By Rob Mahoney
• Kyle Weidie of Truth About It caught Gregg Popovich at his best -- waxing on his long-term functional marriage with Tim Duncan:
“[Duncan] doesn’t really even talk to me that much, anymore. We’ve been married so long that we ...” Popovich trailed off. “Complete each other’s sentences,” chimed in a reporter. The coach was asked if Duncan has ever verbalized that he wants to show people, the league, that he still has it.
“Half the things I say he doesn’t hear, the other half he tunes out if he did hear … because he figures it’s bull----,” continued the coach in jest. “Manu’s [Ginobili] getting to that point, Tony’s [Parker] close to it … Time to go!,” Popovich finished with a rare smile.
• It's not at all uncommon at this point in the season to see some congestion in the standings, but take a look at the Western Conference as it stands today: three teams are tied for seventh place and another three teams sit just a game behind. We may be in need of a qualifying round-robin tournament just to sort through the tangled web of tiebreakers.
• Grantland's Brett Koremenos takes a fascinating look at the Bucks' hand-off-heavy offense, built to minimize the specific playmaking weaknesses of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings.
• It's been rough of late for the Bulls, who are now facing the effects of turning over their entire bench in the offseason while loading up their roster with marginal NBA talent. Ricky O'Donnell of SB Nation Chicago dove into the Bulls' woes, with a magnifying glass on the rotation decisions of the revered Tom Thibodeau (via BDL):
And then there's the problem no one wants to talk about: Thibodeau's minutes management. It's been an issue long before the Bulls blew this 27-point lead, but no one really cared as long as the Bulls kept winning. With and without superstar Derrick Rose, Chicago still won the most games in the NBA each of the last two regular seasons, largely because Thibodeau is crazy good. Emphasis on crazy. Thibodeau's maniacal commitment to running players into the ground has had consequences and will continue to have consequences.
It's easy enough to spot on the surface level: Deng leads the NBA in minutes, playing 41 per night. That is insane, but it's nothing new for Chicago's warrior small forward: Deng led the league in minutes per game last season and finished fourth the season before. Second in the NBA in minutes? That would be Joakim Noah, who's logging an average of 39.2 minutes per night. No other center cracks the top 15.
• It's so very nice to see an engaged Deron Williams threading pocket bounce passes through multiple defenders without so much as a glance.
• LeBron James weighs in on the league's best Eurostepper, with three candidates in the running: Manu Ginobili, Dwyane Wade and James Harden. There are no wrong answers, but I'd vote Harden simply because he has such command over when to pick up his dribble to best dupe defenders, which makes them even more vulnerable to a subsequent Eurostep.
• As Jeremy Conlin reminds us in his piece for HoopSpeak, being not bad is actually pretty good for the Bobcats. Charlotte has made some serious improvements this season, and although those improvements are overstated a bit by its 7-6 record, some fairly substantial gains can be found in Charlotte's defense:
Where Charlotte has made the most headway, however, is defensively. After finishing dead last in defensive efficiency last year at 110.4, they’ve actually clawed their way close to league average at 105.4 this year. The biggest difference between this year and last year is that they’ve stopped giving up a lot of uncontested shots at the rim. Last season, Charlotte allowed 30.8 field goal attempts at the rim per game, by far the most in the league. Teams shot 63.3% on those attempts, a slightly less-horrific 9th-worst in the league. This year, they’ve surrounded the rim with barbed wire and hired that guy that hit Nazis in the head with a baseball bat from Inglourious Basterds to patrol the basket area. They’re still surrendering a lot of shots at the rim (27.9 per game, third-most in the league), but opponents are making just 61.5% of them, which is the 7th-best mark in the league. And, entering Monday’s game against Oklahoma City, they sat at 58.3%, which was the BEST mark in the league.
That sound you just heard was your own mind blowing.
• Here's another fun shot chart, courtesy of Jerry Stackhouse. The restricted area attempts aren't really worth considering, but those corner threes -- on which he is shooting 9-of-15, for those counting at home -- could very well justify Stack's spot in Brooklyn's rotation.
• There are a lot of interrelated factors that go into the fact that the Celtics' defense at the three-point line has taken a serious step back, but the statistical bottom line speaks volumes about Boston's uncharacteristic defensive play this season.
• Ming Wang breaks down Chandler Parsons' statistical improvements this season for Red 94. The strides don't show up much in his per-minute numbers yet have translated to a three-point bump in Player Efficiency Rating:
This jump in PER has is largely a result of improved scoring efficiency as well as shot distribution. Per Basketball-Reference, Parsons’ field goal percentage has improved from 45% to 47% while his three-point shooting has improved from 34% to a well above-average 41%. Parsons is not only shooting better from three, he is also taking more threes this season: through 13 games, Chandler has taken 75 threes compared with 178 threes all of last season (NBA.com). Another area of improvement has been his free throw shooting. Parsons is both taking more free throws this season (per NBA.com, Parsons has shot 31 free throws through 13 games versus 78 all of last season) and converting them at a much more respectable 74% clip, a 19% improvement from last season. The upshot is that Parsons’ true shooting percentage has improved from 51% to 59%, resulting in an improvement in his offensive efficiency.