TrueHoop: Ronnie Brewer

Knicks take advantage of flaw in Heat's D

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
1:33
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Nate Jones
ESPN Stats & Information
If "live by the three, die by the three" is the New York Knicks mantra, they're doing plenty of living against the Miami Heat.

The Knicks shot 18-of-44 on 3-point attempts against the Heat on Thursday after shooting 19-of-36 on 3-pointers against Miami earlier this season. The Knicks are the first team in NBA history to make at least 18 3-pointers in consecutive games against an opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Perhaps the Knicks know by now that the Heat have trouble defending their outside jumpers. They've only made at least 18 3-pointers twice this season, and both of those games were against the Heat.

The Knicks rely on jump shots more than any other NBA team this season. They score 47 points per game on jumpers, representing 46 percent of their points.

The Knicks have done a tremendous job passing the ball and finding open shooters on the perimeter. They've scored more points off catch-and-shoot jumpers this season than any other team (525). And 149 of their 188 catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. On Thursday, they scored 32 catch-and-shoot points, including 10 of their 18 3-pointers.

Not only have they attempted the most catch-and-shoot jump shots this season, but they're also shooting them at the highest effective field-goal percentage (57).

Plain and simple, the Knicks are deadly from the perimeter and they have lots of shooters. Steve Novak, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace all rank in the top 100 of the league this season in catch-and-shoot points.

Novak is tied for second with 119 catch-and-shoot points, which accounts for all but 20 of his points this season. All but one of Novak's catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. He has only dribbled the ball on one of his 40 3-pointers this season.

Novak took advantage with 18 points against the Heat, one off his season high. He has scored at least 17 four times this season, and two of those games came against Miami.

Clearly, the Knicks are a dangerous outside shooting team. So it makes sense that when they meet one of the worst teams at defending perimeter jumpers, they'd have an advantage.

The Heat tend to leave shooters open. They've allowed the fourth-most unguarded catch-and-shoot jump shots this season. They're only contesting 31 percent of their opponents' catch-and-shoot jumpers, the fifth-lowest percentage in the league.

Overall, the Heat are allowing the fourth-highest effective field-goal percentage on jump shots (48).

It seems as though the Heat are daring teams to shoot 3-pointers. They're allowing more than 25 3-point attempts per game this season, the most in the league.

With that philosophy, it's no coincidence that the Knicks -- a prolific shooting team -- have the Heat's number.

Thursday's 20-point loss was the Heat's worst home loss with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all playing together.

Knicks working their strengths

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
2:29
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
New York Knicks
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks cracked the code?

The Olympics are an interesting laboratory for the NBA's best players. International basketball long ago embraced small-ball systems, and the composition of the U.S. roster this summer invited the Americans to follow suit once again.

For Carmelo Anthony, this meant playing the power forward spot, a decision that everyone in the known universe not named Carmelo Anthony has been prescribing as a way to advance his stagnant career.

Anthony had been reluctant. In his defense, it's not as if he's the first small forward to resist change. It took LeBron James eight years to buy in, and Rudy Gay is still skittish about sliding over to the 4 when Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol takes a seat.

This season with the Knicks, Anthony has logged exactly one of his 226 minutes as a small forward. One minute! You can barely heat a Pop-Tart in one minute.

Anthony's other 225 minutes have been at power forward. What has this done for his individual numbers?

Not much. He's logging a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.08, virtually identical to last season and his lowest mark since his sophomore season in the NBA.

But what are his team's efficiency numbers offensively? 111.6 -- tops in the league. You can go inside the numbers with Bradford Doolittle here.

Anthony's move to power forward has allowed Mike Woodson to get more efficient lineups and players on the floor. J.R. Smith's playing time is up seven minutes from last season, and he is rewarding the Knicks with a PER of 23.38. A leaner Raymond Felton can play alongside Jason Kidd in the backcourt -- both are shooting extremely well from the outside -- and Felton's numbers have improved.

Anthony's adjustment to the 4 gets defensive ace and off-ball maven Ronnie Brewer substantial playing time. The four most common lineups with Brewer are defensive juggernauts. Nobody in the NBA who has played more minutes and posted a better defensive rating. Brewer is also posting tremendous numbers on the offensive end. As one of the premier cutters in the game, he has introduced an element of deception and motion to a Knicks offense that was stuck in the mud last season.

On Thursday night, the Knicks roared back to beat the Spurs in San Antonio. After the game, Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson had this to say:
I think last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots. This year he’s trusting his teammates, and it’s shown out there, especially tonight. It’s amazing how they went from two guys shooting all the balls to a team that everybody has confidence in everybody else.

"On offense, they are playing together, and guys are accepting roles around their strengths," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

It's important to note that Anthony had a poor statistical night in San Antonio. He scored nine points, shot 3-for-12 from the field and went to the line for only four attempts in 41 minutes -- though he did collect 12 rebounds.

But let's focus on Jackson's comment. "Last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots." Know how many times Anthony took 12 shots or fewer when he played 30 minutes or more in 2011-12? Twice.

Phenomenons like these always remind me of something legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons said a few years ago. Back when sabermetricians identified on-base percentage as one of the most undervalued statistics in baseball, there was a tendency among a small slice of devoted statheads to treat players who didn't draw walks as terminal cases.

Gammons, who was by no means dismissive of analytics, was quick to point out that strike-zone judgment could be learned. If a major league player identified that as a weaker element of his game, he could teach himself the skill. He might never lead the league in walks, but he could become a measurably more valuable batter.

Anthony has never been one to draw walks, so to speak, and he probably hasn't been called coachable in years. But what if he can teach himself how to take pitches? What if he can, at 28, pick up the nuances that allow scorers to make their teammates and themselves more efficient?

Flop of the Night: Ronnie Brewer

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
1:21
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Ronnie Brewer
Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty Images
Ronnie Brewer used his veteran wiles to draw a charge against Evan Turner.

HoopIdea wants to #StopTheFlop. To spotlight the biggest fakers, we present Flop of the Night. You can help us separate the pretenders from the defenders -- details below:

Ronnie Brewer is a phenomenal defender with quick feet and a strong enough upper body to control the likes of Dwyane Wade. But he wins this flop of the night (click for video) by allowing Evan Turner to knock him to the ground without much contact at all.

From the reverse angle, you can see Brewer is using a maneuver we'll call "The Bruce Bowen." As he sees Turner reverse course, Brewer leaves his defensive stance and slides his hips forward in anticipation of the spin move, shifting his balance so that when Turner bumps him, it's enough force to send Brewer to the deck.

Brewer moves his feet admirably, but also plays for the fall against a player who is clearly not out of control. The well-timed, theatrical arm swinging is key, too, because it communicates Brewer's victimhood to the referee.

It's a savvy move, and earns a foul call from official Leon Wood, who doesn't have a great angle on the play.

Appropriately, Greg Anthony has a conflicted reaction, in one breath saying, "Ronnie Brewer sold that play there on the spin. I don't know if he's going to get an Oscar, but good job of acting there." And in the next, calling it "great defense."

When you see an egregious flop that deserves proper recognition, send us a link to the video so we can consider it for Flop of the Night. Here's how to make your submission:
  • Alert HoopIdea to super flops with the Twitter hashtag #FlopOfTheNight (follow us on Twitter here).
  • Use the #FlopOfTheNight hashtag in Daily Dime Live.
  • E-mail us at hoopidea@gmail.com

Lineups that are killing it in the East

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
2:31
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Chicago BullsChicago Bulls
PG Derrick Rose  SG Ronnie Brewer  SF Luol Deng  PF Carlos Boozer  C Joakim Noah
Minutes Played: 284
Offensive Rating: 111.6 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 91.8 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
In 2010-11, the Bulls were a middling offensive team that relied on one dominant mode of attack -- a dynamic Rose at the top of the floor. This season, Rose is still the prized asset in the Bulls' scheme, but he's orchestrating a deliberate, savvy offense that's expanded its breadth.

This unit plays at a plodding pace of 90.9 (which would rank them last in the NBA), but it's a tight, killing-you-slowly kind of assault. How many teams pressure you with a point guard like Rose, who collapses the defense anytime he works off the dribble, but can also feed the post and have three quality options from there? When you watch these Bulls move around the court with purpose, it's hard not to see hints of the best of the Deron Williams-Boozer era in Utah -- only better, because Noah's screens and ball skills are so exceptional for a big man.

This group also features two world-class athletes in Deng and Brewer who understand how to play off a penetrator, as well as a couple of big guys who know how to hit a cutter. Ever since Derrick Rose arrived on the scene in Chicago, we've been hearing about how the Bulls have a fatal hole at shooting guard. Bulls fans, you have your shooting guard. His name is Ronnie Brewer.

The rap on Brewer has always been that he can't space the floor. Fair enough, because Brewer is a subpar shooter from beyond 10 feet. But elite teams find workarounds for flawed players, and the Bulls have maximized Brewer's many strengths beautifully. Spacing is a nice attribute to have in an offense, but movement is woefully underrated in today's game. And you won't find a lot of players who move more intently off the ball than Brewer. He might not hit a shot for you from 24 feet, but he never stops moving. Feed, clear, cut and repeat.

Would there be more space for Rose to work if he had a couple of wings who were better conventional shooters than Brewer and Deng? Possibly, but there are more ways to bludgeon an opponent than a drive-and-kick. Putting bodies in motion and forcing opponents into bad decisions with endless actions has its virtues.

How it works defensively
The vaunted Tom Thibodeau defense is no longer an exotic mystery cooked up in some lab in Cambridge, Mass. It's simply standard operating procedure for several NBA defenses -- but few, if any, of the imitators run it with the precision this unit does.

On nearly every half-court possession, the Bulls' defense has one objective -- keep the ball out of the middle of the floor. Once they have you confined to the sideline and you try to, for example, run a pick-and-roll, the Bulls will strangle you like a python by trapping, then bringing a third defender to the ball side of the paint to add further pressure.

What makes this unit particularly deadly when they implement this defense? Let's start with Joakim Noah. Bringing three guys to the ball is all well and good, but it doesn't help if you don't have two defenders who can cover the rest of the floor in what's essentially a two-man zone. There isn't a big man who performs this task better than Noah. He instinctively knows where the offensive threat is coming from -- when the ball will be reversed out of that pressure, to whom it will go to and how to best help without compromising the system.

Throw in two lanky defenders like Brewer and Deng, whose length, agility and smarts allow them to both stifle defenders on the ball or work as Noah's partner in that backside zone, and you have the components for the most difficult defense to score against in the NBA.


Orlando MagicOrlando Magic
PG Jameer Nelson  SG J.J. Redick  SF Hedo Turkoglu  PF Ryan Anderson  C Dwight Howard
Minutes Played: 178
Offensive Rating: 118.3 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 98.4 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
How good has this group been with the ball? There isn't a five-man unit that's recorded a higher offensive rating or a larger point differential in its favor. This isn't Orlando's most-used unit -- that would be the starters with Jason Richardson at shooting guard instead of Redick (402 minutes on the floor versus 178). The starting five aren't chopped liver, but the Redick-at-the-2 unit blows them away.

In many respects, this unit evokes the halcyon days of the Magic, circa 2009. Stan Van Gundy is one of the great pragmatists in the league. He deftly appraises his personnel on the floor and always seems to find a way to maximize those players' strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. These are familiar schemes that leverage Howard's presence down low to open up the perimeter for the Magic's snipers along the perimeter -- specifically Redick and Anderson.

Many times it starts with a high pick-and-roll with Nelson and Howard. The Magic get penetration or a deep feed to Howard in the paint, which forces the defense to collapse. When that happens, you know the drill -- a kickout to Redick or to a lifted Anderson for a clean look at a 3-pointer. Nelson has also developed a nice pick-and-pop rhythm with Anderson to find him open shots.

Other times, they initiate offense through Turkoglu on the left side. Turkoglu's efficiency numbers have fallen off since 2009 (he's shooting poorly and turning the ball over too frequently), but he's still capable of putting the ball on the floor and finding shots for others, and getting Howard the ball where he likes it. Redick is in constant motion in the Magic's half-court sets, breezing around baseline screens, getting free via pin-downs and using his escape dribble along the perimeter to find space.

And that's how an NBA unit chalks up a gaudy true shooting percentage of 60.5 percent, even with a below-average free throw rate.

How it works defensively
This unit earns its money on the offensive end -- a 98.4 defensive rating isn't anything to be ashamed of, but doesn't qualify as elite. Still, these five are getting a sufficient number of stops.

Unlike their contemporaries up in Chicago, Orlando places more of a premium on chasing shooters off the 3-point line, and they have the luxury of staying at home because they have a very large man with very broad shoulders manning the basket area and cleaning up any blow-bys that might occur. How is that going? Opponents are shooting 24 percent from beyond the arc against this unit and converting only 4.8 3-pointers per game. That is what chopped liver tastes like.

As imposing as Howard is under the basket, altering shots and intimidating, his pick-and-roll defense is also a key ingredient to this unit's defensive success. The Magic don't need to rotate all that often and, when they do, Howard recovers promptly to the back line and those rotators can immediately dash back to the perimeter where they can contest long shots with a close out, or just stagnate the offense.

One-on-one defense can occasionally be problematic, but Redick's tenacity -- both on-the-ball and chasing rabbits like Ray Allen around screens -- is vastly underrated. Turkoglu is no Tony Allen, but his length and awareness of where Howard is lurking makes him an adequate defender, as well. Finally, Nelson is a sturdy fireplug who can use his strength to bother opposing point guards, though he does yield his share of blow-bys.


Miami HeatMiami Heat
PG Mario Chalmers  SG Dwyane Wade  SF LeBron James  PF Chris Bosh  C Joel Anthony
Minutes Played: 389
Offensive Rating: 109.9 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 94.7 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
This past summer, Erik Spoelstra immersed himself in a single exercise: Examine how he could make life easier for the Heat's offense by diversifying their attack. In 2010-11, Spoelstra grappled with several strategies -- elements of the Rick Adelman's corner offense, "elbow sets" run through Bosh with multiple triggers and even some old Hubie Brown sets to free up shooters. The Heat finished the season as the NBA's third-ranked offense.

Spoelstra came to a realization, one that didn't necessarily conform to his natural instincts: The Heat could do better, and to achieve that improvement, it would require less conventional structure. He has freed up James and Wade, made transition opportunities and early offense priorities (Miami has gone from 21st in pace last season to 12th this season) and found new ways to space the floor.

So far as Wade and James, they have one imperative -- catch the ball and attack and don't allow the defense to set. No more dawdling at the top of the floor, waiting for stuff that never materializes. Off that, the Heat have found gold with Chalmers' vastly improved outside shot. The Heat were assembled with the idea that James and Wade would have quality shooters primed for kickouts, and with Chalmers, they have a teammate shooting 44.3 percent from 3-point-land.

Fewer sets are being run through Bosh at the high post with this unit, though he's still able to facilitate when the pace settles into a more deliberate, half-court game. Many of those sets that started with Bosh at the high post are now being initiated with James at the "Karl Malone" spot off the mid-post. Meanwhile, Bosh and Anthony screen with the best of them -- especially to lend space for Wade to attack -- and Bosh is still superb at lifting to a spot 18 feet away from the hoop for a no-dribble J.

How it works defensively
Spoelstra is still experimenting and tinkering with the Heat's schemes. Many a night, Miami is flirting with a Thibodeau-style strongside strategy, but one with a bit less structure and more freedom for James and Wade to rove. This isn't coming without costs: This unit is giving up 19.2 3-point attempts per 48 minutes, and opponents are shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc in the process.

The Heat are aware of the shortcoming and seem willing to tolerate a few gimmes on the perimeter in service of their larger defensive goal -- create chaos. That means more ball pressure than ever from Chalmers, and Bosh and Anthony jumping out with impunity on every ball screen. When it comes to defending the pick-and-roll, Bosh and Anthony might be the best big man tandem in the business at showing hard and recovering to the right spot on the back line.

Most of all, Spoelstra is encouraging James and Wade to operate as free safeties in what can be described as a quasi-two-man zone. Spoelstra's nature favors order over chaos and he traditionally has discouraged gambling, but he's come to appreciate that doubling-down on his team's athleticism makes good sense.

The results are there. Opponents are turning the ball 16.8 times per 48 minutes against this group. More impressive, the unit generates 23.3 points per 48 minutes off these turnovers and 22.5 fast-break points per 48 minutes. There simply isn't a defense in the world that can stop James and Wade in the open floor and the Heat's newfound guerrilla defense has maximized these opportunities.

Seats of no particular temperature

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
5:08
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
In a couple of weeks, we'll start hearing the inevitable chatter about hot seats in the NBA. The formula for who rides the hot seat is pretty reliable. The coach's team has underperformed and his critics believe he has been given ample time to succeed. His contract can't be too onerous because most teams don't enjoy subsidizing the salaries of broadcast commentators, which is the landing spot for many departed coaches.

There's a certain allure to death pools and elimination reality shows, but there are far more interesting sideshows this season than the guillotine. Some of the coaching ranks’ highest achievers have fascinating challenges in front of them:

Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Challenge: Use the Bulls' ball-moving big men

Among the unintended consequences of winning 62 games and coach of the year in your inaugural season as a head coach are the expectations that bubble to the surface in Season 2. That's Thibodeau's burden as the Bulls try to topple the Heat for the East's crown.

The Bulls' defense can't get much better than it was in 2010-11, but their offense finished the season as the league's 12th-most efficient. Derrick Rose is a domineering point guard who thrives in isolation and in high pick-and-rolls, so it's tempting to leave well enough alone and allow the MVP to do his thing. But there's something missing from the Bulls' half-court offense, deficiencies that became glaring against Miami (and at times, against Atlanta and Indiana) last spring.

The Bulls' personnel is simply too skilled, too versatile and too big not to finish as a top-10 offense. In Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls feature two of the best and smartest passing big men in the game. Their ability to create opportunities out of the high post should give the Bulls a ton of options. Then there's Rip Hamilton, Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng -- three wings who have the capacity to run a combined 25 miles of cuts, curls and flares over the course of a game.

With a team populated with this combination of talent, there's really no excuse for stagnation. Can the Bulls find their groove this season?

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Challenge: Life in a world in which Tim Duncan doesn't warrant a double-team

There's still no better technician in basketball than Popovich, and last season's 62-win regular season was a testimonial to that.

So much of what the Spurs have been running over the past decade or so revolves around the Spurs' guards looking for Duncan on the block early and late in sets. Traditionally, defenses have been so attuned to Duncan's presence that either A) they end up leaving seams through which Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can glide to the rim or B) they front Duncan, which leaves the back door open or C) they're forced to double-team Duncan on the block, which opens up clean looks on the perimeter for the Spurs' snipers.

The Spurs have been adjusting to a world in which Duncan's rim rum, deep seal and quick spin no longer compose the league's most deadly attack, and haven't missed a beat. They finished second in offensive efficiency last season by putting more of a premium on spacing and creating double gaps for dribble penetration. Watching that process continue this season will make for compelling basketball.

Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Challenge: Keeping the faith

There isn't a coach in the NBA who took a more sober look at his playbook during the offseason than Spoelstra.

As narrated by Tom Haberstroh last week, the Heat's cerebral head coach went on a coaching tour that included a couple of visits with the architect of the Oregon Ducks' spread offense -- which is played on the gridiron. Take that spread offense, add a few parts Rick Adelman and a dash of John Calipari, and you have the Heat's new high-octane offense that has racked up a scintillating 207 possessions in two games against slow-pokes Dallas and Boston.

The Heat's early success must be liberating for Spoelstra, as his team has taken to the change in philosophy like pigs in slop. Spoelstra is one of the league's most resourceful coaches -- a coach whose strength has always been preparation, precision and tactical strategy. But what happens if the Heat struggle?

Spoelstra thrives on order, and might be tempted to impose a little of it on his team. The trick for him will be finding that equilibrium between structure and freedom, a place where the Heat can still exploit teams with speed and athleticism but have a sense of purpose when the game situation demands it. That will mean remaining faithful to the principles of pace and space and keeping his foot off the break -- but also figuring out how to slip wrinkles into the offense so that it doesn't fly off the rails.

Miami rides Heat wave to win East

May, 27, 2011
5/27/11
1:05
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Including the regular season, the Chicago Bulls were 53-0 when leading by double-digits in the fourth quarter. So, with only 3:14 remaining in Game 5, and the Bulls leading by 12 points a win appeared all but certain.

The Miami Heat had other plans though, finishing the game on an 18-3 run to advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history.

According to 10,000 simulations done by Accuscore.com, the Heat had just a 1 percent chance of winning the game with 3:14 remaining.

Just like it's been all season, the "Big Three" for Miami were at the center of it all, scoring 69 of the team's 83 points, including the last 33.

It wasn't all good for the trio though; through three quarters they combined for as many field goals as turnovers (13).

The main culprit was Dwyane Wade, who committed nine turnovers to tie his playoff career-high and the franchise playoff record.

However, along with LeBron James, the pair came alive scoring 22 points in the final frame, while connecting on their last six field goal attempts, three of which came from behind the 3-point line.

More impressive, and possibly more vital, was the work they did on the defensive end shutting the Bulls down in the half court over the final three minutes.

Miami forced Chicago to commit two turnovers and held them to 1-for-4 shooting down the stretch. On the final possession of the game, despite taking over possession with 16.8 seconds remaining, the best shot the Bulls could come up with was a contested 3-point field goal taken by Derrick Rose.

Chicago's offensive inefficiencies down the stretch speak to the Bulls lack of a reliable second option behind Rose, who took 29 shots, over 35 percent of the team's total field goal attempts in Game 5.

Carlos Boozer, brought in this offseason to help anchor some of the offensive load, was on the bench the entire fourth quarter, along with Joakim Noah. The Bulls finished the season with Kurt Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson on the court with Rose.

Boozer and Noah combined for just 10 points in more than 50 minutes. Without help from the duo, the Bulls finished with a series-low 26 points in the paint, 16 of which came in the first quarter.

In the battle of the past two MVP's, James had the upperhand in the series. After going 0-for-5 from the floor with a turnover when guarded by James in Game 4, Rose struggled again, going 1-for-10 with two turnovers in Game 5. Rose shot 6.3 percent from the floor in the series when defended by James, lowest among any player that defended him on five or more plays.

For the series, Rose really struggled down the stretch, shooting just 21.4 percent from the field after the third quarter. This was magnified down the stretch of games 4 and 5, both close battles, in which Rose was just 3-for-17 combined in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Unlikely combo leads Bulls in fourth

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
12:38
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
It must have seemed like déjà vu for the Chicago Bulls, with 69 points through three quarters and entering the fourth with a slim lead. But, after being outscored by 14 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4, Chicago bounced back to defeat the Atlanta Hawks with a strong finish in Game 5.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Bulls allowed the Hawks to shoot 65 percent from the field and got sloppy, committing five turnovers. On Tuesday night, Chicago held Atlanta to 31.3 percent field goal shooting in the final frame thanks to an unlikely combination of players.

At 1:58 of the third, Carlos Boozer joined Joakim Noah on the bench, where the two would remain the rest of the game. The Bulls trotted out a five-man unit of Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. They played the next 12 minutes and 53 seconds together, turning a one-point lead into a 12-point lead. Prior to Game 5, that unit played just four minutes together in the playoffs.

Gibson scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, while Asik grabbed three rebounds and added a blocked shot. They led a bench that contributed 13 fourth-quarter points in Game 5 after scoring just four points in the last quarter of Game 4.

Rose (33 points) continued his strong postseason play, notching his third consecutive 30-point performance. He really turned it on to begin the fourth, scoring or assisting on eight of the Bulls' first nine baskets. He finished with 11 points and three assists in the fourth.

For the Hawks, their struggles shooting from distance hurt them in Game 5, particularly the duo of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford.

In order for Atlanta to have success against Chicago, the Hawks need Crawford and Johnson to make jump shots. The two were just 3-for-14 from 15-plus feet on Tuesday.

In the Hawks two wins this series, the pair have shot over 53 percent from 15 feet and beyond. In the three losses, they have shot only 30 percent from that range, scoring less than 10 points per game from that distance.

The Hawks struggled from deep, going just 1-for-12 from 3-point range, with Johnson and Crawford combining to go 1-for-9. Atlanta is just 10-for-40 from 3-point range in its three losses during the series, while 11-for-24 in its two wins.

7 curious things about the upcoming season

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
8:32
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images Sport
Forget about the hoopla in Miami, and let's talk about the basketball.


The basketball in Miami
The concentration of talent in Miami has created a dramatic storyline the NBA hasn't seen in years. In late October, the narrative will finally give way to live basketball, as the offseason machinations fade into the background. Fans and observers can debate whether a team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is healthy for the NBA, and the Heat's first final-possession scenario will likely launch silly arguments about who rightfully deserves to be called "the man" in Miami. Lost in the cacophony of hysteria is the single most fascinating question headed into the 2010-11 season: What will the Miami Heat's 94 or so possessions look like on a nightly basis? How will James play off Wade and vice versa? How do you defend a Wade-James pick-and-roll? Will we see a lineup of Eddie House, Wade, Miller, James and Bosh (talk about the end of positional orthodoxy!)? Will Bosh benefit from the disproportionate attention opposing defenses will have to devote to the perimeter? And how will Bosh handle the more workaday duties of being the big man down low? However you feel about what's transpired since the beginning of July, the experiment being assembled in Miami is a basketball lover's dream. If you find Miami's personnel unlikable, then root like hell for the opposing defense. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

The blueprint in Oklahoma City
The Thunder emerged last season as the most promising young outfit in the NBA. They finished with 50 wins and gave the Lakers their toughest Western Conference playoff series. Then, this offseason, they extended a max contract to Kevin Durant and fortified their bright young core by adding Morris Peterson, Daequan Cook and first-round draft pick Cole Aldrich. In some sense, general manager Sam Presti's decision to essentially stand pat might have been one of the the boldest move of the offseason. Many executives with a talented core and some money to spend would've committed to a high-dollar addition, but Presti stayed the course. He's banking that the maturation of Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, James Harden and Serge Ibaka will continue and vault the Thunder over of the scrum in the Western Conference. Is he being realistic? Can the Thunder ride a frontcourt of Green, Nenad Krstic, Ibaka, Nick Collison and Aldrich into the ranks of the NBA elite? Can a team that sustained no major injuries last season decline to add a single major pieces and still pick up 5-10 wins? The answer to these questions will give us an idea of how much "upward trajectory" is worth in the NBA.


Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images Sport
Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire: Beautiful while it lasted


The power of Nash
Amare Stoudemire provides us with one of the best controlled experiments in recent years.
Watching him run the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash in Phoenix for eight years, we grew to regard Stoudemire as one of the most prolific power forwards of his generation. In New York, Stoudemire will benefit from the presence of coach Mike D'Antoni, who conceived many of the schemes that enabled him to flourish, but will be without Nash for the first time since 2004. How will swapping out Raymond Felton for Nash affect Stoudemire's game? Back in Phoenix, a 36-year-old Nash will have to replicate what he did during his 2005-06 MVP season when Stoudemire missed virtually 79 games -- cobble together an offense with imperfect parts. How Stoudemire performs without Nash as his dance partner and how Phoenix fares with an offense that will be more reminiscent of their 2005-06 season -- when Nash maximized the versatility of Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw and Raja Bell -- will tell us a lot about Nash's enormous impact on the game he plays as beautifully as anyone.

The defense in Chicago
The Boston Celtics' return to the NBA's upper echelon was predicated first and foremost on their defense. They unleashed a pressurized force field designed and implemented by Tom Thibodeau, and ultimately adopted by other teams around the league, including the Los Angeles Lakers. This June, the Bulls tapped Thibodeau to fill their head coaching vacancy. He joins a Bulls team that put together a strong defensive season last season, finishing 10th in efficiency. Skeptics might look at Derrick Rose -- whose defensive instincts are a far cry from Rajon Rondo -- and Carlos Boozer and conclude that Thibodeau doesn't have the personnel to succeed the way he did in Boston. Yet in 2007, Thibodeau took a quintet that featured Ray Allen (who had a horrendous defensive reputation coming from Seattle), an undisciplined big man in Kendrick Perkins, a second-year point guard in Rajon Rondo who'd started only 25 games and made them one of the best defensive units in basketball. With Joakim Noah anchoring the interior, the lanky tandem of Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer on the wings, Boozer's sharp basketball IQ and Rose's gifts, Thibodeau should have the tools to sculpt a top-5 defense. If the Bulls buy in, we'll have a better understanding whether Thibodeau's kind of tactical expertise is transferable -- and an inkling of just how dangerous the Bulls could be.

The reign in Los Angeles
A calm has set in over Los Angeles, where the Lakers went about their offseason business with all the fanfare of a routine annual checkup. While the rest of the basketball universe was focused in on LeBron James and south Florida, the Lakers quietly added veterans Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff and re-upped head coach Phil Jackson. Even when the Lakers were stringing together three consecutive titles at the beginning of the millennium, there was always a swirl of intrigue surrounding the club. That's no longer true, as the Lakers have assumed a posture of professional incumbency the league hasn't seen in quite some time. Will the Lakers ride the precision of their system, the collective experience and poise of their core and the natural attributes of their defense to a fourth straight Finals appearance? Barring serious injury, is there anything that can disrupt the Lakers' rhythm? Is a successful formula ever in danger of becoming predictable?

The patience in Portland
Before the Oklahoma City Thunder became next year's model, the Portland Trail Blazers were on the brink of creating something special. The sketch of a winner was stenciled on the Rose Garden floor -- an all-powerful wing primed to take big shots, a talented power forward oozing with finesse, a defensive and rebounding force in the middle and smart supporting players who embraced their roles. Injuries and disruption turned the 2009-10 campaign into a holding pattern, but the pieces are still in place for the Trail Blazers to achieve. Health remains a concern, as Greg Oden will try to return from a fractured left patella. But if the big man can log 2,000 minutes, Portland should be able to complement their Top-1o offense with the kind of dogged rebounding and efficient defense that made them a popular No. 2 pick headed into last season. The question those with an affection for Portland don't want to ask is, how bright is the team's future if he can't?

The possibility of youth
The appeal of the league's top-rated rookies runs much deeper than individual performance. Their presence can ripple beyond whatever spot on the floor they happen to occupy. Blake Griffin not only has the power to explode to the rim every time he touches the ball, but he also has the potential to transform Baron Davis into the joyful point guard the world fell in love with in the spring of 2007. John Wall's well-honed instincts won't just fill up the box score, but also could revive a fan base in Washington that was teased with meaningful basketball a few years ago, only to watch their franchise return to the wilderness. DeMarcus Cousins could become the Kings' more formidable presence in the frontcourt since Chris Webber left, but more important, he and Tyreke Evans have a chance to redefine what big-small combos can do in the rapidly changing pro game. "Upside" is a word thrown around a lot in June, but watching that potential unfold produces unique findings. And that's why we watch.

We're No. 2! (Eastern Conference edition)

August, 12, 2010
8/12/10
9:34
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Heat
Jim Rogash/NBAE/Getty Images
Could the Orlando Magic benefit from more modest expectations?

Unlike the Western Conference where the Lakers have reigned supreme over the past couple of seasons, the Eastern Conference regular-season landscape has been a relatively open space. Convincing arguments could be made in recent seasons for Boston, Cleveland and Orlando, and each of these three teams made at least one trip to the NBA Finals over the past four Junes.

The Miami Heat have changed all that. Of the 93 prognosticators who took part in ESPN.com's NBA Summer Forecast, 66 predicted the Heat to win the East.

Who's their most serious competition? That was a source of some debate, but three teams were projected to win at least 50 games, and picked to finish second in the East by at least one TrueHoop Network blogger. Those teams were Orlando, Boston and Chicago.

On Wednesday, we asked members of the TrueHoop Network to defend their No. 2 picks in the Western Conference, and invited a dissenting opinion from a fellow blogger.

Now, we look East:

Orlando Magic

The case for the Magic
Kyle Weidie (Truth About It)
After the Miami Heat, obviously, it will be the Orlando Magic battling for Eastern Conference supremacy ... in front of the Celtics, and definitely in front of the Bulls, Hawks and Bucks. Why you ask? Well, let's start with the depth. There's not much turnover from last season's 59-win team -- they added a more solid backup guard in Chris Duhon, along with veteran Quentin Richardson and rookie Daniel Orton, and really only lost Matt Barnes. Jameer Nelson continues to be a leader by hosting his teammates for workouts in Philadelphia. And don't forget that coach Stan Van Gundy signed a contract extension through 2012-13 (that constancy thing). Did I mention that Dwight Howard has been working with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer? The East has been warned. As Orlando continues to grow as a unit, while Miami tries to Frankenstein a three-headed monster and surrounding parts and Boston hires extra trainers to keep loose ligaments intact, best believe that the Magic will be in the picture to make the NBA Finals.

The case against the Magic
Carey Smith (Philadunkia)
It seems obvious that the East will be much tougher in 2010-11 with numerous teams having improved significantly this offseason. The Magic were not one of those teams because the additions of Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson do not qualify as major upgrades. Additionally, the Magic were a very healthy team last season as their entire roster missed a total of only 63 games due to injury or illness. With the pounding Dwight Howard takes on a nightly basis, he will not be able to continue playing in all 82 games every season. Also the fountain of youth can last only so long for aging veterans like Vince Carter (75 games last year), Rashard Lewis (72), Jason Williams (82) and Quentin Richardson (76) who seem likely to miss more games than they did last season. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the Celtics laid down a defensive blueprint during the conference finals for how to beat Orlando. The NBA is a copycat league, so expect more teams to lock down the Magic's perimeter players and dare Dwight Howard to beat them. That's a tough task for even “Superman” to handle.


Boston Celtics

The case for the Celtics
Zach Harper (Cowbell Kingdom)
The Celtics got away with a lot of malaise and indifference for the greater good last season, only we didn't know it was going on at the time. And while the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference is much improved this season, there is still a huge disparity in team play between the Celtics and the next level down. They may struggle with Miami, Orlando and the top teams in the West during the regular season but I don't think they'll have a problem swinging down on the rest of the East. With nobody ready to jump up a level the Celtics can still get their rest and finish with one of the best records in the conference.

The case against the Celtics
Zach Lowe (Celtics Hub)
I'm a pessimist all around, so take my prediction of 49 wins with a small grain of salt and understand it is a prediction about the regular season alone. The Celtics won "only" 50 games last season before visibly turning up their intensity during the postseason and coming within a few minutes of the championship. What objective evidence do we have to suggest they will approach the 2011 season any differently than the 2010 season? The team is built for a run in May and June, not in February and March, and the Celtics likely care less about where they finish in the Eastern Conference standings than about entering the post-season healthy and with a team-wide understanding of Boston's principles on both sides of the ball. The signings of Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal make sense considering the absence of Kendrick Perkins and the problems the team had last season with rebounding and scoring in the post. But those signings also made an old team even older. Boston will play much of the regular season with a lack of urgency. Doc Rivers will limit minutes for the veteran players. Guys will get hurt and miss time here and there. These things will happen. Add it all up, and 49 wins is a reasonable, if low, prediction. No win total between 48 and 55 would be a surprise, but a win total of less than 16 in the playoffs might qualify as a disappointment.

Chicago Bulls

The case for the Bulls
Henry Abbott (TrueHoop)
The Bulls were a halfway decent team with gimpy Derrick Rose, gimpy Luol Deng and gimpy Joakim Noah playing with a bunch of expiring contracts. Now those three return presumably healthy, at ages when they should be better than ever, coached by the guy who led the best defense in the NBA over the last three years, with some nontrivial new firepower. Carlos Boozer did not make the NBA by being taller or stronger than everybody else. He got there in no small part by having a killer work ethic and by being a real-deal adult. That's a wonderful example for this young team. I've always been a Ronnie Brewer fan. People think Omer Asik has real potential. C.J. Watson can play NBA basketball. Kurt Thomas doesn't hurt. And for a team that has needed shooting, Kyle Korver is a marvelous signing. Put it all together, and the Bulls have talented, impassioned players at the most important positions, a good portion of the Utah Jazz (Brewer, Boozer, Korver), and the most interesting new NBA coaching hire of the last few years. I'm feeling bullish.

The case against the Bulls
Jared Wade (8 points, 9 Seconds)
The Bulls had a fine offseason, and the acquisition of Carlos Boozer will give the team the low-post scorer it has been desperately searching for since, roughly, the Carter administration. Next to the defensively solid Joakim Noah, the always-perplexing Luol Deng and second-year forward Taj Gibson, Booz finally brings some stability to the frontcourt. But even with Derrick Rose presumably continuing to ascend toward elite status, the Bulls still have a long way to go to compete with Miami, Orlando and Boston. Even Atlanta's core is more proven, regardless of their ugly playoff exit last season, and the Bucks already play the type of defense that Tom Thibodeau is hoping he can get the Bulls to commit to. The Central Division is a cesspool outside of the Bulls and Bucks, so expect Chicago to win around 50 games — but don't expect much more than a second-round playoff exit.

What the Chicago Bulls can learn from the Utah Jazz

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
6:38
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Rich Cho, Kevin Pritchard
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
The Bulls would be smart to use these former Jazzmen to install the flex offense in Chicago.

The Utah Jazz feature one of the longest-tenured, most consistently successful offensive systems in the NBA. Jerry Sloan has been running the flex for a quarter of a century and despite the predictability of the scheme's early actions, the Jazz's tactical plan causes opponents fits. You know what's coming, but most nights you're powerless to stop it.

The effectiveness of the flex in Salt Lake City prompts the question: If it's so productive, why haven't more teams adopted it as their offensive blueprint?

The most common answer you get from coaches and scouts around the league goes something like this:

On paper, the system is artful and ingenious. But if you don't have the personnel to run the flex effectively, you're setting up your team for failure. You might be able to incorporate a few flex sets into your playbook, but installing the system as the foundation of the offense is trouble.

What kind of personnel are we talking about? What skills does a player need to have as part of his game to be an effective player in that system? The simplest way to define the qualities of a good flex player is the ability to multitask. In the flex, each player on the floor is a screener and a screenee, a passer and a cutter, a guy who can make plays in a variety of ways by instantaneously reading the defense. Ballstoppers and early-shot-clock freelancers need not apply.

This brings us to the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls.

Last season, the Bulls finished 28th in offensive efficiency. Over the past month, the Bulls have bolstered their roster with a collection of nice pieces, including Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer -- each of whom started the 2009-10 season as a veteran member of the Jazz. Whether it was their primary intention or a serendipitous unintended consequence of the frenetic free agent market, the Bulls have assembled a group that, with the exception of the point guard spot, is more Jazzy than anything Jerry Sloan will put on the court this fall.

In short, the Bulls have a tailor-made roster for a full-fledged flex attack:
  • In Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls' starting frontcourt tandem will feature two of the best passing big men in the game. Boozer is fluent in the flex, while Noah's game couldn't be more suited to achieving the same kind of expertise. The two big men in this system are tasked with passing the ball from the high post to cutters, but they're also required to set back picks, cross screens and baseline actions for shooters. Even more important, they should have the ability to come off pin-downs and drain those mid-range elbow jumpers Boozer has made a living off of in Utah. What about Noah, though? He's a better mid-range shooter than you think. His 43 percent clip from 16-23 feet puts him in the company of Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan and Brandon Roy.
  • The Jazz incensed Deron Williams when they dealt Ronnie Brewer to Memphis in a cost-cutting deal at the trade deadline last February. Wesley Matthews and C.J. Miles assumed Brewer's role in Utah's offense on the wing. When the playoffs rolled around, Matthews and Miles each made huge plays down the stretch of crucial games in the Denver series -- mostly by reading the defense, making back door cuts and sealing the baseline. When Williams was asked about his young wings' smart plays, Williams responded on more than one occasion, "Those were Ronnie Brewer reads." Although Brewer isn't much of an outside shooter, he's a master at executing the counters that allow the flex to succeed even after the defense has taken away the first two or three options.
  • Korver knows how to play the 3 in the flex, a position that requires knocking down shots from the wing, and working off the ball in the power swing sets. While many sharpshooting small forwards merely set up shop in the corner, the 3 in the flex is constantly in motion, looking to fill open space when the defense reacts to ball side and moving quickly to flare out along the arc when the opportunity presents itself. His sweet stroke aside, Korver doesn't get all that many shot attempts, but he more than compensates for that as an intelligent player who always seems to know where he's most useful.
  • If ever there was an existing Bull who could benefit from the installation of the flex offense in Chicago, Luol Deng is the guy. Deng has never been a dynamic one-on-one perimeter player, something that's plagued him in the Bulls' stagnant offenses. Isolations simply aren't Deng's strength, but he's a selfless player, a very underrated passer and, most of all, money on the pin-down and the cut-and-seal. For the lithe, agile Deng, a flex system that maximizes his mobility and capacity to make reads could reinvent his floor game.
  • What about Derrick Rose? Does asking him to orchestrate the flex offense at the point compromise his strengths? Not at all. As we've seen in Utah, there are more than enough opportunities to create early offense, both in transition and with the high screen-and-roll. Brewer, Deng and Noah can run the floor and fill the lanes with the best of them. And anyone who watched Williams and Boozer work up top early in the shot clock knows there are plenty of chances for Rose to get space and/or dish off the ball to his big men for easy jumpers, particularly the pick-and-pop with Boozer. When Mehmet Okur was healthy, Utah ran a set called "Double-C" -- similar to what Boston runs with Garnett and Perkins. Both big men set a high pick on either side of the point guard, giving Williams multiple options up top. Rose would flourish in this kind of scheme, especially since Boozer and Noah are master screeners, rollers and readers. Early offense aside, Rose's strength and power are two of his most underrated assets and can be exploited in the half court. Rose should take cues from Williams, another big guard who often makes his best plays coming off screens and brutalizing smaller guards in the post with Utah's "Power 1" set (similar to what Baron Davis does from the elbow when he's locked in). Defenses tend to be most successful against the flex when they're effectively denying high post entires. Rose's athleticism should allow him to execute counters to that denial by creating for himself (when necessary). And with the help of Brewer and Deng, he should also be able to find his wings as they cross beneath the hoop and put themselves in a position to go to work. Was Rose born for the flex? Maybe not. But with enough reps, Rose should be able to use his size and quickness off the ball to perform as both initiator and as an off-ball menace in a system that rewards versatility -- something Rose has in spades.

The Bulls' personnel offers Tom Thibodeau a unique opportunity to install and execute a dependable offensive system, one that takes full advantage of his roster's attributes. Three of his top six players know the flex inside and out from their days in Utah. Two others -- Noah and Deng -- embody the right instincts to blossom in the system. At first blush, Rose might not seem like a natural fit, but with some work, his versatile talents will transform him into a capable quarterback, especially when you consider the amount of help he'll have.

If the Bulls ultimately decide to adopt the flex as their primary game plan, some would call it an experiment. Given the confluence of talent and experience on their roster, they'd be crazy not to bank on it.

A few days ago I imagined the playoffs. I looked at all the seedings in the West and took my best guess at who would win each series.

Of course, a few days ago the standings were totally different.

But at that time, my best guess was that the Lakers and the Jazz would meet in the Western Conference Finals.

And those two are gearing up to play each other tonight.

The man in the eye of that storm is Ronnie Brewer, who gets to try to slow down Kobe Bryant. Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune says Brewer is ready to unleash his inner Battier:

At the Jazz's practice on Wednesday morning, I asked him how a young player tries to guard Bryant.

"You've got to get to him early, make him take tough shots," Brewer said. "I was watching when they played the Rockets [on Sunday], when [Shane] Battier was being real physical with him -- getting a hand in his face on every shot. That's what you try to do."

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