TrueHoop: Derrick Rose

Unbroken Bull

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Joakim Noah says losing Derrick Rose to injury and Luol Deng to trade has been a challenge, but he still believes Chicago is on the path to a title.


10 Things To Know: Christmas games

December, 24, 2013
Verrier By Justin Verrier
"I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game.” -- Stan Van Gundy

Despite concern among the mustachioed and unmustachioed alike, the NBA's Christmas Day lineup has become a holiday unto itself.

With football occupying a large portion of the viewing public's attention as the calendar year winds down, the first month-plus of the basketball season tends to be more of a warm-up for most. Christmas Day, then, has become something of an unofficial start to the season for late arrivals over the past few years, and the league has welcomed all with open arms by providing a smorgasbord of premier, nationally televised matchups.

To prepare for the full slate at hand, here are 10 things to know about the 10 teams hitting the NBA hardwood on Dec. 25.

1. The Kobe-LeBron rivalry is over before it began

The puppets are always the first to know.

In 2009, just before LeBron James officially established his MVP bona fides and Kobe Bryant proved himself on a championship stage without Shaquille O’Neal, their clash over the same rarefied air space defined the NBA. James’ Cavaliers and Bryant’s Lakers were emerging as the league’s controlling elite, and with the two seeming predestined to meet in the NBA Finals at some point in the near future, if only because we deserved such a matchup from the basketball gods, Nike launched an ad campaign featuring plush likenesses of the All-Star wings sharing the same apartment to capitalize on the momentum.

But arguing over excess chalk dust on their Muppetized loveseat likely will be the only important postseason meeting between the two in their careers. What at one point seemed an unavoidable collision course turned into two highly accessorized ships passing in the night. Their seven-year gap between human and basketball years simply led to unparalleled peaks, and now what we’re left with to show from all the debating, hyping and hoping, besides the residual effects from the careless rearing of poor Lil’ Dez, are two Christmas Day blowouts in favor of James’ team, in 2009 and 2010.

The appetite from the league at large, though, remains unsatisfied. Why else would Heat-Lakers be plopped on the schedule this offseason right in the middle of Bryant’s recovery from an Achilles injury, instead of, say, Heat-Pacers? If market size does indeed matter so much, why not choose the Los Angeles team contending for a title?

Given James and the Heat's otherworldly production and Bryant and the Lakers' current struggles, both physically and personnel-wise, the rivalry that figured to end as an all-timer will never be the same, even if what we got never seemed enough.

2. The master

Twenty-eight is old in basketball years, but Chris Paul has probably seemed that way for some time now. LeBron James is 28, too, but his mass appeal keeps him at the forefront of the youth culture, even amid all that family-man branding. Blake Griffin (24) and DeAndre Jordan (25) feel like they’re decades apart from their point guard. In his own way, the reserved Kevin Durant (25) does, too. There’s always been an extreme poise emanating from Paul, whether it’s assuming control of the offense by sheer food-chain protocol or wrangling his chubby-cheeked son in the Clippers’ locker room. Even at his flashiest, knifing through lanes with precision dribbling, it’s all about seizing complete control.

Indeed, Paul can dazzle, but he’d rather pull it back and process a situation. While centers stretch out to the arc and coaches push the pace to Ferrari-like speeds, Paul is content in his Volvo, getting exactly where he needs to go without any complications.

But with a roster built to get up and down more so than in his previous two seasons in Los Angeles, Paul has had to soup things up a bit. After playing at the 25th-fastest pace in his first season and the 19th-fastest in his next, Paul’s Clippers now rank eighth, among the Houstons and the Denvers. That plus the added slack taken on after the injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes have led to a hit in his shooting numbers, which surely nags him, but he’s never been more efficient as a Clipper, and most of his other stats are up (rebounds, assists) or near highs (points) for his stint in L.A., too.

The proliferation and growing public consumption of analytics only deepen the appreciation for the decidedly old-school game manager. The passing data from the SportVU tracking system is a virtual shrine to his mastery of the position: He leads all others in assists per game, total assists, secondary assists (tied), assist opportunities, points created by assists and points created by assists per 48 minutes. There’s only one other category, passes per game, in which he ranks second.

What’s old is new again, or maybe it’s the other way around. But the Clippers are looking forward again after some early hiccups, and Paul is again on track to finally capitalize on the window he has in his prime years, however long it may last.

3. A pair of aces

Each cut to the rim, each stroke on his wizardly mane, each up-and-under move to draw a foul will probably always sting a little back in Oklahoma. There's no replacing a James Harden, even if the kiddies being groomed in the second unit are beginning to look like important pieces in the Thunder's championship quest. But the two dynamic superstars still lurking on the wings certainly haven't slowed down in their sixth season together.

According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Info, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently the highest-scoring duo in the NBA for the third consecutive season, with 49.7 points per game between them. Only four other duos in league history have accomplished that for three straight seasons or more, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen the last to do so from 1989 to 1993 with an NBA-record four.

4. It’s gotta be the sleeves?

First, a few words from LeBron James on the shimmering, Y2K-influenced sleeved jersey each team will don for Wednesday’s five-game slate, via the Miami Herald’s Joe Goodman:
LeBron said in pregame that the Heat’s shooters “are already upset about” the Christmas jerseys.

LEBRON: "I can’t have my shooters out there worrying about some sleeves and not shooting the ball."

Shooters are a neurotic bunch. Ray Allen, the greatest long-range threat in history, is more programmed than any player at this point: He follows the same warm-up routine, eats the same pregame meal, shaves his head at the same time. He once told Jackie MacMullan that he has “borderline OCD.” Anything that alters that ritual could pose an issue, and imagined or not, those teeny compression sleeves present just enough foreign element to unravel what is largely a life of repetition for the modern pro basketball player.

The Warriors, then, would be among the teams most likely to feel such an effect. Golden State has built its brand around its deep shooting, and currently ranks second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and among the league leaders in percentage of shots taken from 3.

But after serving as the lab rats for adidas’ grand sleeved experiment last season, the Warriors have sported white, home jerseys with the new look and shown no apparent ill effects from it. In the four games they’ve broken out the sleeves in 2013-14, the Warriors have shot 46.5 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3, which is right on par with their season averages of 46.2 and 40.2 (and among the more ridiculous stats ever published).

5. An exercise in sadness, Part A

Brooklyn knew it was operating without a net. You don't hand out draft picks like grocery-store coupons without feeling the pressure, the doubt of it all, even with all those barrels of cash to wipe your brow. And somehow, that self-awareness only makes the crash landing of the Nets' championship hopes, all the way down to fourth from the bottom in the putrid Eastern Conference, that much more gruesome.

Here's a look at all the grim and grisly carnage thus far.

6. Behold: The Sultan of Swag

At this point, Kobe Bryant’s snarling underbite is a tradition that ranks right up there with the more menacing characters of Christmas-season story time. The 17-year veteran has played in more Christmas Day games (15) than anyone else in NBA history and has accumulated the most career Christmas points (383). Really, what use is a Christmas ham these days without a dozen contested midrange J's to go with it?

This year, though, your yuletide bombardiering will come not from the itchy trigger finger of Bryant, who is expected to miss five more weeks with a knee fracture, but courtesy of the “Swag Mamba,” Nick Young, who in his first season with his hometown Lakers enters the Christmas spotlight for just the second time.

The cockatooed sixth-year swingman certainly lacks the gravitas Bryant brings these days, but any game that prominently features Young, a smiley SoCal native with the O’Doul's version of Kobe’s skill set, is something of an impromptu field day -- all fun, all the time.
And with Bryant again aching, there’s been more Swag Time than ever: Young, whose shot selection ethos befits an “If it fits, I sits” cat, leads the Lakers in attempts (16.3) and points (21.3) in three games sans Bryant, and has even been given spot duty at the 1 for the point guard-depleted Lakers despite one of the very worst assist ratios among small forwards.

So, another LeBron-Kobe clash may not be in the offing, but these modern-day Lakers are a special kind of “Showtime” with the blissfully oblivious Young as their guiding force. Expect enjoyment, if not fierce competition, to ensue.

7. Welcome back, Dwight Howard

Anyone who has ever had to procure a postgame quote from Dwight Howard wouldn’t be surprised that the All-Star big man needed time to do anything, but 20 months and three teams after undergoing back surgery, the now-28-year-old center is beginning to look as close to his heyday as he may ever get.

Smart people across the Interwebs have discussed the progressive tactics the Rockets’ offense has employed to great success, and amid the revolution, the back-to-the-basket big man Daryl Morey nabbed from the Lakers this past summer is having his best month offensively since April 2011, with 21.2 points on 62 percent shooting, 14.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 60 percent free throw shooting (!) and 100 percent 3-point shooting (!!) in 35 minutes over 11 December games. The Rockets have five more games on the slate before the new year, but the only thing close to that since he wore out a FastPass at Disney World was a torrid eight-game April (20.9 points, 61.1 FG%, 10.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) to push the Lakers into the playoffs.

Outside of PER, virtually all of his advanced numbers on the season are better than they have been since 2010-11, and while he’s no longer the pre-eminent rim protector in the league, he’s become a force again in the paint on both ends of the floor. It seems the four-out, one-in approach on which he thrived in Orlando and now is again (to a certain degree) in Houston is more to his liking than blowing off pick-and-rolls. A happy Dwight is indeed a productive Dwight.

8. An exercise in sadness, Part B

Need another downer while the yuletide joy is flowing?

Facing off against the Nets on Wednesday will be one of the few teams that can feel them in all their catatonic pain, the Chicago Bulls, who have wandered the earth aimlessly after losing Derrick Rose once again.

9. Melo has Durant’s number

It’s quite fitting, given this fever dream of a Knicks season, that Carmelo Anthony joins their Magna Carta-length list of question marks with a bum left ankle right before they need him most. The Knicks obviously rely on Anthony and his 26.3 points per game; his 28.9 usage rate is fourth-highest in the league; and he's one of the team's few major contributors with a plus/minus better than minus-1 on the season, per

But while Kevin Durant and the Thunder roll into Christmas Day as the most imposing challenge in the league right now, they present the Knicks with one of their best chances yet of obtaining a first big win of the season -- if Anthony is active.

Despite the Thunder’s dominance of late, in the 12 games Anthony has faced Durant over the past seven years, the elder Melo is 11-1, according to Elias, with the lone loss coming in double overtime when Anthony was still on the Nuggets and the Thunder didn’t yet exist. In those matchups, Anthony, currently the No. 2 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 30.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting, while Durant, currently the No. 1 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 26.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting. It should be noted, though, that Anthony has played Durant just once in the past two seasons.

Of course, all of that may not have mattered even if Melo were the pinnacle of physical health: The Knicks (9-18) are 0-8 against the Western Conference this season; the Thunder (22-5) are 7-1 against the Eastern Conference.

10. Pop or Scrooge?

Who said it: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich or Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 rendition of “A Christmas Carol”?

A.) “I want some nasty.”

B.) “You’ll want the whole day off, I suppose.”

C.) “Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”

D.) “We didn’t send mariachi bands or birthday cards or breakfast in bed.”

E.) “It’s all humbug, I tell you, humbug.”

Heat guards contain Rose in his return

October, 30, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN Stats & InformationDerrick Rose played in a regular-season game for the first time since April 25, 2012.
There was no “championship hangover” for the Miami Heat in their opening game against the Chicago Bulls.

The Heat cruised to a 21-point halftime and held on for a 107-95 victory.

Dating back to last season, the Heat have won 38 of their last 40 regular-season games. The Heat and the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks are the only teams in NBA history to win at least 38 games in a 40-game stretch (across seasons), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The return of Derrick Rose
Rose scored 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting (1-of-7 on 3-pointers) in his first regular-season game in more than 18 months.

Rose struggled against guards who defended him:

• Against Mario Chalmers, Rose shot 2-of-5 with four turnovers.
• Against Norris Cole, he missed each of his three field-goal attempts.
• With Dwyane Wade defending him, Rose was 0-for-1.

What did the Heat do well?
The Heat shot 6-of-8 on corner 3-pointers, their most makes in a game against the Bulls over the last four seasons (since LeBron James joined the Heat and Tom Thibodeau took over as Bulls head coach).

The Heat shooting well on corner 3-pointers isn’t a surprise: Last season, they led the NBA in corner 3-pointers made and attempted.

But it is a surprise against the Bulls: Since Thibodeau took over, the Bulls have allowed the fewest makes and attempts on corner 3-pointers in the NBA.

Role players come up big for Heat
The numbers show that the Heat's role players should be the ones credited with the win over the Bulls -- not the "Big 3."

James, Wade and Chris Bosh were outscored by four points in 25 minutes on the court together. But when at least one of them was on the bench, the Heat outscored the Bulls by 16.

With the “Big 3” on the court together, the Heat shot 2-of-7 on 3-pointers and were outrebounded by seven. But with at least one of them on the bench, the Heat shot 9-of-13 on 3-point attempts and had six more boards than the Bulls.

Stats & Info: Opening Night in the NBA

October, 29, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant and LeBron James both have records in their sights this season.
The NBA season tips off tonight with six teams in action, including the two favorites in the Eastern Conference and the first leg in the battle for Los Angeles supremacy between the Lakers and Clippers. We take a look at the numbers to know heading into the season.

LeBron and the Heat aim for 3-Peat
The two-time defending champion Miami Heat will try to become the first team to three-peat since the Lakers accomplished that feat 2000-02. Should Miami make it to The NBA Finals, it would be the first team to do so four straight times since the Boston Celtics from 1984-87.

LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Bill Russell are the only players to win the regular-season MVP award and an NBA Championship in consecutive seasons. James hopes to join Russell as the only player to accomplish that feat three straight times.

Even without another title, LeBron could join a short list with a third straight MVP award. Only Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Russell have been named MVP three straight seasons.

James has won four MVP awards in the last five seasons. If he wins this year, he’d be the first player with five in a six-season span. He’d also join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Jordan and Russell as the only players with five MVP awards.

Kobe closing in on Jordan
Kobe Bryant will miss the beginning of the season as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles, but he needs just 676 points to move past Jordan into third place on the all-time scoring list.

This will be Kobe’s 18th season in the NBA, all with the Lakers. Only John Stockton, who spent 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz, has played more seasons with a single franchise.

Rose returns to Chicago
Derrick Rose is back with the Chicago Bulls after missing all of last season. Rose last played on April 28, 2012, the first game in an eventual playoff series loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Rose averaged 21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game during the 2011-12 season. Chicago’s point guards have struggled in his absence.

Last season, the Bulls starting point guards averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 39.5 percent from the field. All three marks were in the bottom quarter of the league.

Lots of personnel changes
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there were an NBA-record 13 head coaching changes in the offseason. Nine of those coaches will be making their NBA head-coaching debut.

There are 92 international players on NBA opening night rosters, a new record for the league. France has the highest representation with 10 players, and 27 of the 30 teams have at least one international player.

5 Notes to Know: 2013 NBA Draft

June, 27, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information
The 2013 NBA Draft begins Thursday night at 7 pm eastern at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY (Live on ESPN & WatchESPN). Let’s run through five notes to know before the action gets underway:

• The Cleveland Cavaliers have the first-overall pick for the fifth time in team history, tied with the Houston Rockets for most in the Common Draft Era (since 1966). It’s also the second time that the Cavs have held the No. 1 pick the last three years. The Elias Sports Bureau says they would be the fourth team to pick first overall twice in a three-year span, joining the Magic (1992 and 1993), the Rockets (1983 and 1984) and Trail Blazers (1972 and 1974).

• The Orlando Magic hold the second pick and they have had good luck with the organization’s five previous top-five selections. Three of them – Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber and Mike Miller – won Rookie of the Year, and three of them – O’Neal, Webber and Dwight Howard – have each been selected to at least five All-Star Games. Webber, of course, was selected first overall by the Magic in 1993 but traded to the Warriors on draft night.

• According to Elias, at least one son of a former NBA player has been selected in each of the last 11 drafts. Last year it was Austin Rivers, son of Doc, who was taken 10th overall by the Pelicans (then Hornets). Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr., son of Tim, is one player that would continue the streak should be selected in 2013.

• The Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Trail Blazers each have four selections in the 2013 draft, tied for most by any team. It’s the second straight year that Portland has four picks and it’s the third straight year with at least four picks for the Cavaliers. Conversely, the Warriors, Heat, and Raptors are the only three teams without a 2013 draft pick.

• Since the NBA draft lottery began in 1985, 13 of the 28 first-overall picks went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award, most recently Kyrie Irving for the Cavaliers in 2011-12. The last player selected first overall that won the Rookie of the Year Award and reached the postseason was Derrick Rose for the Bulls in 2008-09. The last player to do so and win a playoff series? Tim Duncan for the Spurs in 1997-98. Duncan is also the last player to win an NBA title with the team that selected him first overall.

Can Bulls quiet ultra-efficient Kevin Durant?

February, 23, 2013
By Justin Page
ESPN Stats & Information

Getty Images Kevin Durant (left) has enjoyed an extremely efficient season, once again leading the NBA in scoring. Meanwhile, the Bulls have missed injured star Derrick Rose (right) at both ends of the floor.
The Thunder host the Bulls tomorrow night on ESPN. Here's what you need to know about this matchup of playoff probables:

Miguel Cabrera
Three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant is having an outstanding season on offense, even by his own lofty standards. He's again leading the league with 28.9 PPG, but he’s only attempting 18.0 field goals per game.

Charles Barkley (1987-88) is the only player in NBA history to average at least 28 points while attempting 18.0 or fewer shots per game.

Durant is also posting career highs in field-goal percentage (51.6), three-point percentage (42.6) and free-throw percentage (90.8).

If Durant continues this pace, he would become just the second player in NBA history (Larry Bird in the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons) to average at least 28 points, shoot at least 50 percent from the field, at least 40 percent from three-point range and at least 90 percent from the free-throw line.

On the Bulls' sideline, the impact of Derrick Rose's absence has been obvious at both ends of the court.

Rose took home MVP honors in 2010-11, becoming just the sixth point guard in NBA history to win the award, and even when he missed time, the Bulls managed to survive, posting an 18-9 record (.667 win pct) with Rose out of the lineup.

This season, however, Chicago has seen its win percentage dip to .582.

With Rose on the court last season, the Bulls averaged 107.6 points per 100 possessions (only one team had a higher rating last season). This season, the Bulls are averaging 100.1 in that category (24th in the NBA).

Filling Rose's position has been a struggle, with Bulls point guards averaging only 8.7 PPG. Last season, Rose averaged 21.8 PPG.

The Bulls may be on the road Sunday night, but that's where they've been at their best this season. They're 17-10 on the road so far, and they're the only team in the NBA with a better record on the road than at home.

In fact, if the winning ways continue for the Bulls and they reach the postseason, they would be just the fifth playoff team since 2000 with a better record away than at home.

The Bulls come off a big win over the Bobcats, when they committed just six turnovers (their fewest in a game this season), but they'll be visiting a Thunder team that is outscoring opponents by a league-best 8.7 points per game this season.

LeBron and Kobe can reach magic numbers

February, 18, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information

Isaac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant can both reach notable statistical marks in the near-future.
How will LeBron James finish?
James is presently averaging 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. If he finishes the season pushing the assist numbers up a smidge, he could be the first player to average a 27-8-7 line since Michael Jordan in 1988-89.

Only three other players besides Jordan have averaged those numbers for a full season- Oscar Robertson (five times), John Havlicek (twice) and Larry Bird (once).

Kobe Bryant enters the post-All-Star Break portion with 30,933 points. That’s 486 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for fourth-most all-time.

At his current scoring rate of 26.8 points per game, he would pass Chamberlain on March 28 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Bryant’s teammate, Steve Nash, should move into fourth place all-time on the NBA’s assist list pretty soon. His 10,137 assists are four shy of Magic Johnson.

The Lakers playoff push
We detailed the state of Los Angeles basketball last week, but just to offer a quick recap from a Lakers perspective:

The Lakers have made the playoffs 34 times since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77, the most of any team.

But with a 25-29 record and a .463 winning percentage, the Lakers are on pace for their third-worst season since the merger, trailing only the 33-49 team from 1993-94 and the 34-48 team from 2004-05.

The Mavericks playoff push
The Mavericks are in danger of having their playoff streak come to an end at 12 straight seasons.

The Mavericks got off to a 13-23 start and only five teams had given up more points per 100 possessions through January 9 than they did.

But since then they’ve won 10 of 16 and rank fourth in offensive efficiency and first in turnover percentage.

The Mavericks remaining opponents winning percentage (.511) ranks seventh-toughest in the NBA. The good news for them is that two of the teams they’re chasing down from the No. 11 spot- the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz- face the toughest and third-toughest remaining schedules respectively.

The bad news is that two of the other teams- the Houston Rockets and Lakers- face the fifth-easiest and 11th-easiest remaining schedules

The Bulls without Derrick Rose
The Chicago Bulls are 30-22, 1 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the Central Division lead. Point guard Derrick Rose’s status remains uncertain.

The Bulls averaged 110.7 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the court last season. This season, that has dropped to 103.5 points per 100 possessions (10th-lowest in the NBA). The Bulls have gone from outscoring teams by better than eight points per game last season to outscoring them by just 1.6 per game this season.

One other oddity: the Bulls have a better road record (15-9) than home record (15-12).

The last .500+ team to finish the season with a better road record than home record was the 2009-10 Boston Celtics -- a team Tom Thibodeau knows something about since he was an assistant coach on their staff, his last year there before leaving for the Bulls. That team reached the NBA Finals before losing in the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The book on Tom Thibodeau

January, 18, 2013
Mason By Beckley Mason
Tom Thibodeau
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau: The defense-first drill sergeant.

Name: Tom Thibodeau

Birthdate: Jan. 17, 1958

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
Thibodeau’s obsessive, workaholic personality has an unmistakable presence on the sideline of every game and throughout the Bulls’ organization, but his greatest value is as a defensive tactician. No coach in the NBA understands how a team works as one to close down driving angles and to deny the offense’s preferred move better than Thibodeau. Playing the kind of defense that Thibodeau teaches demands an extreme work ethic from his players, so differentiating between strategy and emotional commitment is tough. However, his most significant contribution to any team will be the X’s and O’s.

Is he intense or a "go along, get along" type?
Thibodeau is one of the most intense men in the NBA. His defensive system is built on hard and fast rules, and there’s no negotiating. Thibodeau won’t coddle anyone, not even a star like Derrick Rose, and needs players who have the mental toughness to get on board with both the style of play and style of communication that Thibodeau brings.

Practices are run with military precision, and Thibodeau is known to work through Saturday nights in the offseason. He's a no-nonsense coach, but his personal authenticity and the success of his strategies endear him to his players.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
He relies on systems, especially on defense.

Though similar, Thibodeau’s defensive system in Chicago is a bit different than the one he installed as a defensive assistant in Boston. Instead of using a hard show on pick-and-rolls -- something no big man did better than Kevin Garnett when Thibodeau coached him from 2007 to 2010 -- the Bulls almost uniformly “down” pick-and-rolls. This means the big man hangs back a bit more while the guard directs the ball handler to him and toward the baseline. One effect of this modification, which allows the Bulls bigs to remain closer to the paint, is that Chicago has been a top-10 defensive rebounding team since Thibodeau took over in 2010.

More generally, Thibodeau is not an especially creative in-game coach. Though he is inventive in his meticulous pregame preparation, his adjustments during games are just OK, especially on the offensive end. With all his success, it’s sometimes hard to remember 2012-13 is Thibodeau’s third season as an NBA head coach. This is one skill that could really evolve as he gains experience.

Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he The Decider?
The Decider. Thibodeau communicates well with his players but, especially during games, expects his players to follow his directives, not discuss them.

Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
Explosive scorer. This is a controversial distinction for Thibodeau, who, despite being a defensive ace, has a tendency to give big minutes to players like Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton, two guys who contribute real value only on the offensive end. For example, facing Miami in the 2011 playoffs, Thibodeau struggled to decide whether to lean on Boozer or defensive stopper Taj Gibson. When he left Boozer in for crunch time, the Heat successfully and repeatedly attacked him in pick-and-rolls.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
Thibodeau prefers a set rotation, but he will make quick substitutions, especially when it comes to playing Luol Deng and Joakim Noah abnormally long minutes.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use grizzled veterans?
Thibodeau has a clear affinity for veterans, even when it may benefit the team in the long term to give younger players more minutes early in the regular season.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
Thibodeau’s defensive system is the pinnacle of team defensive strategy in the NBA. He is often credited with being the first coach to fully leverage the abolition of illegal defense by loading up the strong side box while having the weakside defenders zone the back side of the defense. In effect, Thibodeau's defenses force ball handlers -- whether in isolation or in side pick-and-rolls -- to the baseline and then send a second defender from the weakside over to the strong side block to cut off dribble penetration.

He is especially detail-oriented when it comes to pick-and-roll defense, getting down to the specific angles that each defender’s feet should be pointing. Thibodeau wants to send everything away from the middle of the court and force lob passes or bounce passes out to the perimeter, allowing defenders more time to get back to their men.

Off the ball, every defender in the Thibodeau system will have his hands up and active, with arms stretched as wide as possible. The goal isn’t actually to get deflections, though that happens. The real objective is to take away the first passing option of the offense -- to make the ball handler hesitate and throw a slow pass rather than whipping a chest pass to an open shooter. This gives the defense more time to recover from screens and cuts and often forces the ball away from the offense’s primary option on a given play.

Thibodeau knows he can't ask his defenders to do everything, rather he teaches them to take away certain high-percentage options for the offense. When everyone does their jobs, the odds tilt heavily in the defense's favor.

Most of Thibodeau’s offensive sets are not rudimentary, but he tends to keep things basic in big moments. It’s not uncommon to see some brilliant flex-based sets early in the game devolve into a steady diet of standard pick-and-rolls and pin-downs by the fourth quarter. He makes solid adjustments from game to game. For instance, he used Noah in the middle of the court to unlock Miami’s pick-and-roll defense in their 2011 playoff series, but Thibodeau is not known for drawing up brilliant offensive game plans on the fly.

What were his characteristics as a player?
Thibodeau’s playing career ended with his last game for the Division III Salem State University Vikings. His team won its league in his junior and senior seasons, and Thibodeau captained the team in his final year. An odd note: According to Salem State’s records, Thibodeau shot just 48.9 percent from the free throw line as a senior.

Which coaches did he play for?
Art Fiste (Salem State).

What is his coaching pedigree?
In the NBA alone, Thibodeau has worked with Bill Musselman, Jerry Tarkanian, Rex Hughes, John Lucas, Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers. He was a longtime assistant to Van Gundy in New York and Houston before joining Rivers in Boston.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
Running an ultra-high-end personal security company.

The spirit of the 1984 Bill James Baseball Abstract was summoned for this project.

Christmas primer: 10 questions for 10 teams

December, 24, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

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.

Love, Nowitzki, Rose will be missed

October, 30, 2012
By Ryan Feldman & Justin Page, ESPN Stats & Info
Several star players could miss the start of the season with injuries. Let's take a look at why each player's team will miss them and why they won't miss them.


Why they will: The Lakers played 981 minutes without Kobe on the floor last season and saw a five-point swing in the wrong direction per 48 minutes while he was on the bench.

Why they won’t: Bryant has missed 103 regular-season games in his career. The Lakers have a .621 win percentage in those games, including 5-3 last season.


Why they will: Last season, with Rose in the lineup, the Bulls went 32-7. They scored 100.4 points per 48 minutes with Rose on the court compared to just 92.2 with him off the floor.

Why they won’t: Chicago went 18-9 (.667 win pct) in games Rose missed during the 2011-12 regular season. Excluding the Bulls, the Heat were the only team in the Eastern Conference that had a better win percentage than .667 last season.


Why they will: The Timberwolves are 5-38 without Love since he entered the league, including 2-18 in the last two seasons.

Why they won’t: They will. Last season per 48 minutes, the Timberwolves scored more points, shot better, had a better assist-to-turnover ratio, and had a +9.0 swing in rebound margin with Love on the court than they did with him off the court.


Why they will: Last season, the Mavs outscored opponents by 6.0 points per 48 minutes with Dirk on the court but were outscored by 8.4 points per 48 minutes with him off the court.

Why they won’t: The two key returning Mavs players, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, both averaged more points per game in the four games Nowitzki missed last season than they did in the games he played.


Why they will: In 2010-11, Stoudemire averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and two assists per game with a 50 field-goal percentage, something that has been done 68 times in history. Assuming Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal will be Hall of Famers, 66 of the other 67 seasons were by Hall of Famers.

Why they won’t: The Knicks were 14-5 in games without Stoudemire last season but just 22-25 with him. They scored more points and allowed fewer points per game without Stoudemire.


Why they will: Andrew Bynum averaged more than 18 points and 11 rebounds per game last season. The 76ers haven't had a player with those averages in a season since Charles Barkley more than 20 years ago.

Why they won’t: Each of the 76ers' first 12 games are against teams that won fewer than 40 games last season. Seven of those games are against teams that finished below .500 last season.


Why they will: When Ricky Rubio tore his ACL on March 9, the Timberwolves were the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with a 21-20 record. But after he went down, the Timberwolves lost 20 of their final 25 games and finished 12th in the West.

Why they won’t: Rubio was very inefficient creating his own offense last season. He averaged just 0.74 points per play, the fewest among the 176 players with at least 500 plays.


Why they will: John Wall is one of three players in history to average at least 16 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game in each of his first two seasons. The others? Oscar Robertson and Damon Stoudamire.

Why they won’t: Wall was not efficient as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season. Among the 41 players to run at least 200 pick-and-roll plays, Wall averaged the fewest points per play (0.69).


Why they will: The Spurs went 28-6 (.824 win pct) and averaged 108.3 points per game with Ginobili in the lineup last season. Without him, their win percentage dropped to .688 and they averaged nearly 10 fewer points per game.

Why they won’t: The Spurs outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 48 minutes last postseason with Ginobili on the bench. With him on the court, that margin shrunk to +3.2.

Statistical support for this story from

Jrue Holiday's potential and the extra point

August, 30, 2012
By Beckley Mason and Tom Haberstroh
Jrue Holiday
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Jrue Holiday should keep his eyes on Derrick Rose if he wants to take the next step.

So, the 76ers got Andrew Bynum.

Now what?

Now, Jrue Holiday needs to be more like Derrick Rose. And to do that, he needs to become an “extra-point player.”

Being an "extra-point player," a term coined by Henry Abbott, is the difference between being a very good player and an All-Star, or in Rose’s case, the difference between being an All-Star and an MVP.

Players can score in several ways -- a 2-pointer, a 3-pointer or on a fouled shot attempt -- but winning in the NBA requires an emphasis on the latter two, because that’s where the payoff is highest. Players can make life easier on themselves by finding extra points at the 3-point and free throw lines, and this is precisely what Rose did en route to becoming an MVP. And what Holiday should strive to do in 2012-13.

The season before Rose won the MVP, his extra-point percentage (percentage of overall shots from 3 and the free throw line) was just 23.9 percent, far below the 39.4 percent standard for guards. He was an All-Star then, but not the force he is today. In his MVP campaign in 2010-11, that all changed. Rose’s extra-point percentage (or ExPt%, for short) shot all the way up to 39.3 percent even as the overall number of shots he was taking also increased. All of the sudden, Rose was firing away from 3 and seeking out contact rather than avoiding it when he darted into the paint. By focusing on extra-point areas, Rose became one of the most powerful players in the NBA.

(Note: ExPt% is a close cousin of something called "Secondary Percentage," which was coined a few years ago by Carson Cistulli. The difference is that ExPt% just describes how often a player shoots from these desirable spots, while Secondary Percentage is more concerned with the amount of shots made.")

Holiday could also look to Chauncey Billups, the overall ExPt% leader amongst guards in 2011-12. Billups was a solid player in terms of ExPt% throughout his career, but his play went to another level when he went to Detroit and started posting up and going to the line more. In 2002-03, his first year as a Piston, Billups’ ExPt% leapt from 62.5 to 71.0. Now a 15-year veteran, Billups remains an clinically effective offensive player despite posting low field goal percentages because he still focuses on bullying his way to the line and hoisting from deep.

That’s what Philly fans are hoping will happen with Holiday, who has struggled to get to the free throw line throughout his young career despite an excellent first step. And even though Holiday is a strong 3-point shooter (38 percent in 2011-12), his number of attempts is relatively low -- just 2.8 per 36 minutes last season, which is right on par with Thabo Sefolosha.

As a result, Holiday’s 25.2 ExPt% was 81st out of 92 guards who took at least 10 true shots (to incorporate free throws) per game. The average guard posted a ExPt% of 35.4, far above Holiday’s rate.

What’s strange is that Holiday is an above average shooter from the free throw stripe and the 3-point line -- in fact, there are few players who are as proficient as Holiday yet shoot so sparingly. The more common profile for a player with Holiday’s ExPt% is someone like Rajon Rondo (89th out of 92 guards), who seems to consciously avoid drawing shooting fouls and taking 3-pointers.

Check out the list of top ExPt% guards from the 2011-12 season (min. 10.0 true shots per game):

It’s no surprise that Manu Ginobili and James Harden, two of the most efficient scorers in the NBA are on list. Nor is it a shock that a high-volume 3-point shooter like Ray Allen makes the cut.

But Randy Foye?

We’ve talked about guards like Rose and Billups changing their styles to be more efficient. But Foye’s high ranking comes from his context -- specifically, from playing with Chris Paul. The Clippers' wing shot 7.0 3-pointers per 36 minutes last season, an exceptionally high rate, and still made over 38 percent of them primarily because Paul is so good at manufacturing open 3-point shots. So even though Foye’s free throw attempts actually went down, the percentage of extra-point opportunities increased.

Also note that two Orlando players are also on this list, suggesting what we already know: that certain offensive systems and teammates (e.g., Dwight Howard) help dictate where players shoot.

Under head coach Doug Collins, Philadelphia's offense has not offered Holiday much freedom to freelance and has tended to create mid-range jump shots. Still, Holiday actually takes an above average amount of shots at the rim (about four per game). Yet, despite his size, Holiday hardly ever draws shooting fouls, suggesting that he can do more to initiate contact with defenders.

Holiday has a chance to benefit from both contextual and individual changes to his game. Though Philadelphia is not a team that relies on pick-and-rolls for offense, Holiday must, like Rose and Billups, take it upon himself to find ways to attack the rim more and get to the free throw line at a higher rate. But this season Holiday also has a new environmental advantage, which is that he will be playing with Bynum. Bynum draws double teams like few big men in the NBA, which should lead to more spot-up attempts for Holiday.

Playing alongside Howard, another double-team magnet, Jameer Nelson averaged about four 3-pointers per game. Holiday could very well be in that same range of attempts if Philadelphia employs a Bynum-centric offense.

Just 22 years old, Holiday is still finding his identity as an NBA player. With ball handlers like Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala shipped to new teams and Bynum on the block, he’s never had a better opportunity to capitalize on his combination of explosive quickness and reliable long-range shooting.

Bobcats fighting odds in Lottery

May, 28, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
Wednesday's NBA Draft Lottery (ESPN, 8 ET) sees the Charlotte Bobcats with the best odds at acquiring the top selection (25.0 percent) after finishing 7-59 on the season. But the worst record hardly secures the top pick, as just last year the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Draft Lottery with only a 2.8 percent chance.

In addition, since the lottery moved to its present format in 1994, the team with (or tied for) the best odds has won just three of the 18 lotteries: Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 (Allen Iverson), Cavaliers in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando Magic in 2004 (Dwight Howard). By comparison, the teams with the third and fifth-best odds have won four times.

It is new territory for the Bobcats franchise. Since joining the NBA in 2004, Charlotte has never held the No. 1 overall pick, and the Bobcats highest selection was in 2004 when they picked Emeka Okafor No. 2 overall (the Bobcats originally had the No. 4 pick, but traded with the Los Angeles Clippers).

Ten current franchises have never made the No. 1 overall pick in an NBA draft since 1966 (start of common draft). Along with the Bobcats, the Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent chance) are the only other team in the 2012 lottery.

The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, have a 0.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, the third straight year they have held the worst odds. In addition, this is the fifth time in the last 12 years the Rockets have missed the playoffs despite having a winning record.

Looking ahead, since the start of the lottery in 1985, 13 of the 27 No. 1 overall picks have gone on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, including 2011 No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving. In addition, since 1990, four overall No. 1 picks went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and make the postseason (Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber and David Robinson).

Rondo among elite playoff point guards

May, 6, 2012
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info

David Butler II/US PresswireRajon Rondo (right) has double-digit assists in each of his last three playoff games.
Rajon Rondo is making it clear how important point guard play is in the NBA playoffs.

Rondo is the first player with at least 20 points and 16 assists with no more than one turnover in a playoff game since Tim Hardaway for the Golden State Warriors in 1991, who had 27 points, 20 assists and one turnover against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Rondo, Hardaway and Magic Johnson are the only players to accomplish this feat in the last 25 years.

In the last 25 seasons, a Boston Celtics player has had at least 16 assists in a playoff game eight times. Rondo has seven of those performances (Larry Bird had the other in 1990).

Rondo consistently gets it done in the playoffs. Among players in NBA history with fewer than three turnovers per game, only John Stockton (10.1) averages more assists per game than Rondo (8.6).

With Rondo on the court in the playoffs, the Celtics are 14 points better per 100 possessions than they are when Rondo is off the court.

Their offense is significantly better with Rondo, scoring 21 more points per 100 possessions. They're shooting 10 percentage points higher from the field and 13 percentage points higher on 3-point attempts, and they're averaging nine more assists with 5.5 fewer turnovers per 48 minutes with Rondo on the court.

A popular definition of a great point guard is one who makes his teammates better. There’s no better example of that in the playoffs than Rondo with Kevin Garnett. When Rondo is on the court in this series, Garnett is averaging eight more points per 48 minutes and shooting 25 percent better from the field.

Garnett, Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass are all scoring more, shooting better and have a better plus-minus when Rondo is on the court.

How important is a reliable point guard in the playoffs? Just ask the Bulls, who lost Derrick Rose to a torn ACL and went from an NBA title favorite to a First Round underdog.

Or how about the New York Knicks, who were outscored by a combined 60 points in their first three games against the Miami Heat before barely staying alive in Game 4?

Certainly, injuries to Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert have hurt the Knicks at point guard. No team has fewer assists (12.5) or more turnovers (19.5) per game in the playoffs than the Knicks. Their starting point guard, Baron Davis, who exited Game 4 with a dislocated patella, has 13 assists and 13 turnovers in the series. Every single other playoff team has at least one player with more assists per game in the playoffs than Davis, who leads the Knicks.

Still not sure how important strong point guard play is in the playoffs? Over the last three seasons, point guards with at least 12 assists are 19-6 in playoff games.

More costly ACL injury: Rubio or Rose?

May, 5, 2012
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info

Getty ImagesBulls point guard Derrick Rose (left) and Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (right) each suffered a torn ACL.
Ricky Rubio and Derrick Rose both tore their ACL’s this season. Rubio did so March 9 against the Lakers after the Timberwolves entered the day tied with the Rockets for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Rose went down with 1:10 remaining in Game 1 of the First Round and the game already in hand for the Bulls.

Which point guard was more valuable to their team’s success this season? Most would probably assume Rose, the reigning MVP, was once again one of the most valuable players in the NBA when he was healthy. But is it possible that Rubio could’ve been a more valuable player than Rose?

In games Rubio played this season, the Timberwolves were 21-20 and had a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Without him, the Timberwolves lost 20 of their final 25 games and finished last place in the Northwest Division.

With Rubio off the court, the Timberwolves were 7.1 points worse per 48 minutes. The Timberwolves offense wasn’t affected as much as their defense was without Rubio. They scored 1.4 more points and allowed 5.7 fewer points per 48 minutes with Rubio on the court.

Rose missed 27 games during the regular season and the Bulls were 18-9 in those games. They were significantly better at 32-7 with Rose, but they still maintained the top seed in the East without him.

The Bulls were 3.5 points worse per 48 minutes with Rose off the court this season. The Bulls were greatly affected offensively without Rose, but their defense actually improved. They scored 8.2 fewer points and allowed 4.7 more points per 48 minutes with Rose off the court.

Neither Rubio nor Rose will be able to compete for their respective countries in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Which player’s injury will have a larger effect, Rubio on Spain or Rose on USA?

In the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Rubio averaged 8.1 assists per 40 minutes, the second-highest behind Argentina’s Pablo Prigioni. Spain had to rely heavily on Rubio running the point without Jose Calderon, who injured his leg and didn’t play in Turkey.

Calderon will be an offensive asset, but Spain could be hurt defensively without Rubio. Since Calderon entered the NBA in 2004, nobody has better than his 4.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. This season, the Raptors scored more, shot better and had a much better assist-to-turnover ratio when Calderon was on the court, but their opponents also scored more and shot better while Calderon was out there.

Raul Lopez, Sergio Llull and Juan Carlos Navarro could also contribute for Spain at the point.

Rose led USA in assists per game (3.2) in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Without him, USA’s point guard options are Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook. In the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Paul and Williams didn’t play and Westbrook averaged 18.8 points, 5.4 assists and 5.8 rebounds per 40 minutes. Paul (9.1 APG) and Williams (8.7 APG) both ranked in top five in the NBA this season in assists per game (Calderon was 4th and Rubio was 6th).

Bulls miss Rose's defense in Game 2

May, 2, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

US Presswire
76ers guard Jrue Holiday took advantage of the Derrick Rose-less Bulls to even the series 1-1.
The Chicago Bulls are used to playing without guard Derrick Rose. But at least during the second half Tuesday night, they looked like a team helpless without the 2010-2011 NBA MVP.

Out for the season after tearing his ACL in Game 1, Rose could only watch from a skybox as the Bulls were trounced by the Philadelphia 76ers after halftime in a 109-92 defeat. The 17-point loss is tied for the largest in the 34 games Chicago has played without Rose since drafting him in 2008.

The Bulls, who were 18-9 in the regular season without Rose, fared well in the opening two quarters, dominating the offensive glass to take an eight-point lead into the half. However, the team must not have been too inspired by coach Tom Thibodeau’s halftime speech.

The Sixers ran the Bulls off the court in the third quarter, outscoring them 36-14, including 11-0 on fast-break points. Philly also shot 68.2 percent from the field (to the Bulls’ 25 percent) and outrebounded them 14-5. The 22-point margin is the most the 76ers have outscored an opponent by in any playoff quarter in the last 15 seasons.

Nobody took advantage of Rose’s absence more than Sixers guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday poured in a postseason career-high 26 points and shot 11-15 on field goals. During the series, Holiday has shot the ball nearly twice as well with Rose on the bench than when he was on the court (70.6 to 37.5).

In fact, the entire 76ers team was accurate from the floor Tuesday night. Their 59 percent shooting from the field was Philly’s highest mark in a playoff game since 2001. This number was bolstered by their dominance inside of five feet (20-27, 74.1 percent). It was the third-highest field goal percentage allowed by Chicago from that distance this season.

In their two seasons under Thibodeau, the Bulls have never allowed a team to shoot 59 percent. And Michael Jordan was still on the team the last time they let an opponent shoot that well in a playoff game (1998).

The Bulls now must head to Philadelphia with the series tied 1-1. In order to regain home-court advantage, they will need to find a way to replace Rose’s production. C.J. Watson, who started for Rose, and John Lucas were unable to do that in Game 2. Although the two combined for 27 points, they handed out just seven assists. Center Joakim Noah, who led the team with 21 points, had five assists himself.

They’re still in the series, but the Bulls will have to cool the 76ers’ red-hot shooting soon. Or else, the bloom will be off their outstanding 50-16 season.