Shutting Down Novak

Give some credit to Don Nelson and Anthony Morrow in last night's Warriors victory.  After Steve Novak hit back to back threes to cut the lead from 14 to 8 less than three minutes into the fourth quarter, Nellie called an immediate time out.  And although I wasn't in the huddle, it's pretty obvious exactly what he said to Morrow.  He said stay on Novak.  Do not leave him.  Do not help anyone else.  Stay on him wherever he goes.  Do this, or you may not have a job tomorrow. 

The amazing thing is that other coaches haven't figured this out.  Steve Novak does one thing incredibly well and not much else.  By putting a quick defender on him, and telling that defender to ignore the standard rules of team defense, you can completely nullify him as the Warriors did.  It's not like the 6'10" Novak has the game to take the 6'5" Morrow into the post.

That leaves the Clippers essentially playing 4 on 4 on offense.  Now, you could argue that it's a minor victory in an of itself to eliminate one help defender by pre-occupying him.  But it also takes the Clippers out of their standard sets.  More importantly, if Novak is neutralized on offense, let's face it, he's not helping a lot out there. 

Watching Morrow shadowing Novak, without the ball, 35 feet from the basket, was fascinating.  It gives you an appreciation for the mad genius Nelson - this time the genius coming through just a little through the madness.  It's so simple - and yet has any other team done this - all season?  How many times have we asked ourselves, "Why did (Travis Outlaw, Lamar Odom, fill in the blank) leave him?"  It's unbelievable that these guys don't just stay home on Novak.  But NBA defenses are built to hedge and help and rotate, and they seem to have some difficulty making major, player-specific deviations. 

With most players, hedging makes sense because it places the defender in better help position, and also because it clogs the lane to the basket that his man might take on an off ball cut.  So usually, it's a win-win - better help defense, better defense against your man.  But Novak is a three point savant - looking at his shooting chart on NBA Hot Spots, he's taken 14 shots from inside of 15 feet this season.  FOURTEEN!  That's less than 5% of his 320 shot attempts.  He's not cutting to the basket people, he's glued to the three point line - and the smart defender should be glued to him.

So give Nelson credit. 

If every team starts defending him this way, then Novak and the Clippers have to adjust.  Add in some back door cuts.  Get him working on some post moves and post him up if they're going to try to defend him with a guard.  Because if defenses are allowed to defend him this way and not pay the price, then it becomes very difficult to have him on the floor.

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