The Meaning of Every NBA Game on Wednesday Night

Credit: SBNation.com

The final day of the NBA regular season is tomorrow, and with playoff seeding in the Western Conference and lottery seeding still up in the air, nearly every game has some impact on the future of the NBA. I ranked the games in order of importance. That is: games that really impact nothing will be ranked lower, even if they might contain some of the more entertaining basketball of the night. Games that mean more will be ranked higher, even if two of the three worst teams in the NBA are involved.

Without further ado, I’ll start with the leading team in the West:

15. OKC @ MIL

Simply put – this game impacts nothing at all directly. It might be entertaining, but ultimately meaningless in seeding for draft or playoffs, which is unlike every other game.

Oklahoma City clinched the top seed in the Western Conference. They cannot surpass Miami for home court. Expect them to take it easy. Their first round opponent can be any of Houston/LA Lakers/Utah depending on the results of other games. Aside from that, the other game that they might care about is the Celtics-Raptors game, as Toronto owes Oklahoma City a reverse-protected draft pick. If Toronto wins their final two games, the pick could end up as low as 12. Kevin Durant is also technically in the race for the scoring title, but would need to score 70 to surpass a resting Carmelo Anthony.

Milwaukee has lost 10 straight and probably wants to get a win before facing the Miami buzz saw. Otherwise, they can’t move up or down, and their draft position is locked.

14.  PHI @ IND

The Sixers have too much pride to play for ping-pong balls, but that’s the only significant purpose this game serves for them. The team can end up with as high as the 10th best lottery odds outright with a loss, combined with at least one win each from Toronto and Portland in the next 2 days. If they win, they could end up as low as 12 outright. This will be Doug Collins’s final game as head coach of the team.

Indiana has clinched the 3-seed and will play either Chicago or Atlanta in the first round. While they have nothing to play for, because of the Boston Marathon Attacks they will not be playing on a back-to-back or even for a few days, so they may play their starters for at least a decent chunk of time.

13. BOS @ TOR

Boston is confirmed for the 7-seed and their draft position at 16. They’ll likely spend the game resting their players and preparing for a grueling series with the Knicks, or at least they think they will.

Toronto has nothing to play for but a win in their final two games. While they technically have a chance at a top-3 seed, they most likely will end up giving this pick to the Thunder, to whom they owe a reverse-protected pick. With wins in their final two games, the Thunder will end up with a first rounder with lottery odds in the 10-12 range.

12. MIN @ SA

Minnesota might be playing the lottery. Currently with the 9th best odds for the number one overall pick, they could conceivably end up in a tie for 7th with Washington and Detroit if both of those teams win. It might be better for them to lose, however winning will not send them lower than 9th. Which is good, since this year has done enough damage to the franchise’s future.

San Antonio clinched the 2-seed in the West and the third best record overall. They don’t have a draft pick owed to them, so they likely will sit Duncan/Parker again. They could face any of Golden State/Houston/LA Lakers in the first round, but the opponent will be determined by results of other games. Expect them not to go all-out for a win.

11. NOH @ DAL

New Orleans probably will play lottery odds. NOH can end up moving up or down in the draft (between 4 and 6) depending on other results, though more than likely they’ll end up where they are, 5th.

Dallas is locked into the 13th best lottery odds and has no chance at the playoffs. As pointed out to me by @pucktacular on Twitter, they will be playing to finish .500. About all I can say about them.

10. DET @ BKN

Detroit is in the mix for lottery odds as high as 6th, if Sacramento wins and they lose. Currently they sit tied for 7th best with Washington. If they win, they could end up as low as 9th. Regardless, they are only playing for draft position, though there’s a big range. A loss is the best case, but that might not happen with Lawrence Frank and Joe Dumars looking to save their jobs and an opponent who might also not be looking to win. They’ve played better as of late.

Brooklyn is guaranteed to finish as the 4-seed. They will likely rest at least some players and watch to see who they’ll play in round one.

9. WAS @ CHI

Washington, like Detroit, can finish with lottery odds as good as 6th and as bad as 9th. Currently, they sit tied for 7th best. A loss is the best case; while the Wizards played better in the second half, they’ve been in a rut since Brad Beal was lost to injury.

Chicago can clinch the 5-seed in the East with a win in this game plus an Atlanta loss in either of their final two games. If Chicago loses this game, they can still end up as the 5-seed if Atlanta loses both of their remaining games. If they end up 5th, Chicago will play Brooklyn. If they end up 6th, Chicago will play Indiana.

8. ATL @ NYK

Atlanta, if they win on Tuesday against Toronto, can clinch the 5 seed with a win. That would secure a Brooklyn-Atlanta first round series, also known as the NBA TV invitational. A loss in either game could open the door for Chicago, which owns the head-to-head tie-breaker with Atlanta based off winning the regular season series 2-1, to take the 5-seed if they win their final game. If Atlanta loses both, they will end up as the 6-seed regardless of what Chicago does and play Indiana.

The Knicks have clinched the 2-seed and will play Boston in round one. They’ve suffered so many injuries that they likely will sit out most of their best players Wednesday, including Carmelo Anthony, who will win the scoring title provided that Kevin Durant scores under 70 points the same night.

7. GS @ POR

Portland might be playing the lottery. Depending on the result of their game against the Clippers on Tuesday, POR could possibly end up with a pick as high as 10 in the upcoming draft. They’ll need to lose both and have Toronto win to make this possible. Philadelphia winning would also help their cause. They have ensured they keep their first round pick, which is top 12-protected.

Golden State clinches the 6-seed in the West with a win or a loss combined with a Houston loss. With a loss and a Houston win, they end up 7th. Expect them to play hard to avoid San Antonio and OKC in the first round. Stephen Curry has the three point field goal record in sight, needing only 2 to have made the most in a season in league history. Golden State owes a first rounder to Utah, which may get better or worse with the result of this game.

6. PHX @ DEN

Phoenix has a lot of stuff going on. First, if they win they are guaranteed the 4th best lottery odds. If they lose, they could end up with the T-3rd best odds if Cleveland beats Charlotte. They have sat starters or played them limited minutes in games where it has been advantageous for them to lose for draft position. Expect the same here. Second, they will obtain the LA Lakers first round pick with a LAL loss and a UTA win. They could end up with two lottery picks, including one with top 3 odds, if everything goes right. Big day for them.

Denver has clinched home court but not their seed. They can clinch a top 3 seed in the West with a win or an LA Clippers loss in their final 2 games. Their opponent as the 3-seed can be either Golden State or Houston depending on the results of other games. If they lose and LAC wins out, DEN ends up 4th. If they finish 3rd, Golden State or Houston will be their opponent. If they finish 4th, Memphis will be the opponent. Expect them to play hard enough to win, which won’t be difficult for them at home against a setting Suns team. (I’m sorry for the pun)

5. ORL @ MIA

Orlando should be, and probably will be, playing the lottery. A loss for Orlando will guarantee at least a share of the odds at having the best chance at the #1 overall pick. While they’ve played Miami well, I imagine they are going to roll over to try and ensure those odds for this game. There’s too much to lose by not doing that.

Miami has clinched home court throughout the playoffs already and is just fine-tuning.

4. CLE @ CHA

Both teams will be playing for ping-pong balls which should make this a very, very interesting game (but from afar only). Cleveland currently has the third best lottery odds and has been playing the lottery for a month straight. Don’t be surprised if Kyrie Irving or other players sit out. This reportedly may be the end of the road for Byron Scott as Cavs coach.

Charlotte should be playing the lottery. Charlotte currently is tied with Orlando for the best lottery odds. A loss will ensure that they have a share of the best lottery odds. While they’ve been better to watch as of late, this team needs help and should probably try to lose. But can they out-lose Cleveland?

3. LAC @ SAC

The Clippers need to win their final 2 games and hope that Denver loses their final game in order to get the third seed. They can guarantee home court by having a record at least equal to Memphis’s. Winning both ensures home court. If Memphis loses their final game, LAC would only have to win one game. They cannot drop below 4 via being a division champion, and because they won the Pacific Division if they have the same record as their first round opponent they will have home court advantage.

Sacramento could possibly (but at this point, we really don’t know, and GOD I hope this isn’t the case) be hosting its final NBA game with this specific franchise. That should be motivation enough to go for a win. Lottery odds are inconsequential, though with a win they could potentially move back 2 spots in the draft to 8th by virtue of a tie with Detroit and Washington (if they each lose). A loss, combined with a win from NOH, could give them a share of the 5th best lottery odds. Again, I imagine the priority from the players is to win here.

2. UTA @ MEM

Utah has to win this game to make the playoffs. They also need help from Houston, who they’ll need to beat the Lakers. Losing will result in the 14th draft pick and no playoff appearance.

Memphis is in an interesting spot. They are guaranteed the 5-seed, but depending on the result of the LAC/POR game on Tuesday they will either (a) know they can clinch home court advantage with a win, or (b) have the chance to earn home court with a win. Either way, because the Clippers play at 10:30 (that is, after the Grizzlies play), the Grizzlies will have to play to win if they want at least a shot at home court.

1. HOU @ LAL

This game has by far the most wide-reaching implications. To make things easier, bullet points!

  • Roughly half the league has a rooting interest in the game, so it’s got that going for it.
  • Houston clinched a playoff spot and can end up as the 6-, 7-, or 8-seed in the West. With a win, they can end up at 6 (with a GS loss) or 7(with a GS win). They likely want to avoid the Thunder, so they’ll play to win. If they lose, they end up in the 8-seed.
  • LA Lakers can end up as the 7-, 8-, or 9-seed and out of the playoffs entirely. If they win, they will finish 7th and play SA in the first round. If they lose, they finish 8th (if Utah loses in Memphis) or 9th (if Utah wins).
  • #WinItForKobe
  • The UTA-MEM game occurs before this one, so LAL will know whether or not this is a must-win game. However, avoiding the Thunder is optimal, so no matter what they will play to win.
  • If LAL makes the playoffs – Cleveland receives LAL’s first round pick – the pick would be swapped with Miami’s first rounder, which then goes to Phoenix.
  • If LAL misses the playoffs – Phoenix receives LAL’s first round pick – they have the pick no matter what so long as LAL is in the lottery. The Cavs would still have the Miami Heat pick. This pick is more protected than the vice president in an undisclosed location.

The NBA has a lot on the line this week – be sure not to miss it!

NBA Stats of the Week: 3/12-3/18

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In the third edition of our newest segment, NBA Stats of the Week, we’ll look deeper into the Heat historic win streak, the impressive recent play by Monta Ellis, and a season by an NBA legend that simply defies age, and I’m not talking about Kobe, and other statistical tidbits from the last week that you my have missed.

  • Miami HeatLebron and Co. kept the train rolling on Monday night against the Boston Celtics. It wasn’t easy, though. Through the first 39 minutes of the game, the Celtics lead 93-83. Then Lebron checked in. Lebron James scored 13 points and dished out 3 assists. The Heat ended the game on a 22-10 scoring run to bring their winning streak to 23 games, the second longest NBA winning streak ever, 10 games behind the 1972-73 Los Angeles Lakers’ streak of 33 games. What has been the biggest key for the Heat in this streak? Fourth quarter play and defense. Since the beginning of their streak, the Heat lead the league in fourth quarter point differential, beating their opponents in that quarter by an average of 4.8 points per fourth quarter. They have the fourth best fourth quarter scoring average over that stretch and the best defense in that quarter. Overall, they have the fourth best scoring defense over that stretch and force the second most turnovers in the league. Lastly, Lebron had 37 points and 12 assists last night, his 18th career 35 point, 10 assist game. Do you know who that ties him with? Michael Jordan.
  • Monta Ellis: Ellis was the laughing stock of the league up until two weeks ago. At the time of the trade for JJ Redick, his shooting chart looked like this (below to the left). He was one of the most inefficient scoring guards in the entire NBA and seemed to shoot way too often. Since the beginning of March (providing a couple of games to adjust to his new teammate), Monta Ellis is shooting remarkably more efficient (below to the right). He’s not only beginning to knock down mid-range jump shots better, but he is shooting a whopping 11.5% better from under the rim. With a better teammate to play with, Monta Ellis feels less obligated to score himself and now only attacks the basket when it’s a good idea to do so, which benefits the team.

monta   monta new

  • Tim DuncanWhat Duncan is doing this season is absolutely amazing, and is going unnoticed in many ways. He is 36 years old and will be 37 by the time that his team is eliminated from the playoffs. He is still the leader of a team that is first in the ultra-competitive western conference and is the anchor of a defense that is ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating (points against per 100 possessions). But without knowing his personal numbers, you might feel inclined to chalk these things up to the fact that he plays besides Tony Parker, an elite point guard, and several productive young role players.
    Season    Age  G  FG  FGA  FG%  FT FTA  FT% ORB DRB  TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
    1997-98    21 82 7.9 14.5 .549 3.6 5.4 .662 3.1 7.9 11.0 2.5 0.6 2.3 3.1 2.9 19.4
    1998-99    22 50 7.7 15.5 .495 4.5 6.6 .690 2.9 7.6 10.5 2.2 0.8 2.3 2.7 2.7 19.9
    1999-00    23 74 7.9 16.0 .490 5.7 7.6 .761 3.3 8.2 11.5 2.9 0.8 2.1 3.0 2.6 21.5
    2000-01    24 82 8.0 15.9 .499 4.6 7.5 .618 2.9 8.4 11.3 2.8 0.8 2.2 2.7 2.8 20.6
    2001-02    25 82 8.3 16.3 .508 6.1 7.6 .799 2.9 8.4 11.3 3.3 0.7 2.2 2.8 2.3 22.6
    2002-03    26 81 8.1 15.8 .513 5.1 7.2 .710 2.9 8.9 11.8 3.6 0.6 2.7 2.8 2.6 21.3
    2003-04    27 69 8.4 16.8 .501 5.0 8.4 .599 3.2 9.0 12.2 3.0 0.9 2.6 2.6 2.3 21.9
    2004-05    28 66 8.4 17.0 .496 5.0 7.4 .670 3.3 8.7 12.0 2.9 0.7 2.8 2.1 2.4 21.9
    2005-06    29 80 7.4 15.3 .484 4.3 6.9 .629 3.0 8.4 11.4 3.3 0.9 2.1 2.6 2.8 19.2
    2006-07    30 80 8.2 14.9 .546 4.8 7.5 .637 2.8 8.4 11.2 3.6 0.9 2.5 3.0 2.7 21.1
    2012-13    36 56 8.3 16.5 .504 3.9 4.9 .806 2.2 9.7 11.9 3.2 0.9 3.2 2.4 2.1 20.7

    These are Tim Duncan’s per-36 minute statistics from this season, as well as his first ten seasons in the league, when he was highly acclaimed as a productive NBA big man. His statistics from THIS SEASON, at age 36, match up very closely with the per-36 minute numbers that he put up in his younger days. In fact, he’s blocking shots at a higher rate than he’s ever done before and is turning the ball over less than he’s ever done before. Of course, 36-minute splits aren’t a tell-all stat, and he isn’t as productive if he’s only playing 75% of the minutes he once played, but they surely go a long way in showing that during the time he’s spent on the court, he’s as good as ever.

  • Spencer HawesSpencer Hawes posted a career game on Saturday against the Pacers when he tallied 18 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 blocks. The only players to ever do that before are Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and now Spencer Hawes. So… there’s that.

You can follow Skyler on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert. I’d actually appreciate if you did that.

NBA Stats of the Week: 3/5-3/11

Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay

In the second of the new Stats of the Week series that I am instilling on HCB, we’ll look into the miraculous performances of a 34-year old who acts 10 years younger, a historic shooting performance by an eastern conference point guard, and a winning streak that is soon going to be so long that you can no longer count the games won on your fingers and toes, as well as a couple of other fascinating statistical points worthy of discussion.

  • Kobe BryantThe star of the Lakers has been on a tear since he guaranteed the Lakers would make the playoffs on February 21. Since he made this bold declaration, the Black Mamba has averaged 34.0 PPG, 7.1 APG, and 6.6 RPG on a very impressive effective field goal percentage of .606 (league average for guards is about .49 eFG%). More importantly, the Lakers are 7-2 in those 9 games, going from being 3.5 games back of the Rockets and 5 games back of the Jazz to actually catching up to Utah at the moment, tied for the 8th best record in the conference (still occupying the 9th spot due to tie-breaking procedures.) But there was more to Kobe’s greatness in a pair of games last week specifically. Let’s put it this way: From the beginning of Kobe Bryant’s career up until last Wednesday’s game against the Hornets, Bryant had played a total of 1443 career games, including the playoffs, without ever recording 40+ points and 12+ assists in his career. So basically, it took him 1443 games to post his first career 40-point, 12-assist performance of his career. Do you know how man games it took him to reach those marks again after his first time doing it? One. That’s right. He completed the feat in consecutive games after not once doing it in his whole career. Kobe Bryant joins Michael Jordan as the only players to ever gain these statistics in two games in a row. Jordan did it in two games in 1989. Both of Jordan’s games doing it were triple doubles, while Bryant shot more efficiently.
  • Deron WilliamsYou may have read in last week’s edition of Stats of the Week that Stephen Curry became just the fifth player in NBA history to make at least 11 three-pointers in a single contest. Well… on Friday against the Wizards, Deron Williams became the sixth to do it, exactly a week after Curry did it, about a ten minute express train ride from where Curry did it. Although the game that Williams had wasn’t as impressive as Curry’s in terms of efficiency, it did set some records that Curry’s did not. For example, Deron Williams made 7 first quarter three-pointers, which easily is the most in the league this season. Curry added two more in the second quarter to bring his total to nine at the half, good enough to set an NBA record for threes in a half
  • Miami HeatThe basketball team in South Beach is playing on a wicked level right now, winning 18 consecutive games, which tops the Clippers for the longest win streak in the NBA this season. Under closer examination, the streak looks even more impressive. They have wins against Indiana, Memphis, Oklahoma City, New York, and both LA teams, with none of those games being very close at the end. They’re averaging a winning margin by 11.4 points during the streak. They have a FG% of an incredible 51.4% against their opponents during the streak, the best by any NBA team in their last 18 games. To add to that, their defense has almost been as good as their offense. They’re in the top third of the league in FG% defense among teams in their last 18 games, and are second in the league at forcing turnovers during that stretch. Who has been leading this streak for the Heat? Their stars. Lebron, Wade, and Bosh are shooting eFG’s of 64.6%, 55.4% and 54.3%, respectively, all very impressive.
  • Brandon JenningsAlthough Brandon Jennings has long been known as a shoot-first kind of PG (he only is averaging 5.7 APG with an assist rate of 28% in his career), that may be changing now that JJ Redick is on his team. Each of Jennings’ two highest single-game assist totals of his career and 4 of his top 13 assist games of his career have occurred since the beginning of March. This month he is averaging 13.2 assists per game, an assist rate of 45.8%, remarkably better than his career assist rate. His eFG% has also jumped this month (from a terrible 43.4% to an elite 60.8%), presumably as an effect from not needing to carry as much of the work load as he had been asked to handle before the Bucks made the blockbuster trade at the deadline to bring in Redick.
  • Viacheslav KravtslavThe big man off the bench for the Detroit Pistons hasn’t played much this season. Here are some ridiculous stats on his behalf, though. Among players to have ever shot at least 75% from the field in a season, Kravtslav currently has the most shot attempts. Yes, you read that right. Among players who have ever finished a season making at least three quarter of their field goal attempts, none have taken more than 17 shots in a season. Kravtsov currently has taken 38. If you look at the free throw aspect of the game, almost exactly the opposite is true. Kravtsov is shooting a remarkably terrible 22.6% of his free throws. The record for free throw attempts in a season where a player has shot worse than 23% is 31, by Garfield Smith of the 1971-72 Celtics team. Kravtsov is currently tied with him in FTA, shooting 31 so far this season himself. Basically what I’m saying is that, using very lenient rules for letting a player be qualified, Viacheslav Kravtslav is having the best shooting season ever from the field and the worst shooting season ever from the charity stripe, IN THE SAME SEASON.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert. 

Don’t Write Off Draymond Yet

Draymond-Green

Draymond Green hasn’t been very effective this season for the Warriors. Anyone who looks up his numbers could tell you that. It just hasn’t been pretty. After being selected by the Golden State Warrior with the 35th overall pick of last summer’s NBA draft, Draymond is shooting just 32.6% from the field this season, and only 21.1% from three. The field goal percentage for Green is last in the NBA this season for players who have played at least 850 minutes this year. Needless to say, most people overlook a guy who shoots this poorly from the field in their rookie season. But there’s something different about Draymond Green. His effort on the floor, energy off the bench, and commitment to getting better makes Draymond Green special. He has a bright career ahead of him, he just needs to find his way in the league.

Work Ethic:

Some players have a very smooth transition into new circumstances. Kenneth Faried and Chandler Parsons last season and Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond this season just seemed to understand their role in the NBA immediately. They jumped into their specific job on their team like they had been doing it for a dozen years. Other players (like Green) don’t adjust as immediately well into new situations, but that’s okay. Even at Michigan State, it took some time for Draymond Green to adjust to Izzo’s system. As a freshman, Green played just 11.4 minutes a game and scored a measly 3.3 points per game with 3.3 rebounds a game this season (eerily similar to his 14.4 MPG with 3.2 PPG and 3.6 RPG in the NBA this season). In the years following his freshman season, he grew as a scorer, a rebounder, and as an outside shooter every season. By the time Green was a senior, he scored 16.2 PPG, 10.6 RPG, and was voted in as a first-team consensus NCAA All-American and the NABC player of the year. Let’s get back to the three-point shooting aspect, though. As a freshman and sophomore, Draymond Green made two three-pointers in both seasons combined. In his final two seasons? Green made 89 threes. So he’s shown that he can work hard and improve his game.

He’s shown that practice has paid off in other facets of his game, too. Just look at his performance from the free-throw line. Here are his free throw percentages in his four seasons at Michigan State: 61.5%, 67.2%, 68.3%, and 72.3%. Improvement every year. You know what Draymond is shooting from the free-throw stripe this season with the Warriors? 85.1%. It’s subtle, but the subtle things like this are sometimes the best indicators of a player’s determination to improve and strive to be the best that he can be. When discussing Draymond Green’s work ethic and continuous growth, his MSU head coach Tom Izzo said, “Draymond embodies everything that is right about a college basketball player… …He’s done what few can do and that’s get better each and every year… …He’s worked hard on improving his decision making, his body and his versatile skill set.” Izzo also went on to compare Green’s work ethic and winning attitude to that of Michigan State legends Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves. It’s pretty high praise for a guy with as much of a legacy as Tom Izzo has.

It’s that kind of work ethic that leads to players improving in the NBA. Even within this season, Draymond Green has improved. His field goal percentage reached 47% in January, improving from the two prior months where he shot horridly. His rebounding has improved as well, as it was up to 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in February, a very impressive mark by someone who’s logging the majority of his minutes playing at the small forward.

Energy off the Bench:

Draymond Green has been a defensive factor coming off the bench this season. His length poses problems to many taller players that he has to play defense against on the floor. He has a knack for getting in the passing lane and forcing turnovers. He and Stephen Curry are the only qualified players on the Warriors that record a steal on at least 2% of their defensive possessions, and Curry has an advantage in that category by being able to play on the point guard, the predominant ball handler on every team in the league except the Heat. (Lebron just breaks every trend.) Let’s examine an example. Like always, you can click on the images to zoom closer.

Screenshot (14) copy   Screenshot (15) copy

This is from a game in November when the Warriors played in Dallas against the Mavs. On the left, you can see Darren Collison is trying to hit Bernard James, the back-up center for the Mavericks on a backdoor cut to the basket. The pass attempt coming up is shown in dotted green while James’ cut to the basket is shown in red. Draymond Green, whose man is Troy Murphy in the corner (can you believe that it was this season that he was on the Mavericks?), recognizes that a pass from Collison to Murphy from the position that he’s in would be nearly impossible so he cheats down and helps on Bernard James. With excellent play recognition, Draymond Green, circled in pink is able to beat James to the ball, get into the passing lane, and force the turnover.

His energy helps the team in other areas too. He’s a solid rebounder for a small forward, and as I mentioned earlier in the article, is grabbing 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in the last month. His tenacious rebounding can be seen in this example here.

Screenshot (16) copy  Screenshot (17) copy

As you can tell based on the freeze frame to the left, this is a Harrison Barnes free throw attempt in the final minute of a close game about a week and a half ago against the Timberwolves. The ball is circled in yellow and Draymond Green is circled in the color that fits his last name. You can see that Derrick Williams appears to have good position boxing out on Green. Barnes missed the free-throw, and Green made a strong move to the basket to get the upper-hand in rebounding position on Derrick Williams. Williams tried to draw a foul and pretty blatantly flopped on the play, if you’re wondering why he’s sprawling on his back 5 feet behind the baseline in the second photo. Luke Ridnour and Andrei Kirilenko were the only ones left to grab the rebound for the Timberwolves. Green just out jumps them and snags the ball. He took the ball out and passed it to Kent Bazemore, who took a foul and made free throws to ice the game.

Coaching Belief:

You’re probably wondering why Draymond Green is even in the game in that situation. Why would Mark Jackson have a 33% shooting first-year player in the game with the game on the line? Mark Jackson is not a dumb man, and he understands that shooting percentages aren’t a tell-all statistic. He still uses the rookie for the reasons mentioned in the article. He is a great young defender and attacks the glass well. If his veterans are out there, playing lackadaisically and seem out of it, it helps to spark a motor within them when they see a young player fight for offensive rebounds or dive for loose balls.

Here’s what Mark Jackson, a retired NBA great in his own right and possibly the leading candidate for NBA coach of the year had to say about Draymond Green, “He’s a leader, and he doesn’t care about tenure. He stepped in here as a leader, and that’s a leader’s mentality… …He’s cooling off opponents’ hottest scorers, keeping a body on them and making it tough on them. He’s rebounding and making plays offensively. He’s giving us a presence by playing with force. The guy is just a tremendous competitor.” Pretty high praise from a man like that. It’s very similar to the praise that Tom Izzo gave to him as a chubby college freshman. He’s a leader and he works hard and he’ll find his way. Coaching belief is one of the most underrated factors in evaluating young players. It helps his morale so much to just know that despite not being able to put the ball in the hoop consistently, his coach still has his back and supports him and still gives him his fair share of minutes for all of the other things that he does that helps the team that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box scores.

Draymond’s shooting percentage is of great concern, but he’s always been someone who works hard and will make proper adjustments to do what it takes to win. It’s not like it’s something that’s impossible to rebound from. Jason Kidd, Mugsy Bogues, Chauncey Billups, and Peja Stojakovic all struggled as rookies, each shooting less than 39% from the field. They all found their way in the league and were able to play and be effective for a long time. There is no doubt in my mind that Draymond Green can do the same.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert. I tweet a lot. I’d also like to thank NBA.com/stats, 82games.com, and basketball-reference.com for their statistics that I used in this article.

NBA Stats of the Week: 2/26-3/4

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In a new segment I’ll be doing every Tuesday on here, I’ll pick out the noteworthy statistics that occurred around the league in the last week. It’s worth noting that many of the single-game historical references only go back to the 1985-1986 season (the limitations of the Basketball-Reference.com play index for game finding). For convenience, “all-time” may mean “since 85-86″ in many cases in this article.

  • Stephen Curry: On Wednesday of last week, Curry scored 54 points in a road game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. This performance placed Curry third all-time among the top scoring performances by visiting players, putting him just behind Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and just ahead of Lebron James. That’s not exactly the worst company to be in. Furthermore, Stephen Curry joins four other players as being the only players to make at least 11 3-pointers in a game. Of the five players who have accomplished that feat, Curry did not only did so on the fewest number of three-point attempts, but also recorded the most points and assists ever by someone that made that many threes in a ballgame. Unfortunately from Curry’s perspective, he may not view the game as better than the games the others players had, since Curry was the only player to lose in such a game. When you add in the game that Curry had the night before in Indiana where he shot 7-10 from beyond the arc, he became the eighth player ever to make at least 7 3-pointers in consecutive games. Curry had already achieved this feat earlier this season against Sacramento and Charlotte (7-12 and 8-13 shooting threes, respectively), making him the first player ever to score 7 threes in consecutive games more than once in his career. The game following the one against the Knicks, Curry took on the Celtics and was unable to follow up the feat. Only Mike Miller and George McCloud have scored 7 three-pointers in three straight games.
  • Lebron James: What hasn’t Lebron done? Whatever it is, he added to it a little more in the last week, especially in his win last Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings. In that game, Lebron set his new career high in assists with 16. His previous career high had been 15, set three times before he joined the Heat. Lebron’s achievements in that game go far beyond the highlights of his own career. They reach a historical level too. For instance, he joined just three other players in NBA history to record a game of at least 40 points and 16 assists. The entire month of February was historically good for Lebron James as well. Lebron set the record for PER in a single month, putting up a player efficiency rating of 38.34 in February. For a metric that sets 15.0 as it’s “average”, it was a pretty unbelievable series of games for James that month, to say the very least.
  • Joakim Noah: The center for the Bulls had a career game last Thursday, scoring 23 points, grabbing 21 boards, and blocking 11 shots. The 21 rebound performance was tied for Noah’s second most rebounds in any game of his career. When he blocked eleven shots that night, it set his personal best for blocked shots in a game. Noah’s performance put him along side Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Shawn Bradley as players who have had 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots in a game.
  • Chandler Parsons: Parsons had a career night on Sunday, when he scored 32 points on 12-13 shooting from the field against the Mavericks. Parsons is the first player in over three seasons to score at least that many points on 92% shooting or better.  He joins a list of 15 players to have ever done that since the 1985-86 season.
  • Amir Johnson: Johnson had a 23 point, 15-rebound performance off the bench for the Raptors on Monday. What’s even more impressive is that he didn’t miss a single field goal attempt. 49 players have had a game of at least 23-15 as a reserve. Amir Johnson is the only one of these 49 players that didn’t miss a shot. Unfortunately for Johnson, the spectacular performance came in a loss to the Warriors.
  • Luke Walton: On a less impressive (but still a little bit impressive) statistic from the last week, Luke Walton tallied 12 assists and 0 rebounds against the Knicks on Tuesday. Walton is the one of two non-guards to ever do this (the other being George Hill). As a sidenote, Luke Walton scored 2 points and Grant Hill scored 31 points. In case we’re still short on Luke Walton love, here is my Luke Skywalton photoshop.

LukeSkywalton

You can follow me on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert.

Antawn Jamison Should Never Play Center

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In the beginning of the Lakers season, the back-up center for the team was Jordan Hill, who’s effort and energy off the bench provided a nice spark for the team when Dwight Howard needed to take a rest. He hustled for loose balls, rebounded at a high rate, and shot about 50% from the field. He was also a tenacious defender, who, despite being under-sized, was able to run around, cover his assignments, and “annoy” players on the other team with his pesky play. Although the team was struggling in the early months of the year, Jordan Hill was one of the few bright spots. On January 6, Kobe Bryant stepped on Hill’s foot, while Hill was running in another direction and Hill pulled his hip. The injury requited surgery and Hill was lost for the season.

The Lakers then turned to Pau Gasol, their veteran power forward who was struggling in the starting line-up and didn’t play well with Dwight Howard. He became to come off the bench and, although he still played with Dwight Howard at times, took all of the back-up center minutes. At this point, the Lakers had a back-up center who not only was a skilled offensive player in the post, could shoot from mid-range well and was an excellent passing big-man, but they also had a very underrated defender under the basket. Despite battling tendinitis in both knees as well as plantar fasciitis, Pau Gasol was able to post a very impressive post-up defense mark. In the time he played this season, he held opponents posting up on him to 0.74 points per possession. According to Synergy Sports Technology, that means he played better post defense than players like Tim Duncan or Serge Ibaka, both of whom are considered by some to be a defensive player of the year candidate Unfortunately, the plantar fasciitis that Gasol had been playing through tore on February 5, taking Gasol out for 6 to 8 weeks.

The Lakers were left with three options to fill the void left at the back-up center role. (1) Play Robert Sacre there, the rookie from Gonzaga that they drafted 60th overall last summer. (2) Play Antawn Jamison there and play with a small line-up for the dozen or so minutes each night that Howard needs to sit. (3) Acquire an adequate center from either the D-League or from another NBA team via trade.

Well, Robert Sacre has played 15 minutes since Gasol has gotten hurt, coming in three blowout games against Boston, the Clippers, and the Timberwolves. The Lakers let the trade deadline come and pass without making a single move, and there haven’t even been rumors from the team about possibly adding a free agent center or signing someone from the D-League to fix this problem. Yes, that means the Lakers have committed to having Antawn Jamison play center between about 8 and 15 minutes a night, for nearly the entire last month.

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge just how well Antawn Jamison has been playing offensively for the past couple weeks. In the last 5 games he has an eFG% of 60% and a PER of 22.0. He’s really helping the offense off the bench and is making nice cuts to the basket so Nash or Kobe can feed him the ball for the easy basket. His versatility for a power forward is tough for defenses to deal with. He can shoot the three ball well and also has a solid, unorthodox game around the basket including lay-ups at every arm angle imaginable as well as a solid baby hook. I would be fine with all of this. IF HE ONLY PLAYED POWER FORWARD.

If you look at the Lakers defensive statistics, their inability to protect the rim with Jamison at the 5 is startling. According to nbawowy.com,  in 386 possessions this season (about four games worth, enough to dismiss “small sample size” in my opinion), opponents of a Jamison-anchored Lakers defense are scoring 1.228 points per possession. By comparison, the league-wide  average points per possession is 1.056 points per game. To put it in another perspective, the Jamison-led defense for the Lakers allows opponents to effectively shoot 58% from the field, compared with the league average of 49% eFG%. You be curious about a confounding variable in this analysis. Is it really Jamison’s defense, or is it poor perimeter defense that causes opponents to torch this lineup so badly? When Jamison is center, opponents shoot 70% from the restricted area under the basket. That’s WAY worse than league average, which is about 59% shooting from there. Even the Sacramento Kings, who are last in the league in defense at the rim, hold opponents to a stellar-by-comparison 65.0% shooting in the restricted area. Jamison is just too old, slow, and weak to be elite on the defensive end as a center. He’s never been a good defender throughout his entire career, playing at the less-important power forward position, but at center it’s just a train wreck.

Once I learned the extent of Jamison’s rim-protecting ineptitude, I tried to look into the situation and dissect it a bit. I found that the peak of Jamison’s horribleness on D was the game last Monday against the Denver Nuggets. With 2:59 in the first quarter, Dwight Howard subbed out of the game with the Lakers leading the game 25-23. At this time, Antawn Jamison moved over to center. Here are the next 12 Nuggets offensive possessions:

  1. Javale McGee two-point shot.
  2. Andre Miller lay-up
  3. Corey Brewer dunk
  4. Andre Miller lay-up
  5. Andre Iguodala draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  6. Javale McGee draws faul, gets to the free throw line
  7. Corey Brewer and-1 lay-up
  8. Andre Miller draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  9. Anthony Randolph lay-up
  10. Anthony Randolph dunk
  11. Corey Brewer missed lay-up, Anthony Randolph tip-in
  12. Corey Brewer lay-up

Remember the two-point Lakers lead they had when Howard exited the game? In the span of 4 minutes and 25 seconds, the Nuggets scored 22 points and scored points on 12 possessions in a row, ALL VIA PENETRATION, to turn the scoreboard into a 14-point lead in the Nuggets favor. The Lakers ended up losing the game by 11 points. Perhaps if they had an adequate free-agent defensive center who could have been playing the 5, the game would have been different. There are certainly options out there. Ben Wallace, Hassan Whiteside, Arinze Onuaku, Henry Sims and Tim Ohlbrecht. These are people that can play defense at an adequate level. They can sacrifice offense in that bench unit. They just need to find a way not to lose a lead like that. It isn’t necessarily Jamison’s fault, but he’s a POWER FORWARD and he should play POWER FORWARD and if Mitch Kupchek truly wants to make a real effort to get the team into the playoffs, he should fill this blatant hole in the bench unit, immediately.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter @SkylerJGilbert.

The Fast Break Jam Episode 3: I Can (Almost) See Clearly

LISTEN HERE

On this week’s podcast, Jameson and I are joined by Skyler Gilbert, noted Lakers fan and author of the last two awesome posts on this site. We talk about current NBA stuff, the trade deadline, the Lakers, the winners and losers of the Dwight Howard trade (and we don’t all agree), and teams unofficially eliminated from playoff contention.

In hindsight, the Sixers now are officially on the list. Enjoy!

NBA Trade Deadline: Winners and Losers

At 3:00 PM eastern time on February 21, the trade deadline for the 2012-13 NBA season halted all transactions between teams until the summer. Basketball fans were on the edge of their seats all day, just waiting for a “Woj Bomb” (a tweet by Yahoo basketball reporter Adrian Wojnarowski) that rocks the basketball world. Let’s dive into what the biggest winners and losers of the trade deadline were.

Winners: 

Houston Rockets: General manager Daryl Morey is at it again. One of the earliest trades of the deadline sent Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, and Toney Douglas to the Sacramento Kings and sent young forward Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns. The good news? They were able to bring in Thomas Robinson, the strong and athletic rookie from Kansas University who was drafted fifth overall in the draft last summer. Robinson hasn’t earned the opportunity he deserves in Sacramento, and with Patterson and Morris moving out, he’ll have a great chance to shine in Houston. As a Kansas Jayhawk, Thomas Robinson averaged 18-12 on 51% shooting. Although he doesn’t have elite length, he’s able to succeed under the basket as an excellent rebounder due to his strength and fundamentally-correct rebounding techniques. In this trade, the Rockets also brought in Francisco Garcia, yet another player that specializes in three-pointers and defense that fits perfectly in the Rockets system. Also acquired by Houston in this deal is Jimmer Fredette’s bench buddy, Tyler Honeycutt. That’s pretty sad, I guess, but the rest of the trade was exciting from Houston’s perspective.

Los Angeles Lakers: As a Lakers fan, I actually approve of the lack of moves on their part. Dwight Howard is still only 27 years old. Despite being banged up with injuries this season, he’s put up numbers that for anyone else in the NBA, you’d go, “_______ is really having a productive season. He’s scoring efficiently and rebounding at a high rate.” Howard has higher expectations, but hasn’t really fallen too far short of them, except on the defensive end, where he’s improved in the last few games. I also feel like the Pau Gasol injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Lakers, who would have contemplated dealing him had he remained healthy. If there had been a trade for Gasol, given his recent play this year, the Lakers wouldn’t have received a return package of the same value as Gasol. It’s almost never a good idea to seek a trade when a player’s stock is that low.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks were able to land the biggest name of the day in J.J. Redick without giving up any important assets. In a trade that sent Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, and Beno Udrih to Orlando, the Bucks bring in Redick, the shooting guard out of Duke known for his shooting. This mostly helps to right the terrible balance of the Milwaukee offense that sees Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis shoot an insane amount of inefficient shots. Consider these three shot distribution markers:

monta jennings redick

You can click on the images to view them closer, but if you had to choose one, I’m sure that you would choose the one furthest to the right. The one furthest to the left is the shot distribution of Monta Ellis, who currently takes the MOST shots on the Milwaukee Bucks. The one in the middle is the shot distribution of Brandon Jennings. It doesn’t seem too bad at all, until you zoom up and see that he is shooting 43.5% from under the basket, good enough for last among qualified players from inside 9 feet. And the one on the right is the newcomer. JJ Redick. Do you see why it is so important that he takes shots away from these two ball-hogs? Assuming that it helps their team’s putrid balance, this is a great move for the Bucks.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have been imitating the Portland Trail Blazers the last few weeks. Rajon Rondo and Leonardo Barbosa both were lost for the season with ACL tears. Their back-court was left in shambles. the Lakers on Wednesday, the Celtics were depleted at the guard position so badly that they were left with three guards on their line-up. Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Avery Bradley. So when the Celtics went out and were able to acquire Jordan Crawford for just the price of the injured Barbosa’s expiring contract and the little-used Jason Collins, it seemed like a no-brainer. Crawford is known for taking too many shots and is much criticized for his decision-making. Hopefully for Boston, the veteran leadership will be able to guide him to a wiser overall game. I believe he’s talented enough to make a major contribution to this team if he’s able to do these things.

Portland Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers agreed to a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder that brought in point guard Eric Maynor for a second-round draft pick. Maynor, a fourth-year player out of VCU had rarely been used in OKC this season after missing the entire previous season with a knee injury. In his first two seasons, Maynor showed tremendous promise. He was a solid three-point shooter and a tremendous passer. In his college days at Virginia Commonwealth, Maynor was a ball of excitement in the Colonial Conference. The last couple minutes of one of the VCU Rams games with George Mason may have been the greatest thing ever. For a Portland bench that scores 9.2 points fewer per game than any other team and are the only team since the 1997-98 season (the limits of my source) to score less than 17 points per game, this move makes a lot of sense. Maynor is able to create for himself a little bit, but specializes as a floor general and will be able to create for others when he is out there. The only concern with this move is that Maynor is coming off of an ACL tear, something that Blazer players have become almost synonymous with.

Losers:

Sacramento Kings: The Kings were sitting at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the lowest abyss in any ocean. So many bad situations have put this franchise into a situation where you wonder if they can go any lower. Suddenly, whilst sitting at the bottom of the lowest trench in the world, the ocean floor crumbled beneath them and they fell another 5,000 feet nowhere and unable to see any sign of daylight anywhere. While I’m not sure whether or not that metaphor came across or not, the point is this. The Sacramento Kings are a freaking disaster. Dysfunctional ownership has left the team in a scramble to harvest all possible cash to prevent the franchise from relocating to Seattle. At the trade deadline, the starve for money led to the team trading away their fifth overall pick and their future, Thomas Robinson. I understand that it saved them $3.1 million in a time where they need to accumulate cash, but still. In the long run, this will likely make them more bankrupt. Although they earn money in the trade, they lose money in advertising, ticket sales, and merchandise sales. What fan wants to stand by an organization that just admitted to throwing away their future? They hardly got any value at all in return. Toney Douglas is  basically a twelfth man. Cole Aldrich, too. Patrick Patterson is a rotational player and has probably already peaked. He’s far less valuable than Thomas Robinson’s immense amount of potential. The Maloof family should be embarrassed to own a franchise this way.

Utah Jazz: None of the other “losers” of the deadline can quite compare to the atrocity of the Sacramento Kings, but the Utah Jazz certainly did themselves a disservice. The Jazz needed to make a deal. They’re sitting at the seventh spot in the west, with the talent-filled Lakers occupying the ninth spot, eyeing their playoff spot. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are both on expiring contracts and both valuable. The Jazz have a notable weak spot at the point guard position and talent like Eric Bledsoe was on the market. Their front-office has a long history of making the right decision, but at this trade deadline, I feel like they made the wrong one. Salt Lake City isn’t always a desirable place to spend a winter and they had a golden opportunity to get talent in return for one of their big men before they may walk during the free agency period this summer.

Atlanta Hawks: THEY HAD TO TRADE JOSH SMITH. He may have a problem with heaving too many jumpers and sometimes he may not seem like he’s totally “in” the game, but he still is a very athletic tweener forward that has value on many teams. I think he will walk away this summer anyways. Take it from the Cavaliers. It isn’t fun when you watch a star player walk away with your team getting nothing in return. Don’t get me wrong–Josh Smith isn’t nearly the player Lebron James is–but the two situations are relatively similar. They could have sent Smith to San Antonio and received Dejuan Blair and Stephen Jackson in return. Maybe they could have also been able to pry Bledsoe away from the Clippers and fill the void left on the bench when Lou Williams went down. Maybe even the Lakers would have bitten if they tried hard enough to get Dwight Howard. The Hawks intend on making an effort to draw in Howard, who grew up near Atlanta, during the summer. It would have gone a long way towards completing that signing if they could have made him a Hawk now and familiarized him with his teammates and the organization.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @skylerjgilbert.

Just How Good is Kyrie Irving?

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I’ll be honest, and I’m pretty ashamed of this at this point. Before the 2011 NBA draft, I was arguing that Derrick Williams should have been the first overall pick in the draft. I doubted Kyrie Irving’s athleticism, defense, and I feared that he was bound for an injury-plagued career after his only year of college at Duke University lasted only nine games due to an injured ligament in his toe. My doubts were actually accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Kyrie Irving isn’t a great on-ball defender, albeit he is improving. Irving did sprain his shoulder towards the end of his rookie season, along with a finger injury in the beginning of the current season that sidelined him for a few weeks. Lastly, Kyrie Irving can’t throw down monster jams like Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose can. He can’t run the floor with the speed and quickness of Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul. So, as you can see, my pre-draft concerns were legitimate. The problem with that evaluation of Kyrie Irving is that I didn’t account for just HOW GOOD he is at everything else.

Leadership: When Lebron James left Cleveland before the 2010-11 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were left with a dismal roster with no promising young talent besides Anderson Varejao, and a team that was simply incapable of being competitive. During the middle of that season, the Cleveland Cavaliers reached a level of horribleness that was previously unseen in the NBA. Between the dates of November 30 and February 9, the squad posted a record of 1-36, including an NBA-record of 39 consecutive games without winning in regulation. Many of these games were blow-outs, including a 55 point loss to the Lakers in Staples Center. Let’s just say they were bad. On May 17, 2011, in Secaucus, New Jersey, the tide finally turned in favor of the Cavaliers. They won the NBA draft lottery, which meant the rights to draft Kyrie Irving. Irving had to wait longer than most NBA rookies do to begin what he had already waited his whole life for, due to the 2011 NBA lock-out.

Once the season finally began, Kyrie was a clear leader of the franchise. Despite being just 19 years old, he was the one that took the shots at the end of the game. He was the one that led the team in scoring and usage %. He was the one that rallied the troops in the locker room to prepare for a big home game. Quite a responsibility for a teenager. This season, now 20, Kyrie Irving has evolved as a player, into an all-star. He has also further evolved in his leadership abilities. Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said that Irving  is “understanding what it takes to be a leader as far as communicating with his teammates and making his teammates better. That’s the next level for him … [and] he’s well on his way”.

Shooting Ability: One of the parts of Kyrie Irving’s game that is unexpectedly elite, based on evidence from high school and college, is his three point shooting. Only two starting point guards in the NBA have shot the long ball at a more efficient clip than Irving’s 42.9%. Their names are Stephen Curry and Jose Calderon. Unlike Kyrie Irving, Curry and Calderon shoot many of their threes directly off someone else’s pass. A catch-and-shoot three-pointer is much easier than one off the dribble. Just look at these numbers comparing Kyrie Irving to Stephen Curry.

Kyrie Irving: 3PT% (spot-up): .543. 3PT% (isolation): .448

Stephen Curry: 3PT% (spot-up): .532. 3PT% (isolation): .400

Stephen Curry is better than Irving in other kinds of shots, such as in transition or as the pick-and-roll ball handler, but I doubt most of you expected Kyrie Irving to be a better spot-up shooter than Stephen Curry.

Although the three-point shootout at the All-Star Saturday Night festivities is generally viewed as something that is just for fun and unimportant, it is a good indicator of a player’s pure shooting ability. Kyrie Irving was the second point guard ever to win, along with Mark Price, who may be the greatest shooter to have ever played. Just watch.

Scoring Ability:

Being able to shoot the ball is nice, but it is far from the only thing necessary to be a great scorer in the NBA. Just look at Michael Jordan, probably the greatest scorer of all-time. What set him apart from all of the rest? He wasn’t an elite scorer. Heck, when he did the three-point shoot-out he scored all of 6 points. Jordan was the greatest of all-time in being able to create shots. If you give a contested fall-away jumper to prime Michael Jordan and to prime Kobe Bryant, Kobe would have been much more likely to make it. That wasn’t MJ’s style, though. He could get himself open with ease and knock down an easier shot attempt.

Kyrie Irving is more of a Michael Jordan-type scorer. His elite ball handling enables him to get himself in a good position to knock down a jumper. Consider this sequence in a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves:

Screenshot (2)

Kyrie Irving gets the ball in the post from teammate Alonzo Gee, just five seconds remaining on the shot clock, with Luke Ridnour at his back.

Screenshot (3)

Here we are about a second later in the play. Kyrie is now isolated on the right side of the floor with Luke Ridnour still guarding him. He has turned from the post to face the basket, and throws a jab step to the right towards the baseline.

Screenshot (4)

Kyrie is now penetrating through the lane to his left, setting up an easy lay-in. This play doesn’t seem like much, but it certainly displays some basketball maturity. Most young players don’t really understand that 5 seconds is plenty of time to still make a play and set up a score. Many players put in Kyrie’s situation, which came at the end of a broken play, would have tried some turn-around fade-away jumper that is certainly less likely to fall than this one. Also noteworthy in this play was the little jab step he used to get Luke Ridnour off-balance. NBA defenders are taught to key the ball handler at the waist. Your waist doesn’t move on head fakes, but it will on jab steps like this one.

Here is a second example of Kyrie’s scoring ability, taken from a big win against the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple of weeks ago:

Screenshot (5)

Game is on the line. Cavs up 113-110 with :23 left on the game clock and :09 left on the shot clock. OKC needs to stop the Cavs here to give themselves a chance. Luckily for us, we get to watch Kyrie Irving on an isolation with Russell Westbrook guarding him.

Screenshot (6)

Here we have another example of Kyrie’s elite ball handling skills. I’m not sure if you saw him break Brandon Knight’s ankles at the Young Stars Game last Friday, but it was something special. In this play, Kyrie puts a quick double crossover on Westbrook and drives to his left.

Screenshot (7)   Screenshot (8)

Kyrie pulls up from about 10 feet from the hoop and pump-fakes hard and quick. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who came over to help, are both fooled and go airborne. Kyrie waits for the bodies to pass and throws up a jumper in traffic.

Screenshot (9)

Drains it. The shot, although you can’t tell based on this, was a bank-shot. It was the end of a big home win against an elite team. Kyrie Irving put the Cavaliers on his back down the stretch in that game.

Kyrie Irving is 2nd in the NBA among all qualified players in isolation PPP. By comparison, Lebron James ranks 4th in the league and Kevin Durant ranks 13th. Irving is able to do most of this with his elite ball handling and remarkable maturity for a player who still isn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol.

Where Do We Rank Him?

Here are some numbers comparing Kyrie Irving to other top-tier PG’s in the NBA this season. Not included among elite point guards are Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, both of whom are presently injured. These numbers are per 36 minutes played.

Player              Age  G  FG  FGA  FG%  3P 3PA  3P%  FT FTA  FT% TRB  AST STL TOV  PTS
Stephen Curry        24 49 7.1 16.4 .437 3.0 6.7 .447 3.0 3.3 .905 3.9  6.3 1.5 2.7 20.3
Jrue Holiday         22 47 7.3 16.1 .452 1.0 2.8 .353 2.3 3.0 .775 3.9  8.4 1.4 3.8 17.9
Kyrie Irving         20 42 8.8 18.8 .466 2.0 4.7 .425 4.3 5.1 .848 3.7  5.7 1.7 3.3 23.9
Tony Parker          30 52 9.0 16.9 .535 0.5 1.2 .386 4.4 5.3 .830 3.3  8.4 1.0 2.8 22.9
Chris Paul           27 44 6.4 13.2 .482 1.3 3.8 .353 4.2 4.7 .884 3.7 10.5 2.8 2.3 18.3
Russell Westbrook    24 53 8.0 18.8 .426 1.3 3.9 .328 5.5 6.9 .795 5.2  8.1 2.0 3.6 22.8

A couple things are apparent just with these basic measures. Kyrie Irving scores at a higher rate than any other point guard. On the downside for Irving, the point guard’s role is normally as a facilitator and he has assist numbers that pale in comparison to Chris Paul or Tony Parker. Some of this can be attributed to having poor teammates, but let’s not forget that Steve Nash was able to accumulate over a dozen assists per 36 minutes in each of his last three seasons in Phoenix. His teammates were also poor, but the best passing point guards are able to set up teammates at a high clip even if they aren’t All-star caliber players. It’s difficult to accurately see who is the most efficient without looking at more advanced metrics such as true shooting % or effective shooting percentage, so let’s lay down the red carpet and bring in advanced numbers as well.

Player              Age  G  PER  TS% eFG% TRB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48

Stephen Curry        24 49 19.9 .569 .528  6.0 29.6  2.1 13.3 25.6  112  108  .152
Jrue Holiday         22 47 18.2 .512 .482  6.2 40.9  2.0 17.7 27.3  101  106  .078
Kyrie Irving         20 42 22.3 .567 .519  6.0 30.7  2.4 13.7 30.0  110  109  .143
Tony Parker          30 52 24.5 .597 .549  5.4 41.4  1.4 12.8 28.2  118  105  .233
Chris Paul           27 44 26.8 .597 .533  6.1 47.3  4.1 13.3 22.2  128  101  .297
Russell Westbrook    24 53 23.0 .522 .459  8.3 40.0  2.8 14.1 32.1  109  104  .177

As far as PER goes, Kyrie Irving is better than Curry or Holiday but trails Westbrook, Paul, and Parker. Irving’s AST% is actually better than that of Stephen Curry despite not having the offensive weapons and shooters Curry has. His defensive rating of 109 is a bit disconcerting, and Irving has been much criticized of his defense. However, offensive and defensive ratings are in many ways, team statistics, and are difficult to pin on a single player. I mean, Derek Fisher once had an offensive rating of 117 despite shooting 42% from the field and putting up 3.2 APG. It may have had more to do with the fact that he was on the floor with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom that season. Kyrie Irving may not be the best defender in basketball, but I believe he’s much better than this stat claims.

Based on Synergy Sports Technology, which analyzes a player’s ability in every play type, offense or defense, Kyrie Irving allows only 0.57 points per possession on isolation plays against him. Let’s compare that to Chris Paul, known league-wide as an elite perimeter defender. Paul’s success on isolation isn’t nearly as good as Kyrie’s. He allows 0.96 points per possession on isolation plays. Irving even leads CP3 in overall defense (0.83 PPP to 0.84 PPP). I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Irving is a better defender than Chris Paul, due to other variables involved that include defensive help on isolation plays and the fact that Irving sometimes doesn’t guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, but I think it provides sufficient evidence to say that he’s not terrible on defense.

Kyrie Irving isn’t the best healthy NBA point guard. Chris Paul is better. So is Tony Parker. Russell Westbrook might even be better too. That’s besides the point. He’s an elite player, a leader to his team, one of the best shooters in basketball, an unbelievable shot creator (especially for someone with so little experience), and a vastly underrated defensive game. AND HE’S TWENTY YEARS OLD. It’s exciting to root for a player with as much youth and potential as Kyrie Irving has. There hasn’t been a twenty year old in the NBA playing as well as Kyrie Irving since Lebron James, the man that he was drafted to replace. What a beautiful irony.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, mysynergysports.com hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the third person so he’s going to conclude this article. He’s also adding this final sentence so the word count passes 2000.

The Fast Break Jam Episode 2: Safely Landed

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On this week’s podcast, Sean Highkin from The Classical and TrueHoop Network blogs Hardwood Paroxysm, Portland Roundball Society, and Magic Basketball, along with Jacob Frankel from this blog space and TrueHoop blog Hoopchalk stop by with Jameson and myself to talk all-star weekend, trade deadline, and some other slightly basketball-related things.

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