Jared Dubin's The Week In Basketball looks at the repeatedly soft Lakers, Steph Curry's 53-point explosion in New Orleans, and Danny Green evolving from a 'God-awful' defender in San Antonio.
You may have noticed last week that Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott once again called his team “soft.”
Byron said he told the Lakers at halftime to "man up." He's not happy right now: "I just thought from the start of the game we were soft."— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 31, 2015
As Forum Blue & Gold proprietor, Darius Soriano pointed out, this is nowhere close to the first time Scott has taken to this tactic as a way of calling out his squad. Let’s take a quick look at a few more:
Byron Scott calling out team for playing soft and having lack of focus— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 13, 2015
Byron Scott calls Lakers "soft." There was a time when such a thing was news.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) February 8, 2015
All the way back in March 2011, when he was in Cleveland
There’s an old (paraphrased) saying that goes like this: "If you run into a… [jerk]… in the morning, you ran into a jerk. If you run into jerks all day, you’re a jerk."
Byron Scott: If one team you coached was soft, you coached a soft team. If every single team you’ve coached gets outrebounded and outworked and outhustled to the point where you have no resort other than to call them soft, well, maybe you’re a soft coach.
When you’re working on your sixth straight team that likely will finish in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency, and the fifth straight that likely will finish in the bottom five, and the only connecting thread is that they were coached by Byron Scott, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror rather than saying things like, “It doesn’t come down sometimes to X’s and O’s. You’ve got guys going at you. You’ve got to man up.”
When your defense routinely gets beat with simple pick-and-rolls, and doesn’t defend the paint, and doesn’t force turnovers, and fouls all the time, and that holds true over a period of years on teams with vastly different rosters, at a certain point, it probably does come down to X’s and O’s, man. It does.
And don’t blame the personnel here, either:
And if anybody wants to claim that he didn't have enough talent, I give you last year's Sixers, who ranked 13th defensively.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) November 2, 2015
OK. So that was some heavy stuff. Let’s play a quick game of fill-in-the-blank with my Twitter followers to lighten things up a bit before we get back to the rest of the notes from Week 1.
After Pelicans center/human statue Kendrick Perkins started off the Pellies’ first game of the year by going 4–4 on his wild and crazy hook shots in the first eight minutes, I asked my followers, “Kendrick Perkins’ first half performance is the most surprising thing since ___.” These were my favorite responses:
Anyone else not know what that last one means?
Three Things I Noticed on League Pass
1. The Clippers giving Lance Stephenson the “calm down” hands
Watch J.J. Redick and Blake Griffin after Lance throws that pass into the stands. This is less than three minutes into Lance’s Clipper career, and they already know the deal. Obviously, this was not the only time it happened, either.
Maybe, though, Lance shouldn’t calm down too much. Otherwise, you get something like this:
Took things a bit too far there, Born Ready.
2. Dion Waiters making the extra pass
I actually wrote in my notes of the Thunder-Spurs game, “Dion makes an extra pass to Morrow for a transition 3! HIDE THE KIDS!” A couple nights later, he did it again:
This is the kind of thing people have been waiting for Waiters to do. You know , normal basketball teammate stuff. Who knows if he keeps it up for the rest of the season, but this will go a long way toward making him an effective NBA player, rather than just an Internet punchline.
3. Monta Ellis dribbling away from the screen
While watching the Pacers-Grizzlies game, I was struck by how often Monta Ellis dribbled away from the screen rather than around it. I went and did a check of the Synergy archives, and confirmed that Monta indeed does this quite often. Last year, he ranked 14th in rejecting the screen, among the players who worked off ball screens at least 50 times. It’s nice when the numbers confirm what your eyes tell you, which isn’t necessarily always the case.
Let’s throw in a fourth, because why not ...
I really loved hearing the Kings’ broadcast team give credit to the Clippers for setting such good screens for Chris Paul early on in their game. It’s not often that good screen-setting gets play on the broadcast, but I’m a nerd, so I love when it does. In particular, Grant Napear’s giddiness at the legality of the screens being set by Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and even Chris Paul, was a delight.
In the Thunder’s season opener against the Spurs, one play stood out to me as the reason OKC has a new coach.
One of the biggest complaints about the Thunder’s offense under Scott Brooks was the lack of secondary options beyond “let’s get the ball to KD or Russell and then let them figure out what to do.” This play is basically the opposite of that. Four of the five guys on the floor are in motion right from the start and there are options all over the place.
KD comes across the floor on what’s become a pretty standard NBA cut to kick off initial action. That’s Option 1. If Durant flashes open enough, Westbrook can hit him with the pass for a shot on the wing or a drive to the rim if the defense on the opposite side doesn’t rotate over. Here, Kawhi Leonard trails the play and is in the passing lane, and LaMarcus Aldridge slides off his man and into the paint to cut off any potential drive, so Westbrook instead throws the ball to Andre Roberson (who just mirrored KD’s cut from one side of the other, only he came up along the baseline and brushed off a pair of “screens” from Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter) on the wing. Technically, Roberson is Option 2 if he’s wide open, but he’s never going to shoot that shot when Option 3 is so much better.
Kanter and Ibaka then set a staggered double screen for KD coming back around to what’s now the strong side of the floor, where he originally started. Durant has to read his defender and the help here, but he can flare out to the corner, come up to the elbow for a post-up, or curl all the way around and into the paint (which he does).
But there are even more options than that. Once Kanter sets that second screen for KD, he opens up on the block, where he’s free for a pretty deep post-up if Durant doesn’t flash open on his curl. And failing all that, the ball can be reversed back to Westbrook, now on the opposite wing, for a pick-and-roll with Ibaka (or more likely, a pick-and-pop, knowing the tendencies of those two guys when they get in that action with each other).
Options, folks. Scott Brooks did a great job getting OKC to three Western Conference Finals in four years, but the Thunder want the big prize. It can’t all be on KD and Russ’ shoulders. They’ve gotta have options.
On the other hand...
Let’s talk about the display put on by Durant and Westbrook against the Orlando Magic last week. The game went into double OT, but still, the numbers are absolutely insane.
Combined: 102 minutes, 91 points on 66 shots, 23–27 at the line, 23 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 blocks, 3 steals.
Westbrook was 6–20 at one point but finished the game 17–36. He made eight straight shots in the fourth quarter and the beginning of overtime. This is how he sent the game into OT:
Ridiculous Westbrook feats are no surprise at this point, but they still need to be celebrated. The man is absurd.
In any event, the performance from KD and Russ brings us to this week’s Number: 40. As in, KD and Russ are the only set of teammates, EVER, to score 40-plus points in the same game on more than one occasion.
Yeah. Tell me again why KD should leave and go play somewhere else without Russell Westbrook. I’ll wait.
Steph's NOLA Explosion
The best video highlight of the week. Sit back, relax and watch Riley's pops ripping out the hearts of everyone at the Smoothie King Center.
Just don’t tell anyone even remotely involved with the Warriors that any of this was lucky.
Love conquers all
There was a whole lot of consternation last season about how the Cavaliers didn’t use Kevin Love effectively. It seems like they’ve come out with a concerted mission to rectify that this season. He’s much more involved in the flow of the season, and took 15 shots a game through Cleveland’s first four games, as opposed to just 12.8 a game last year. (And he’s playing slightly fewer minutes, so it’s not just a per-minute type of thing. He’s getting more shots.)
Particularly early in games, it seems like they’re making sure to involve Love, where last year it often seemed like he often wouldn’t get his first look until at least a few minutes in. Cleveland started off its season by entering the ball to Love in the post on a duck-in (see video below), and then did the very same thing to open the second quarter as well. Swinging the ball from one side to the other while Love works his way into position on what becomes the strong side is a good way to use his post-up skills while not slowing down the entire offense.
Quote of the Week
Gregg Popovich, asked how much it helps to be able to give Kawhi Leonard a break from covering the opposing team’s best perimeter player by using Danny Green, responded:
“You know what’s amazing, that you’d even include Danny Green in a statement like that. It’s pretty wonderful. He’s evolved to that. The first two times we cut him, he was God-awful. But over the last few years he has really taken pride in it. He has really gotten better, both on the off the ball. He’s blocking shots, which is incredible to me. And it’s really helped us, because Kawhi doesn’t always have to guard whoever that guy is. Danny can take him for a while. And that’s been really special for us.”
Green, told about the exchange, said:
“He told me a little bit about the conversation you had. I’m sure he’s gonna take his little jabs about how I need to get better. He’ll compliment me until I make that first defensive mistake.”
That’s all in the past, though. We’ll take this last moment to look ahead.
League Pass Game of the Week: Spurs at Wizards, Wed., 7 p.m. ET
The Wizards haven’t lit things up to start the year. They struggled to beat the young Magic in their season opener; squeaked by a Milwaukee team that hemorrhaged 115.3 points per game in its first three; and then lost to the Knicks at home. Washington is 2–1 but has actually been outscored on the season.
John Wall and Bradley Beal are shooting well and averaging 47.3 points per game combined, but everybody else (save for maybe Otto Porter) is struggling. There isn’t a single big man on the team that made at least half his shots through the first three games. Nene is fouling nearly six times per 36 minutes, thanks mostly to a six-fouls-in-18-minutes performance in that loss to New York, but he also fouled twice in 12 minutes (while shooting 0–6 from the field) in the opener.
Still, Wall, Beal and Porter against the Spurs and their perimeter defense should be worth the price of admission alone. Tony Parker can’t keep up with Wall running off ball screen after ball screen, but you don’t necessarily want him chasing Beal around off the ball, either. Do the Spurs dare stick Parker on Porter and go for some sort of triple cross-match? Which of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green guards Wall, and who guards Beal in crunch time? Can Playoff Wittman out-duel Coach Pop?
The Spurs are off on both Tuesday and Thursday and the game isn’t in national TV, so Pop has no reason to sit anybody down. This one should be loads of fun.