Tuesday November 10th, 2015

Derrick Rose doesn’t just need to be more aggressive. He doesn’t just need to put his head down and go to the basket every time. We know this because he’s already doing it (and he already did it last year), and it’s not really working. 

Heading into Monday’s game against the 76ers, Rose was averaging 9.7 drives per game, per NBA.com’s SportVU data. That’s the 10th-highest average in the league. In throwing a pass on only 20.6% of those drives, Rose ranked dead last among the 25 players averaging at least 7.0 drives per game in passing percentage on those drives (this isn’t new; he ranked second-to-last among 35 similar players last year). Despite that fact, he had the fourth-highest turnover percentage among that group of 25 players. 

Much of this is because, on his jaunts to the rim, Rose largely just puts his head down (there’s that phrasing again) and looks for his own shot. It’s not surprising that he can’t spot his teammates if and when they slip open; for the most part, he’s just not looking for them. He’s not looking to do anything but shoot. 

Let’s look at a couple quick examples from Sunday’s loss to the Timberwolves:

[youtube: https://youtu.be/zrotM6vzjyY]

On the first play, Rose starts his drive with around 15 seconds on the shot clock and shoots over two defenders with 11 seconds left. He simply puts his head down and goes, and because he does that, he doesn’t see Pau Gasol flash open just before he starts to jump for the shot.

It sort of looks like Andrew Wiggins (22 in blue, sloughing off Jimmy Butler at the top of the key) is in position to intercept that pass, but he’s not. He’s about a foot behind Gasol and would basically have to go through Pau if the pass were delivered on target. Instead of getting Pau a bucket or a foul to extend the lead, Rose lofts a shot over two defenders completely trained on him and misses it. 

On the second drive, Minnesota knows to play Rose for the shot, so Karl-Anthony Towns feels perfectly comfortable rotating off Gasol near the rim again. Not only that, but Nemanja Bjelica can freely rotate down to cover Gasol (this is a pretty standard series of rotations) because he knows Rose won’t spot Nikola Mirotic open on the weak side of the court — even though that’s the kind of pass expert drivers from the point guard position like John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Steph Curry make all the time. It’s a tough pass, to be sure, but Rose surely knows by now exactly how teams play his drives, and in turn also knows that whoever is on the weak side will pop open. If he keeps his head up, he sees Niko out of the corner of his eye. 

Not only is Rose mostly uninterested in passing once he begins his drives, but too often, his drives aren’t getting close enough to the rim.

[youtube: https://youtu.be/Echd8yY-E1A]

According to Basketball-Reference.com, 33% of Rose’s shots this season have come from between three and 10 feet from the basket, up from just over 15% last season. Not only that, but the percentage of shots he’s taken within three feet is down from 26% to 18%. Heading into Monday, he’d finished inside of three feet at about the same rate as last year (55.6% vs. 55.8%) but that back-of-the-paint/floater range has been a bugaboo: prior to Monday’s game, he’d connected on only 39.4% of those shots. 

All of this is why, as of Monday afternoon, Rose had a .415 True Shooting Percentage and the Bulls were averaging a meager 96.9 points per 100 possessions with him in the game — the season-long equivalent of last season’s Knicks offense. The Chicago scoring machine hasn’t been much better with Rose out of the game (97.1), but it’s extremely atypical for it to struggle this badly when he’s in, given how it’s performed throughout the rest of his career. 

Even some of Rose’s better stretches, like his fourth quarter against the Thunder last week, have been peppered with poor decision-making.

[youtube: https://youtu.be/zc5PQKRgleM]

On all three possessions in the video above, Rose draws a big man on a switch and settles for a step back jumper. These are cases where he should drive to the rim, not try shots he doesn’t usually make, over the outstretched arms of bigger players. They all went in, so it worked out fine in this particular game, but the process wasn’t great. If he continues to take those kinds of shots all season, it’s more likely than not that they’ll be unsuccessful most of the time. 

I don’t say any of this to pick on Rose. The portions of games where he really has it going are as thrilling now as they were when he was the 2011 MVP. When he busts out an acrobatic layup or stops on a dime and goes up and under a defender, I perk up in my seat just like everyone else, and I’m not even a Bulls fan.

It’s just that Rose needs to be smarter about when he tries to do those kinds of things because he doesn’t have the physical consistency to do them — successfully — on the regular. He has to get better at picking his spots. Drive when lanes are there, pass when they aren’t, and trust that the ball will come back around if it should. When he does drive, he’s got to keep his head up and on the lookout for rotating defenders and, in connection with that, which teammate just popped open as a result. 

Both he and the Bulls will be better for it if he does.

This Week's Number

It seems like every year, some new stat pops up that people start suddenly monitoring very closely. This year, it looks like it’s going to be the staggering of minutes so that at least one of a team’s “Big Three” is always on the floor. The two teams that most noticeably do not do this — and it’s noticeable mostly because they seem to play so poorly in the minutes that all three stars sit — are the Thunder and the Clippers. 

OKC under Billy Donovan has gotten slightly better on this front — they’re playing approximately 5.4 minutes a game without any of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or Serge Ibaka on the floor, which is slightly less than any of the last three seasons — but those minutes are still pretty damaging. Through seven games, the Thunder have a -4.1 Net Rating with all three of those players off the court. That’s not great. 

The Clippers … well, that’s a different story. Heading into Monday’s game against the Grizzlies, Doc Rivers was using lineups that didn’t include any of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, or DeAndre Jordan for 10.3 minutes a night, up front 8.1 per game last season. Not only that but those units’ collective offensive efficiency was down from 99.1 to 81.4, and their defensive efficiency was up from 104.7 to 107.4. 

That means their Net Rating in Paul/Griffin/Jordan-less minutes has dropped from an already dismal -5.6 all the way down to an abominable (This Week’s Number alert) -25.6. Yes, Clipper units that Doc Rivers has been using for over 10 minutes a night have been getting blasted by 25.6 points per 100 possessions. If that seems like it might be pretty bad, that’s because it’s really freaking bad.

Three Things I Noticed on League Pass

1. Mo Gotti: Mo Williams going back to the Cavaliers reminded me that every time he scores a basket, the game ops crew at the Q plays a short string of the theme song from The Godfather. It’s terrific every single time. An example:

[youtube: https://youtu.be/z3PZRqiN0I0]

Presumably, they do this because Mo’s nickname is Mo Gotti. Why they make the jump from Gotti (a reference to reputed mobster John Gotti) to The Godfather, who knows. But that’s one of the great movie theme songs, which aren’t really a thing that exist outside of Bond movies anymore. 

2. Backward pick-and-rolls: This is something the Mavericks loved to do with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry back in the day. They’d run a pick-and-roll where, rather than having Nowitzki, the big man, screen for Terry, they’d flip it around. It confused the hell out of defenses on the regular. (Apologies for the video quality here. It’s from three years ago.)

[youtube: https://youtu.be/rO5sA7H00EQ]

It didn’t work, but it was encouraging to see the Mavs freelance their way into that same look early in the fourth quarter of their game against the Raptors. Once they get more practice with it, Dirk and Deron Williams should be able to make some interesting things happen by putting defenders in unusual positions.

[youtube: https://youtu.be/tuc-C8Hl9QA]

They weren’t the only ones going to that backward pick-and-roll look this week, either. The Clippers ran two variations of it (technically not on league pass, since the game was on ESPN, but it’s connected to the Mavericks thing); first with Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford, and then with Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick, in their game against the Warriors.

[youtube: https://youtu.be/Stl1iMaE1SM]

They’ve also been known to run similar action with Chris Paul passing down and then screening for Blake out of the post: a reverse snug pick-and-roll. It usually gets them some pretty nice looks, too. 

3. Andrew Wiggins might have a signature move: One of the first things we ever saw Andrew Wiggins do in an NBA game was a driving spin move that turned into a monster dunk in Summer League.

[youtube: https://youtu.be/QO1GWscVyHc]

(Side note: If you’re wondering why Wiggins is wearing a red jersey in that video, I’ll remind you that Wiggins played his Summer League games for the Cavaliers, who drafted him at No. 1 and signed him, causing them to have to wait for three months to trade him to Minnesota in the Kevin Love deal. Remember that? That was fun — and pointless.) Anyway, Wiggins broke out a very similar spin move off the dribble against the Bulls on Saturday night. He also finished with a similarly monster dunk.

Wiggins still probably needs to be a bit more aggressive in looking for his shot this season than he has been so far, but it does look like he knows the right situations in which to use this particular move. The footwork when he does is spectacular. You can see him set up poor Taj Gibson by taking one last dribble to his right before quickly wheeling around and elevating, almost in one motion.

Kobe, Kobe, Kobe

Byron Scott (or somebody else in the Lakers organization) should sit Kobe Bryant down and have some version of the following conversation with him:

Scott: Do you want to win?

Kobe: Yes.

Scott: Will you do whatever it takes to win?

Kobe: Yes.

Scott: Good. Come off the bench. Play 15–20 minutes a night. Shoot spot-up threes. Make the easy pass and the right pass. Try on defense. It’s the only way we have any chance.

But that can’t happen, for reasons largely beyond comprehension but that have something to do with the amorphous concept of “legacy” and the financial concept of “local TV deals.” Instead, the entire organization kowtows to Kobe, he plays 30-plus minutes a night, shoots whenever and however he wants, and we wind up with nonsense like this, from Sunday’s loss to the Knicks:

[tweet: https://twitter.com/Terence_Huie/status/663488222584897536]

It doesn’t change how good he was for nearly all of his career and it shouldn’t really influence our collective opinion of where he stands on the list of all-time greats, but man this is just sad. Kobe’s skill set would actually lend itself pretty well to being a part-time, supporting player, but he’s just not willing, and it’s becoming excruciating to watch.

Quote of the Week

All that said, Kobe still is a terrific quote. Here he is recalling a conversation he had with Michael Jordan before MJ’s final All-Star Game.

[tweet: https://twitter.com/steven_lebron/status/662877222278180864]

That definitely sounds like exactly what Kobe would have said.

BONUS QUOTE: Cavs coach David Blatt on Timofey Mozgov trying to shoot threes:

[tweet: https://twitter.com/H_Grove/status/663504149099716609]

Watch Draymond Green almost single-handedly snuff out every single option on this Clippers possession. It’s incredible.

[tweet: https://twitter.com/UKhanNBA/status/662126849355575297]

Draymond starts the possession covering Blake Griffin but switches onto Chris Paul immediately after a high screen-and-roll. He cuts off CP3’s driving lane, and when Paul passes to Griffin posting up Klay Thompson at the nail, Green brings a hard double to force the ball out of Griffin’s hands. 

Griffin swings it around to Lance Stephenson, who makes the extra pass to Paul, so Green efficiently navigates two switched assignments and picks up Stephenson. 

When Griffin comes over to set a screen for Paul, Green knows he’s going to want to switch that, too, so he switches onto Griffin mid-screen and directs Thompson to pick up Stephenson. Blake sets the screen, Green switches onto Paul once again, and then perfectly plays the step-back three-point attempt, forcing Paul to kick it to Griffin, who has no chance of doing anything with the ball. 

That’s why he made so much money this summer, y’all. 

The Look Ahead

League Pass Game of the Week: Jazz at Cavaliers, Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST

The unstoppable force meets the immovable object? Yes, please. 

Heading into Monday night’s play, the Cavaliers had the NBA’s fifth-best offense, while the Jazz had the best defense. Per some crazy numbers from Nylon Calculus’ Ian Levy, the Jazz actually are allowing their opponents more drives than any other team in the league— at 33.3 per game — but they’re also allowing fewer points per drive than every team except the Wizards. That’s because Utah’s opponents are shooting only 32.0% from the field when they drive to the basket (third-worst in the NBA) while also turning the ball over 10% of the time (sixth-highest). 

Rudy Gobert and Derek Favors are absolute monsters, which is why the Jazz have allowed an utterly inhumane 84.1 points per 100 possessions when the two have shared the floor. EIGHTY FOUR POINT ONE. The Jazz are only six games into their season, but to give you an idea of just how preposterous that number is: the lowest recorded single-season mark in NBA.com’s database (which goes back to 2000) is 91.6, from the 2003–04 Spurs. Favors and Gobert units are 7.5 points better per 100 possessions than that so far this season.

Utah’s defense has actually been even stingier on the road than at home, too, which makes the fact that this game is at the Q even better. No player in basketball (save for Steph Curry) provides as great a test for defenses as LeBron James, so it should be a treat to watch his Cavs try to impose their offensive will on Quin Synder’s crew. It’s sort of a shame this game isn’t on national TV. More people should get to watch the Jazz defend the paint at all costs.

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