While You Weren't Watching: Giannis stretches, J.R. Smith whirls 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...
• Asphyxiation. For this possession, train your eyes to Kawhi Leonard. The reigning Finals MVP (the novelty of that Leonard title will never get old) is tasked with guarding the best player in basketball and approaches his task with the diligence and seriousness it requires:
By the time James actually has the ball in his hands while in a position to do anything with it, he’s standing 25 feet from the rim with three seconds remaining on the shot clock.
• Wingspan in action. The basketball conversation as it relates to player wingspan is generally limited to a few specific domains. Really, though, that simple measurement influences every aspect of a player’s game and success. Watch here as Giannis Antetokounmpo – the Bucks sophomore renowned for his long arms – extends fully while hustling for a loose ball:
Antetokounmpo and Miami’s Mario Chalmers are neck-and-neck in that loose-ball scenario, but Giannis collects it for the simple reason that his arm extends what seems to be a good foot further than Chalmers’. This is some great hustle that makes for a dramatic finish to the possession, but Antetokounmpo only tips the ball back to Jerryd Bayless because his arms stretch for days.
• A signature of sorts. While the spin move itself is a fairly basic basketball maneuver, J.R. Smith has made it his own:
This variation might be my favorite spin move in the league. Smith first lurches forward, as if he were attempting to lower his shoulder and power through an opposing defender. That setup makes the coming spin all the more difficult to follow. The spin itself is almost acrobatic. With a clean pivot Smith essentially leans backward into a fall, dropping the ball along the way as to collect the bounce later. This is a tough, dexterous move.
• A passing showcase. This season has been a fun reminder of just how spectacular a passer James Harden can be:
Boo to the hands of Donatas Motiejunas for fumbling away an assist, though frankly Harden – who ranks seventh in assists per game – is doing just fine in that statistical regard.
• Patience. Even the best offensive players in the league tend to get nervous when an elite shot-blocker is around. For some that anxiety manifests as a floater in place of a layup. For others it’s an extra move of some kind – a hesitation, a spin, a crossover – in attempt to throw off the timing of a potential block. Yet Taj Gibson simply waited out his opportunity when matched up against the taller, longer, and bouncier DeAndre Jordan:
This is what Gibson’s post game has become. He still struggles within certain matchups, though overall Gibson blends technique with a calmness and power that makes him a remarkably tough cover inside.
• Lapses in judgment. It might not be the best idea to turn around and bark defensive orders while guarding one of the quickest guards in the game:
• The hazards of hyper-athleticism. At long last we see the bad side in being able to jump out of the gym. On this possession, a bottled P.J. Tucker up against the shot clock manages to get a pass out to a cutting Gerald Green just in time for a shot attempt. Green is perhaps too casual in finishing his cut with an uncontested dunk, though the real culprit for his miliseconds-late finish may be the slight cock-back on his slam:
This was probably a situation calling for a quick layup rather than a half-wound dunk, but when you reach the altitude that Green does I imagine you just can’t help yourself.
• Boogie. You’ve seen him wreck defenders in the post, make smart passes out of double teams, bait opponents into charges, bat the ball against the glass and rim to facilitate second-chance scoring, bump and elbow his adversaries into frustration, attempt to center himself after some perceived injustice, and execute moves that no other player in the league could. For a cherry on top, enjoy this sweet defensive stop segue into a perfect outlet pass:
• Poor imitation. Dirk Nowitzki’s one-footed fadeaway has become a practiced and learned move in the NBA, with a class of disciples that includes LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant. Nene tried his hand at the fade against Dirk and the Mavericks this week – albeit to unfortunate result:
In Nene’s defense: By the time he received the pass and faced up Tyson Chandler, the shot clock showed just 2.5 seconds remaining. Chandler played him close while J.J. Barea and Chandler Parsons edged into potential driving lanes. Nene had to get a shot up, though in this case his attempt didn’t much matter.