While You Weren't Watching: The most underrated plays of the week
The NBA regular season operates at a frenzied pace, with one game and storyline bleeding into the next. Every Friday here at SI.com, we'll slow things down in While You Weren't Watching -- a spotlight on the little moments in the week's slate that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle. Here's what you may have missed:
• Stretch marks. The value of a power forward or center who can shoot from the perimeter should at this point be self-evident. Having even one such player in the rotation can be a decongestant for otherwise cluttered lineups, which is directly related to both a free agent boon for shooting forwards (cha-ching, Channing Frye!) and a priority on spot shooting in the development of certain bigs. One forward who has apparently taken up the trade: Magic rookie Aaron Gordon. Thus far he's spaced out to the three-point line by design, where he's taken three attempts in his first two games. The first was a clean make, lending some hope to the process of expanding his range. The second…well…:
Gordon and Orlando are both in a perfect position to undergo this kind of development, but it's going to be a long road ahead.
For those counting at home, Payton poked the ball away four times on that one sequence. Credit to Holiday for scrapping, too, but the momentum of his efforts fell flat with Ryan Anderson's thudding corner three-pointer.
• A first time for everything. Those who turned into the B-side matchup of the Pelicans and Magic on opening night were treated to a true rarity: The incessantly right-hand-dominant Tyreke Evans, making a move and a finish to his left:
The catch: If you watch closely, you'll see that Evans goes up for the finish with both hands. Given Evans' troubles in finishing at the rim with either hand over the past year or so, it's hard to blame him for his caution.
• A different angle. On any extended possession in the NBA, you're likely to find several players away from the ball making important contributions to shape its course. Watch here as Devin Harris, assigned to guard Tony Parker in the weak-side corner, becomes the unexpected option for back-line help in a Manu Ginobili-Tim Duncan pick-and-roll:
This responsibility would traditionally fall to the big not directly involved in the play, but Boris Diaw's station at the top of the floor puts Dirk Nowitzki in a bind. In comes Harris in his stead, hovering just in the paint as the play develops and hopping outside the restricted area when Duncan begins his roll. It's not often that you'll see a rolling Duncan stopped in his tracks.
• Veteran maneuvers. Nice chicken wing, Kobe:
• End-to-end coverage with a single dribble. Fast breaks in the NBA are predominantly guard-driven: An outlet is made to a ball handler, and off they go with help from a streaking teammate or two. Those teams that embrace the transition game as a point of strategy, though, can work the ball quickly up the floor in a way that keeps the defense guessing. Houston is one of the very best:
By running out and passing quickly, Houston creates a 5-on-3 situation out of which Trevor Ariza gets a wide-open three and Terrence Jones -- who initially grabbed the defensive rebound -- converts a second-chance bucket.
• Shake on the spin. The spin move is common practice in high-level basketball, as much a part of the game as the hesitation move or crossover. Paul Pierce, though, is one of the few NBA players who uses the spin as a weapon in other ways. The same principles that make the spin so deadly on the move make it just as effective any time the defense is tilting in a particular direction. Here a standstill spin against a closing defender helps Pierce transition quickly from contested shot to better look:
• Intuitive reads. Instead of taking what could have been his first NBA shot attempt, Doug McDermott leveraged his reputation as a shooter to bait his defender into the air, calmly stepped up to pull a second defender to him and passed off to an abandoned Aaron Brooks:
The scoring potential is nice with McDermott, but it's these little plays that bode well for his future as a pro. • Working the angles. Thanks to the Spurs, a handful of teams now employ set plays in which a ball handler passes to an open shooter on the weak side down the baseline. On this sequence, Derrick Rose finds Kirk Hinrich in a similar setup out of what is essentially an ad lib:
The baseline can be dangerous territory for an offensive player, yet it still seems like an under-utilized resource on feeds such as this.
• Confusing decisions. With four fouls in the fourth quarter of a winnable game, DeMarcus Cousins attempted to set this screen:
• Big payoffs. This possession borders on being a proper highlight (which we'll try to steer clear of in this space), but it's worth inclusion for two reasons: 1. Draymond Green gets absolutely no statistical credit for this play, but he creates a turnover by showing on the pick-and-roll and jumping the ensuing pass in one fluid motion. Terrific stuff from one of the league's finest defenders. 2. Stephen Curry, with his left hand, throws a cross-body bullet down the floor to a leaking Leandro Barbosa.
• Another day at the office. Andre Iguodala is so outstanding a defender as to draw the most difficult perimeter assignment on a nightly basis. His work begins before his man touches the ball and doesn't end until his team secures the rebound. On this possession, track just how much he does to influence where Rudy Gay gets the ball, how much time remains on the shot clock when he does and how difficult a shot he ultimately forces:
• Smoove. Josh Smith catches plenty of heat for his decision making, but he honestly doesn't get enough credit for passes like this one:
Everything we know about Smith suggests that he's going to hoist up a jumper here. Yet as he takes a few dribbles and casually goes around a screen, Smith eyes D.J. Augustin in the corner. He doesn't go up to shoot and opt for a pass at the last moment. He's gauging the attention of rookie Andrew Wiggins, who leans in to help against Wiggins and ends up leaving Augustin entirely. The pass itself is a beauty that hits Augustin right in the hands, and that his shot doesn't fall is no fault of Smith's.