TrueHoop: Matt Barnes

The happy warrior departs

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
4:58
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Vinny Del Negro
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesVinny Del Negro: When affability isn't enough.

The Los Angeles Clippers lost the most successful coach by winning percentage in the franchise’s history when they dismissed Vinny Del Negro, whose contract was due to expire June 30. Del Negro compiled a 128-102 record during his three seasons with the Clippers and for the better part of the past 14 months, had a strong case for a long-term extension, at least ostensibly. The Clippers beat the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, then finished with a club-record 56 wins this season. No locker room outside of Bexar County, Texas, is perfect, and there were certainly frictional elements in the Clippers’ camp, but the overall culture was decent.

Del Negro was confident in what he was building, and turned down a one-year extension from the team last October. Yet despite the regular-season success, Del Negro could never shake the perception that he lacked the tactical feel for the game required to become an NBA championship-level head coach. Del Negro’s biggest fans during his five-year career have been owners, Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago and Donald T. Sterling in Los Angeles. Basketball operations people have always been more skeptical of him.

Del Negro is charismatic away from the microphone and well-liked personally. He charmed Sterling at a dinner with the Clippers' brass at the Montage Beverly Hills in late June of 2010. The mood at the table was festive; Del Negro was a pleasure to be around and the spouses had a nice rapport. Del Negro exuded exactly what the Clippers felt they needed to fumigate the place after the final tumultuous seasons of the Mike Dunleavy era -- a happy warrior, both confident and communicative. Charm is infectious, but if it's a person's No. 1 personal attribute, it can also raise suspicions if not accompanied by success.

When Chris Paul arrived in Los Angeles, expectations soared far more quickly than either the Clippers or Del Negro anticipated. The bar was set at contender, and Del Negro would have to prove himself as not only a morale booster but as a coach who could design a plan that delivered.

Del Negro never claimed to be a tactician. He maintained that everyone in the league ran the same basic stuff. He summed up his philosophy best during the winter of 2012 when the Clippers were playing well. "I think it's important for guys to go out there and play off instinct instead of, 'Go here, go there,' or whatever," he said. "I like guys to play. I like guys to get a feel for what we're doing and how we're doing it and work off the instinct and play. I think guys enjoy the game that way a little bit better.”

Paul certainly appreciated his coach’s sentiment, as Del Negro happily ceded most of the play calling. It was also nice to have Del Negro go to bat for Paul’s personnel causes -- free-agent signings, potential trades and the like. But having never reached a conference finals eight years into a Hall of Fame career, even Paul realizes he needs a little help in the final five minutes of a basketball game.

Del Negro’s approval rating has privately been described by those in the locker room as running about 50-50. He had his loyalists, players like Matt Barnes who were grateful for Del Negro’s faith. There were also a few players who felt his strategic shortcomings were tolerable given his affable demeanor. For others, those flaws ran too deep. Then there were the detractors, guys who not only didn’t care to have their minutes reduced, but felt Del Negro was disingenuous in his management and inconsistent in his willingness to communicate. Ballplayers also don’t react kindly when they learn their head coaches advocated trading them midseason. That was one of the unintended consequences of Del Negro assuming a spot at the table as a member of the management team last summer.

Despite falling short in the first round and a desperate coaching performance in Game 6 of the first-round series loss to Memphis, Del Negro still looked as if he might survive. The Clippers aren’t an organization predisposed to spend huge money on a head coach, and as decision-makers took an early survey of the coaching pool, they didn’t find many candidates they considered a dramatic upgrade from Del Negro. For all his imperfections, Del Negro was a known quantity.

Still, the series loss to Memphis confirmed all the lingering doubts that Del Negro was a schematic lightweight. He got better this past season, but the growth trajectory wasn't steep enough, and fell off when it mattered most. Ultimately, the Clippers decided risk aversion carried its own risks. Opportunities are precarious in the NBA, and conservatism doesn’t have a strong track record. Better to explore possibility than embrace certainty.

The Clippers will now have to set a budget, one that will determine the direction of their search. Stan Van Gundy is the best available coach on the market, but he’d give the Clippers sticker shock, assuming he’s even interested. Sterling is currently in San Antonio, scouting Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, the hottest candidate on the coaching market. The Clippers could win the news conference with a Hollins hire, the man who outwitted them in the first round, and someone who’d likely meet Paul’s approval. But Hollins has coached his way into some serious money. Given the number of suitors for his services, he would figure to earn in the neighborhood of $5 million per year, and the Clippers won’t be a favorite in any bidding war. Alvin Gentry would bring the right temperament, along with whiteboard skills and, most importantly, a solid quality-price ratio for a coach with that experience.

Whoever lands the job will encounter a bar even higher than the one Del Negro failed to clear. The Clippers’ job might be desirable, but it’s fraught with pitfalls. The most treacherous of those used to be history. Now it’s expectations.

Memphis at Clippers: Five things to watch

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
2:02
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Harry How/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Grizzlies can't -- and probably won't -- get pummeled on the glass as they did in Game 1.

The Glass
Finding signs of encouragement after a 21-point loss can be like leading a search party in the dark, but if the Grizzlies are looking for some reassurance, it should come in the near certainty that they won’t be outrebounded again by a 2-to-1 margin. If that seemed unprecedented, that's because it was. Memphis didn't come anywhere close to a margin like that in any game during the regular season.

There’s a general belief that rebounding doesn’t slump in the NBA. A team like the Grizzlies, which dominated the boards in the regular season (second in overall rebounding rate), doesn’t forget how to ply its trade. Short of injury or a deliberate strategy like a zone defense or fronting the post -- tactics that can make it harder to crash the glass -- a debacle such as Saturday night's is an outlier.

The Grizzlies better hope so. They’re not a team endowed with much perimeter firepower or natural athleticism. They win basketball games by controlling possessions, something they simply can’t accomplish if the Clippers are collecting 42 percent of their misses.

The Point God
Chris Paul exerts an element of control over a basketball game that’s uncanny, and this hasn't been news in ages. What’s more interesting to observe is how he manages his role within the emotional and strategic contours of that game, not unlike LeBron James, in a sense. Is Paul creating for others, or hunting shots for himself? Is he conserving energy off the ball, or is he in Probe Mode?

On Saturday night, the answer was all of the above, and that’s really where Paul needs to be for the Clippers to achieve their full potential as an offensive club. We saw some new wrinkles to the Clippers’ half-court game, with Paul not exclusively an initiator but also a scorer. He came off screens for live-ball catches in a couple of inventive sets, the kind of stuff we haven’t always seen from the Clippers. But Paul also claimed several possessions for himself to test the mobility of the Memphis big men.

For Memphis, the pick-and-roll coverage has to improve, and the Grizzlies know that. They’re an exceptionally well-prepared group that’s completely devoted to the execution of a very intelligent defensive system. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and several players laid it out Sunday at practice.

“The guards have to do a better job of pushing up on the ball handlers,” Mike Conley said. “They were flipping the screens, so our big would show one way, but then their big would flip the screen and Chris would see it. I’d run into the screen pretty good and he’d get a full head of steam on our big man, and you can’t guard him when he’s got a full head of steam with the confidence he has in the paint.”

A defense might not be able to take away Paul’s confidence, but it can take away some real estate.

The Gamble
OK, so who’s going to defend Paul? A tough question because there’s no entirely satisfying answer. In Game 1, Hollins opted for Conley. This wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion.

Conley did an acceptable job of checking Paul during last year’s playoff series. Paul certainly created some quality shots, but he worked for just about everything and spent a fair amount of time in spots on the floor where he had no interest being.

But on Saturday, it wasn’t just that Paul got where he wanted to go, but that he got there in such little traffic. As Blake Griffin said, there was something extremely un-Grizzly about the Clippers' "getting what they wanted," and it can largely be attributed to the little resistance encountered by Paul.

The obvious alternative would be to stick Tony Allen on Paul, but that presents other risks, such as Chauncey Billups dragging Conley into the post. We saw Billups draw Conley on a switch in Game 1 and then promptly back Conley down before draining an easy midrange shot over him.

There are no good choices for guarding Paul, but that might be a risk the Grizzlies have to take. If nothing else, it’s putting your best defender where he’s most useful.

The Center
The league has only a handful of players through whom you can run your offense at the high post. Marc Gasol is one of them. On the possessions when Memphis’ offense is at its most fluid and attractive, chances are Gasol is stationed at the elbow.

The Grizzlies need Gasol to spend time at that spot and feed his teammates, but they also need him to generate some offense for himself, which is why Gasol’s ratio of low-post to high-post touches has been increasing recently. When Gasol is aggressive down on the block, he’s effective, and it’s not as if working down low strips him of his ability to be a playmaker. Instead of playing high-low with Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies can play block to block -- horizontal passes rather than vertical ones.

Having Gasol set up in the low post has its drawbacks. For one, it cramps Randolph a bit. The right block is where Randolph makes his living and serves his team best, and he needs a ribbon of empty space around him. But the Grizzlies do a nice job of staggering the minutes of their big men, which should provide Gasol with plenty of feeds closer to the basket.

The Spark
When the Clippers were ripping off 17 straight wins in December, the margins of victory could be credited to the performance of the second unit, which was decimating the league. Between Eric Bledsoe’s bedlam, Jamal Crawford’s marksmanship, Matt Barnes’ wiliness, Lamar Odom’s versatility and Ronny Turiaf’s … turiafity, the Clippers featured the most exciting and most productive bench in basketball. When excitement and productivity meet, you’re generally in a good place.

That’s the world the Clippers returned to in Game 1. “It felt like December” was something we heard a lot Saturday night and into Sunday, and nothing triggered that sense of deja vu more than the play of the bench.

The Grizzlies do chaos very well themselves, even if their complementary players aren't as talented. They also encountered this last April, so there’s no element of surprise. What they have to do now is neutralize to some degree the energy generated by the Clippers’ reinforcements.

Chris Paul's New Orleans strip tease

March, 28, 2013
3/28/13
12:22
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- First came the game jersey. Then the right wristband, followed by the left. With the fans still begging for more spoils, Chris Paul kicked off his shoes, one going into the scrum of fans crushing the barricade cordoning off the baseline section, the other to a kid in the corner section.

New Orleans is an undeniably permissive city, but Paul now wearing nothing more than an undershirt, red shorts and black socks. With little else to peel off, the strip tease was over. The point guard shuffled through the tunnel of his erstwhile home arena to savor the Los Angeles Clippers’ 105-91 win over the New Orleans Hornets.

Back in the Clippers’ locker room, not one of Paul’s teammates had hit the showers. Everyone was glued to the mounted flat screen, watching the Miami Heat try to preserve their 27-game winning streak against the Chicago Bulls. Aside from a few, ahem, gentlemen’s bets, no Clippers expressed a loyalty either way -- but when there’s a sexy event happening in your industry, it’s impossible not to be captivated.

“You’re not rooting for anyone,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “It’s just exciting basketball.”

Paul ambled over to his locker at the far end of the room, where he was swarmed by local media. It’s been 15 months since the Hornets dealt their franchise player to Los Angeles, but there’s still mutual allegiance between Paul and New Orleans.

“Just being here, seeing all these familiar faces, I miss it,” Paul said. “No question about it. I miss the people here. My pastor was sitting on the baseline. My old chef, my barber, everybody. This is my family.”

The Clippers came into New Orleans still smarting from their previous night’s overtime loss in Dallas. The team didn’t play poorly against the Mavericks. The process was fairly clean, but the results simply weren’t there.

For most of the season, the Clippers have made defenses pay for the kind of aggressive traps Dallas deployed against Paul. The Clippers have plenty of releases in their offense to counter that kind of pressures -- a pass from Paul to a teammate at the top of the circle, who then quickly hits a shooter along the arc. But few of those open looks fell in Dallas.

That wasn’t the case Wednesday night, as the Clippers lit up the Hornets’ pack-the-paint defense from beyond the arc, draining 13 of 29 attempts from long range.

“Down the stretch tonight they tried to trap,” Paul said. “But tonight we were able to make them pay. Blake [Griffin] found Matt [Barnes] in the corner for the dagger.”

Process, meet result: Barnes had a similarly clean look on Tuesday night during a crucial late possession in overtime that could’ve tied the game, but it didn’t catch rim. On Wednesday, Barnes was able to hush a crowd in New Orleans that heckled him relentlessly.

Paul finished with 16 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals, but his floater during the final two minutes gave the Clippers a 10-point lead and effectively iced the game.

Griffin arrived in New Orleans a little down. Over his previous three games, Griffin recorded as many turnovers as field goals (10) and shot 31.3 percent from the floor. He’d been a reasonably decent facilitator from the high post, but Griffin needs some red meat in his on-court diet (not off, where he’s a stickler for healthy stuff), and the aggressiveness hadn’t been there.

On Wednesday, Griffin stormed back, undeterred by a skilled young defender in Anthony Davis and big man Ryan Anderson. Griffin said he was disappointed with a couple of easy misses, but his output was solid -- 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field and a 7-for-8 night from the stripe.

“I was much more aggressive,” Griffin said. “A lot of times I don’t want to force things. A lot of times, I want to be a facilitator in games. I need to pick and choose my areas a little bit better.”

At times, Griffin sees himself as a finesse player in a power body. It’s a delicate balance, but the power trumped the finesse for much of Wednesday night. When the Hornets showed high on a pick-and-roll in the first quarter, Griffin slipped to the basket without hesitation, catching the pass en route to finish strong. That possession ignited Griffin, who attacked the basket with a renewed commitment to bullyball.

On a night when both the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets lost, the Clippers moved back into the No. 3 slot in the Western Conference. And while a win over a lottery-bound team shouldn’t beget too much satisfaction, this is a Hornets team that dispatched both Memphis and Denver over the past week.

As the Heat’s winning streak was officially snapped while Griffin addressed the media, the power forward recalled the Clippers’ 17-game winning streak in December and the invincibility a team feels when it’s ripping off wins like that.

“In the middle of it, it just feels like you can’t lose,” Griffin said. “You have confidence that you can win any game you’re in.”

The Clippers head to Texas for a back-to-back with San Antonio and Houston, in search of a restored sense of fearlessness they carried with them less than three months ago.

The Clippers and the temptation of success

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
8:45
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesEric Bledsoe and Chris Paul: The Clippers' embarrassment of riches at the point.

Momentum is a precarious thing in the NBA.

Five weeks ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were romping through their schedule, dispatching teams with brutal efficiency en route to a 28-8 record. The Chris Paul system was flourishing. Blake Griffin’s expanded offensive repertoire was blossoming, and his defense was coming along very nicely, thank you. The second unit was scaring the bejeezus out of the league, and the depth -- a rotation 11 deep with Grant Hill’s return -- allowed the team to send a wave of reinforcements at opportune times.

Then bodies started to fall. Paul bumped knees with J.J. Redick on Jan. 12, suffering a bone bruise. Griffin picked up the slack, carrying the load as the featured player in the Paul-less offense, but then tweaked his hamstring earlier this week. He has missed the Clippers’ past two games. Supersub Jamal Crawford is day-to-day with a sore shoulder. Since Paul’s collision with Redick, the Clippers are 7-8.

Despite the bumpy ride, the Clippers aren’t overly concerned. They feel the healthy version of their team can make a rightful claim as one of the league’s elite powers, and are confident they're a top-three seed in the West. When intact, the Clippers’ starting unit thrives. Their bench squad is gangbusters. All the permutations of their closing lineup -- whether it’s Lamar Odom or DeAndre Jordan at center, or whichever combination of Crawford, Matt Barnes and Caron Butler at the wings -- kill the competition. Well aware of this, the Clippers have exercised caution with their stars’ nicks and bruises, and now the returns of Paul, Chauncey Billups, Griffin and Crawford are imminent.

Once they're restored to full strength, the Clippers are presented with a dilemma:

Do they stand pat, faithful that the on-court efficiency and locker room chemistry is enough to put them on equal footing with San Antonio and Oklahoma City? Or does the tough competition from these seasoned rivals out West necessitate upgrading the roster if the right opportunities present themselves?

This is a tough proposition for the Clippers. If you’re Bryan Colangelo in Toronto, you can roll the dice with impunity because you have little to lose at this point. For an organization adrift, change, in and of itself, can take the pressure off a beleaguered front office and buy it some time. But the Clippers have a far more delicate balance to maintain. Every team wants to improve, but there are no guarantees that any deal, no matter how attractive it appears in the Trade Machine, will do that. The risk of upsetting a winning formula is real, but so is the risk of not capitalizing on a chance to improve.

The situation in Los Angeles contains a series of intriguing variables and conflicting agendas. For instance, if you’re in management -- a custodian of the future well-being of the franchise -- trading away a young player on a value deal isn’t something you do lightly. Adding savvy veterans is always nice, but at what burden to the spreadsheet and at what cost to the current chemistry?

But if you’re a coach or a star player whose contractual relationship with the Clippers expires on June 30, you have all the motivation in the world to push all-in for a chance to win the big prize in June. That’s especially true if you’re a head coach who values reliable vets with championship pedigrees more than younger players with raw, unrefined talent.

Specifically, Eric Bledsoe is the Clippers’ most compelling case study. If Chris Paul returns to Los Angeles next season on a long-term deal, Bledsoe is somewhat (not entirely) expendable. At the very least, he becomes less valuable to the Clippers than to a team in desperate need of a point guard of the future. The best way to ensure Paul returns is to win now, and if Bledsoe can fetch a piece that can aid that effort, as our Kevin Pelton has outlined, does it make sense to move the young point guard?

The counter-argument goes that Bledsoe is not only insurance for Paul, but he’s helping the Clippers now as the catalyst of the league’s most successful second unit and as the team’s best on-ball defender. Deal him at your own peril. Management understands this, which is why Bledsoe will more than likely be a Los Angeles Clipper in two weeks.

Jordan is a more complicated matter. He isn't likely to go anywhere, but his situation prompts some interesting questions. Vinny Del Negro puts a premium on experience, and he has been reluctant to place Jordan on the floor in big spots on a consistent basis, particularly now with Odom at his disposal. Moving Jordan could make sense for a couple of reasons. We can debate the validity of Del Negro’s skittishness with Jordan, and there are reasonable arguments on both sides. But the fact remains that the confidence from the staff isn’t there, so why not equip the roster with a big man whom they can trust, provided such a player is available at a reasonable price?

Then there’s the issue of Jordan’s contract, which he signed during the 2011 offseason -- another two years and $22.4 million after this season. This isn’t a horrible deal because big men with Jordan’s athleticism who can protect the rim are in short supply. But if they’re riding the pine during crunch time, that salary is a bit more burdensome. The Clippers could try to deal Jordan, much like what the Nuggets did when they developed buyer's remorse over Nene soon after signing him to a slightly overvalued deal. Truth be told, landing in a place where Jordan is handed the center spot without reservation might be a welcome change for the big man, who has worked diligently over the past few seasons to polish his game. Jordan has maintained a stiff upper lip, but can get frustrated with his role, even as he loves being part of the tight-knit group that exists with the Clippers.

All of which brings us back to that delicate balance for this organization enraptured by its current success after eons of futility. Do the Clippers stick with a program that has yielded the best results in the franchise’s history, or do they adopt the one move away plan, and act on the irresistible temptation to get over the hump, even if it comes at the expense of future success?

Killer Lineup: The Clips' tribe called bench

January, 9, 2013
1/09/13
10:53
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive




Los Angeles Clippers
Eric Bledsoe | Jamal Crawford | Matt Barnes | Ronny Turiaf | Lamar Odom
Minutes Played: 230
Offensive Rating: 102.9 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 87.2 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
Like a 10-cylinder sports car -- not always the most practical vehicle, but an explosive one that can burn up the track at warp speed and is a whole lot of fun.

It didn't take long for Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro to carve out large portions of the second and fourth quarters for this lineup composed entirely of reserves, and it immediately paid dividends. The second unit took on the nickname "A Tribe Called Bench," and it wasn’t long before you could hear “Scenario” during timeouts at Staples Center.

Tribe's overall offensive numbers aren't anything impressive. This unit actually scores 4.6 points fewer per 100 possessions than the Clippers as a whole, and much of that production comes in transition, where the lineup is racking up 27 fast-break points per 48 minutes.

This lineup was built to run. Bledsoe has lethal speed and can ignite an instant break off a live-ball turnover. Long after Crawford retires, we’ll still be talking about his handle, a weapon he uses to shred backpedaling defenders in transition. There isn’t a big man whose skill set is better equipped for the open court than Odom’s. A fast break is a dance number and Barnes understands the choreography and can run the floor as well as anyone in the game. Finally, Turiaf can throw an outlet pass, run and finish.

This group doesn’t excel in the half court, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since structure isn’t something that maximizes the strengths of either Bledsoe or Crawford. Bledsoe marshals a majority of half-court possessions, but a fair number of them originate with -- and terminate at -- Crawford. Regardless of who’s at the controls, most of the sets rely on penetration by either guard, off which Barnes, Odom, Turiaf or the other guard cuts baseline, dives from the weakside perimeter or flashes to the middle of the floor.

Bledsoe has improved considerably as a playmaker, but he’s still not fluent in the art of running an offense. (Apart from Andre Miller, Pablo Prigioni and a handful of others, few NBA backups are.) When Bledsoe has the ball against a set defense, the Clippers might run a double ball-screen for Bledsoe with Odom and Turiaf at the top of the floor, or an angle pick-and-roll with Odom.

Working with Barnes and Odom has been a quality education for Bledsoe, who in his first two seasons at the point rarely scanned the court for opportunities that might be materializing off the ball. Now he knows that Barnes is always reading the floor, finding angles and timing cuts that make him a smart target. Bledsoe has also learned that Odom can do plenty with the ball if Bledsoe can find him off the initial pick.

Crawford prefers to work alone on an island against his defender, and he gets plenty of opportunities to isolate, a role he’s thrived in with the Clippers. One-on-one basketball is a passion of Crawford’s and even though it doesn’t always make for the most efficient brand of offense, it’s hard not to enjoy watching Crawford whittle down defenders to little nubs off the dribble.

Odom has gradually worked his way into shape and can be found nightly in the high post slinging passes to cutters underneath the hoop and working the glass. He has logged the Clippers’ best overall on-off rating over the past 20 games. Barnes plays within himself as an offensive player and Turiaf does work in the trenches.

How it works defensively
The Clippers have jumped from 18th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to third overall this season -- and this unit is responsible for the largest share of that statistical improvement.

How ruthless is "A Tribe Called Bench"? They surrender only 87.2 points per 100 possessions. As a frame of reference, no other unit among the NBA’s Top 50 most commonly used lineups came in below 90.0. Opponents posted an effective field goal percentage of 41.6 percent (only one other unit in the Top 50 held the opposition below 45 percent), and that doesn’t even account for the fact 20 percent of opponents’ possessions end in turnovers.

The second unit isn’t running a system so much as a fire drill, and it all starts on the ball with Bledsoe, who barrels through or over every high pick. The ball rarely gets to where it wants to go because point guards simply can’t shake Bledsoe’s pressure. A simple entry pass into the high post becomes an adventure because Bledsoe can jump 20 feet in the air standing still. Bledsoe pushes every penetrating point guard toward the sideline, which allows the rest of the defense to tilt the floor.

This isn’t the coordinated encroachment you see in Boston or Chicago, where two backside defenders are explicitly responsible for zoning up the weak side of the floor. What the Clippers’ backups do is more improvisational -- and they can afford to be because rarely do teammates have to bail out Bledsoe after a blow-by, and this freedom gives them the luxury to cause trouble. In addition, Bledsoe's ball pressure means Odom and Turiaf don't have to front so aggressively in the post, which allows them more flexibility to make defensive reads, something both guys do well.

But just because the scheme isn’t scripted doesn’t mean the defense is sloppy. Barnes is careful, and you’ll rarely see him blitz an offensive player without first taking inventory of the floor. Once the ball pressure has disrupted the offense, Barnes will quickly survey the mess and figure out where he needs to go next and move there quickly. When guarding a big man on the weak side, Odom and Turiaf react similarly. Odom has a long leash to roam because the Clippers don’t lose much if he gets caught defending a guard after a blitz or has to cover for Bledsoe, who has decided to jump the passing lane.

What occurs as a result of these impromptu double-teams and relentless pressure is sheer chaos. You can see Bledsoe perform one of his best tricks when a point guard dumps the ball into a teammate at the elbow. As he clears to the weak side of the floor, the guard will then try to rub Bledsoe off the recipient of the pass. Rather than follow his man to the far corner, Bledsoe will instead stop to harass the guy with the ball, going for a strip or simply working with Turiaf or Odom to smother the player into submission.

Even when offenses recover from moments like these, the possession has essentially fallen apart. With the shot clock ticking down, the offense out of position and the defense smelling blood in the water, "A Tribe Called Bench" will double down and tighten the vise.

These guerrilla tactics don’t come without risk -- and it’s not unusual to see an offense whip the ball over a double-team to an open shooter -- but the collective speed, length and instincts of this unit make gambling worthwhile. Elite teams bet on their strengths, and most nights the members "A Tribe Called Bench" are going home winners.

The two L.A.s: A study in contrast

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
3:24
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant: Respective leaders of two teams whose identities were on full display.

The Lakers and Clippers entered Friday night’s matchup in entirely different moods. Even though the Clippers were coming off back-to-back road losses to Denver and Golden State, the feeling around the team was still rosy as it took the floor. Meanwhile, the Lakers entered the game winners of six of their past eight, but a sub-.500 record meant there was still a long shadow cast over them. The Lakers didn’t seem much closer to answering the hard questions, and the team’s struggles were every bit as stubborn as the Clippers’ success was exciting.

Live basketball has a way of confirming our broad perceptions of the teams on the court, and there was a brief sequence at the end of the third quarter that captured the contrasts with poetic symbolism.

With about 37 seconds left in the quarter, Kobe Bryant got a high screen from Pau Gasol. As DeAndre Jordan stood poised to corral Bryant, Kobe steered laterally across the court, left to right. Lamar Odom didn’t think twice about leaving Jordan Hill to pick up Bryant, who was now being pursued by both Odom and Matt Barnes. Gasol had a layer of space around him in the lane and Hill had sole ownership of the baseline, but Bryant twirled, stepped back and elevated for a fadeaway 20-footer -- which he drained.

The Clippers didn’t blink. Eric Bledsoe collected the ball as it went through the cylinder, inbounded to Chris Paul, who raced up the left sideline against an unsuspecting Lakers’ defense. As Paul steered in his direction, Hill moved away from Jordan to stop the ball, which was precisely what Paul was waiting for. With Jordan all alone on the far side, Paul flung a lob at the rim, which Jordan caught with two hands and slammed home.

Bryant manufactured a tough shot for himself, then six seconds later Paul found an easy shot for someone else. Both shots were successful, but there was absolutely no parallel to the respective processes.

We saw a similar dynamic at work defensively in the game’s final minute, with the Clippers leading 101-97 as the Lakers brought the ball up.

The Lakers got into a set we’ve seen them run a fair amount since Steve Nash returned. Nash dished the ball off to Bryant just beyond half court, then set a screen for Bryant. The Clippers willfully went into a switch, which meant Paul was now responsible for Bryant while Barnes picked up Nash.

The first reaction was skepticism -- wouldn’t you want the taller defender (Barnes) on Bryant, who seemed destined to step back and launch another bomb from distance? But as Gasol stalked to the top of the floor to screen Paul, Odom (Gasol’s man) joined Paul to blitz Bryant. Before long, Bryant was pinned against the time line. After desperately hurling the ball cross-court to Nash, Bryant eventually got it back and heaved a 25-footer, which spun in and out.

On the subsequent possession, the Clippers got into a 1-4 flat scheme, with Paul dribbling the ball alone at the top of the floor opposite Bryant. Griffin eventually arrived to offer Paul a step-up screen, but Paul told him to return low. During that sequence, Griffin had dragged Gasol with him and, had the Lakers wanted to, they could’ve trapped Paul with Bryant and Gasol -- much the way the Clippers forced the ball out of Bryant’s hands on the preceding possession by smothering him with Barnes and Odom.

But the Lakers chose not to. Instead, Paul crossed Bryant over behind his back, bought himself some space in the process, then drained a 20-footer to give the Clippers a six-point lead with 19.9 seconds remaining.

After the game, Mike D’Antoni explained the risk of sending a second defender at Paul in that situation.

“They’ve got some other good guys,” D’Antoni said. “Right in the middle of the floor, [Paul] is really good at finding the right guy, so you could try [double-teaming], but you’ve got one of the best defenders in the NBA on him, and [Paul] makes an unbelievable shot. After he makes it, you go, ‘Oh, Man!’ But you don’t know that he’s going to make that shot. You’ve got to give him credit. But to double the guy right in the middle of the floor is tough -- with him especially, because he passes the ball so well.”

D’Antoni made a legitimate point. There are about a dozen things that can go wrong by sending an additional guy at Paul. Had Gasol remained at the top of the floor, Paul could’ve split the defenders and the Clippers would’ve been playing 5-on-3, something we’ve seen a zillion times before over the course of Paul’s career. He could've made a heroic pass to a cutter or an open shooter.

Sure, there’s risk in doubling Paul at that juncture, but why not deploy some aggressiveness and exhibit some creativity? Why not take a chance by blitzing Paul with Bryant and Gasol, then have either Jodie Meeks or Metta World Peace, who were guarding Caron Butler and Lamar Odom well beyond the arc on the left side, rotate onto Griffin in the paint?

Maybe Paul can successfully sling the ball across his body to Odom in the left corner. And maybe Odom drains a wide-open 3-pointer before a defender can close. Or maybe Odom drives baseline against a hard close and ends up with an easy dunk at the rim.

But you’re a 15-16 team that can’t find itself defensively. Why not err on the side of ingenuity, especially if it means Chris Paul won’t beat you one-on-one, something he’d been doing for the better part of the night?

The Clippers are making those kinds of calculated risks almost every night -- something they didn’t do a lot last season. And that’s why they’re sitting atop the Pacific Division while the Lakers continue to search for answers and lament their lack of youth or footspeed.

These instances aren’t about age. They’re about decision-making.

How the Clippers are doing it with defense

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
10:50
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
Harry How/NBAE/Getty Images
The Clippers' once-mediocre defense now ranks among the NBA's best. What happened?

Defense is the NBA’s dark art, the great unknown, a phenomenon whose essence we can’t fully quantify with a simple measuring stick. We think we know good defense when we see it, and we can factor how many points a team surrenders per possession to confirm the eye test. But analyzing defense is still an exercise fraught with assumptions about coverage schemes, who was supposed to do what, and whether the process produced the intended results.

On the results side, we know one thing about the Los Angeles Clippers through 33 games -- only two defenses in the NBA have been better statistically, something not even those most optimistic about the Clippers’ prospects three months ago would’ve put good money on.

Those less bullish on the Clippers prior to the season often cited defense as the most obvious shortcoming. No matter how potent its offense, a team with a league-average defense usually doesn’t finish much higher than third or fourth in a deep conference, and there weren’t a lot of reasons to believe the Clippers’ defense would be much better than that. The Clippers finished 2011-12 with the league’s 18th most efficient defense, and didn’t add anyone to the roster in the offseason who could fairly be characterized as a stopper, 40-year-old Grant Hill the possible exception.

Acquiring solid defenders is probably the surest way to fortify a defense, but there are other means -- the implementation of a smart system and/or significant individual improvement from key players. This isn’t easy because systems need time before they’re perfected, just as younger guys with only a few NBA seasons under their belts need time to refine their instincts. For the Clippers to make a leap, they’d have to craft a more systematic defense that could be mastered quickly, while Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan made significant progress.

By and large, most of those variables have fallen in the Clippers’ favor. Much like their productive offense, the Clippers’ defense isn’t anything fancy. It doesn’t employ any defensive aces who can make life difficult for a decent-sized wing scorer. Griffin has improved a good deal, but can still get into a little trouble when he’s extended beyond the foul line. Same goes for Jordan, who is more disciplined in his movements and precise in his timing, but still hasn’t grasped every nuance.

So how have the Clippers taken a mediocre defense, swapped Randy Foye, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans for Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf and climbed 15 spots in the defensive rankings?

 




The second unit
The Clippers’ starting lineup has been adequate defensively, but much of the statistical improvement has been accumulated while the team’s second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes, Turiaf and Odom has been on the floor. In 230 minutes on the floor together, these five give up only 87.2 points per 100 possessions -- that’s tops among the 60 most used lineups in the NBA.

Pressure has been a bedrock principle of the defense this season, and when this unit is in the game, it looks positively Grizzly. Bledsoe is a relentless ball hawk. Consider this for a second: The Clippers' two point guards combine for eight steals per 48 minutes, with Bledsoe and Paul ranking one and two in the NBA in that category. The entire unit has license to trap the ball just about anywhere on the floor. Barnes and Odom make particularly smart reads defensively and know just when to release that pressure to relieve the back side of the defense.

For opposing reserves, it has been a nightmare. Every fifth possession ends in a turnover (the third-best rate among those 60 units that have logged the most minutes in the league), and if a shot does materialize it’s generally contested. All this despite the fact that Bledsoe roves a bit too freely and Crawford has been known to die on a screen away from the ball. Meanwhile, Turiaf is undersized, Barnes a bit foul-prone and Odom still off his fighting weight.

 




Let the big men use their speed
Neither Griffin nor Jordan has the experience of Kevin Garnett, the instincts of Joakim Noah or the presence of Tyson Chandler. But they’re faster than all those guys, and this season Griffin and Jordan have been empowered to unleash that speed more aggressively.

Last season Griffin and Jordan spent much of their time on defense trying to hold their ground in a flat scheme. This year, Vinny Del Negro and assistant coach Bob Ociepka are asking more of Griffin and Jordan -- and they’re getting more. Griffin and Jordan are blitzing selectively (e.g. step-up screens, last third of the shot clock) and are frequently showing high on ball screens to force the ball as far away from the paint as possible. Because they’re finding themselves higher up in the half court than last season, they have farther to travel when it’s time to recover. But that’s OK because both Griffin and Jordan can fly, so long as they know where they’re going, they're more than capable of getting back.

In short, the Clippers have decided this season to double down on their athleticism, even if it means absorbing a few mistakes here and there. Are Griffin and Jordan fluent yet? No, but they’re increasingly proficient and that footspeed affords them a little more time than most big men. They have a coaching staff who trusts them to take aggressive measures to defend, then use that speed to mitigate any potential mistakes.

 




Talk, Talk
Elite teams often characterize the seamlessness of their defense as being “on a string.” A movement by one defender instantaneously triggers another defender to rotate into his place, and so on. The fibers that make up the Clippers’ string are getting stronger, but the cord isn’t completely taut, at least not yet.

In the meantime, the Clippers maintain order by communicating. You can hear Jordan and Griffin confidently calling out screens so that Chris Paul doesn’t plow into an opposing big man. On high ball screens, Jordan has gotten especially good at letting Paul know when he’s dropping back into the paint, so Paul can push the ball handler down the sideline. That’s crucial because Paul can’t let a guy get low unless there’s a plan to cut off the ball.

When Barnes wants to join Bledsoe in pinning a guard along the sideline, he’ll call out to Odom to take momentary responsibility for the man left open. And when Paul finds himself away from the ball on the weakside, he’s constantly barking directions to teammates to close the back door or cut off an obvious pass to the middle.

 




We knew the Clippers would be an efficient offensive unit -- Paul virtually guarantees that. We knew they'd be deep, and would have the flexibility as a team to bang with the brawlers, run with the gazelles, protect the basketball, scramble defenses with Paul's probing, exploit double-teams with Griffin on the block, and wreak havoc with a second unit that can pressure opponents and move the ball.

Yet we had no inkling the Clippers would post these kinds of defensive numbers this deep into the season. We're beyond the point (40 percent of the regular season in the books) at which we can talk about the sustainability of that success. That's not to say there won't be retrograde, early 2012-ish defensive outings like Wednesday night in Oakland when the Warriors shredded the Clippers on the perimeter, in transition, on pick-and-pops for David Lee. We'll learn a lot more about the Clippers on Saturday night when they get another crack at Golden State and make their adjustments.

But if the Clippers have figured out the defensive piece, if they've truly accomplished what elite defenses do -- maximize their individual strengths and mitigate those weaknesses -- and if they continue to post overall offensive and defensive ratings that rank in the NBA's top five overall, it's mathematically impossible to dismiss them as legitimate competition to Oklahoma City, San Antonio and anyone else in the West who stakes a claim.

Life inside the Clippers' winning streak

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
2:39
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Los Angeles Clippers are riding a 14-game winning streak and moving fast.

LOS ANGELES -- Players will tell you that the coolest thing about a hot streak is the inertia. It’s a total ride. As pro athletes, they’re contractually obligated to play down the importance of The Streak as a numeric event. They’ll say The Streak doesn’t mean anything in the larger scheme of a season, but they’ll also acknowledge that living inside The Streak feels different.

After the Clippers’ 11th straight win last Wednesday, Paul described The Streak as inhabiting a world in which the food tastes better, the music sounds better and you sleep more restfully. To Paul’s point, riding The Streak is a transporting experience.

“It does feel like we’re moving somewhere,” Jamal Crawford said.

“It’s good for us,” Matt Barnes said. “We just want to continue to move in the right direction.”

The Streak is like being zipped on a high-speed bullet train, gliding across a landscape at exhilarating speeds from a place you’ve been to a place you want to go. The Clippers have been eager to make such a trip -- from the league’s upper-middle class to the ranks of the elite.

After an 8-6 start that included some real thuds, the Clippers have now traveled to the top of the NBA standings after notching their league-high 14th consecutive win Tuesday, a 112-100 thumping of the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center. With Oklahoma City’s loss at Miami earlier in the day, the Clippers now boast the NBA’s best record at 22-6.

“It’s a mindset of coming out from the beginning and jumping on them defensively, bringing that intensity,” Blake Griffin said. “When we’re at our best, our starters have a great first quarter, then our bench comes in and elevates that. Then our starters come back in and it’s just a tag team.”

Want the crib notes for what has occurred over these past 14 games for the Clippers? Take a peek at the second-quarter play-by-play Tuesday night for a composite. The Clippers scored on 20 of their 27 possessions in the period, including their last 11 trips down the floor.

“I didn’t even realize that,” Griffin said.

“I did not know that,” Paul said simultaneously. “I would’ve never known that unless you said that. That’s crazy.”

Over the first three minutes of that crazy second quarter, the Clippers’ second team, one of the league’s most efficient units (plus-20.4 points per 100 possessions), forced three Denver turnovers and ended another possession with a block. When Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan assumed their starting roles to close the quarter, the Clippers’ trapeze act began.

Paul leapt in the air, twirled, then threw a pass across his body to a trailing Barnes, who finished with a slam. Then Griffin pointed in the air with his index finger, the universal signal in Clipper Nación for “feed me at the rim.” Barnes obliged with a pretty lob from just inside midcourt. Then Paul and Griffin teamed up for a balletic pick-and-roll, off which Paul set up Griffin with a pinpoint bounce pass. Griffin scooped it up, skied through the lane and jammed it home. Then the Clippers closed the half when, with only 6.3 seconds left on the clock, they pushed the ball upcourt, where Crawford saw Jordan flash the universal signal. Lob and jam.

“They’re probably the biggest and most athletic team -- combination of size and athleticism -- in basketball,” Nuggets coach George Karl said prior to the game. “They love to dunk. We like to dunk, but they might love to dunk.”

It hasn’t been all pyrotechnics for the Clippers over the course of The Streak. A team that had its fair share of mental lapses last season is playing an intelligent brand of basketball.

Take a routine possession in the third quarter with the Clippers on a secondary break. The ball found its way to Caron Butler, who had an open 3-pointer, but the veteran saw teammate Willie Green in the right corner all alone. So Butler gladly passed up a 37.8 percent shot (his mark on 3-pointers above the break) for a 48.3 percent one (Green’s accuracy on corner-3s).

“We talked about it in the huddle,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Caron made a really good, unselfish play and that’s winning basketball, making that extra play.”

After the game, Paul and Griffin characteristically downplayed the streak. Paul alluded to the 22-game winning streak of the 2007-08 Houston Rockets, a team that ultimately bowed out in the first round of the postseason after Yao Ming suffered an injury. Paul also cited his New Orleans Hornets team from that same season.

“We went 56-26,” Paul said. “I’ll never forget that season. I felt like we should’ve won the championship that season, and I remember right before the playoffs started, our team met and we said, ‘We are an unbelievable team. We can’t see [another] team beating us four out of seven games.’”

Those Hornets ultimately bowed out in the conference semifinals in a hard-fought and gut-wrenching seven-game series to San Antonio.

“That was my third year in the league and I was like, ‘I’ll be in this position every year. I’ll have a chance to win every year,’” Paul said. “But no, you’re not on teams like that every year. Trades happen. Injuries happen. That’s why you have to savor these moments and not let them just blow away. So I’m thankful and grateful to be on a team like I am this year.”

The Clippers restore order

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
2:36
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- It didn’t matter that the Los Angeles Clippers’ 116-81 blowout victory came against a Sacramento Kings team a whose rotation is a head-scratcher, whose best passer is 6-foot-6 backup center, and whose energy and resolve were left on the team bus.

“We needed a win like that,” Blake Griffin said. “To be what I thought was pretty good from start to finish, it’s good for our confidence.”

After running out to an 8-2 start that included wins over Miami, San Antonio (home and away), Memphis and the Lakers, the Clippers have staggered over the past 10 days. They dropped four straight games before recovering on Wednesday night with a sloppy win over Minnesota at Staples Center.


Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/GettyBlake Griffin: Flying high.

On Saturday night, the Clippers found their footing. There were no transcendent individual exploits or a continuation of last season’s juicy crosstalk between Griffin and Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins. This was merely the Clippers performing surgery on a weak patient.

“[The Clippers] were getting anything they wanted on the offensive end,” Kings forward Jason Thompson said. “They had a good lead in the first quarter. We got it to within five, and then the next thing you know they got it back up to double-digits and we could never really come back after that.”

The Clippers shot 54.7 percent, including a 12-for-24 night from beyond the 3-point arc, but what was particularly heartening were the improvements made in areas where the team had been lagging:

Sleepwalking against lousy teams
The Clippers' only hiccups over their first 10 games came in home losses to Cleveland and Golden State (in retrospect, not such a black eye) at Staples Center. After dropping the final three games of their road trip during Thanksgiving week, the Clippers had a get-well game scheduled against the New Orleans Hornets, but were shellacked by the Southwest Division’s cellar dwellers. The Kings are a unique brand of bad, though, a team ranked in the bottom third in the NBA in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, rebounding percentage, assist rate and true shooting percentage. The Clippers wouldn’t be caught off-guard on this night.

Protecting the Ball
Coming into Saturday, the Clippers ranked 28th out of 30 teams in turnover rate, far and away the oddest development of their young season. They finished 3rd in the league last season, and Chris Paul teams almost always reside among the league leaders. On Saturday, the Clippers coughed up only five possessions, their lowest total of the season. “I thought we did a good job of not turning the ball over a lot,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.

Foul Machine
The Clippers have been scrapping hard on defense and refining their rotations, but they’ve still had trouble containing penetration. The result has been a steady procession to the foul line for their opponents. Only the Kings have fielded a worse opponent free throw rate (that’s free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted). On Saturday, the Clippers racked up a relatively modest 15 personal fouls, resulting in only 18 free throw attempts for Sacramento.

The bench revitalized
It remains to be seen if The Tribe Called Bench handle will stick for the Clippers’ reserves, but after teetering during the Clippers’ recent bumpy road, the second unit fueled the Clippers on Saturday. All six bench players finished 50 percent or better from the field for a collective shooting percentage of 57.1 percent. Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 17 points, while Eric Bledsoe added 14, and Matt Barnes 12.

The Clippers had moderate success on the glass in the win, another sore point for a team that finished seventh in the league in rebounding rate in 2011-12, but is sitting a hair below league average through 16 games this season.

DeAndre Jordan, who Chris Paul insists is the team’s bellwether, was also active offensively, scoring 13 points.

“D.J. is a problem in the post if he catches the ball deep in the lane,” Paul said. “There are only a few guys in the league who can catch the ball in the lane, jump straight up in the air and turn and dunk on you.”

The Clippers also entertained their sellout crowd with the usual sequence of acrobatics. The most impressive physical feat of the night actually came on an attempted -- but ultimately unsuccessful -- dunk in the first quarter when Bledsoe fed Griffin a lob on a break. Griffin was fouled by Aaron Brooks while soaring for the one-handed throwdown from the left side of the rim. The foul call came late, and the intervening silence between contact and whistle almost sent Griffin into anaphylactic shock.

“It would’ve been a real nice make,” Paul said. “The craziest part was that it almost wasn’t [called] a foul. Thank goodness [game official] Eric [Lewis] called it right there. You can’t blame the official over there, Scott [Twardoski] because I think he got caught looking, like, ‘Woooow!’ [Brooks] took Blake’s arm off and he forgot to call the foul.

“It happens.”

Production down across board for Lakers

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
12:53
PM ET
By Douglas Clawson
ESPN.com
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(The Dallas Mavericks host the Los Angeles Lakers, Wednesday at 9:30 ET on ESPN)

Last month, the Lakers scored a season-low 73 points, but still managed to beat the Mavericks, 73-70. Although 73 points is low for the Lakers, their offense has struggled all season to score.

Last season, the Lakers averaged 101.5 points on 94 possessions per game. This season, they rank 22nd in the league in scoring (93.3 PPG) even though they are averaging 93 possessions per game.

The Lakers’ 102-90 loss on Sunday against the Phoenix Suns typified their offensive struggles, especially behind the arc. They shot 3-of-18 on 3-point attempts, and for the season the Lakers are shooting 30.1 percent from 3-point range -- down more than 5 percent from last season.

They shot 1-of-16 (6.3 percent) on 3-point attempts in a road loss to the Kings on Dec. 26, and failed to make a 3-pointer on 11 attempts in a road loss at Portland on Jan. 5. It was the first time Los Angeles failed to make a 3-point shot in a game since Nov. 16, 2003 against the Miami Heat.

Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace are posting career-low percentages on 3-point attempts, and Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes are shooting below their career marks as well.

Beyond their shooting struggles, the Lakers have not been able to run this season. They have the fewest transition points (330) in the league and average only 10.3 transition points per game. Only 8.6 percent of the Lakers’ plays have come in transition this season, second-fewest in the league behind the Orlando Magic.

Bench production has been another area of concern after the departures of Lamar Odom (14.4 PPG last season) and Shannon Brown (8.8 PPG last season). The Lakers have the fewest bench points in the NBA this season, 21.5 bench points per game, compared with 28.2 last season.

All of the Lakers’ offensive struggles have been magnified in road games where they are 5-11 this season, compared with 14-2 at the Staples Center.

What stats say about Metta World Peace

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
10:26
AM ET
By Alvin Añol, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

AP Photo/Danny Moloshok
Metta World Peace gives the Lakers varying productivity on either side of the floor.
"I said . . . 'If I was a stats guy, Metta, you wouldn't be playing at all. Look at your stats offensively. And then Synergy (Sports Technology) says you're the 192nd-best defensive player in the league,'" Lakers head coach Mike Brown said.

"If I was a stats guy, the guy that should be playing at the small-forward spot is Devin Ebanks because he's shooting better than you and Matt."


Those were Brown's words following Metta World Peace's claim that Brown is "all stats."

While Brown claims not to be all "stats", ESPN Stats & Information is, so let's dive into the numbers.

Entering Thursday, the aforementioned Synergy had World Peace allowing 0.813 points per play this season, placing him as the 159th-best defender in the league (slightly better than league average).

To be fair, he's been the responsible man on defense more frequently than many of the 158 players ranked ahead of him. If we raise the minimum to at least 200 defensive plays, World Peace's rank improves to 58th out of 160 players.

Among Lakers with at least 200 defensive plays this season, World Peace grades out as the Lakers' third-best defender, behind Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

One way of measuring how effective he is as a defender is the Lakers defensive efficiency on a per-possession basis when MWP, a former Defensive Player of the Year Award winner, is on or off the court.

When he's on the court, the Lakers have allowed 94.2 points per 100 possessions. It's in stark contrast to the 100.3 points per 100 possessions they allow when he's off it. (League average this year for defensive efficiency is 100.3, so one could say MWP is the difference between an average defense and a very good one.)

But just as he strengthens the Lakers defense, he's been a liability on the offensive end of the floor.

MWP's shooting woes this season are hardly news. He's shooting 34 percent from the field, 21 percent on 3-pointers, and 51 percent from the free-throw line -- all career lows.

Only two NBA players are shooting worse this season using true shooting percentage, which adjusts for the value of free throws and 3-pointers (minimum 500 minutes played). MWP's 39.8 true shooting percentage trails only the Nets' Shawne Williams (37.2) and the Knicks' Toney Douglas (38.9). League-average true shooting percentage is 53.0.

For offensive purposes, the Lakers would be better giving Matt Barnes more minutes if they're looking for a scoring spark. The Lakers average 102.8 points per 100 possessions when Barnes is on the court compared to the 96.7 when MWP is on the court.


Lastly, player efficiency rating (PER) reveals who's been more efficient between MWP and Barnes. PER is a rating of a player's per-minute statistical production.

Barnes has the highest PER (13.9) among Lakers at the 3-position, more than twice that of World Peace (6.4). The league-average PER for a season is 15.0, so while both are below average, Barnes has been the more efficient player.

Assuming neither MWP nor Barnes can overcome the deficiencies they bring when they enter the game (for MWP, offense; for Barnes, defense), the workload should be determined situationally, not unlike lefty/righty platoons in baseball.

If scoring is what the Lakers need, then Barnes should get the nod. But if it's stops they need, Metta World Peace is the better option.

Matt Barnes on whatever he did

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
2:22
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
There is some excitement out there today about Matt Barnes and a fight he may or may not have gotten into Thursday night in a San Francisco Pro-Am game at Kezar Pavilion. This is the best video I have seen from that game, although it contains highlights of the whole game, and the after-fight scene, but no swings.

ESPN.com college basketball writer Diamong Leung arrived at the gym shortly after whatever happened, and talked to Barnes, who does not sound like a guy shrinking from the notion that something happened, and says:
That's part of the game, man. It's physical. You know what I mean? People come out here and think they can beat and push on me. There's only so much I'm going to take. I'm a grown man first, so if you think you're going to come out here and rough me up and cheap shot, I'm not having that s__.

He elbowed me and pushed me, so he got one.

People just think they can talk any way or do anything to ... me. You can't. You can't do that, cuz you know people are men out here. So if you think you're going to come out here and punk someone, that s__ ain't happening.

Leung also talked to a San Francisco police officer in attendance who says: "They got tangled up. A couple guys took swings. Both connected. It got broken up. They didn't eject him. Different rules here, I guess."

In other news, Barnes went on to hit the game-winner, as you can see on the video above.
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).

Big 3 come up huge for Heat

November, 20, 2010
11/20/10
12:18
AM ET
By Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the floor Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Miami Heat were +14 and scoring at a rate of 109.6 points per 48 minutes. When all other lineups were on the floor, Miami was -6, scoring at a rate of 75.3 points per 48 minutes.

The Heat were outscored 31-19 in third quarter as the Bobcats were 6-for-6 within 10 feet of the basket. In the first, second and fourth quarters, the Bobcats were 10-for-21 (47.6 percent) within 10 feet. This season, opponents are shooting 50.6 percent within 10 feet of the basket against the Heat. That’s the second-lowest percentage in the NBA from that distance.

As for beating teams that do not have winning records, the trend continues for the Heat. Miami won its third straight game on Friday, improving to 7-0 against teams that currently are .500 or worse. The Heat are just 1-4 against teams with winning records.

Miami's next two games are against the Memphis Grizzlies (4-8) and Indiana Pacers (5-5).

Around the rest of the NBA …
Matt Barnes
Barnes

• Matt Barnes made all seven field goals and all five of his free throws, finishing with a team-high 24 points in the Lakers win against the Timberwolves. Barnes also had seven rebounds and six assists. In the last 25 seasons, Barnes is the third player to go 20-5-5 and shoot 100 percent from both the field and free throw line in a game. The other two players are Gary Payton against the Cavaliers in 1994-95, and Charles Barkley against the Spurs in 1988-89.

• Despite losing to the Lakers, Darko Milicic had a career game: 23 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and six blocks. The points and blocks were career highs and the 16 boards equaled his career best. Milicic is the first player this season to have at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in a game. Kevin Garnett is the only other player in franchise history to have a similar stat line, and Garnett did it 10 times with the Timberwolves.

More from the Elias Sports Bureau: Milicic joins Elton Brand and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in NBA history who have ever had 20 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in a game against the Lakers.

• From the Elias Sports Bureau: Michael Beasley has now scored at least 25 points in each of his last six games. That's a franchise record, breaking the previous mark set by Garnett in March of 2000.

• The Boston Celtics are now 0-2 this season when Rajon Rondo has fewer than 10 assists in a game. Rondo had a season-low seven assists in the Celtics loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

• In games played on a Friday, the Toronto Raptors are now 3-1 following their win Friday over the Houston Rockets. The Raptors are 1-8 the rest of the week.

Monday Bullets

August, 16, 2010
8/16/10
6:00
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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