James Harden abuses Kevin Love in crunch time pick-and-rolls

James Harden knows two things: he is one of the best in the league at scoring out of pick-and-rolls, and Kevin Love struggles to move his feet quickly on defense.

Last night, Harden ran four pick-and-rolls at Kevin Love in the games final 135 seconds. He missed one pullup jumper but otherwise scored with ease against Love, who moved like he had gorged too enthusiastically at Christmas dinner.

The Wolves covered each pick-and-roll the same way: Alexey Shved sends Harden right, away from the screen and his strong hand. But Shved doesn’t really stick with Harden after Harden refuses the screen, in effect leaving him one-on-one with Kevin Love. Because Shved doesn’t contain the ball, Love has no angle to cut Harden off and twice lets him race past him to his strong left hand for the finish.

This kind of play has to worry the Wolves as they start thinking about making the playoffs. It’s in those matchups that teams really key in on deficiencies and will relentlessly pressure and weakness. Love and Shved’s pick-and-roll defense certainly qualifies.

Meanwhile, as Harden gutted Minnesota’s defense, Andrei Kirilenko stood idly by defending Chandler Parsons in the corner. One adjustment I’m sure Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and his staff wish they could have made was to somehow involve Kirilenko in this coverage, perhaps by simply switching Shved and Kirilenko, if not by stashing Love on Delfino and putting Dante Cunningham on the screener, Omer Asik.

One imagines this is exactly what the Rockets hoped to get from of Harden — a go-to player who can run a simple, go-to set (th spread pick-and-roll) to ruinous effect.

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Utah’s lineup madness

This is an intervention.

The Utah Jazz clearly have no idea what lineups they should be using, so I’m here to help. I’m going to start with Randy Foye, because he seems to be single-handedly murdering the Jazz.

Foye has been so bad that I quadruple-checked all the data because it was so jarring. Individually, he doesn’t seem like much of a train wreck – he has a PER of 11.1 and a true shooting percentage of 53.0%. Obviously that’s not good, but it’s not so bad that it jumps off the page. This season, it puts him in a similar class as Mario Chalmers and Toney Douglas, who have each been passable.

Here’s where Foye has been different – when he’s on the court, Utah scores 104.4 points per 100 possessions and allows 110.1 points per 100 possessions, for a -5.7 net. When he’s off the floor, those numbers flip – Utah scores 111.8 points/100 and allow 102.5 points/100, for a +9.3 net. Combine the two and Foye is costing Utah FIFTEEN POINTS per 100 possessions just by stepping on the court. That’s the difference between being the Heat and being the Bobcats.

Now, there’s an obvious counter-argument to this – looking solely at the +/- of one player is rather disingenuous when so much of that statistic is dictated by (a) the other four players on the court, and (b) how productive the team’s bench is when the player isn’t on the court. With Foye, however, that counter-argument doesn’t hold up when you start digging into the numbers.

If you look at Utah’s most-used lineups and the on/off numbers for two-player combos, it becomes obvious that Foye is the problem. Check out how Utah performs based on Foye sharing the court with either Al Jefferson or

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HoopSpeak Live 85: Paul Flannery

Today’s guest is Paul Flannery of SB Nation.

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HoopSpeak Live airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can find the audio-only version on iTunes and Stitcher. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that Dwyane Wade will not kick you in the groin.


When LeBron James Chooses Stats Over Team

The above picture shows LeBron James collecting a rebound with 2.7 seconds to go in the first quarter of Thursday night’s Heat-Mavs game. After James secured the rock, he jogged his dribble towards the halfcourt line, never bothering to try a buzzer beater heave. LeBron wore an expression of utter disinterest as the arena’s blaring alarm and flashing red lights argued with James’ languid face.

This is a familiar sight to those familiar with the Miami Heat. When LeBron James is presented with the chance at a long buzzer beater, he errs towards protecting his field goal percentage. This is another way of saying that LeBron James chooses to marginally hurt his team for the sake of his long term statistics.

He’s far from the only one. While I ironically do not possess statistics on this statistics vanity, it does seem as though buzzer clutching is at peak levels. What does that mean? Do modern superstars indulge in a selfishness that might turn Bill Russell’s beard into an even grayer shade of gray?

Actually, I would argue that this buzzer clutching is indicative of a positive development, a development not so divorced from John Hollinger’s Memphis Grizzlies hire. “Yay points!” used to be the ruling NBA ethos, with little concern as to how well-known players compiled their point totals. In a less informed era, scoring leaders were lauded, considered better than their peers, even if the points came on shoddy shooting. This past decade of increasing analytics-savvy is different.

The percentages matter a lot, and they gain a new life when plugged into popular catch-all statistics like PER, Win Shares, and Wins Produced. If you’re hurting your field goal percentage, you’re also dropping multiple other indicators of your value, indicators that will get seen and passed around by fans

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Jose Calderon makes it look easy

Watch each of Jose Calderon’s 17 assists from last night’s win against the Detroit Pistons and a few things stand out:

The scorekeepers in Toronto are awfully liberal with the definition of an assist. In the first play, not only does Jonas Valanciunas take a few dribbles against tight defense, he loses the ball and regains it before scoring. But hey, Calderon did have the ball in his possession only about seven seconds before Valanciunas finally scored. DeMar DeRozan looks great. Watch him knock down 3′s, hit midrange jumpers as he wheels around curls screens and slash through Detroits permissive defense with long, confident strides to the rim. There is almost nothing flashy about Calderon’s assists. No behind-the-back passes. There’s only a single one-handed pass. Most of the assists are just super accurate in their timing and placement. Calderon does a lot of gesturing and pointing as he initiates the offense. It’s not just because he’s a continental European, the way he manipulates the offense shows his comprehensive understanding of each play’s options.

It’s these last two points that deserve some attention. Watch the way he delivers a basic bounce pass to a curling teammate. The ball leaps up into Derozan’s hip pocket just as he becomes available, allowing him to keep his momentum and maintain his focus on charting a course to the rim. Calderon knows that his job is to put his teammates in positions to succeed. These are NBA players, not all assists need be wide-open 3′s or layups. Sometimes just getting the ball to a player at the exact moment he holds an advantage against his defender is all it takes.


Assist 13 to Ed Davis: Calderon hits Davis so quickly as Davis pops to the foul line that the forward’s defender

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HoopSpeak Live 84: Devin Kharpertian

Today’s guest is Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game.

If you’d rather view the show directly on Spreecast, click here.

HoopSpeak Live airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can find the audio-only version on iTunes and Stitcher. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that Devin will write an open letter to you and publish it on The Brooklyn Game.


Tyson Chandler: Best Center, Best Minimalist

“I’m a basketball minimalist.” Brett Koremenos rocked my psyche with that self identification. The term now haunts so many of my NBA thoughts.

Brett offhandedly used his invented phrase over Gchat, in reference to the inexorably fluid spread pick-and-roll attack. It’s an approach that requires four three point shooters, one of whom waits for the pick from a non-shooting big man like Tyson Chandler. The offense conquers because it exists in just too much space for a defense to hug. It’s practically a cheat code.

For the offense to be even feasible, the Knicks need Tyson Chandler to compensate for all those defensively-deficient shooters with defense and rebounding. He does that, but he’s also about as good an offensive player there is to do it on seven shots per game.

Tyson Chandler can’t shoot well, or dribble well, and he’s a bit skinny. Though, I sometimes wonder whether he’d be worse for his team were he any more blessed in those categories. His lack of a jump shot has led to a cartoonish 70% field goal mark. His lack of a handle has led to one turnover per game. His lack of bulk means fewer shotclock ticks sacrificed to the altar of dribble-dribble-back-down post-ups. New York’s big man enters a game, and only expertly controls a manageable amount of reality.

The reigning assumption is that the best center must be someone who does a lot, especially in the scoring department. Chandler might be changing that notion, if we would only bother to notice what he’s doing.

Catch-all player performance statistics are inherently problematic, because the value of taking a shot will always be up for debate. I do like Win Shares on Basketball Reference because the metric rewards volume shooting less than some other stats do. This is not

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HoopSpeak Live 83: Bruce Arthur

Today’s guest is Bruce Arthur of The National Post.

If you’d rather view the show directly on Spreecast, click here.

HoopSpeak Live airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can find the audio-only version on iTunes and Stitcher. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that your favorite team will never start a season 4-19.


Roll men on the rise

Now 20 games into the season, three big men have asserted themselves as elite pick-and-roll scoring options. Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, and Serge Ibaka have become dangerous weapons off the roll for their respective teams. Here’s a look at the changes that have contributed to their respective rises.

Tyson Chandler

Chandler has always been one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the league going back to his days in Dallas and New Orleans. But this season, he is #1 in the NBA according to Synergy.

Chandler is scoring 5.05 points per game from pick-and-roll this year, up from 3.9 per game last season. The biggest reason for his increased potency is the Knicks’ addition of Raymond Felton. Felton is the best passer Tyson has played with in a Knick uniform. Whether squeezing a bounce pass between two defenders or tossing a lob over the top, Felton has done well to find Chandler for easy buckets all season.

Tyson has also drastically reduced his turnover rate from last year. This is due, in large part, to opposing defenses not being able to collapse down on him. His mediocre ball skills are rarely evident because the Knicks are the most dangerous 3-point shooting team in the league. They’re averaging 12.0 3PM per game which is 2.2 more than the next closest team and 4.2 more than they made last season. Defenders have to stay close to Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony which prevents them from crashing into the lane to help out on Chandler.

Greg Monroe

In just his third year in the league, Greg Monroe has become one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference. Much of his offensive success can be linked to his effectiveness in pick-and-roll situations.

Thus far this season, Detroit has run

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HoopSpeak Live 82: Tom Haberstroh

By @AnthonyBain.

This week, guest Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com and The Heat Index co-hosted the show with Beckley and Ethan.

If you’d rather view the show directly on Spreecast, click here.

HoopSpeak Live airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can find the audio-only version on iTunes and Stitcher. If you subscribe and/or write us a review, I promise that your favorite team will trade for Michael Beasley. Oh, wait.


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