The 10 most underrated NBA plays of the week, featuring Carmelo Anthony, Thaddeus Young and more.
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...
• A slow-motion breakdown. New Orleans has the pieces to be a competent defensive outfit, yet — as is the case with so many young teams — it isn’t always focused enough to guard for extended possessions. Watch as the Pelicans disrupt a Cavaliers fast break only to slowly drift out of sorts:
Jrue Holday does a terrific job of swatting away LeBron James’ initial pass to a streaking Shawn Marion, and from there settles in to pick up James as things slow down. James then works out a quick pick-and-roll with Anderson Varejao, which draws Eric Gordon’s help from the weak side corner in response. This is the right play, both in the sense that it is Gordon’s responsibility to pick up the roll with Anthony Davis stuck guarding Kevin Love on the perimeter and that leaving Shawn Marion in the corner comes as an acceptable sacrifice.
As Gordon goes, however, Tyreke Evans slides over to block the passing lane to Marion, leaving a far better shooter (Mike Miller) in the process. Davis, for his part, freezes at the free throw line and loses track of Love on the perimeter as well. By the time Varejao actually gets to the paint, all five Pelicans defenders have a foot in the lane: Evans has edged in, Holiday left LeBron to take a swipe at Varejao’s dribble, Davis and Anderson guard no one in particular and Gordon winds up continuing through after offering help to occupy an area of the floor where there are no Cavs players whatsoever. The Pelicans’ formation ends up looking like a miserable, dilapidated zone, against which an open shot of some kind seemed inevitable.
• Role reversals. Nothing notable here – just a back-to-the-basket center taking his man for a ride via dribble-drive spin move while his guard counterpart mans the post:
• Ingenuity. Players all around the league will do their damnedest to make sure that an opponent’s irrelevant shot following a foul call or stoppage in play does not find its way through the net. It’s part mind game and part ritual, perfected -- if not pioneered -- by Kevin Garnett.
Catching Dirk Nowitzki’s rainbow jumper on its way down, though, isn’t so simple. DeMarcus Cousins made the mistake of trying to turn back a post-foul Dirk jumper this week only to realize he had jumped far too early to make the arbitrary save. Never fear, for Cousins found aid in structural support:
• Unforced errors. Milwaukee may be playing some of the best defense in the league right now, but these back-to-back possessions accurately sum up the state of its offense:
On a related note: How many scoring opportunities over the years have died in ricochet off the hands of Larry Sanders?
• Omnipresence. Thaddeus Young is everywhere:
• Skipping ahead. Carmelo Anthony hasn’t always been the most consistent in making the right play out of the double team, but over the past two years he’s shown real progress in terms of making productive passes out of pressure. This one, in particular, was nice:
After drawing Kyle Korver’s double team from the top of the floor, Anthony pivoted through and angled his body as if he were intending to reset the possession with Tim Hardaway Jr. Instead, he threaded a nice pass behind DeMarre Carroll to an open Iman Shumpert on the weak-side wing. Al Horford was able to recover in time to force Shumpert into a dribble with the shot clock dwindling, but Melo’s part in this possession is worthy of note all the same.
• Veteran maneuvers. Wolves center Gorgui Dieng is still a bit raw, but in his year and change in the NBA he apparently picked up a trick or two. Keep an eye on Dwight Howard’s right arm as he rounds a screen into what, for a moment, looks like a sure alley-oop:
The official standing some five feet from the play is none the wiser. Clever stuff, Gorgui
As a footnote: Welcome back to the NBA world, Jason Terry. Spotting up opposite a posting Howard has given new life to a drifting veteran.
• Speed tests. Bulls backup Aaron Brooks generally drifts in the background of the NBA scene, and as a result doesn’t generally get his due as a speedster. Check how easily he shakes and streaks past D.J. Augustin and Andre Drummond:
Yet again Chicago has plugged in a waterbug point guard — in the vein of Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin – at no loss whatsoever. Brooks has been a really nice pickup thus far: A sharp three-point shooter (55.6 percent on 3.0 attempts per game!) and better-than-advertised driver (his points created off of drives ranks among Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili and Joe Johnson, per SportVU).
• Hopelessness on defense. On this possession, Al-Farouq Aminu defends Rudy Gay about as well as one could. He fights through the screen. He keeps close and matches Gay step for step. He walls off his driving angle and extends upward with Gay’s shot. It just didn’t matter, as has been the case on so many of Gay’s shots this season:
When a player as smooth and tall as Gay is both hitting difficult intermediate shots and drawing fouls at such a proficient rate, he makes for an impossible cover.
• Workarounds. Ignore the actual basketball in this clip and focus on Marc Gasol. After rolling down the lane and attempting a shot, Gasol winds up sprawled across the baseline. He’s not strictly needed in the play’s proceedings; Zach Randolph converts a put-back to salvage the possession, putting Memphis ahead by five points with just six seconds remaining in the game. Yet when Gasol gets up, he does something interesting:
With that little hop over the ball, Gasol goes well out of his way to disrupt a potential inbound pass in the only way he can. He isn’t allowed to touch the ball in any way, else he’d be whistled for a delay of game violation. Yet by tracking down the ball – which, if you’ll notice, is bouncing in the opposite direction – and stepping over it, Gasol gets in the way for just long enough to buy his team a half-second. It didn’t much matter as the Lakers ended up calling a timeout, but this stood out as either a cunning little maneuver to delay the inbound or an inadvertent hop that could be used as such.