TrueHoop: Arron Afflalo

Where have the East All-Star guards gone?

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
4:26
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Arron Afflalo and Jeff TeagueGetty ImagesMeet your backcourt for the 2014 East All-Star team: Arron Afflalo and ... Jeff Teague?
The New Orleans Pelicans have a nice little local ad that you can spy from afar through your League Pass telescope. The spot touts Anthony Davis, for obvious reasons, but it also makes sure to flaunt "All-Star" Jrue Holiday.

It’s true, Holiday is technically an All-Star, having been named to the East's team last season. But the claim isn't totally accurate, either, even if it is rooted in fact. The Pelicans’ trade for the All-Star point guard doomed his future All-Star hopes. Because the West is dense with All-Star talent, too dense to celebrate Holiday’s passable play. And the East is a barren hellscape, where “All-Stars” are sometimes merely the best of what’s around.

The field out West is stacked this season, and that's before a possible early return from injury by Kobe Bryant potentially nabs a fan-voted spot in the starting lineup. There are 10 Western Conference teams that boast winning records, so there’s plenty of credit to go around. Chris Paul, James Harden, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry are but a few worthy options.

Of the top seven point guards in PER right now, seven hail from out West. Of the top seven shooting guards in PER right now, the only East entrant is Arron Afflalo, who leads all other 2s at 22.08.

Arron Afflalo?

Yes, the 28 year-old Orlando Magic guard has arguably been the best backcourt player in the East this season. But with apologies to Mr. Afflalo, that's more a reflection of the East's bleakness than anything else. The Heat and Pacers are great. The Bulls are improving, and the Hawks are acceptable. No one else has a winning record. Roughly a quarter of the way to the All-Star break, those other teams have mainly served as a compelling advertisement for college basketball.

Derrick Rose hasn't quite returned, Rajon Rondo literally has't returned, and Deron Williams is hurt again.

Kyrie Irving's poor shooting percent on a team that detoured into an ominous “player’s only meeting.” Brandon Jennings might throw up more shots than points on an arguably worse team. Same goes for John Wall, whose Wizards epitomize foolish consistency. Jeff Teague's probably been the best East point guard so far by default.

And after Afflalo, the only East shooting guards of note are the slow-to-start Dwyane Wade and J.R. Smith, who has played badly enough to trend toward infamy.

Maybe this is the year for a slew of role players. It’s the big chance for Kyle Korver, Jimmy Butler, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green. Maybe this is Bradley Beal's time to leave the League Pass shadows. If ever there was a time for Adam Silver to step in and stock the East with Western All-Stars, it’s now. The voting has already begun.

So what? This is a silly thing to care about, you might argue. Of course it is, as are all sports when you extend the scope of that logic. But within this particular sport, it’s equivalently silly to promote an exhibition of the best players without actually choosing the best.

The All-Star distinction does matter, even if its current validity is under assault in the Eastern time zone. The plaudit carries enough cachet for teams to zealously lobby for it. It holds enough weight for the Pelicans to tell you about Holiday’s grand achievement. It even impacts contract structure because of the Derrick Rose Rule. This year, though, the gulf between East and West somehow makes an absurdity out of a defense-free game that counts for nothing.

Thursday Bullets

January, 17, 2013
1/17/13
12:10
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Joe Johnson made his return to Atlanta last night for the first time since the Hawks shipped him to Brooklyn. Bo Churney of HawksHoop writes that however outsized Johnson's second contract with the Hawks might have been, if you zoom out and look at the landscape from afar, you'll see the impact Johnson made in Atlanta: "Joe Johnson isn’t LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Chris Paul. You can easily argue that he was never a top ten player in the league, and point out that he only garnered two total MVP votes in his career. But what you have to acknowledge is that Joe Johnson revitalized a franchise that had fallen into the fiery pits of NBA hell. In the six years before Johnson arrived, the Hawks only won more than 30 games twice, and were in a certain type of futility that resulted in a 13-69 record in the 2004-05 season."
  • Many gifted transition players are guys who phone it in during a defensive possession just waiting for the moment they can take off and run the break. They're basketball's equivalent to people who aren't listening so much as waiting for an opportunity to talk again. As Zach Harper of CBS Sports writes and illustrates, Corey Brewer isn't one of those guys. Brewer is an elite base defender in the half court who can leak out in transition as well as anyone.
  • Carmelo Anthony had a cameo on "Nurse Jackie" a while back. Here's his audition still from London for "Downton Abbey."
  • Orlando's Arron Afflalo is a solid NBA player, but he's not exceptional enough to subsist on his midrange game.
  • Garbage in, garbage out -- true in information technology and on the basketball floor. Ian Levy takes a studied look at how shot selection correlates with offensive efficiency, and why the Mavericks struggled offensively prior to their current winning streak.
  • Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell after the Spurs' drubbing of the Grizzlies on Wednesday night: "It’s games like these that make me think that it would take a hell of a haul to trade Stephen Jackson. Jack thrives in games like these where the game gets physical and the Spurs are looking for someone to stick their chin out and challenge someone. San Antonio needs his toughness in these games. Jack had eight points and five assists against the Grizz, hitting 2-of-5 3-pointers."
  • Adam Koscielak of Gothic Ginobili on Shannon Brown's dribble fetish: "Even the folks at the weekly pickup game I wrote about last week have more awareness than [Brown], and there's no shot-clock to respect, nothing to stop them from doing them but the purity of the game. They seem to embrace it. In a way, it's impressive that Brown -- despite all the pro experience, despite his two championship rings -- still manages to dribble the shot-clock out like that. It's impressive that his teammates and coaches still trust him enough to give him the ball. But the most magical fact of all is watching what exactly Shannon Brown does with that ball. Puts it between his legs, plays around with it, throws it behind his back, dazzles with it -- ... and ends up going absolutely nowhere. He rarely gets layups. If anything, he'll hit a lucky pull-up jumper that he'll follow with a brick or five."
  • Stephen Curry re-aggravated his ankle injury, Jarrett Jack is gimpy -- and now the feel-good Warriors and their depth are being tested.
  • The Lakers haven't been very animated this season, something this video from Michael Smith seeks to correct. Smith also explains why the Lakers' road to the postseason is so rocky.
  • Marquis Daniels' GMC Savana has party lights, a cutting-edge A/V system, seats that can accommodate the Bucks' platoon of young 7-footers and a lot of loose change lying about.
  • On egraphs, Reggie Evans wishes a fan a happy 27th birthday with a personalized audio message, in which he also asks for some dental advice.
  • From this day forward, Jamaal Tinsley would like to be known as "The Listener."
  • Wages of Wins is helping to raise money for cancer research, which increasingly relies on quantitative analysis not entirely unlike what we're seeing in basketball, one reason the fundraiser are asking donors to offer a "guess for which player will have the largest Points over Par game and which game" on Thursday or Friday's NBA schedule. The winner will have his contribution upgraded to the next donation tier.

Dwight Howard Bullets

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
3:27
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Bill Simmons on the Lakers' uncanny ability to finesse a deal without giving up the farm: "And as always with the Lakers, it worked out: They flipped the league's second-best center (a top-20 player) into the league's best center (and third-best player in the league) without sacrificing anything else of substance. I wrote this a few weeks ago and I'm writing it again: If scientists could create basketball-playing robots from scratch and were asked to create someone to play with Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Nash, basically, they would create Dwight Howard: a ridiculously strong shot blocker/rebounder who can run the floor and doesn't need the ball to be happy. In the span of 3.5 seconds, the Lakers went from 'old, slow, can't defend anybody' to 'who's stopping us?'"
  • When creative writing graduates attack, you get sonnets in the basketball blogosphere.
  • Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton applies his SCHOENE projections to the teams involved in the four-way trade. An interesting tidbit: "This analysis suggests that, even if Howard walks, this was a decent trade for the Lakers. If they were able to sign-and-trade Howard to his new team, they would create a massive trade exception that could be used to add other players. They'd be unable to replace all of Bynum's production, but on paper the loss would be smaller than what the Lakers gain with Howard this season."
  • Darius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold delivers an evocative and fitting eulogy to Andrew Bynum's time in Los Angeles, including a revisiting of this sequence with Shaquille O'Neal in 2006.
  • Tom Sunnergren of Philadunkia on having a 24-year-old Bynum in a Sixers' jersey: " The odds of the Sixers signing someone of Bynum’s ilk in free agency lay somewhere between “Not going to happen” and “It gets cold in Philadelphia, right? And it’s not in New York City?” so to land an elite player—which Bynum emphatically is—they had to take a risk ... Now noodle on this situation for a minute: hold it in your head, poke it a little, consider its implications; what we gave up, what we got, what it means now and down the road. Then remember this: last off-season, people were clamoring for the Sixers to trade Iguodala for Monta Ellis. Straight up."
  • Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company examines the trade from the Nuggets' perspective. One thing we're hearing a lot of from both advanced stats mavens and those who watch Denver on a regular basis: Arron Afflalo isn't the defender today he was 18 months ago.
  • For the life of the saga, conventional wisdom accepted that the recipient of Howard would have to swallow some of Orlando's more onerous commitments. While the Magic were able to offload Jason Richardson, it's not as if Orlando tidied up the balance sheet long term. Rob Mahoney of the New York Times' Off the Dribble: "Orlando has naturally saved a bit in the deal, but in acquiring Afflalo (who will earn $31.2 million over the next four seasons) and Harrington (who will make a guaranteed $13.8 million over three years if the Magic release him before the 2013-14 season) without trading away the handsomely compensated Hedo Turkoglu or Glen Davis, the Magic have made less progress on that front than one might think. At present, Orlando only has a bit more than $30 million guaranteed on the books for the 2014 off-season, but that figure assumes the release of Harrington, Jameer Nelson (who has a partially guaranteed salary for that season), Gustavo Ayon (2014 FA), and J.J. Redick (2013 FA) and doesn’t yet account for any draft picks made in the interim. If the Magic are as miserable as anticipated, that cap space could dry up quickly, making the inclusion of Afflalo all the more costly and the possibility of a free-agent play even more unlikely."
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie on Orlando's end game in the deal: "It's not a haul, though. It's a result."
  • Mark Ginocchio of Nets Are Scorching revisits the procession of offers Orlando received from the Nets over the past several months: "The Magic obviously could have received their best haul last winter when they passed on a non-max Lopez, Gerald Wallace and a boatload of draft picks all while shedding some of their most toxic contracts. But even what the Nets were offering last month seems more appealing in retrospect – at least compared to Arron Afflalo, Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless, and three protected first-round picks, all while only unloading Jason Richardson and ...Chris Duhon."
  • Another team that had been lingering around the epicenter of the Howard negotiations -- the Houston Rockets. How they'll move forward without a superstar.
  • Zach Lowe of The Point Forward on multiple implications of the deal, the Lakers' power of incumbency in retaining Howard, whether the Clippers warrant Chris Paul's long-term commitment and how the Thunder might approach a matchup with the Lakers next spring.
  • What does a Sixers' starting lineup with Andrew Bynum look like? I've heard intelligent folks on both sides of the is-Thad-Young-a-3-or-is-he-a-4 debate, but a post presence like Bynum could give Young the air space he needs to thrive as a power forward.
  • O'Neal asks his tweeps: "Another question can Andrew Bynum excel in the east without his two bodyguards?"

Lakers may not gain most from Howard deal

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
1:55
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Info
Archive
Who got the best of the reported Lakers-Nuggets-76ers-Magic trade?

Dwight Howard
Howard
Was it the Lakers, who kept Pau Gasol and acquired Dwight Howard? Was it the Nuggets, who improved defensively by acquiring Andre Iguodala? Was it the 76ers, who now have an elite center in Andrew Bynum? Or perhaps the Magic, who built for the future?

IS HOWARD AN UPGRADE OVER BYNUM?

Howard has a reputation as a defensive force. But Bynum actually allowed fewer points per post-up play than Howard last season. Howard held opponents to a lower field-goal percentage and forced turnovers more often but the difference came on fouls. Howard sent opponents to the free-throw line more than twice as often on post-up plays.

Andrew Bynum
Bynum
Bynum held the roll men on pick-and-roll plays to a lower field-goal percentage than Howard and sent his opponents to the free-throw line less often.

HOWARD WILL EXCEL WITH STEVE NASH

New LakerSteve Nash is one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the NBA. Nobody had more pick-and-roll passes than Nash last season. Howard could take advantage of those situations more often playing alongside him. Last season, Howard ranked first in the NBA in points per play as the pick-and-roll roll man among the 75 players with at least 50 plays.

BYNUM IS HUGE UPGRADE FOR 76ers

The 76ers' top three big men before the trade were Spencer Hawes, Kwame Brown and Lavoy Allen. Bynum totaled more points, rebounds and blocks last season than Hawes, Brown and Allen combined.

BYNUM WILL GET DOUBLE-TEAMED

With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol surrounding him, Bynum wasn’t double-teamed on every possession. But in Philadelphia, it might be a different story. Bynum turned the ball over nearly three times more often when he was double-teamed in the post last season, nearly once every four plays.

Bynum scored the fewest points per post-up play when double-teamed among the 31 players with at least 50 post-up plays last season. Only Kevin Durant turned the ball over more often on those plays.

NUGGETS IMPROVE DEFENSE

The Nuggets upgraded their defense by trading Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington and acquiring Iguodala. That was an area of need after allowing the 5th-most points per play in the NBA last season. Last season, 113 players defended at least 50 plays and Afflalo was the worst among them in terms of points per play allowed. Harrington ranked 54th. Iguodala ranked 10th, holding opponents to 37 percent shooting.

WHEN WILL THE MAGIC RECOVER?

This is only the fourth time since blocks became an official stat in 1973 that a player averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game has changed teams after that season.

In 2004, the Lakers traded Shaquille O’Neal to the Heat. It took the Lakers four seasons to win a playoff series and get back to the NBA Finals. In 1996, Shaq left the Magic to sign with the Lakers. The Magic didn’t win another playoff series for 12 years. The Bucks traded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers in 1975 after reaching the 1974 NBA Finals and haven’t returned to the Finals since.

Nuggets super subs lead by example

May, 2, 2012
5/02/12
2:29
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Corey Brewer
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Corey Brewer shows what the Nuggets can do when they push the ball.

The Lakers patiently worked the ball to Andrew Bynum, who had established position deep in the post. He took a dribble, rotated his massive shoulders to the baseline and lofted a feathery right-handed jump hook that just rimmed out.

A split second later, Ty Lawson was laying the ball in over a frantic, backpedaling defender.

The six-second exchange during the first quarter of Game 2 encapsulates the dramatic clash in styles these two teams present. The Lakers are going to pound away on the undersized Nuggets inside, and Denver’s only hope is to speed up the game by racing the ball up the court at every opportunity.

Its best opportunity to do that will come against the Lakers’ second unit, which has trouble controlling the pace when either Bynum or Gasol goes to the bench.

Enter Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Corey Brewer.

These three substitutes have been on the court for most of Denver’s best moments and are setting a great example for how they and their teammates can make this series more competitive.

Miller is about as slow as NBA point guards come, but he understands something very important: no one is faster than the ball. Miller's vision is world class, and he has an uncanny ability to delicately float the ball up court, over the defense and into the hands of his playmakers.

Without the relatively plodding Laker big men clogging up the paint, the Nuggets’ streaking wings have found success attacking the rim.

None more so than Brewer, who seems to have a perfect grasp on the Nuggets’ gameplan. On defense, Brewer has been a disruptive force, all flailing limbs and scrambling, quick feet. Even when he gets caught out of position, it seems to be in a way that creates the type of unsettled situations that benefit Denver. And as soon as a shot goes up, Brewer takes off up court, sprinting down the sidelines before the ball even reaches the rim.

Brewer’s aggressive work in the open court earned him five transition layup attempts in Game 2, a few on the type of over-the-shoulder passes that made him look like a wide receiver running a fly pattern past a flat-footed safety. Miller was the quarterback.

The Lakers have won both games, but the Nuggets have outscored Lakers with Brewer and Miller together on the floor. And when the Nuggets add a big man with 3-point shooting ability like Harrington, they’ve done even better. Harrington can jog into an open 3 as a trailer on the fast break, or offer crucial spacing in the Nuggets’ dribble-drive attack.

The Miller-Brewer-Harrington combination has outscored the Lakers by 16 points and is the only three-man Nuggets combination that has a positive plus/minus in extended court time.

So though Los Angeles has dominated the series thus far, the Nuggets have shown they know how to counteract the Lakers' size.

And luckily, Miller, Brewer and Harrington aren’t the only Denver players that have the requisite skill sets. In fact, they share many qualities with the Nuggets who start the game.

After a shaky start to Game 1, Lawson has shown more confidence advancing the ball quickly with the pass or dribble. Arron Afflalo has plenty of athleticism to beat the Lakers up court and finish plays when he gets there. Danilo Gallinari is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter who can slide to the power forward position.

The pieces are in place. As the Nuggets head to the friendly confines of Denver’s Pepsi Center, they must hope their young starters can take a few cues from their effective, veteran substitutes.

Statistical support provided by NBA.com.

Tuesday Bullets

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
1:28
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Lakers ruin Allen's historic night

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
4:56
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Ray Allen set an NBA record passing Reggie Miller for most career three-point field goals, but the Los Angeles Lakers spoiled the celebration as they picked up an all-important road win and split the season series with the Boston Celtics.

The Lakers earned their first win of the season against one of the four teams that were ahead of them in the standings, and now are 1-5 against the league’s best (San Antonio Spurs, Celtics, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks).

Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 23 points while doing most of his damage against Allen late in the fourth quarter. He scored six of his 13 fourth-quarter points when guarded by Allen in the final 4:49. Last month, Bryant struggled under the same circumstances when defended by Allen.

With the loss, the Celtics drop into a tie with the Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. It's the first time this season in which the Heat shared a part of the conference's top seed. One major reason why the Celtics fell short against the Lakers was because they couldn't handle the defending champs down low.

Entering the game, the Celtics' post-up defense ranked fourth in points per possession (0.95), while the Lakers' post-up offense ranked sixth (0.92). On Thursday, the Lakers won that battle, averaging 1.07 points per possession under the hoop.

Elsewhere, in arguably the best finish of the night, the Denver Nuggets ended the Mavericks' 10-game win streak on a buzzer-beater by Arron Afflalo (first of his career). At 25 years old, Afflalo is the second-youngest player to hit one this season (Rudy Gay). The Nuggets are the only team to win two games this season on buzzer-beaters (Carmelo Anthony had one against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 26).

Speaking of Anthony, he finished with 42 points in 42 minutes. He was 17-25 (68.0 pct) from the field, which is the second-highest FG pct of his career (min. 25 attempts).

Anthony is no stranger to scoring just as the Nuggets are no strangers to stopping streaks. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that over the last 10 seasons, Denver has six wins against teams that entered the game on a double-digit winning streak, the most such victories by any NBA team during that period.

Earlier on Thursday, Jerry Sloan resigned as the head coach of the Utah Jazz, a position he's held since Dec. 9, 1988. How long is that? Forty current NBA players weren't even born when his tenure started, including the Jazz’ Gordon Hayward.

The only coach in NBA history who won more games than Sloan without winning an NBA title is Don Nelson, who's the league's all-time winningest head coach with 1,335 victories.

Sloan's 23 seasons with one franchise without winning a championship are the most any coach has spent with one franchise without winning a title among the four major professional sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB).

Over the last five months, the sports world has seen the longest tenured head coaches in the NFL, NBA and MLB leave their positions. After 21 seasons, Bobby Cox retired from the Atlanta Braves following the 2010 season. Jeff Fisher will not be back after 17 seasons with the Tennessee Titans, and now Sloan. And in case you were wondering, the longest tenured coach in the NHL is Lindy Ruff, who's in his 13th season with the Buffalo Sabres.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost a franchise single-season record 22 straight road games following their loss to the Boston Celtics. Overall, Cleveland is 1-28 since November 30, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time in franchise history the Cavaliers have lost 28 of 29 games within one season. The Cavaliers have also dropped 18 straight games, which is six shy of the franchise record.

Speaking of streaks…

The Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th straight game vs the Utah Jazz at Staples Center (including the playoffs). The Lakers' last loss against the Jazz at home was January 1, 2006. Tuesday’s 29-point route of Utah was the Lakers' eighth 20-point win this season, tied for second-most in the NBA with the Celtics (both trail Miami Heat, nine).

Elsewhere in the NBA…

• The Dallas Mavericks had not one, but two players score 25 points off the bench in their win over the Los Angeles Clippers (Jason Terry scored 28 and Jose Juan Barea added 25). Dallas is the first team this season to have two players score at least 25 points off the bench in the same game, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this was also the first time in franchise history that Dallas accomplished this feat.

• Tyson Chandler finished 5-for-5 from the field and 11-for-11 from the free throw line. Chandler joins two Lakers, Matt Barnes and Pau Gasol, as the only three players this season to go perfect from the field and line (minimum five attempts).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other NBA players in the last 50 years were 5-for-5 or better from the field and 10-for-10 or better from the foul line in a regular-season game: Kelly Tripucka (8-for-8 and 11-for-11) for the Jazz in 1987 and Buck Williams (5-for-5 and 14-for-14) for the Portland Trail Blazers in 1991.

• The Denver Nuggets had five players in double figures by halftime in their 120-109 win over the Washington Wizards: Nene and Chauncey Billups (15 each), Ty Lawson (12), Arron Afflalo (11) and Carmelo Anthony (10). They’re only the third team this season that had five players with at least 10 points at halftime.

Carmelo Anthony
Anthony
Anthony finished with a team-high 23 points, giving him a career average of 26.9 points per game at the Verizon Center.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that Anthony has the second-highest average for any visiting player (minimum five games), behind LeBron James (28.0), and just ahead of Karl Malone (26.7).

What's holding the Nuggets back?

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
3:49
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
What are the Nuggets going to do about this guy?

SALT LAKE CITY -- When Jazz center Mehmet Okur collapsed to the floor on Saturday night in Game 1 of Utah's series with Denver, the prevailing sentiment -- even among those with the highest reverence for what the Jazz do -- was that Utah was cooked. Already without Andrei Kirilenko in a series that demands an elite perimeter defender, the Jazz would now have to start an untested 23-year-old project at center and hope for the best. When the Jazz squeaked out a win in Game 2 at Denver, the improbable outcome produced a lot of head-scratching. How did the Nuggets lose on their home floor to a short-handed skeleton crew like the Jazz? You can attribute the improbability of the Jazz's victory in Game 2 to a number of factors, but the long and short of it is this:

The Nuggets are a very suspect defensive squad. That's been true all season and for the first two games of this series.

Among playoff teams in both conferences, only Phoenix gave up more points per 100 possessions in the regular season. The Nuggets have some very bad habits -- ball-watching, needless gambling and a tendency to allow Utah's defenders to move off the ball to the rim. Yesterday, the Nuggets promised to get more physical with the Jazz, but bodily presence doesn't seem to be the issue on the defensive end nearly so much as court awareness. Video of the first two games of the series reveals that the Nuggets make a lot of bad choices. They're consistently one step behind a Jazz offense that loves to make defenses pay for iffy decisions and overcommitment. You see a lot of confusion and miscommunication on Denver's part, and there isn't a team in the league that understands how to exploit a harried defense better than Utah.

No answer for Deron Williams
Carmelo Anthony's 42-point performance on Saturday night was the dominant theme between Games 1 and 2. Utah's young wing defenders were pressed to respond: What were they going to do to contain Anthony? Denver won't keep Williams from racking up points and assists any more than Utah will be able to stop Anthony from scoring. But just as the Jazz were able to make Anthony a less efficient producer in Game 2, Denver must figure out how they're going to slow Williams as both scorer and playmaker.

Williams has scored 59 points in the first two games of the series and he's done much of that damage in early offense situations. He's using his speed to take Chauncey Billups and Arron Afflalo off the dribble and his strength to beat Lawson off the bounce. There's not a lot the Nuggets' guards can do to keep Williams from bullying his way to the hole, but it's incumbent on Denver's back line to get down the floor and in position to close that seam. Right now, the Nuggets' inability to do that is costing their backcourt defenders a bunch of fouls, and allowing Williams to make a living at the stripe, where he's notched 25 of his 59 points.

In addition to breaking down Denver's defense off the dribble, Williams is succeeding as a jump shooter. He's getting a surprising number of clean looks from the floor because Denver isn't reading screens by Utah's big men. Afflalo, in particular, has repeatedly yielded open space to Williams by either not anticipating or running beneath screens up top. If that's not enough, the Jazz are regularly running plays with Williams as a primary post option. Yikes! They're particularly successful with this when Lawson is in the game, but Williams has tested Billups down low as well.

Dealing with Williams will continue to be a tricky exercise for the Nuggets. First and foremost, they have to be prepared for him to attack. But they can't afford to be burned by his ability to make plays off a collapsing defense either. Denver did a fairly good job of containing Williams the Scorer in the fourth quarter of Game 2 -- but that opened up all kinds of opportunities for Williams the Facilitator to beat them.

Utah's cutters are having a field day
Carlos Boozer aptly describes one of the central tenets of Utah's offensive philosophy. "If somebody has the ball, don't just stand there and let you defender help out on the guy who has the ball -- cut and make them be occupied." Boozer said. "Option A and B defenders are always going to be there, so you have to go to C, D and E."


C, D and E have been killing Denver during the first two games. Much of that damage originates from the pick-and-roll that Williams executes so fluently. Once that high action with Boozer or Paul Millsap challenges the Nuggets' defense, swaths of open space are opening up for the supporting cast. Denver's other defenders are so desperate to stop a penetrating Williams or a rolling Boozer/Millsap, that they forget about, say, C.J. Miles. On consecutive Jazz possessions in the final four minutes of Game 2, Anthony leaves C.J. Miles on the wing to shade on Williams off a pick-and-roll -- and twice Miles dives to the rim completely unmanned for an easy seal and slam off a pass from Williams.

"It was just pick-and-rolls and C.J. made good reads," Williams said. "It was a Ronnie Brewer read ... He used to run that baseline. It was just a good adjustment by C.J. I try to tell those guys that a lot of the tension is on me, so when you see the back of a guy's head, just cut to the basket. I'll find you."

Boozer's "C, D and E" declaration might be a little too generous, because on many occasions Denver has done a lousy job of covering Option A. Take the possession at the 2:40 mark of the fourth quarter on Monday night with the Jazz trailing by three. Williams brings the ball downcourt and executes the oldest play in the book, a simple UCLA cut that completely baffles Denver. He dishes the ball off to Kyle Korver on the left wing, then dives to the basket, rubbing Chauncey Billups off Paul Millsap at the left elbow. With ease, Williams dives beneath Kenyon Martin, where Korver delivers him an easy lob pass for a layup.

Until Denver's defenders consider that Utah can read defenses better than any unit in the NBA, they're going to continue to get burned by the Jazz's counters.

Nugget defenders are doing a poor job off the ball
Some credit is due to Williams' capacity to command the full attention of all five defenders when the ball is in his hands, but good NBA defenses know how to multitask. Denver's doesn't.


In Game 2, there weren't bigger beneficiaries of these lapses than Korver and Miles. Both were able to find open looks on Utah's basic flex action that frees up the Jazz wingmen for jumpers. More times than not, Denver simply falls asleep off the ball. Korver went 5-for-7 from the field on Monday night. Though his big 3-pointer to vault the Jazz into the lead is the most YouTubable moment of the series, we shouldn't forget about his sequence of three huge jumpers in the final 1:15 of the third quarter that helps turn back a strong run by Denver.

"On the down screens, they were chasing me in Game 1," Korver said. "In the second game, they were cutting over the top, so I was just flaring out to the corner. It's just a matter of reading how they're going to guard me."

With the aid of strong screens from Utah's big men, Korver is able to pop out to open space on the perimeter. Korver's release is so quick that even a slight delay by a defender getting around those picks is fatal. If you want to understand how Jerry Sloan can get away with putting a lineup on the floor of Ronnie Price, Kyle Korver, Othyus Jeffers, Paul Millsap and Kosta Koufos, it's because each of these guys knows his function in such a scheme. In the case of the last of Korver's three jumpers, Koufos plays the role of traffic cone on the left block. First Jeffers curls and clears, then Korver runs Afflalo directly into Koufos before Price delivers the ball on target to Korver for the shot.

Everything in its right place.

Denver is allowing these sorts of actions to go off without a hitch on possession after possession, even though the Jazz have few players outside Williams who can beat them in isolation. Crafty defensive squads force Utah to play one-on-one basketball, but so far the Nuggets haven't.

From afar, the Nuggets appear to be favorites over the Jazz going forward, and nothing about Denver's Game 2 meltdown changes that. Yet the closer you look at the early results of the series, the more apparent it is that until the Nuggets makes a conscious effort to defend, the Jazz are very much alive, irrespective of how many healthy bodies are on their roster. Utah's system was designed to maximize efficiency against an easily confused defense. Denver hasn't demonstrated that it has the wherewithal to match Utah's guile.

It's possible the Nuggets can ride their offense to a series victory without putting in the work on the defensive end. But do they really want to take that chance?

Friday Bullets

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
3:50
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • LeBron James shoots 76.9 percent from the stripe. How much better would the Cavs be if he could get his free-throw shooting up to an 85 percent clip?
  • Ben Q. Rock of Orlando Pinstriped Post on Dwyane Wade's performance against the Magic last night: "And Wade? Stop it. He continued his mastery of the Magic. Let's run through those numbers again: 36 points on 59.2% True Shooting, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and just 1 turnover in 45 minutes, dominating the ball on every possession. He's unreal. Fortunately for Orlando, Van Gundy's decision to double-team him throughout the overtime period -- a look Van Gundy will try against scorching hot perimeter players with the game on the line--paid off. He scored just 2 points in the period, with Beasley and O'Neal ending 2 possessions apiece, with mixed results."
  • A bright spot for a Celtics team that's starting to play a little better: Doc Rivers has been able to pace his starters, keeping their minutes in check as the postseason approaches.
  • Andrew R. Tonry of Portland Roundball Society: "I miss Gilbert Arenas. I miss his awesome nicknames and yelling Hibachi! after every shot. I miss his blog, where he once even talked about driving home and passing by a bridge, and his thought that, for no real reason at all, he could just drive off and end it all. Another great one: 'Everyone is having sex until they fall in love. When you fall in love, then it’s making love.' Gilbert found commonality in the human experience -- thoughts we all have, but few of us, especially professional athletes, are gutsy enough to share."
  • A lot of athletes deny scoreboard-watching -- not Stephen Jackson: "If anybody’s not paying attention they really don’t care about making the playoffs. I know I ask. As soon as we take care of business, I try to find out from somebody around the organization to see if they have any scores.” (Hat Tip: Sports Radio Interviews)
  • Want an illustration of how bad the Wizards' offense has been? Check out the trend line on Mike Prada's graph.
  • Mark Ginocchio of Nets are Scorching: "[Devin] Harris is a talented player, and you certainly don’t want to lose him for a song -- if he becomes trade bait this summer he has to bring back another building block for a move to be considered, not more expiring contracts. But Harris is also unreliable, and you cannot build around the unreliable."
  • Arron Afflalo's favorite things to do in Denver: "I'm downtown a lot, just getting something to eat. Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang's, you can catch me there. Banana spring rolls -- I'm going straight for dessert, and maybe some shrimp fried rice."
  • Among the many things that excite Jon Brockman? Swedish hatchbacks.
  • At one point or another, we've all been where this guy was during Texas' meltdown last night. (PG-13)
  • If you're a writer with an interest in the Dallas Mavericks, make some magic with Rob Mahoney.
  • Collegiate player I'll be watching today: Oklahoma State's James Anderson, a big guard who knows how to find a shot. He can stroke the ball from the perimeter and draw contact off the dribble. Efficiency Machine.

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