While You Weren't Watching: Ricky Rubio attacks, LeBron James naps and more top plays you missed.
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:
• New stripes. Ricky Rubio has been both shaky in crunch-time situations and a real, consistent disappointment in his efforts to finish around the rim. Against Brooklyn he was neither, as Rubio — without the aid of a set play or even a screen — blew by Deron Williams to finish over a helping Brook Lopez:
One shot isn’t going to redefine Rubio’s career nor alter his trajectory moving forward. Yet if he can finish enough of his shots around the basket, Rubio fundamentally changes his value as a playmaker. The threat of the finish is a crucial point of separation between those who make good passes and those who run excellent offenses by way of their dribble penetration.
• Wanting effort. LeBron James is a great defender in terms of capability, but to be frank he’s a bit out of practice. Last season James actively paced himself on that end; no longer was he taking on the challenge of defending an opponent’s top wing scorer so consistently, and in all of his matchups James played a style of defense that was more reserved if not altogether casual. The frustrations in Cleveland haven’t much helped matters, as thus far James has gone through far too many possessions without playing a lick of defense. Watch here:
This is the third quarter of a winnable game. Yet upon getting screened, James makes a half-assed swipe at the ball from behind and then relaxes at the three-point line. Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez are then left to work in close proximity of the basket against Kevin Love alone, resulting in a completely uncontested jumper. Not cool, LeBron.
• The power of a 5-11 guard. In terms of listed weight, Mavs guard J.J. Barea gives up 105 pounds to Boston’s Jared Sullinger. That didn’t stop him from dislodging Sullinger’s position around the rim on this play with a slight bump of the shoulder. By the time Sullinger is actually ready to contest Barea’s shot, his momentum is carrying him away from the play:
The league’s smallest guards have to find all kinds of ways to create space to survive, but rarely do we see them bump a much larger player out of their path.
• Missed opportunity. This beauty of a play should have netted Denver two points and made things interesting by reducing the margin to a single possession. Wilson Chandler just couldn’t quite finish it:
There’s some contact, to be fair, that could very well have been whistled a foul in some other context. But make or miss, win or loss — let’s give Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw his due in scripting a perfect quick-two opportunity that took about three seconds off the clock.
• Matchup control. Robin Lopez isn’t regarded as much of an offensive threat, but through five games this season he’s averaging a career-high 9.6 field goal attempts per game. Many of those come by way of offensive rebounds. In certain matchups, however, Portland will pound the ball into the post through Lopez to capitalize on the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge often draws an opponent’s best interior defender:
Lopez’s offensive game is perfect for this kind of selective deployment. Portland has enough firepower that it doesn’t need much scoring from Lopez on a nightly basis, yet on those occasions where the matchups allow he can score over lesser post defenders with hook shots from either hand.
Add in Rajon Rondo to pick off any desperation passes and Boston has something truly sinister on its hands.
• Real, slow-cooked growth. Derrick Favors — who, if you hadn’t noticed, is averaging 18.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game — is an altogether more confident player than in seasons past. He’s making moves with the ball the old Favors wouldn’t have even considered, be it on little attack moves off the dribble or even passes with a slightly higher degree of difficulty:
Quin Snyder’s balanced, fluid offense came along at just the right time. Favors has been on the brink of something for a few years now, but he looks like he might finally hit his stride now that his cultivated skills and court awareness can be put to good use.
• A young team finding itself. On that note, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how fun the Jazz have become on the whole. A year ago this team was stodgy and overmatched on a near-nightly basis. Utah still doesn’t have the talent to challenge for a playoff spot, but their style is already so much more dynamic. Just watch the ball movement here:
This is part for the course in SLC so far, and because of it the Jazz are all kinds of watchable.
• Experimentation. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen this particular method of clearing space in the lane, but damn if it isn’t effective:
Zach Randolph is one of the great innovators of our time.
• A comeback. O.J. Mayo is back in the mix in Milwaukee, and though he’s cooled a bit from his hot start (Mayo began his season with 42 points in two games), Mayo still has the skills to produce valuable minutes for a Bucks team that could use them. His playmaking turn against the Pacers was especially refreshing. In it, Mayo registered five assists in just 22 minutes, including this one:
For the record, that’s two fine passes from Mayo on a single play: First the perfect bounce pass across the lane to an open Zaza Pachulia, then another to set up Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim. It’s also worth noting that Antetokounmpo was the slotted power forward in this particular lineup, giving him minutes at four different positions including the preseason.
• An oddly calm finish. On this sequence, Carl Landry goes from sealing Kenneth Faried in the post to collecting the ball from the ground on one knee to finishing casually over the 7-1 Timofey Mozgov:
You could challenge Landry’s footwork here (it’s not the standing up that’s the problem, but the way in which he pivots), but I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on boldness alone. What a weird, weird play.