Strap in, ladies and gents, we've got a lot of links ahead. Larson took most of the good stuff yesterday, so we're going to be transcending our normal stomping grounds today and featuring a lot more good stuff written about the rest of the NBA. We'll start off with some Clippers news and notes, then maybe we'll take a trip up Route 1 to peep in on our beloved instate rivals. After that, the sky's the limit.
The Clippers did manage to pull out the win over Utah Monday night, but it wasn't at all pretty. Just like the Thunder and Lakers last week, the underdog Jazz kept scrapping and fighting their way back into the game, and the Clippers let multiple opportunities to turn off the lights early slip through their hands and turn into furious Utah runs. That's gotta change.
A team that has treated sizable cushions with disdain through the season's early going did it again Monday night at Staples Center. "We've got to get that killer mentality and put teams away because teams are way too good in this league, especially now, that they're not going to give up," said Paul. "If we keep doing what we're doing, they're always going to feel like they can get back in the game."
"We just keep having these stretches," Rivers said, "and this one was a little more frustrating because we were getting great shots again. You're thinking, oh, boy, here we go."
Utah was led by Gordon Hayward, who put up 27 and took advantage of what's fast becoming FARTDOG West Presented by Mike Woodson: Wings Edition. Doc Rivers was left wondering after the game why he couldn't have someone like that on his team.
Doc Rivers just said he has a man crush on Gordon Hayward for the last two years.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) November 4, 2014
One of Hayward's strengths was his outside shot, something which Clippers players are unable to make at an uncharacteristic rate. If you believe that statistics are real, as does Doc Rivers, you figure eventually this team will regress to the mean, and possibly with quite some aplomb.
"It's a make-or-miss league," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "It always will be. We could go on a streak in the middle of the season and make half of them and look brilliant. I am never going to tell J.J. Redick to pass up a wide-open jump shot. That would be silly. And he missed a bunch of wide-open jump shots [Sunday]. Spencer Hawes missed a bunch of wide-open shots. Is it too many 3s? Probably. A lot of them are wide open. Should you tell them not to shoot them? I don't think so."
Rivers said the Clippers have had "great looks" this season and are getting more uncontested shots than their opponents but would like to see them pick up the pace and push the ball down the court.
"I'm thinking if we played at a little faster pace, we'd get more to the basket," Rivers said. "That would take some of those [3-pointers] away, but when you watch the film, which I have -- I have them all taken and looked at every single one -- they're wide open. And they're wide open for our guys that have to make them. Honestly, [Chris Douglas-Roberts], on a couple of his, probably should drive. Matt [Barnes], on a couple of his, probably could drive, but J.J.? Shoot the ball. All the other guys who have them? Shoot the ball."
Despite shooting more threes than ever, Blake Griffin also agreed with Doc's assessment, and noted that the team was settling for distant attempts.
"Inside out is the kind of style that we want to play," Griffin said. "We can hit shots when we need to, but we need start down low and work our way out. We did a better job [Monday], but we need to do an even better job of playing a complete game. ... I like the shots that we've had. I just think we missed open shots. They'll fall, especially from our better shooters, but the thing that makes us successful is playing inside out and making teams pay for doubling in the post. I like shots, but I think we can even get better shots."
And even though Doc always talks about process-over-results, he's a sucker for made shots just like anyone else (which could explain why he loves Jamal so much).
The Clippers haven't played as well as Rivers would like one week into the season, or even run the kind of offense he would like, but as long as they find a way to hit their shots and win games, he'll take it. "I didn't think we'd be a team that would lead the league in 3-point attempts, but sometimes, that happens," Rivers said. "And if it happens when we make them, I love it."
One guy who might finally be able to help the Clippers with his shooting is Reggie Bullock, who had one of the better games of his short and suddenly bullish career.
Bullock had a relatively quiet rookie season, in which he was limited by injuries, averaging 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in 43 games, but recently said he foresees this season as a second chance of sorts.
"I see it as a do-over," Bullock said. "But at the same time, I grew a lot when I was a rookie. I learned from a lot of players that were ahead of me, so it was good for me to get that year under my belt."
Trisity Miller from Fully Clips has more on Bullock's play v. Utah, including some play breakdowns. Meanwhile, Bleacher Report quickly recaps the highs and lows of the season so far, bemoaning the Clippers' flaws. And Ben Dowsett over at BballBreakdown takes a look at the Clippers' three-man core, one of the league's best, and how different lineup variations can be built off that grouping (trigger warning: features praise of Matt Barnes).
They say "ride your studs", and such a saying is an apt way of briefly summing up L.A.'s success. With all the talk over recent years about "Big Three" superstar combos, the aforementioned threesome of Paul, Griffin, and Jordan has developed into one of, if not the, very best in the league. The trio played a whopping 1,701 minutes together last season, per NBA.com, posting a net rating (plus-11.2) that dwarfed the Spurs' league-best season long mark.
That said, perhaps what has been so impressive about the Clippers under all-world coach Doc Rivers has been the way they have sustained their success with varying and ever-tweaking supporting casts. A quick look at line-up data reveals a fairly remarkable statistic - of L.A.'s 20 most used five-man groups last year, 19 were net positives. One has to scroll down nineteen places to find their first combo that did not cumulatively outperform their opponents, and that lone straggler was a group that played just 25 minutes together all season.
That's it for Clippers news today, but there's a big wide league beyond the confines of Los Angeles, and it's time we explored that a little more — starting with the Bay Area, where Steph and Steve and the gang have been making the best of the young season. So far, they've maintained last year's defensive ability, which was significantly predicated off their wings' ability to switch on screens and guard a wide range of players. One of those wings, Klay Thompson, is also having himself quite a year — a role in Spain, big money, and now some big buckets too.
His offense this year has improved by leaps and bounds; some of that is tied to individual improvement, and some to new coaching philosophies on offense.
Golden State completed the fewest passes in the league last season. Although it cannot be emphasised enough that simply completing passes is not much help to an offense – for example, the Bobcats, Bulls, Jazz and Bucks were all top five teams in number of passes per game in 2013/14, despite being poor offensive units overall – the Dubs were not an especially incisive passing team, ranking 22nd in the proportion of field goal attempts "potentially assisted" via SportVU tracking data.
On top of the low number of potential assists was the fact that the Warriors had the largest gap in the league between shooting efficiency on assisted versus unassisted shot attempts. This lack of setting up team mates was especially impactful for Thompson, who was assisted on 75.1% of his made field goals last season, far greater than the league average of 58.3%.
In fact, Thompson was one of the very most dependant bulk scorers in the league. His off the dribble game left much to be desired, as his shooting effectiveness plummeted from 58% of the catch to 36.5% when taking threeor more dribbles. He was largely ineffective as a penetrator, averaging only 2.8 drives per game and shooting only 2.3 free throws per contest.
This season, the Warriors have in fact picked up their passing greatly. They are up to ninth in total passes, fifth in assist chances generated, and third in the percentage of their shots potentially assisted. At the same time, Golden State has been more effective in unassisted situations, having almost cut the gap in half.
The Clippers' other rival for the Pacific Division might have also taken a step forward this year, but through a funkier way. I can't recall seeing an NBA team often running out lineups with three point guards (those of you around in 2013 might remember the Bledsoe-Paul-Billups lineup that killed the Grizzlies down the stretch of Game 1), let alone one where one of the guards might not even clear 70 inches. But Phoenix loves that grouping, which they busted out again last night versus the Lakers — and with both Morris twins on the floor too, it's hard to get much smaller than that.
To some extent the three-guard look paid off as intended. A third ball handler allowed the Suns to move the ball up the floor quickly, even in crunch time. Thomas' go-ahead layup, for example, came as a result of a snap outlet pass and a fearless sprint through a one-on-three fast break. On one possession, Bledsoe executed a dribble hand-off to Dragic, who then handed off to Thomas - a sequence that had the look and feel of a double reverse. With three skilled creators on the floor, Phoenix went seven minutes against the Spurs (and two against the Jazz on Saturday, for that matter) without committing a turnover. The potential of this trio is so clearly evident.
That team has somehow become even more fun to watch, something that's hard to imagine. It's funny that a year ago today we were still calling them a fluke and a surefire lottery team. But the NBA surprises, and sometimes it surprises consistently. You might not have to go far at all to find this year's Phoenix, a team that also features an undersized and supposedly overrated point guard.
The Kings play very differently than the Suns though, relying on (so far) a tough defense and a stalwart down low in DeMarcus Cousins. However, it's still too soon to tell whether their recent string of extremely impressive victories puts them on the same track as last year's Suns, or last year's Sixers.
It is not inconceivable that this team could be 3-7 in two weeks. Most would have to say at least 4-6 is probable. That's the reality of the Western Conference. So should anyone be excited? Team officials were steadfast in reasserting it's just three games. No one is putting up "Mission Accomplished" banners.
But for a franchise like the Kings, stuck in not mediocrity, but downright awfulness for a decade, you have to start somewhere. The Kings have started somewhere. The defense is sound. The chemistry is good. They have a superstar in Cousins, and a supporting cast playing well right now. If it falls apart, it falls apart, but you have to feel like you're going somewhere in order to make the wheels move.
I believe in metrics, and evidence, and sample sizes. But I also believe that how players feel about a team matters. And Cousins may have put how this team feels right now best on Monday night. Does this year feel different from the starts Sacramento has gotten off to? "It does feel different," the man called Boogie said. "But it feels so amazing."
The big man paused. "It feels amazing."
From another potential up-and-coming team — is noted agitator Trevor Booker becoming a poor man's Paul Millsap?
There's a certain danger in comparing one NBA player to another, but there are enough intersections in background, build, style of play and coaching influence to consider Utah's Trevor Booker a younger, more unproven version of Atlanta's Paul Millsap. Another trap to avoid early in the season is making too much of small sample sizes, but it appears that Trevor Booker is experiencing a similar transformation to the one Paul Millsap underwent during his first season in Atlanta - namely, he's added three-point shooting to his game. If the pattern holds, Booker is morphing into a power forward who can stretch the floor, rather than solely a banger in the post and a pick-and-pop midrange artist.
Those of you decrying the Clippers so far might at least be able to take some solace in the fact that today's Clippers are nothing like the injury-riddled squads of auld, or their counterpart today in Oklahoma City. The blows keep coming for the Thunder, game after game, like some mildly less twisted basketball version of Final Destination. Last night, they lost Perry Jones to a knee injury, and because of their obliterated depth chart, were forced to play Reggie Jackson despite a pronounced limp and other injuries that would have normally taken him out of the game.
Right now, they have six healthy bodies (and Jackson) — so a possible starting lineup of Sebastian Telfair, Lance Thomas, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams, with sixth man extroadinaire Kendrick Perkins their only relief. You have to hope some of these injured guys make it back sooner or later, since every extra lost game now is only going to decrease their margin of error for a playoff berth once Durant and Westbrook return, per Ken Berger:
The longer this goes on, the uglier the math gets. Let's assume Durant and Westbrook both make it back by mid-December, or 24 games into the season. Let's say OKC is 8-16 when that happens, which might be generous the way things are going.
Let's also assume that 50 wins are needed to make the playoffs in the West, which also is not out of the question. The eighth-seeded Mavs won 49 games last season, and the 48-win Suns were left on the outside looking in. That would put the Thunder in the position of having to go 42-16 (.724) the rest of the way just to squeak into the playoffs.
Despite their talent and success, I'd have to say Oklahoma City has suffered some horrible luck in recent years, since their Finals loss and the subsequent Harden trade. This year, last year with the untimely Ibaka injury, and of course Westbrook two years ago (in a season in which they posted the best net rating of any team since the '08 Celtics). Instead of a likely championship appearance they had to settle for a crushing loss to Memphis, who simply owned that second-round series.
Grit 'n' Grind, heart and soul, Tony Allen. Grizzly Bear Blues recently published one of the better pieces I've read in a while, celebrating this larger-than-life portrait of our own humanity. Here's an excerpt:
Tony Allen is Chaos. He is, and isn't, many things. A fighter. A head case. He is tenacious. He is careless. He is passionate and confounding, in some ways selfish and in others selfless. He is terrifying to other teams in that he can destroy offensive game plans, and terrifying to his own team for the same reason.
Tony Allen is unconditionally loved, a true son of the (We Don't) Bluff City. Maybe he will rise to the occasion, maybe he won't. Maybe he will stop Chris Paul from scoring, maybe he will inexplicably kick him in the face. Maybe he will blow an assignment, maybe he will miss a wide open lay-up. Maybe he will stop the best players on the court and play within himself offensively. It isn't about the end result; it's about the journey.
In his always-excellent weekly column (Open Floor, up there with David Aldridge's Morning Tip, Paul Flannery's Sunday Shootaround, and a few others as some of the best weekly writing in the basketblogosphere), Chris Mannix investigates another great defender with perhaps a little less of a vibrant personality:
Now, a Spurs player showing up for a late night workout wasn't unusual. But this player on this date was. The player was Kawhi Leonard. The date was June 28, the day before Leonard's 21st birthday. On a night most spend sucking down Mind Erasers, Leonard was working on his midrange game.
You have to wonder if Matt Barnes and Chris Douglas-Roberts had a few too many Mind Erasers this summer... but really, imagining these Clippers with an athletic defensive wing in the lineup (one who can also go up for lobs), that'd be something else.
Another what-if — Isaiah Austin, who had his career prematurely ended by Marfan Syndrome. Despite his struggles, Austin has persevered and the doors are wide open for him to excel in whatever he chooses to pursue. An excellent SI magazine profile that might leave you looking for a box of tissues.
So alone in his room, he'd turn again to what his mother had told him when he lost vision in his eye: "You can make it your excuse or your story." He'd look to his left arm and see the words from Corinthians facing him, "For we walk by faith and not by sight," and discover a new meaning that wasn't about blindness. He'd begin to dream again and to put the same dedication that brought him to the brink of the NBA into those dreams. He became a spokesman for the Marfan Foundation. He began to write a book. He started the Isaiah Austin Foundation to promote Marfan awareness. He distributed thousands of bracelets at Baylor with the words "Dream Again." And he discovered a different side of basketball as a graduate assistant, mopping sweat off the floor, handing out water bottles and breaking down film with his players.
On a more light-hearted note, Flip Saunders came out blasting the big balls dance, pointing out that it can hurt a lot more than just your wallet.
Without going into too much detail, it was a scaled-down version of the gesture former Wolves guard Sam Cassell made in Game 7 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals against Sacramento. So was Kevin Martin paying homage to Cassell? "I think he started it," Martin said. "Unfortunately, you can't do that anymore."
Saunders takes a rather dim view of the gesture as well, but he has his reasons. According to Saunders, Cassell injured his hip doing that gesture that night, and was injured and ineffective in the conference finals, which the Wolves lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
"We lost a championship by that," Saunders said. "When [Cassell] did that he had an avulsion fracture in his hip. ... So, from that perspective, I've always been against that type of thing."
OK, maybe not that much happier, but that probably helped facilitate his eventual trade to the Clippers (somewhat happy). So it didn't end completely badly.
A few more notes before we end this monster of a Daily Clipper. Nylon Calculus has put out some great articles in the past few days. One of them presents an RPM-based model that projects player improvement by wins added, which should stir up a few emotions for some fans. Meanwhile, Seth Partnow has a very interesting finding based off some of the new SportVU data floating around in the ether:
Almost invariably these shots are described as the "shorter corner 3." And it's true, the line is 22 feet from the basket in the corner, while it extends to 23 feet, 9 inches around the rest of the arc. However, that extra distance is not the primary determining factor in the increased accuracy of the shot. As Ian noted over the summer, field goal accuracy doesn't materially change at any distance between 5 and about 24 feet.
In fact across the NBA, corner 3s were made at a higher rate than long two point jumpers of the exact same distance. As mentioned above, those corner 3s were knocked down at right around 39%. Looking at some of the more granular shooting data released earlier this week, two pointers from 22 feet away or further were only converted at a 34.3% rate.
While there are other explanations possible such as the the corner being an easier shooting background, a more likely explanation is that corner 3s are simply more open. This notion arose when I was examining who were the shooters deadliest from the corners when left wide open. It seemed that an unusually high proportion of players corner 3 attempts were completely uncontested. Given how important corner 3s are to the modern game, how could the shot be one of the least heavily contested in the game? But upon closer examination, it appears to be true.
And finally, NBA.com has been taking a look at the development of the international game, focusing on two parts of the world that had very different expected potentials for basketball not too long ago. All of a sudden, Canada has become a hotbed of talent, and one that might be able to legitimately compete with the United States on the international stage within a few years.
The upswing in Canadian talent in the NBA over the past nearly two decades can be attributed to several factors. The sport had been spiking in popularity as prospects used the emergence of computers to compare themselves with high school players around the country. Even after the Grizzlies left for Memphis in the summer of 2001, a breakup that left many in the region upset at the NBA and commissioner David Stern, local hero Steve Nash kept British Columbia connected.
You want fortuitous timing? Nash, from just outside Vancouver, was reaching his prime as the Grizzlies tore up roots. He was the Canadian who was named MVP in 2005 and again in 2006. Even folks cross-country in Toronto cheered him. It was a matter of Nash-ional pride.
By 2013, Forbes was citing statistics, though without specific attribution, that the growth rate of basketball among Canadian youth exceeded hockey and soccer. Also, the magazine claimed, basketball was the most popular team participation sport among kids 12 to 17. It didn't hurt that Canada had eased its immigration laws since the 1970s, leading to an influx of new residents from countries where basketball was the passion, not hockey.
Meanwhile, Asia's prospects haven't quite panned out as hoped, leaving Yao Ming seemingly as a large anomaly rather than a harbinger of greater things to come.
While development of the game in India is still in its infancy, and the prospects in other parts of Asia are long, it is the lack -- or complete absence -- of NBA level talent coming behind Yao out of China that has been frustrating to many in the league.
"How big is your imagination?" Xia Song, an agent, coach and all around Chinese basketball expert asked a decade ago during a preseason trip by Yao and the Rockets to Beijing and Shanghai. "There should be no holding this back now.
"The questions are where it can all lead in 20 years. Where I think it leads is basketball passing soccer to become the No. 1 sport in the world and to Chinese players being at the front of the wave. We have the potential."
The problem in China has been a provincial attitude of government officials and an overly protective mindset of those within the Chinese Basketball Association. CBA owners, with a significant financial stake in the league, are reluctant to allow burgeoning talent to play and learn and grow their games in the best international leagues in Europe. As a result, the development of talent has been stunted.
Until next time, expect the best, prepare for the worst, and never lose to Golden State.