playoffs, scoring 12.0 more points per 100 possessions (111.9) than the Warriors allowed in the regular season (99.9).

The Thunder have also had the biggest change in pace from the regular season. At 90.5 possessions per team per 48 minutes, the series has been played even slower than the Grizzlies’ pace of 92.2, which was the slowest in the regular season.

A look at OKC’s offensive numbers show that it’s all about the shooting. They’ve gone to the line a little less frequently than they did in the regular season, but they’ve rebounded better and turned the ball over less.

And SportVU helps us understand why their shooting numbers have suffered so much. Only 49 percent of the Thunder’s jump shots have been uncontested, down from 63 percent in the regular season. The other 15 teams have been uncontested on 67 percent of their jump shots.

Biggest drop-off, percentage of jump shots uncontested

Team Reg. season Playoffs Diff.
Oklahoma City 62.7% 48.6% -14.1%
Houston 74.7% 67.5% -7.2%
Golden State 68.4% 61.3% -7.1%
Charlotte 66.2% 60.2% -6.0%
Miami 76.1% 70.7% -5.4%
Chicago 69.3% 64.0% -5.3%
Dallas 62.7% 58.1% -4.6%
Atlanta 75.4% 71.5% -3.9%
L.A. Clippers 71.0% 68.6% -2.4%
Toronto 60.4% 58.4% -2.0%
Portland 68.6% 67.0% -1.6%
Washington 72.7% 72.2% -0.5%
Brooklyn 65.3% 66.3% +1.0%
San Antonio 74.3% 76.1% +1.8%
Indiana 70.1% 72.3% +2.2%
Memphis 74.0% 77.4% +3.4%

Jump shot = FGA from outside 10 feet
Uncontested = Where a defender is not within four feet of the shooter.

According to SportVU, Kevin Durant (64 of his 89 total jumpers) has taken 20 more contested jumpers than any other player in the postseason. Next on the list is Russell Westbrook (44 of his 81).

Scott Brooks needs to find a way to get his star more open, but credit the Memphis defense, which has been far better than any other D in the playoffs so far, and which can put the Grizzlies into the conference semifinals with a win in Game 6 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT).

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

20140307_lopez_pnr

Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.