TrueHoop: Wally Szczerbiak

Beasley makes it look easy vs. Kings

November, 11, 2010
By Kenton Wong, ESPN Stats & Info
Michael Beasley, the number two overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft was basically given away this offseason by the Heat for a 2011 Timberwolves 2nd-round pick.
Michael Beasley

Wednesday, he exploded for a career-high 42 points against the Kings... 12 more than his previous career high. Beasley made 17 of 31 shot attempts and grabbed nine rebounds. The 42 points for Beasley are tied for the 5th-most in Timberwolves history. The only players to score more in a game for Minnesota are Kevin Garnett (47 and 44), Wally Szczerbiak (44) and Tony Campbell (44).

The Timberwolves needed the big game from Beasley as their win in Sacramento was their first in their last 18 road games.

Speaking of 18 games...

The Spurs posted their 18th consecutive win over the Clippers. It's the longest current team-versus-team winning streak in the NBA. San Antonio has fashioned a longer winning streak against only one team: 21 in a row against the Grizzlies from 1997 to 2002. The Clippers' 18 straight losses to the Spurs is the second-longest losing streak against one team in franchise history. The only longer streak began with the inception of the franchise, when the Buffalo Braves lost their first 22 games versus the Celtics (1970 to 1974).

Thursday Bullets

August, 13, 2009

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

While the cellar-dwellers prepare their draft board, the NBA's elite have some tough calls to make. Will the Lakers pony up for Lamar Odom? Is Hedo Turkoglu worth exceeding the cap for? And the Cavs confront the reality that they're a couple of rotation players away from Eastern supremacy. 

Lamar OdomDarius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold: "We're at the point where [Lamar] Odom's true value to this team is no longer a mystery. When you talk X's and O's, he's the player that makes our strong side zone work as he provides the mobility and length to move from one side of the court to the other, pick up flashing big men, guard perimeter players, trap the ball handler, and still recover to the paint to rebound. He's the player that helps create our tremendous offensive spacing - playing as a PF that can initiate the offense, play on the perimeter (and be effective with the jumper or the drive), find creases in defenses to take advantage of the double teams that Kobe and [Pau] Gasol face, and also play in isolation from any position on the court (wing, top of the key, low block, elbow, etc). And when you talk team building and chemistry, he's also a real leader for the Lakers. Many will point to Kobe [Bryant] or [Derek] Fisher as our leaders - and rightfully so - but it's Odom that has been the stabilizer for our squad. He's been the bridge between our first and second units, the guy that organizes team dinners and brings in a chef for training camp, the guy that is in the middle of the huddle motivating and inspriring our guys for the battle ahead, and the guy whose lighthearted nature and devotion to the team keeps the locker room loose. We need this player."

Hedo TurkogluZach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "[T]o other teams, is [Hedo] Turkoglu really worth close to eight figures? John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating isn't perfect, but it's probably the best method we have of comparing players. Turkoglu's PER this season was less than Travis Outlaw, Marvin Williams, Grant Hill, Rudy Gay, Anthony Randolph and Richard Jefferson. And PER often punishes player who are shut-down defenders - something Turkoglu is not. We all know the intangibles of Hedo Turkoglu - his ball-handling skills, his abilities to create mismatches, his knack for shooting well in the clutch - are why he's so valuable to the Orlando Magic. But it can't be ignored how much Turkoglu fell off from last season to this season ... It's not like 30-year-old players regularly bounce back after down years. It's hard to imagine the Magic, or any team, think Turkoglu's career year of 2007-08 is the norm. The Turkoglu we saw this season is likely what most people expect out of Turkoglu going forward. Is 16-5-5 with a poor shooting percentage worth $10 million?"

Varejao and HicksonJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "A rotation big is hard to find. Really hard to find. And even if Andy [Varejao] comes back, this team, as Ben Wallace's corpse made clear in the ECF, is having trouble filling those minutes, especially considering Joe Smith seemed to be out of the playoff rotation. JJ Hickson is a great prospect, but even he has serious question marks at the defensive ends. The good news: LeBron James can give you 15 absolutely unbelievable minutes at the 4 on a nightly basis. The numbers were eye-popping ... this season when he played at the 4: A PER of 38, 39/11/8.5, and 2 blocks per 48 minutes, a higher net +/- per 48 minutes than his minutes at small forward, and he holds his man to less than a league-average PER defensively. And this is all with Wally [Szczerbiak] holding down the three spot and essentially doing nothing and getting exploited defensively. In the playoffs, Wally was simply too much of a liability. With a true rotation-quality swingman, the Cavs could take advantage of LeBron's ability at the four without leaving a hole, and it's much, much, much easier to get a rotation-quality swingman than a rotation-quality power forward."

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(Photos by Noah Graham, Jesse D. Garrabrant, Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

It's getting increasingly difficult to put LeBron James' postseason heroics into historical perspective. His production has made an extremely good offensive team (109.7 points/100 possessions in the regular season), even more ruthless in the postseason (up that to 111.9/100).

Mo Williams
The Cavs Defense: Where average defenders become good defenders, and good defenders become great defenders. (Andy Lyons/NBAE via Getty Images)

That's an impressive gain, but only a fraction of the improvement the already sturdy Cavs defense has shown in the playoffs. Cleveland has whittled its 99.4 points/100 possessions defensive rating (3rd best out of 30), down to a minuscule 90.8/100 in its two postseason series. Granted, Atlanta and Detroit weren't exactly offensive juggernauts, but their respective offensive ratings in the regular season of 106.6 and 104.5 suggest that the Cavs are tightening their defensive vise with brutal efficiency.

The Cleveland roster isn't composed of guys you'd immediately classify as defensive stoppers. With a defensive rating in the 104 range (number of points allowed per 100 possessions as an individual defender), Delonte West has been rightfully praised for his defense. West's defensive ratings in the four seasons prior to this one? 107, 107, 108, 108. As a Milwaukee Buck, Mo Williams had a reputation as a horrendous defender (and the numbers to prove it), but for Cleveland this season, he's been downright gritty, and his defensive rating dropped from 114 to 106. Did Williams just miraculously grow defensive fangs? Even Wally Szczerbiak, Ukrainian for "has lost some lateral quickness," is posting career-best numbers in various advanced defensive metrics. Nothing eye-popping, but more than passable.  

A few hundred video clips of Cleveland defensive sets -- both from the postseason and from post-All-Star Game matchups against playoff contenders -- begin to tell the story. Mike Brown, a disciple of Gregg Popovich, insists that his defenders play straight-up position defense. The Cavs don't gamble a lot (in team steals, you'll find them in the middle of the pack), don't trap off the screen/roll very often, and though they doubled Joe Johnson quite a bit in the Atlanta series, they prefer man-to-man defense most nights. If a Cleveland defender gets beat on a screen or off the dribble, there's an instant rotation, more often than not by Anderson Varejao. For a guy who gives off a lot of hyperkinetic energy, Varejao moves around the court with great purpose. He's my choice for ROY -- Rotator of the Year.

Since Mo Williams isn't a great individual defender, and does get beat on a regular basis, this part of Cleveland's defensive scheme is all the more impressive. When Williams gets taken out of the play by a hard screen, the rotator will immediately pick up the loose end, by moving to either the ball man or the screener. Williams, meanwhile, recovers quickly and intently. He'll immediately dart over to the guy who the rotator/helper has left open (also known as Roger Mason), preventing a kick out or, at the very least, an open look. 

It's here, on the back half of a defensive possession, where Cleveland's defense forces bad shot after bad shot. Mo Williams, like most point guards, is going to get nailed by his share of screens from 250-pound centers. That's a given. Good team defenses compensate a couple of ways: [a] How quickly does the rotator pick up Williams' man (or the big man, if a switch is in order)? [b] How effectively does Williams recover and run out on the open man? Bad defenses get beaten by a failure of [a], but even some decent defensive teams can get burned in the closing seconds of a possession by breaking down on [b].

Not Cleveland. You can go through nearly twenty clips of defensive possessions before witnessing a single blown rotation. Every Cavalier closes out on every shooter, and contests every shot. The Cavs move around the court mindful of every open space, chasing guys off their spots, and walling off anyone with the temerity to drive or cut to the basket. 

LeBron's explosiveness is undoubtedly the story of the Cavs' scorched earth playoff run, but their stifling defense is the silent killer. If you shaved off a third of James' offensive output, the Cavs' team defense would still make them the favorite in any series going forward.