TrueHoop: Deron Williams

KG, Pierce look to make immediate impact

July, 19, 2013
7/19/13
12:12
PM ET
By Sunny Saini, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesKevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will look to upgrade the Nets pick-and-roll offense next season.
The NBA is a pick-and-roll league. In the last five seasons, nine of the 10 teams to make the Finals have featured the pick-and-roll (including passes) offense on at least 20 percent of their total plays. The only exception was the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009-10.

The Brooklyn Nets were one of the most inefficient teams in the pick-and-roll (including passes) last season, running it only 13.9 percent of the time, the lowest percentage in the league.

In addition, the Nets had a 0.88 points per play (PPP) average, which ranked 23rd. Brooklyn also had the third-worst turnover percentage in the NBA, turning it over 13.4 percent of the time on pick-and-roll plays.

Even with Deron Williams running the point, the Nets had the worst pick-and-roll ball handler offense.

Last season, Williams averaged 0.77 PPP while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor as the pick-and-roll ball handler. Among the 103 players with at least 100 such plays, Williams ranked 67th.

In addition, Williams turned the ball over 23 percent of the time on such plays, ninth-worst in the league.

The Nets roll men on the pick-and-roll were also in the bottom half of the NBA, averaging 0.95 PPP and shooting 47 percent on the pick-and-roll, below the league average in both categories (0.99 PPP and 49.5 percent shooting).

Kevin Garnett gives Williams another great pick-and-roll option

Both Garnett and Brook Lopez can hit the midrange shot and take it to the basket on any given play. However, in the pick-and-roll as the roll man, Lopez usually prefers to roll to the basket. Garnett likes to pop out for the midrange jump shot.

Lopez made 82 field goals as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, with 60 of those made field goals coming in the paint (49 were drives and finishes at the basket).

Garnett made 62 of his 103 field goals from the midrange and outside as the pop man on the pick-and-roll. In fact almost 39 percent of Garnett’s total makes were from 15 feet and outside last season.

Paul Pierce takes pressure off of Williams

Pierce gives the Nets an efficient option in the pick-and-roll to take the load off of Williams. Pierce averaged 0.97 PPP in pick-and-rolls (including passes), which ranked 26th in the NBA. That total was also slightly higher than Williams, who averaged 0.96 PPP.

As the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, Pierce had a better effective field goal percentage than Williams (49.3 percent to 45.6 percent) and turned the ball over at a lower rate (18.4 percent to 23 percent).

Pierce assisted on 24.5 percent of his teammates field goals last season, second only to LeBron James amongst forwards (min. 1,000 minutes played).

Is Parker the NBA's elite point guard?

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
11:19
AM ET
By Sunny Saini, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesTony Parker's 23.10 PER in the regular season was 3rd among PG (Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook).
In the Western Conference Finals against the Memphis Grizzlies, Tony Parker averaged 24.5 points per game, 9.5 assists and two steals while shooting 53.2 percent from the field. That's pretty impressive, considering the Grizzlies had the second-best defense during the regular season.

The series was highlighted by Parker’s career-high 18 assists in Game 2 and then in the series-clinching Game 4 Parker was 15-21 (71.4 percent) for 37 points to advance the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA Finals.

Parker has two games in the last five postseasons of at least 35 points and 70 percent shooting, and is the only point guard to have two of those games during that span.

Parker has led his team to the NBA Finals for the fourth time in his career. With his consistent success in the regular season, and especially in the postseason, you can make the case that he’s the best point guard in the NBA.

Consistent Winner

Since Parker made his NBA debut in 2001-02, he’s won three NBA championships and was named Finals MVP in 2006-07. Since 1990, Isiah Thomas, Chauncey Billups and Parker are the only point guards to win the Finals MVP.

Parker has also led the Spurs in scoring and assists for three consecutive seasons and five of the last eight seasons.

What's more, Parker has won 70 percent of the games he’s played in, including the playoffs, the best winning percentage among point guards during that span.

Scoring with the Best

Parker was tied with Chris Paul and Stephen Curry among point guards with 1.03 points per play (PPP) this season. What separated him was that he scored on 50.4 percent of his plays, which ranked him third behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant among perimeter players.

Parker’s Strengths

• Parker led the NBA in scoring off pick and rolls this season, with an average of 8.5 points per game.

• On pick and rolls which included Parker’s passes, he averaged 1.03 points per play, which ranked him third this season behind Paul and James.

• Parker led all NBA point guards this season with a 10.1 points per game average in the paint.

• In the Western Conference Finals, Parker drove to the basket 61 times in the half court and created 76 points for the Spurs. Parker had 17 assists when driving to the basket, and his teammates were 17-31 (54.8 percent) on those plays, including 9-16 (56.3 percent) on 3-point field goals.

The Spurs outscore their opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions when Parker is on the court but that drops to 2.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s off. That difference of 8.5 points per 100 possessions was more than Paul, Curry, Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams this season.

Noah backs up talk, puts up historic line

May, 5, 2013
5/05/13
12:31
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

AP Photo/Julio CortezJoakim Noah came up huge for the Bulls as they eliminate the Nets in Game 7
For the first time since Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round, the Chicago Bulls won a “winner-take-all” game on the road. It is the first time the Bulls won a Game 7 on the road in franchise history going 0-6 previously.

The Brooklyn Nets failed in their attempt to become the ninth team in NBA history to win a series after falling behind three games to one. The Nets fall to 0-2 all-time in Game 7s and have not won a playoff series since 2007.

What went right for Bulls?
Joakim Noah talked the talk and then walked the walk. After Chicago’s Game 6 loss Noah said, “We're going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn and we're going to win."

Noah made certain of that with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Considering his foot injury, it was a heroic and historic performance. Read on for more on where that stat line stands among the all-time greats below.

Noah had a series high 1.33 points per play and shot 71 percent from the field Saturday.

With Kirk Hinrich out, Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler came up big. Belinelli poured in a playoff career-high 24 points. Butler played the entire game and was stellar defensively – holding Deron Williams to 4-11 FG and Joe Johnson to 0-5 FG when they were matched up.

What went wrong for Nets?
Miguel Cabrera
Johnson
Johnson – who had several clutch moments during the regular season – went ice cold. Johnson scored just six points, missing 12 of his 14 shots.

The Nets never led in the game - trailing by as many as 17 points, but they were able to cut the deficit to single-digits for most of the last quarter-and-a-half.

Johnson’s struggles were part of the reason Brooklyn couldn’t complete the comeback. After an alley-oop dunk at the 6:37 mark in third, he missed his last seven shots of the game, six of them coming from beyond the arc.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Game
Noah became the first player with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Game 7 win since Kevin Garnett in 2004. In fact since blocks became official in 1973-74 the only ones to reach those numbers in a Game 7 win besides Noah and Garnett are Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing and Elvin Hayes.

Nets find openings inside to extend series

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
11:31
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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The Nets took advantage of opportunities in Game 5.

The Brooklyn Nets won Game 5 by the same formula that worked for them in their series-opening win against the Chicago Bulls.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Nets staved off elimination.

Key Player: Deron Williams had it much easier vs Nate Robinson
With Kirk Hinrich out of the lineup in Game 5, Nate Robinson drew the start and was the primary defender on Deron Williams. Williams was 6-for-10 shooting and scored 19 of his 23 points when guarded by Robinson in Game 4.

Williams shot 33.3% (13 of 39) when guarded by Hinrich the first four games of the series.

Williams joins Jason Kidd as the only Nets player in last 25 seasons with multiple 20-point, 10-rebound games in single postseason.

The Bulls are 41-23 when Hinrich plays this season and 7-16 when he doesn’t.

When Nets score in paint, they win
The Nets scored 54 points in the paint in Game 5 and have now eclipsed 50 paint points in both of their wins against the Bulls this series. They shot 67 percent in the paint in those two games.

In the three losses, the Nets have averaged 36.7 paint points in regulation time and shot 51 percent in the paint for the game

By the Brook
Brook Lopez finished with a career playoff-high 28 points. He’s scored 20 points or more in all five games in this series, the longest streak by a Nets player since Vince Carter had eight straight 20-point games in 2007.

Key stat: Second-Chance Points
The Bulls allowed 24 second-chance points to the Nets in Game 5. That’s the most second-chance points allowed by the Bulls in a game this season.

Keep this in mind as the Bulls head home
The Bulls have never been forced to a Game 7 in the dozen previous instances in which they led a best-of-7 series by a 3-1 margin. They won in five games eight times and won in six games the four other occasions.

The Bulls loss did keep this stat intact: They have not won four straight games (or lost four straight) at any point this season.

Deron Williams, Nets are more efficient

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
1:39
PM ET
By Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Deron Williams (right) has improved his play since P.J. Carlesimo took over.
With their 113-106 win Tuesday over the Toronto Raptors, the Brooklyn Nets, winners of a season-high seven straight and nine of 10, continue their climb up the standings and are within two games of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. At 23-15, the Nets are a season-high eight games over .500, a mark they haven’t reached since finishing the 2005-06 season 49-33.

This recent surge came on the heels of the December 27 coaching change, when Avery Johnson was dismissed and replaced with interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo’s 9-1 start on Brooklyn’s sidelines marks the second-best 10-game start by a Nets head coach. Lawrence Frank began 10-0 after replacing Byron Scott during the 2003-04 season.

Brooklyn is also the only undefeated NBA team in the new year, with each win during their current seven-game win streak coming since January 1.

OFFENSE
The Nets’ improvement has primarily been on the offensive end, averaging 102.9 points in 10 games under Carlesimo. In 28 games under Johnson they averaged just 94.5 points and ranked 19th in field-goal percentage (43.8) in that span.

Brooklyn is first in the league offensive efficiency since Carlesimo took over, averaging 111.2 points per 100 possessions.

Six of the team’s 13 100-point games have come during Carlesimo's 10-game tenure, including a season-high 115 points in a win against the Wizards on Janaury 4.

REBOUNDING
Another weak spot that Brooklyn has turned into a strength is its work on the boards. The Nets have become one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, outrebounding opponents in six of their past seven games.

Under Carlesimo, the Nets have outrebounded their opponents by an average of 5.6 per game -- only the Pacers, Pistons and Hornets have posted better rebound differentials in that span. They’ve also grabbed more than 53 percent of available rebounds, the fourth-highest mark in that time frame.

DERON WILLIAMS
Point guard Deron Williams has seen his offensive numbers improve under Carlesimo, mainly his jump shooting.

Williams struggled to start the season, shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and under 30 percent from beyond the arc in his first 27 games.

Since then, the three-time All-Star is shooting just under 45 percent and better than 42 percent from three-point range, and his Player Efficiency Rating is more than five points higher than it was under Johnson.

The Nets will aim for their eighth consecutive win Wednesday in Atlanta against the Hawks -- they can tie the Grizzlies for the third-longest win streak in the NBA this season.

Nets core issues cost Johnson

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
5:24
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Avery Johnson, Deron Williams and the Nets were just .500 when Johnson was fired as head coach.
A promising November gave way to a disastrous December for the Brooklyn Nets, as not only did the team go 3-10, but its three wins all came against teams with losing records. The net result was Avery Johnson losing his job, but the underlying statistical reasons for the Nets disappointing start are many and encompass all facets of the game -- offense, defense and personnel.

The recent narrative for the Nets has been a lack of offensive execution, as both Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace have voiced concerns with the offense. The team does rank second-to-last in the NBA in pace but its true shooting percentage stayed consistent -- 52.5 percent in November, 52.6 percent in December.

The biggest change has come on the defensive end -- the team was ninth in opponents points per 100 possessions in November (100.0) and 28th in December (108.6).

The offense isn’t completely off the hook, though. Under Johnson, the Nets experienced the biggest drop-off in offensive efficiency, field goal percentage and rebound percentage between the first and second half of any team in the NBA this season. They've lost a league-leading six games this season in which they led by at least 13 points.

But the real issue with this team might not be coaching or offensive philosophy, but rather the personnel on the court. The Nets invested heavily in the Williams-Joe Johnson-Brook Lopez-Wallace core, and it simply has not lived up to its billing this season.

Williams, the franchise cornerstone, is putting up his lowest Player Efficiency Rating (17.1) and lowest assist-per-40-minutes marks (8.7) since his rookie season of 2005-06, and his field goal percentage (39.8) would be the lowest of his career.

Of the 151 players who are averaging at least 25 minutes per game this season, Williams (52nd), Lopez (74th), Johnson (83rd) and Wallace (87th) all rank outside the top 50 in Win Shares. Lopez has missed seven of the team’s 28 games, including six in December during which the Nets went 1-5. Meanwhile, Wallace has scored in single digits more times (10) than he’s scored 20 or more (2).

Is it possible this isn’t just a bad system fit or small sample size, but rather players in decline? Joe Johnson’s current PER of 13.6 is nearly five points lower than his mark last season and would be his lowest since 2002-03. Wallace’s PER is on a much more sustained nosedive, going from 18.6 to 18.3 to 16.2 to 15.9 to 14.6 since the 2008-09 season.

But perhaps most alarming of all is the multi-season shooting decline from Williams, who has seen his true shooting percentage drop from 59.5 in 2007-08 – which ranked tied for 29th in the NBA that season – to 51.6 this season, good for T-188th.

Avery Johnson and the expectations game

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
3:28
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn 28 games this season, Avery Johnson couldn't point the Nets in the right direction.

The buzzards had been circling in Brooklyn over Avery Johnson for the better part of two weeks. After finishing November at 11-4, the team has dropped to 14-14 and sits at .500 in an Eastern Conference where any team worth its salt should be winning more than it's losing. Not satisfied with their level of saltiness and with the losses piling up, the Nets dismissed head coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, with P.J. Carlesimo serving as head coach in an interim capacity.

Public expressions of discontent are among the surest signs of trouble for a head coach, and those voices had grown increasingly audible in recent days. Less than half an hour after the Nets' dispiriting loss to Boston on Christmas Day, Brett Yormark tweeted, "Nets fans deserved better today. The entire organization needs to work harder to find the solution. We will get there."

Late Wednesday night in Milwaukee, where Brooklyn, without Deron Williams, looked terrible in a 108-93 loss to the Bucks, Gerald Wallace let loose: "It seems like guys are content with the situation that we are in, and I'm f------ pissed off about us losing, especially losing the way we are losing."

While Yormack's remarks were general, and Wallace's were targeted at teammates, point guard Deron Williams was more explicit 10 days ago when he cited what he saw as flaws in the Nets' offensive schemes as the major symptom. Williams waxed nostalgic for Jerry Sloan's flex system, praising the constant motion that facilitated an easy offensive flow, a direct jab at Johnson (and one laced with irony given Williams' grouchiness in Salt Lake City). Meanwhile, Knicks guard Jason Kidd -- not exactly Avery Johnson's biggest champion in Dallas -- challenged Williams' premise: "I don’t think it has anything to do with the coach ... I think it’s just a matter of getting comfortable making shots."

Almost every NBA team has a degree of internal rivalries and grumbling. But the Nets aren't your average NBA team in your average NBA market with an average set of expectations. In New York, the light bulbs flash brighter, the microphones are larger, the media pricklier and the fans are always restless.

That's all true whether or not a franchise is coasting or, in the case of the Nets, has drawn up some of the most aggressive designs for organizational renovation the NBA has ever seen. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has no qualms about the Nets sitting in tax territory for the immediate future. They handed both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez the max, absorbed Joe Johnson's enormous contract and shelled out big money for Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries.

Big payroll aside, the optics -- and Oculus -- loom large. The Nets play in the most ambitious arena built in North America in decades, a building into which Prokhorov invested heavily. And they also have a formidable measuring stick across the East River in Manhattan. Although the Nets weren't exactly looking to take a large bite of the Knicks' market share so much as expand the base of NBA fanhood in the city, the Knicks' rosy success so far has cast an imposing shadow. Had the Knicks fallen flat, both teams could've bunked together in New York Fan and Media Jail. Instead, the Nets have the entire joint to themselves (though they share a wall with New York's pro football teams).

How much of this is Avery Johnson's fault? That depends on how much you believe player performance is dependent on coaching. If you're Avery Johnson's son, an admittedly partial source, the onus falls on the players. Soon after the firing was announced Thursday, the younger Johnson tweeted, "I'm sorry are best players couldn't make open shots. Yeah that's my dads fault totally..."

The kid has a point. Is it Johnson's fault Deron Williams has missed 166 shots outside the paint this season for a ghastly effective field goal percentage of 41 percent from that range? Is it on Johnson that Williams, while not altogether wrong about the contours of the offense, couldn't do what max point guards do -- wield his exceptional individual talent to make the system work?

In recent days, Johnson has ripped several pages from the Utah playbook, installing some tried-and-true flex actions -- baseline screens for cutters who move directly into the next off-ball screen. The results were mixed, but for all the talk about an underachieving offense -- and the Nets have most certainly failed to maximize their assets on that end of the floor -- the team has lost a lot of basketball games in December because it fields the NBA's 10th-worst defense.

When Johnson was in Dallas coaching the elite Mavericks teams of the mid-2000s, "42" was one of his mantras, as in success for his team would be measured in large part by the defense's ability to hold the opposition to a field goal percentage of less than 42 percent. Only a handful of teams are able to accomplish that more times than not, but the Nets are rarely one of them.

It's difficult to assess to what extent Johnson's coverages are at fault. Lopez's skills as a pick-and-roll defender are remedial (his Synergy stats indicate proficiency, but they don't account for demands Lopez places on baseline and top-side rotators). Johnson's menu of options at power forward don't leave him much to work with. Wallace is active, while Johnson has size, but Williams has never demonstrated the instincts or commitment of a quality defender on the ball (though he'll body up in the post).

Schemes and strategies aside, the assignment of blame is one of the trickier exercises in pro sports, because everyone orders the list of NBA coaching responsibilities. Some NBA players want a guy who they can trust, others don't care so long as they get minutes, while others simply just want a friendly workplace where the boss isn't up in their face all day long.

For management and ownership, those aforementioned expectations are everything, especially this season in Brooklyn. Putting an inferior product on the floor, getting embarrassed on national television, crossfire in the tabloids -- it just can't happen. And from the perspective of most owners and managers, maintaining morale ranks just behind winning as the top deliverable for an NBA coach.

Intelligent people can disagree about whether the Nets spent their money well, or whether general manager Billy King has good taste in basketball players, or whether Williams is a coach-killer, or whether it's the coach's job to horse-whisper a temperamental floor general just as the player has the responsibility to do what he can with the coach's system.

But Prokhorov isn't going anywhere, and King has furnished the roster with enough paper tigers to deflect blame (for the time being) and the contracts on the team's books aren't very movable.

That left one remaining party, the guy sitting in the first chair on the bench -- the loneliest seat in basketball.

 

Monday Bullets

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
2:40
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Pop Quiz: Who is the NBA's leader in corner-3 accuracy (minimum of 30 attempts)? (A) Paul George (B) Ray Allen (C) Wes Matthews (D) Shane Battier (E) Klay Thompson. You'll find the correct answer is at the bottom of the post.
  • Dwight Howard says there are moments when he can't feel his feet.
  • Kevin Draper of The Diss discusses how Blake Griffin has used the KIA campaign as an effective platform for elevating his public persona with a light, self-deprecating touch.
  • Jordan Heimer of ClipperBlog and The Clippers Podcast on Blake Griffin, Season Three: "After routinely being described last year as a WWE heel, Griffin has hugely reduced his expressive commentary, limiting his smirks, stare downs and incredulous hand gestures. He seems more content to let his game speak for him; even when calls don’t go his way, it no longer seems to distract him the way it did in the past. Tonight, after Shannon Brown sent him sprawling into the baseline photographers on the fast break, Blake skipped the scowling, untangled himself quickly and sank both free-throws."
  • Noam Schiller of Magic Basketball on Tracy McGrady's historic 2002-03 season: "The man was the beginning, middle and end of everything the Magic did. The raw numbers (32.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, and 5.5 assists per game) and the advanced stats (a PER of 30.3, one of just 8 players to cross the 30 threshold, and a True Shooting percentage of 56.4 percent) are mind-blowing even without the YouTube archives. It had to be watched to be believed. He was a unique combination of other-worldly athleticism and every single skill the basketball court offers."
  • The Nets' offense reside in the top half of the league, but they're not maximizing their potential. Deron Williams says the absence of a coherent system like the one he ran in Utah is a factor. Rob Mahoney of The Point Forward: "Some initial success (and an early run to an 11-4 record) helped disguise the stagnation of Avery Johnson’s offense, but so far Brooklyn has lived and died by the limits of isolation basketball. Whether enabling center Brook Lopez in the post or guard Joe Johnson on the wing, the Nets’ sets have been rudimentary and clear in their intention: Players like Williams get the ball to a specific place with few programmed alternatives, and a shot attempt is manufactured from that player leveraging some perceived advantage in a one-on-one matchup. That approach has helped Lopez post a career high in field-goal percentage and points per minute, but also worn on the patience of a point guard accustomed to the continuity in movement of the flex offense. But couched in Williams’ quote-slinging is another complicating factor: The max-contract point guard tabbed to usher in a new era of Nets basketball is having essentially the worst season of his eight-year career."
  • Populating a roster with good guys, as the Wizards did this past offseason, doesn't guarantee harmony. Here's what Nene told NBA.com's David Aldridge: "When you play with confidence, and you're together, it's different ... You feel, you know your teammates know you, and you give your best. But right here, right now, it's the opposite. Total opposite ... Because people have no respect for the game ... They think this opportunity's nothing right now. That's the problem with the young guys. They don't take advantage of being in the NBA, the best basketball in the world. A lot of young guys want to be in their position. But right here, I don't think they realize that."
  • Avery Bradley is close to returning for the Celtics. Romy Nehme of 2 Girls, 1 Ball writes a paean to Bradley at Celtics Hub: "As Bradley’s return draws near(er), it’s funny to think about how the size of his body of work and impact seem somewhat incongruous; it also bears reminding fans that his surge from irrelevancy wasn’t some time lapse chronicling a player’s evolution over a year. It unfolded in real time, in little time, and documented a progression no one saw coming. At least I didn’t. It transformed Bradley from a specialist into someone who was now making roaming defenders pay with baseline cuts, fulfilling Rondo’s longings for an up-tempo companion and nailing corner 3s like he was #20."
  • Jason Gallagher of BallerBall polled NBA players over Twitter about their favorite Christmas movies. The results, with a little bit of vacillation from Corey Maggette.
  • On the agenda for several NBA players on Christmas Eve? Go-Go inspired D.C. rapper Wale's newly released mixtape, "Folarin."
  • If you don't have proper stemware this holiday season, you can always do what Shelden Williams does in a pinch -- drink your vino from an old spaghetti sauce jar.
Quiz answer: (B) Ray Allen, 58.3 percent (21 of 36)

Christmas primer: 10 questions for 10 teams

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
12:22
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Getty ImagesWorking on Christmas: Deron Williams, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

A third of the NBA will be in action on Christmas Day, as fans will be treated to 14 consecutive hours of basketball featuring the league's top four teams and seven leading scorers. For those who make the Christmas quintupleheader their first real look at the NBA season, here's a handy guide to some of the league's more compelling storylines:

Can Deron Williams lead Brooklyn where it wants to go?
Deron Williams isn’t wrong when he says that the Brooklyn Nets run nothing as fluid as the flex offense he guided as the Jazz’s point guard. But Brooklyn’s roster isn’t endowed with the collective skill set those Utah teams had, and the absence of an orderly system doesn’t explain why Williams has taken 241 shots outside the paint, for a terrible 40.7 effective field goal percentage.

Williams might argue that a good number of those attempts are hand grenades he finds himself with at the end of wayward possessions, but if he truly wants the Nets to improve upon their 11th-ranked offense, Williams will have to create his own flow. With some prompting from Williams, Gerald Wallace could make some devastating flex cuts, and Joe Johnson can space, post and pass better than any wing Williams ever had in Salt Lake City.

Williams has real assets in Brooklyn, and a point guard with his talent shouldn’t need an orthodox system to play systematic basketball.

Can the Boston Celtics re-establish their defensive bite?
Boston hasn’t had a top-10 offense since 2008-09, but its elite defense has kept it in the conversation every spring. The Celtics are still loading up on the ball handler while zoning up the weak side. And they’re still stymieing high ball screens at the point of attack while asking rotating defenders to take away everything but sketchy corner passes and long 2-pointers for guys who have no business shooting them.

This season, offenses are having an easier time generating open looks. When you watch the film, the incriminating evidence isn’t glaring. This is still a comparatively efficient defense (11th overall) practicing those same principles, and the familiar cycle of movements is there, but point guards whom the Celtics used to send to remote outposts on the floor are finding their way to the middle. That old Celtics swarm doesn’t cause the same disruption it once did, which means offenses have more available options on the floor.

Defensive systems take time to master, and it’s possible everyone will achieve the level of fluency necessary. The Celtics should hope so, because the team’s margin for improvement probably lies on that end of the floor.

Are the New York Knicks for real?
This is the single biggest conversation starter heading into Christmas Day for casual NBA fans, League Pass junkies, NBA players, coaches and execs alike -- and trying to solve the mystery will trigger a whole series of associated questions:

Has Anthony’s game undergone a profound evolution at the power forward slot, or is the uptick in production largely attributable to eight weeks of hot, but unsustainable shooting? How do you integrate Amar’e Stoudemire back into the rotation after the team forged a strong identity without him? And if your plan is to confine him to a much smaller role, how exactly do you break that to him without the risk of killing the good vibe around the team? Is the defense (ranked 17th) strong enough around Tyson Chandler for the Knicks to have championship expectations?

When the Knicks were horrendous, there was a school of opinion that said the NBA would be much more interesting if New York had a relevant NBA team. Those in that camp were correct.

How close are the Los Angeles Lakers to a breakthrough?
The Lakers now have their four stars on the floor together for the first time since October. Let's say they hold their home court against the Knicks on Tuesday. And let’s say Dwight Howard continues to build strength, as does the defense. And the offense, already ranked fifth in efficiency, starts operating as the lethal machine it was designed to be. And the wins start to pile up.

That’s an entirely conceivable chain of events, but it’s no lock, either. The Lakers still feature a core of players who like to work with the basketball operating in a system that prefers they pass or shoot instantly. Success will require some compromise, but any offensive philosophical differences will likely resolve themselves -- there’s too much talent. The Lakers’ prospects hinge primarily on a willingness to play defense. Howard didn’t have any perimeter stoppers in front of him in Orlando, but anchored a top defensive unit. The Lakers can play that brand of defense if Howard is up to the task, the other starters and the coaching staff apply their wits, and the second unit makes guarding opponents its mission.

If those scenarios shake out and the Lakers are playing some of the best basketball in the league headed into the All-Star break, does the early-season turmoil get summarily dismissed as old news?

How many different ways can Kevin Durant score?
It’s unlikely this Oklahoma City Thunder team will ever develop a brand-name offense, but when Kevin Durant is as dialed in as he has been this season, structure seems almost quaint.

High-usage wing players like Durant are not supposed to post true shooting percentages in the 65 range. Michael Jordan exceeded 60 percent four times and Larry Bird topped the 60 percent mark twice, but both maxed out around 61 percent. And LeBron James’ career-high mark of 60.5 percent came last season.

Durant this season? 65.4 percent.

He quietly has become one of the most brutal post assignments in the game from either side of the floor. He’s getting more separation than ever on curls and pin-downs, working in some sneaky misdirection like a wide receiver running a route. When he’s off the ball, he’s looking more than ever to slip beneath the defense for easy feeds at the rim. And he’s drawing more contact than ever off the dribble.

Durant has never displayed anything but maximum effort on the floor, but did close proximity to a title this past June ignite something more visceral in his game?

Do the Miami Heat have anything serious to be concerned about?
Size up front? As NBA worries go, that’s so retrograde. Nobody cares anymore if the heaviest guy in the rotation is 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, least of all the Heat, who won a title in June flouting convention.

The defense was another story as recently as a few weeks ago, when narcolepsy was the Heat’s preferred defensive strategy in the half court. Were the issues systemic or did Erik Spoelstra just need to shuffle the rotation?

Shane Battier returned from injury and Joel Anthony returned from exile just as the Heat were being embarrassed on their home floor by the Knicks. In the seven games since -- the only seven games both Battier and Anthony logged double-digit minutes -- the Heat have posted a defensive efficiency rating of 96.0. Only Indiana’s top-ranked defense has been better over the course of the season (95.7).

There are other factors at work, of course. The Heat are a high-risk, high-reward defensive outfit with a license to gamble, but guys were abusing the privilege and calculating risk without care. Now, James and Dwyane Wade are locked in, and that string the Heat are so fond of referencing as the connective tissue of their defense is taut once again.

Are the Houston Rockets figuring things out?
So this is what it’s like to have a pure playmaker at the top of the floor who can get a shot off against constant pressure anywhere between the rim and 26 feet?

How strong has James Harden been in this regard? Of the Rockets’ top eight in minutes played, he’s the only one whose player efficiency rating is above league average, yet the Rockets come into Christmas Day with the league’s seventh-ranked offense.

There’s little magic to the Rockets’ offensive formula. The priorities, in descending order, are as follows: (1-2-3) transition; (4) quick-hitters for Harden if he can find a modicum of space off a drag screen, or for others if Harden can leverage the attention of the defense; (5) a more deliberate high pick-and-roll for Jeremy Lin, and by deliberate we mean with 15 seconds on the shot clock rather than 19; (6) fast, easy ways to free up shooters -- flare screens courtesy of Omer Asik, or pin-downs set by little guys for big guys who can shoot.

Next item on the agenda: Protecting the basket area and picking up shooters early -- two hazards of playing at a breakneck pace the Rockets haven’t yet figured out.

Can the Chicago Bulls manufacture enough offense?
When discussing how the Bulls try to score without Derrick Rose, manufacture is more descriptive than metaphoric. It’s a laborious process being managed by diligent guys with limited skills but strong work ethics. But as a viewer, it’s like watching the factory floor at a cannery.

Try as Tom Thibodeau might to create open space in the half court with cuts and constant motion, he simply has nobody on the floor who can find an easy shot in isolation or pressure a defense by bursting off a screen (let alone, driving away from one the way Rose does more artfully than anyone). Defenses never have to make any tough decisions when the ball is in the hands of Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli or Jimmy Butler, and that makes every possession a grind.

On the bright side, the Bulls make life similarly difficult for everyone else, which is how a team wins nine out of 13 with the parking break on. That’s the beautiful thing about an air-tight defensive system: The principles work irrespective of personnel. So if the Bulls can hang on in the meantime, and Rose can return as Rose, Chicago is going to be a nightmarish spring matchup for an Eastern Conference foe.

Will the Denver Nuggets ever have a homestand?
The most consecutive games they’ve played at home this season is two -- and the Nuggets have done that only once through 28 games. Are their white jerseys on back order? Is the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver undergoing chemical fumigation? Are they finally installing reliable Internet in that building, a process that requires a complete rewiring of the place?

Whatever the case, the Nuggets find themselves on someone else’s floor on Christmas night. Their 15-13 record might suggest the league made a programming error, but when you consider the home-road split, the Nuggets just might be the sleeping giants in the West. When the calendar turns on New Year’s Day, the Nuggets will play 15 of their next 18 games at home, where they’re 8-1.

With the defense showing signs of life, Andre Iguodala gradually adapting to his more open living space and the Nuggets gobbling up their own misses at unseemly rates, this team could quietly vault itself into the upper ranks of the West simply by playing quality basketball at home.

Is Vinny Del Negro smarter than everyone?
Junkies will continue to scratch their heads when Willie Green is announced as the Clippers’ starting shooting guard, and the playbook might never be put behind a glass display in Springfield, Mass., but you think the 21-6 Los Angeles Clippers care?

Del Negro’s approach has been simple: a few very basic offensive precepts, plenty of freedom for Chris Paul, trust in a second unit that could probably win 48 games as a starting five and a few tried-and-true sets that maximize Blake Griffin on the left block and Paul as a prober. Most of all: manage expectations and let Paul be the guy. If that means letting him sculpt the offense or playing Green to start the first and third because Paul wants it that way, so be it. Del Negro believes that leading is often a task in deference, and he isn’t about to muck things up with a heavy hand when a light touch will do.

If the defense were mushy and the Clippers were still dropping games they shouldn’t, the discussion might be different. But the Clippers have established some simple coverages the young bigs have mastered, and they’re rarely finding themselves in the sort of end-of-game chess matches that challenge a team’s tactical prowess. The day will come when a Gregg Popovich is strolling the opposing sideline, and that will be the true test. In the interim, keep things light.

Shot-chart stories: Jennings, Williams, Bulls

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
12:40
AM ET
By Evan Kaplan, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Brandon Jennings connects from deep
Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings tied his season-high with seven made field goals from at least 15 feet in his 34-point effort in Tuesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers.
Over his previous six games Jennings was shooting only 27 percent from 15 feet and beyond and was averaging 0.73 points per field goal attempt on those shots.

But Tuesday he was 7-for-12 from that distance and cashed in at a rate of 1.33 points per field goal attempt.

Jennings is now shooting 39 percent for the season from 15 feet and beyond, which if maintained for the rest of the season would be the best rate for his career. He shot 35 percent from that distance last season.

Williams still not comfortable
Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams fell to 0-3 in meetings against his former team, the Utah Jazz. Williams was 5-for-12 from the field for 14 points in a two-point loss.

Williams spoke Monday about his lack of comfort in the Nets offense. Part of the reason he is struggling this season is his outside shooting.

Williams was 0-for-3 from the 3-point line and 2-for-8 (25.0 percent) from 10 feet and beyond on Tuesday. He is shooting 29 percent from the 3-point line and 32 percent from at least 10 feet this season, both of which would be career-lows if maintained for a full season.

Among players that have taken at least 100 shots from 10 feet or longer this season, Williams ranks in the bottom 10 percent in the NBA in field-goal percentage.

Bulls good enough in the paint
The Chicago Bulls outscored the Boston Celtics 48-36 in the paint in Tuesday’s win.

The Bulls are 9-3 this season when scoring more paint points than their opponent.

Of those 24 Bulls field goals noted above, 22 were from inside five feet, one shy of their season high.

They did so against a Celtics defense that has been vulnerable. Boston has allowed 100+ pts in each of its last four games, matches its longest streak this season

Jrue Holiday emerging as elite point guard

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
5:52
PM ET
By Sunny Saini
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireJrue Holiday (left) and the 76ers will face Rajon Rondo (right) and the Celtics on ESPN Friday night.
Jrue Holiday might be ready to insert his name into the list of elite point guards in the NBA.

Holiday, who will lead the Philadelphia 76ers into their division matchup with the Boston Celtics on Friday (ESPN, 7 ET) is averaging career highs in points per game (18.2), assists per game (9.3) and player efficiency rating (18.5) this season.

If he keeps up this pace of 18 points and nine assists per game, he would be one of four players since 2000 to have those averages along with Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Deron Williams.

Even though Holiday is leading the NBA in turnovers with more than four per game, the 76ers as a team have the second-lowest turnover percentage (12.6). With a career-high usage rate percentage of 26, the turnovers are expected to be high. At his current averages, Holiday would join Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas (1986-87) and Magic Johnson (1988-89) as the only players with 18 points, nine assists and four turnovers per game for a season.

No team is dependent on one player to create their offense as much as the 76ers are on Holiday. He has been responsible for 43 percent of his team’s total points this season, which leads the NBA. The “points responsible for” statistic includes offense generated from assists and points scored.

Holiday also leads the NBA in efficiency on isolation plays with a points-per-play average of 1.17 (minimum 30 plays), up from .89 last season.

Holiday is creating high-percentage opportunities for himself and his teammates. Last season he had a 47 effective field goal percentage (gives extra weight to 3-pointers) on isolation plays. This season he’s at 59 percent.

The pick-and-roll is a big part of every point guard’s repertoire to go along with isolations. Holiday is no different, as 59 percent of his offense either comes from the pick-and-roll or isolations, compared to last season when 46 percent of his offense came from those plays.

With high usage rate in those play types Holiday has made drastic improvement in his shooting percentage from 42 percent last season to 46 this season on pick-and-rolls and isolations.

The 76ers are 10-8 without a single former All-Star active on their roster. Key offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum is still not healthy enough to suit up. However, Holiday almost singlehandedly has kept the 76ers in the playoff hunt.

It will be interesting to see how Holiday fares with a national audience against a superstar point guard, Rajon Rondo, who is also top five in points responsible for and leads the league in assists at nearly 13 per game.

Olympic quarterfinals big-game performers

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
1:03
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Welcome to the knockout phase of the Olympic basketball event.

The NBA game affords teams a two-week chess match in each playoff round, during which a team can slip up, adjust, then eventually figure it out. That's not the case in London, where one stink bomb can send home the most talented teams and individual performers licking their wounds.

On Wednesday, the elimination tournament got under way, with standout performances from some likely -- and unlikely -- competitors.

United States 119, Australia 86

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LeBron James, United States
The line speaks for itself: 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists, zero turnovers. But as impressive as the numbers are, the dramatic sequences are the real treat. Just one example from the second half: James chased down Patty Mills in transition, neutralizing the shot as he's done so many times. Chaos reigned for an instant, then James made the open-floor assist to Kevin Love on the ensuing break. Olympic play with elite teammates suits James well. We rarely saw him in isolation on Wednesday. Instead, James kept one eye on the ball and the other fixed on the defense. When a teammate such as Carmelo Anthony got the ball at the elbow, James zipped across the baseline, diverting the defense's attention, creating space for all five Americans.

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Deron Williams, United States
Williams has the speed to attack and the strength to absorb almost any kind of contact. The Nets guard propelled the Americans in the first half, during which they never found a flow but were still able to manufacture a considerable lead. In a larger sense, Williams functioned as a security blanket for Team USA, a player they could rely on to maximize possessions. He scored 18 points, seven of which came at the stripe, and another six materialized after he found real estate to spot up behind the arc.

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Kobe Bryant, United States
Bryant’s visit to London hasn’t come without its trials. Has Coach K been resting him, or does Bryant’s latter-day, back-'em-down game not conform to the rhythms of Team USA? Challenges require adjustments and at some point in the second half, Bryant decided he’d be a 3-point specialist. It was a Whitman’s Sampler of treats -- pull-up jumpers in transition, catch-and-shoot, ball-faking grenades. He finished 6-for-10 from beyond the arc for 20 points -- all of them in the second half.

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Joe Ingles, Australia
Patty Mills led the Boomers in scoring, but Ingles was their most valuable player with 19 points (6-for-8 from the field) and eight rebounds. The 6-foot-8 forward showed off his one-on-one game and a nice toolshed of skills. He put a scare into the Americans with a step-back 3-pointer to cap Australia’s 11-0 run to start the second half. It's not all stretch, either. Ingles sprints the floor and he makes sneaky back cuts off the ball. At times, he found himself with unenviable task of guarding James and, occasionally, Kevin Durant one-on-one. He dug in, swallowed hard, but never backed away from the assignment.


Argentina 82, Brazil 77

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Manu Ginobili, Argentina
Split, show, go, absorb, contort, finish -- repeat. Ginobili has been applying this formula for years, and Argentina’s 82-77 win over Brazil on Wednesday was merely his latest exhibition. It wasn’t all showmanship for Manu. He willingly mixed it up with the big guys beneath the glass, snagging eight rebounds to accompany his 16 points. Ginobili strategically chose his spots. Seeing that teammates Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino had their shots going early, Ginobili worked off the ball to create even more space for the forwards to find space for those jumpers. Overall, Wednesday was just another savvy performance from a player who has set the standard for international competition.

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Luis Scola, Argentina
Scola had one of the tougher matchups of the quarterfinals in Tiago Splitter, but managed to find just enough space to launch that patented face-up jumper. Scola isn't the quickest guy on the floor, but he was always willing to move along the baseline and to the top of the key to find that spot. When Brazil’s defense forced him into an extended isolation possession in the first half, Scola went to work and ultimately drained a hook over Splitter. Quickness will ignite spurts at this level, but there's no substitute for skills. Scola's team-high 17 points was an apt demonstration of that.

Huertas
Marcelinho Huertas, Brazil
The Brazilian point guard couldn't buy a shot from long range during group play, but he was unconscionable in the first quarter, launching off-balanced bombs off his right foot. That wasn't all. Huertas also demonstrated some textbook pure-point moments. In the open court, Huertas hit Splitter when the big man had the good sense to sprint to the rim in transition. Once Argentina began to body up on him 25 feet from the basket, Huertas evolved into a creator. Splitter returned that earlier favor when Huertas made a smart basket dive down the gut of the lane to catch the ball on the move from his big man. Observing Huertas match up against Pablo Prigioni was like watching a couple of samurais with their swords drawn, waiting for the other to make the first move. Down the stretch, Leandro Barbosa would assume the role of fearless sniper for Brazil, which almost managed to forge an upset but ultimately fell short.

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Andres Nocioni, Argentina
To emphasize how nasty Nocioni was to play against, a veteran NBA starter said that the Argentine's irritating style once had the notoriously mellow Josh Childress ready to fight him. Nocioni's feistiness was critical for Argentina, especially with the Brazilians fighting back in the fourth quarter. Nocioni was his usual, detail-oriented self. As insurance, he followed a teammate's breakaway opportunity, and ultimately got paid with a putback when the layup wouldn't go down. A couple of minutes later, Nocioni had Brazil's Alex Garcia hearing footsteps on the break and, go figure, Brazil failed to convert. On offense, Nocioni never held the ball for long, but always advanced it to a guy with a pretty good look. During an important possession at about the 3-minute mark, Nocioni cleverly deked Guilherme Giovannoni with hesitation to create a driving lane, then muscled up the shot at the rim against Nene. He contested rebounds under both baskets to preserve possessions for his team. The all-purpose pest finished with 12 points (5-for-7 from the field), six rebounds and at least a dozen shoves, bumps and dirty tricks that helped his team.

Carlos Delfino also deserves consideration at this spot. His 14 first-half points paced the Argentinians as Delfino used Ray Allen-like misdirection along the baseline to flare out to the perimeter for clean looks.

Spain 66, France 59
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Pau Gasol, Spain
The Spaniards won this game on the glass and at the stripe. Looking at the former area, the elder Gasol was the key. In only 23 minutes, Gasol gobbled up 11 boards (that’s 19 rebounds per 40 minutes if you’re scoring at home) to go with 14 points.

Although he wasn’t dominant, Gasol made himself a true triple threat. He’s never lacked for passing and shooting, but on Wednesday he wasn’t bashful about putting the ball on the floor or pressuring France in the post. When double-teams arrived, Gasol found shooters like Juan Carlos Navarro for open 3-pointers. But Pau’s most graceful play of the contest came when he delivered a gentle touch pass to his brother Marc, who finished on the move with a layup that gave Spain a five-point lead with 45.3 seconds remaining.
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Boris Diaw, France
France’s offense was supposed to be fueled by Tony Parker’s speed; instead, it was guided by Diaw’s vision. When he operates as a point forward, the French offense hums with elegance. Diaw did some damage from long range, but it was even more affirming to see him bounce a pass in traffic underneath to a young guy like Kevin Seraphin, who needs to establish his confidence. Later, Diaw fired a skip pass to Nicolas Batum that resulted in a badly needed 3-pointer as France's offense was grinding to a standstill. And how about that drive, then up-and-under, switching hands to finish strong with his left? Later in the third quarter, Diaw impressed with a runner through the teeth of the Spanish defense. Diaw finished with game-highs in points (15), assists (5) and 3-pointers (3-of-6), and led his team in rebounds (8). A noble performance in a disappointing loss.
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Marc Gasol, Spain
The younger Gasol put his signature on Spain’s win with his defense. He presided as the gatekeeper of the baseline, constantly shutting down penetration from the corners. He gave up nothing in the post against a French team that couldn’t generate anything inside. Offensively, Gasol did nothing fancy with the ball except what must have been his most satisfying moment: Big bro pinned two French defenders to allow Marc to float out to the top of the arc for a big 3-pointer, a silky-smooth shot that gave Spain a 41-37 lead in the third quarter.

Russia 83, Lithuania 74
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Andrei Kirilenko, Russia
The veteran continues to make his case as the most complete player in London. The stat line suggests as much (19 points, 13 boards, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks), but Kirilenko's overall impact in Russia's 83-74 win over Lithuania far transcends the numbers. AK is one of the stealthiest big guys around, not only defensively but also in the confines of Russia's offense. His checklist spans from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.

Not a one-on-one player? Baloney. Did you see that left-handed dribble drive in the second quarter? Too unassertive to thrive in the post? Not a chance, as he repeatedly looked for an advantage on the block. He found teammates from the top of the floor as Russia's high-low facilitator and thrived in the open court as well. Kirilenko initiated so many pretty sequences, but the most impressive came in the second quarter, when he swooped in to collect an offensive rebound off a missed free throw, kicked the ball out for the reset, then, realizing the right block was completely unoccupied, pounced to the open space, where he received a prompt pass for an easy dunk.

Kirilenko’s coup de grace came on a weakside basket cut inside of two minutes. Viktor Khryapa found Kirilenko, who went up strong for the and-1, which ultimately iced the game for Russia. Vintage Kirilenko and a portrait of intuition.
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Timofey Mozgov, Russia
He knew where to be on the court at all times, whether it was following misses with tip-ins or just ducking in from the weak side for easy looks. The big man also can run the floor and converted a big bucket on the break in the third quarter to give the Russians a nine-point lead -- their largest at the time. Mozgov also showed signs of being an effective dive man, working with Alexey Shved on a number of slick slip screens. As size becomes increasingly important during the medal round, Mozgov will come in awfully handy for the Russians if he can display the opportunism he showed Wednesday.
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Darius Songaila, Lithuania
Time and again when they needed a basket, the Lithuanians would go to the Sarunas Jasikevicius pick-and-roll for nourishment. Songaila timed his rolls perfectly and scored 10 big points in the second quarter en route to a 15-point outing. The Russians never really found an answer for Songaila on the move and ended up hacking him repeatedly to prevent those shots at close range. As a result, Songaila made a living at the line, sinking all seven of his attempts at the stripe. On the other side of the ball, Songaila played with his usual level of impunity, rushing the ball and groping for position.
Khryapa

Viktor Khryapa, Russia
Loved the game Khryapa put together on Wednesday. Known primarily as an energy guy with quick defensive feet and a bit of a streak shooter, Khryapa functioned as a primary playmaker offensively for Russia. He was the key assist man (including a deft pass on that climactic Kirilenko traditional 3-point play late), and drained a couple of huge bombs from beyond the arc when the game tightened. Want to see Khryapa in isolation? He showed off his handle and finish in the second quarter when he spun off Martynas Pocius on the right side, then powered his way to the hoop.

Lin, Howard would be nice pick-and-roll duo

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
3:02
PM ET
By Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith Jeremy Lin now officially a member of the Rockets, is Dwight Howard next?
It’s official: Jeremy Lin is a Houston Rocket... but that doesn’t mean Rockets GM Daryl Morey is done wheeling and dealing. With Lin in the fold, how might he fit in a potential partnership with Houston’s other target, Dwight Howard?

THE PICK-AND-ROLL GAME

In addition to being a defensive force, Howard is the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA. He averaged 1.38 points per play as the roll man on pick-and-rolls last season, best in the league among players with at least 35 plays.

On the surface, it might not appear Lin would be the ideal pick-and-roll point guard to pair with Howard. On all of his passes out of the pick-and-roll, Lin ranked in just the 40th percentile in points per play.

However, when going exclusively to the roll man, Lin ranked in the 72nd percentile (fifth of 35 point guards with 100 plays). That compares favorably to both Howard’s current and preferred point guards.

Orlando’s Jameer Nelson ranked 15th among that group of 35 point guards while the Nets’ Deron Williams came in at just 29th on points per play generated on passes to the roll man.

PLAYING OFF THE BALL

What about Lin playing off of Howard?
Dwight Howard
Howard
Despite missing 12 games, Howard still led the NBA with 181 passes to spot-up shooters last season and commanded a hard double-team 5.8 percent of the time he posted up.

Only Andrew Bynum and LaMarcus Aldridge were doubled more frequently so the ability to spot up, spread the floor and punish teams for doubling Howard is important when playing alongside the big fella. Unfortunately, this is not an area in which Lin excels.

Lin shot just 32.0 percent from the 3-point line and ranked in the 55th percentile in spot-up situations (0.94 points per play) last season. He ranked in the 43rd percentile in catch-and-shoot situations (0.86 points per play).

AS A BALL-DOMINANT GUARD

One of the keys to Lin’s success with the Knicks last season was his freedom to make plays. Of the 148 guards with at least 500 minutes last season, Lin’s usage rate of 27.4 ranked 10th. Some players he outranked? Chris Paul, Brandon Jennings and John Wall.

For comparison’s sake, Nelson’s usage rate has been under 23.0 in each of the past six seasons and Lin’s usage rate last season (27.4) would be the second-highest ever among Howard’s backcourt teammates.

The highest rate posted by any guard teammate of Howard’s was 28.4 by Steve Francis during Howard’s rookie campaign in 2004-05.

Despite all the success, plenty of mistakes came along with the freedom Lin enjoyed in New York. Lin averaged 4.7 turnovers per game as a starter, last among the 39 players who made at least 20 starts at the point last season.

2012 Team USA: Better than Dream Team?

July, 12, 2012
7/12/12
12:59
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Gregg Found, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
US PresswireWould the current U.S. Olympic team have a chance against the Dream Team?
Kobe Bryant believes the 2012 U.S. Olympic team would beat the 1992 Olympic team. Is he correct?

According to AccuScore, which ran 10,000 computer simulations, the 1992 team would win 53.1 percent of the time and by an average margin of one point per game.

No one will ever know the true answer, but let's take a look at the Next Level analytical facts about the rosters at each point of their careers to help make the case either way.

REBOUNDING AND DEFENSE

Much has been made about the current team’s weak frontcourt. The 1992 team had four players who grabbed at least 15 percent of available rebounds in 1991-92 (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, David Robinson). The current team has three players at that rebound rate last season (Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love).

The 1992 team had two players (Ewing, Robinson) who blocked at least 5 percent of the shot attempts they faced in 1991-92. No 2012 player had a block percentage higher than 3.4 last season (Chandler).

SHOOTING

Four current members had a true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) of at least 60 last season (Chandler, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James). Chandler (70.8 in 2011-12) led the NBA each of the past two seasons. Only one of the 1992 members had a 60 true shooting percentage (Barkley), although three others fell just short of that threshold in 1991-92 (Malone, Robinson, John Stockton).

PASSING

Five Dream Team members assisted on at least 25 percent of their teammates’ field goals in 1991-92 (Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Stockton), plus Magic Johnson had a 49.3 assist percentage in his most recent NBA season (1990-91). LeBron, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams had a 25 assist percentage or better last season, but none were as high as Stockton (53.7), who was in the midst of leading the league in assist percentage for 10 straight seasons.

AGE, EXPERIENCE AND CHAMPIONSHIPS

The 1992 team was about 2½ years older on average (28.8-26.2). Other than Bird and Magic, every Dream Team member was 30 years old or younger. Every member of the current team is 29 or younger, other than Kobe, who is 33.

But the NBA experience level is about the same. The 1992 team had, on average, 7.3 years of experience per player. This year’s team has 7.1.

As far as NBA titles, give the edge to the 1992 team. Its players had a combined 12 championships as they entered the Olympics -- five by Magic, three by Bird and two each from Jordan and Pippen.

The 2012 version has seven championships among them, carried by Kobe’s five. LeBron and Chandler each have one. The current team has members of each of the past four NBA champions, while the 1992 team had members of the then-past two champions.

PLAYER VALUE/EFFICIENCY

Using average win shares per 48 minutes in their previous NBA seasons, (including Magic’s 1990-91 season and not including Christian Laettner), the 1992 squad’s average is higher by 9 percent (.215-.198). Prefer player efficiency rating to win shares? The Dream Team’s PER was 3 percent higher (23.8-23.0).

IN THEIR PRIME?

Other than Laettner, all 11 Dream Team members are Hall of Famers. And only two could be considered in the twilight of their careers. Bird had just finished his last NBA season, while Magic had retired the previous year, although he made a brief comeback in 1995-96. As for this edition, one could make the case that all but the 33-year-old Kobe on the roster could appear on another Olympic team again.

The 2012 team gets under way with an exhibition game Thursday against the Dominican Republic on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET. Only time will tell whether this team is the modern-day Dream Team.

Bobcats are not at odds with NBA lottery

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
5:54
PM ET
By Alok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
With the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery on Wednesday (8 ET on ESPN), each non-playoff team’s fans are hoping that the ping-pong balls come out in their favor, giving them the No. 1 overall pick and a chance to select likely top choice, Anthony Davis.

Given each team's probability of winning the top pick in the lottery, here is a similar event related to that team that has approximately the same frequency.

Charlotte Bobcats (25.0 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Bobcats losing a game last season by at least 25 points. In 2011-12, the Bobcats lost 16 of 66 games (24.2 percent) of their games by at least 25 points.

Washington Wizards (19.9 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: John Wall scoring at least 24 points in a game last season.

New Orleans Hornets (14.8 percent, includes their own pick and the Timberwolves' pick)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Hornets winning a game by at least eight points last season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (13.8 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Kyrie Irving scoring more than 10 points in the fourth quarter of a game.

Sacramento Kings (7.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins combining for 50 points in a game last season.

Brooklyn Nets (7.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Deron Williams scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Golden State Warriors (3.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Stephen Curry scoring at least 25 points and also having 10 assists in a game last season.

Toronto Raptors (3.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Andrea Bargnani scoring at least 35 points in a game in 2011-12.

Detroit Pistons (1.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Greg Monroe having a 30-point, 15-rebound game last season.

Portland Trail Blazers (0.8 pecent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a half last season.

Milwaukee Bucks (0.7 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Brandon Jennings making five 3-point field goals in a half in 2011-12.

Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: Steve Nash making 50 straight free throws during his career.

Houston Rockets (0.5 percent)
Team-Related Event with Similar Frequency: NBA team finishing two to four games above .500 and missing playoffs in three straight seasons (which the Rockets have, in fact, done the last three seasons).

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