Ugh… some random thoughts after a horrible 0-4 week:
The Third Worst Defense…
… would be the equivalent to the defensive rating of 110.4 we had during the last four games. The difference in opponent shooting doesn’t even seem to be that significant when comparing this year’s top-10 worst defense to our last year’s squad which finished as the 6th best. More or less, our opponents are getting the same amount of shots from the same spots at about the same percentage they did last year. The thing is that the two places from which they have been more successful are the ones where you don’t want to be giving up shots and those are – at the rim and from the corner. Seemingly our new front-court of Marvin Williams alongside Al Jefferson has been the one to make us the worst team in the league in opponent field goal percentage from closer than 5 feet. We’ve suffered a drop from 56.3% (5th place) to 64.7%, per NBA.com.
The least you expect from a plodding big like a Jefferson is to drop back on pick-n-rolls and at least reduce the effectiveness of the play to a mid-range two from the ball handler. That hasn’t happened though even to some small extent. Guards are turning the corner on him or easily getting to the middle on “iced” pick-n-rolls, while pick-n-pops have been just unbearable to watch. Al tip-toeing on mid-range jumpshot close-outs has him looking like he’s thrown in a sport that is foreign to him. It’s as if he is an amateur who is unwillingly closing down on a way superior soccer player while not really being eager on defending him and getting embarrassed, yet doing it out of necessity, only to get left in the dust on the first step.
And when the guards start helping him out, sensing that he’s not able to drop back and contain both threats, this starts to happen…
Things aren’t exactly better if the other big is involved in the pick-n-roll and Al is left in the position to protect the rim:
What’s similar about all these shots? They’re generated out of the help defender leaving a man in the corner. Last year we were in the top10 in three of the four most important categories concerning opponent corner threes (left corner FG%, left corner FGs, right corner FG%, right corner FGs). It’s the exact opposite this year with us being placed in three of the four worst top-10s (while also being 11th worst in the fourth category).
Even though it takes away from Cody’s strengths of being able to move around the perimeter, perhaps, in situations like these we need to dial it down down a bit, not have Cody hedge and play a more conservative style because those are painful looks to give up. You can understand the motivation of the wings helping out since Al is very bad in such situations. They probably even saved us from a couple of lobs last week by being ultra-aggressive from the weak-side. But something has to give and I’d rather try getting our defense back to a more competent level by going the Portland route and attempting to hedge as little as possible and thus also over-helping as few times as we can later on in the possession. Because last week we were just absolutely getting shredded in pick-n-rolls (with the Channing Frye game being the lowlight) and I don’t know how longer can I wait for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to return.
Lance Stephenson’s Bounce Passes
Let’s turn to something a bit more cheerful in this week’s only like which is the bounce pass connection (and the connection, in general) between Lance and Cody and Biz. So far four out of five Biz’s assisted baskets have come from a pass by Stephenson, while Lance also has been the most generous finder of Cody Zeller (13 of a total of 41 baskets that came after an assist).
Him finding the space and the exact time to split the pick-n-roll coverage with a bounce pass is just beautiful:
I can’t disregard him getting benched twice in the last week though. That already makes for five missed fourth quarters out of 16 for Lance (one of them is the Golden State blow-out) and I seriously hope that coach Clifford has a feel for the guy and that he knows what he’s doing. Lance doesn’t strike me as a guy who’ll gladly buy Clifford showing him tough love and putting him on a short leash. Anything I say at this point about their relationship is just purely speculative though so the best I can do is show you the two defensive break-downs Lance committed last night in the third quarter before getting yanked for the rest of the game (obviously, Brian Roberts having his career game didn’t help Lance’s case either):
Stephenson is like the anti-Kemba in this aspect of the game. While Walker tends to get overly aggressive and attempts risky help on the ball away from his man, Lance somehow manages to look like a disinterested weak-side defender. Some sort of good intention on crowding the floor is there, yet his movement towards it and then back to his man is so nonchalant that it doesn’t really do the team any good, not to mention the fact that they often are random and not a part of our defensive schemes. Where he supposedly has to bump the screen-and-roller (and there’s no way Haslem should require that much attention) and quickly jump back out to his man, he’ll halfheartedly join in from the weak-side, offer nothing and get totally out of position for closing out his assignment:
Shooter on Al’s Side of the Floor
Another take on the players surrounding Al, piggybacking on what I wrote about PJ Hairston’s value last week. It had seemed to me that the wing on the side of the floor where Al posts up, had been getting the ball back out a lot more recently. The gut feeling checks out as far as Al’s passing numbers are concerned. Jefferson has passed the ball 30.5 times per game during our last six affairs after averaging 24 passes per game to start the season (or even only 21.1, if you discount the two overtime games in which Big Al naturally played more minutes and had more touches). For the people wondering, I did the math on his touches as well and, by the way, they are also basically the same as they were last year (37.8 front-court touches per 36 to the 38.1 touches he averaged last season). So there’s that… Problem is that it displayed the ineptitude of our team taking advantage of these situations with Hairston and Gary Neal missing some games. Here’s a replay of how that scenario can end if Hairston is on the court:
And now watch how Hendo lures Maurice Harkless right onto Big Al (even if he did make the shot) after Gerald plays the role of the man who replaces the cutter on the wing:
Meanwhile, Lance, accustomed to turning down even way better looks, can be ignored as Dallas easily manages to rotate back in their place after a double-team:
Even when it supposedly ends with a good possession as we do get the two points, it’s just a sad sight to watch. Opponents freely ignore Kemba (our best starting shooter not named Marvin) on that same wing, Lance’s quirk about thinking a second before making a decision displays itself, we almost turn it over in a goofy fashion and at the end it’s a jumper off the dribble that has no whatsoever connection to the advantage we previously had:
Going back to the point I made after week 1, I wish we saw Marvin slide in that spot on Al’s wing. Him standing on the opposite side of the paint serves no purpose and there actually are plays here and there when him being on the court gives us some sort of benefit when he’s not stationed besides the paint. The player who’s guarding Marvin can be coaxed into a tricky decision if he’s at least above the break (where he seemingly has been standing a bit more during Al’s post-ups as of late). Watch how Frye is a second late to leave Williams on a Vucevic front which would typically have at least one defender already in place to disrupt Al from the weak-side:
All in all, whether Al is trying to do it himself or whether he kicks the ball back out at a more regular basis our offense just doesn’t seem to have enough cohesion to score at a proper basis. The future of this season looks very bleak…
Lolcats Play of the Week:
This is the second time I give out this award and this is the second time I have to congratulate coach Clifford as the winner of “Lolcats Play of the Week”. He has earned this dishonor by drawing up the same damn Kemba and Al screen-and-roll again to decide the outcome of our game. At this point I assume that I’ll be able to keep updating this video for the whole year:
Lolcats Play of the Week Runner-Up:
This truly horrific screen-shot of the Clippers having absolutely no regard for the rest of our players besides Al:
Four defenders basically on one side of the floor, created by a wild Redick double team, is a rare sight. If you’re wondering, nor did Al make the shot, nor did he notice the suddenly wide open Stephenson.
I think my point has been proven with Bismack now back in the line-up. The weekly Maxiell “Rim Protection Update” is getting retired. At least for now…