• Andrei Kirilenko's tremendous basketball value is hidden in nuance, and may not be immediately apparent to those who don't make a conscious effort to track what happens away from the ball. To the Kirilenko uninitiated, Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game offers an important primer -- a layout of the incredible amount of thought and instinct that goes into all that Kirilenko offers. There's plenty of value for the basketball die-hards, too, as Kirilenko offers a window into his play-by-play process:
"Since the beginning of my career, I kind of played on both ends of the court, very energetic, slashing in," he adds. He's the anti-Joe Johnson, more focused on what he can do without the ball than with it. "I've never been a great shooter. I've always been the guy who likes to play with no ball in hand. If it needs to be, good. If I don't have the ball, okay. I still adjust."
Kirilenko's right that he's not a stellar shooter, but he gets to the basket with ease by sneaking around. Last season, he shot nearly 70 percent from the floor on plays classified as "cuts," and a scorching 76 percent in transition, per Synergy. True to form, over 80 percent of Kirilenko's shot attempts have come near the rim, and he's drawn most of his fouls with off-ball basket attacks.
That's why we're talking about offense: how he scores informs how he defends. He's masterful at restricting open spaces for defenders that he's so accustomed to finding on offense. His movements can be rugged, almost spastic, but happen in a blink, and can change the game before anybody realizes what just happened.
• So Paul George might compete in the slam dunk contest if there's good competition, as might John Wall. It can't be hard to get those two on the phone, right?
• Tom Ziller perfectly (and succinctly) captures the need for salary precision under the current collective bargaining agreement, no matter how many team-friendly devices have been implemented:
But something the tighter salary cap and more punishing luxury tax have also done is made every dollar in a team's cap figure more scarce, more valuable. When you can't pay away the damage painlessly, you need to better manage your cap sheet. Mistakes are, in a way, magnified. One bad move with a mid-level deal and you're at a real disadvantage, because throwing money at the problem isn't as effective.
• I don't know that I would agree with Brad Stevens' assessment that Rajon Rondo is a "very good pull-up shooter," but it's good that he's forcing the issue a bit on his jumper considering that the Celtics have nothing more to lose.
• In a guest post for Hickory High, Seth Partnow pays tribute to the perpetually underrated Kyle Korver – specifically in the context of his inclusion in Team USA's 28-player pool:
Much is made of the capacity to bend or breakdown a defense while handling the ball on the perimeter or posting up. The majority of the offense-first players on the Team USA preliminary roster are players well known for possessing one or both of those particular skillsets. But Korver represents something much different. Through the danger posed by his shooting as well as his tireless movement off the ball, Korver has the ability to dislocate defenders without ever touching the ball...
…while Korver’s contribution to that play (and many others like it over the season) won’t show up in the stat sheet, his measurable contributions far exceed those of the average “three-point specialist.” He averages almost three assists per game himself, and his overall passing contribution to Atlanta’s offense dwarfs that of other similar players. According to “True Usage” (a metric of my own design intended to measure the total involvement of a player in his team’s offense in terms of both shooting AND creating shots for others through use of SportVU data on assist chance, much more detail here), Korver has much a greater role in setting up others in Atlanta’s offense than his catch-and-shoot peers such as Thompson, Wesley Matthews, J.J Redick, Terrence Ross or Kevin Martin, and slightly lower than that of Beal, a player who takes on a much greater ball-handling and initiation role for Washington than does Korver for Atlanta.
• Pacers fans, still a bit raw after Lance Stephenson's omission from the Eastern Conference All-Star team, let Joe Johnson have it. • Food for thought on the All-Star exclusion of Anthony Davis: "The only semi-plausible reason I've heard for excluding Anthony Davis is the time he missed due to injury. But the thing is... he's played more total minutes than Dwayne Wade, DeMarcus Cousins, Tony Parker or Chris Paul."