Three more thoughts on the Rudy Gay trade

With so many reaction pieces flying around about the Rudy Gay trade to the Raptors, it’s easy to think everything has been covered. But here are some thoughts, one for each team involved, that were left undiscussed.

1. The Pistons didn’t just dump salary, they got better

Detroit is just 17-29 and traded their last player synonymous with winning (Tayshaun Prince) in the deal so I get why it’s easy to write this team off. But despite that poor record, the sorry state of the Eastern Conference has the Pistons ‘only’ 5 ½ games behind the Rondo-less Celtics with just under half the season remaining.

With Calderon in the fold, I don’t think it’s all that insane to suggest this Pistons team — especially if aided by another move that breaks up the sieve-like frontcourt of Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe — could make a run at a playoff spot. Though their new Spaniard’s defensive issues will be more apparent without active bigs like Amir Johnson and Ed Davis behind him, Calderon’s presence fixes a lot of issues dogging the team, most notably the uninspiring play of Rodney Stuckey.

All season long, the struggling guard has been like a square peg trying to be jammed in a round hole. To start the year, Stuckey was paired with with second-year guard Brandon Knight (another player who thrives off dribble penetration) and Prince (who posted up more than spotted up). Being forced to play off the ball with two non-shooting bigs in the frontcourt essentially sealed Stuckey’s fate before he played a minute.

Things got slightly better when he was moved to the bench with the exciting second unit I profiled on Grantland. There Stuckey was still playing second-fiddle to Will Bynum, but at the very least he had space to

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HoopSpeak Network

Jerryd Bayless’s big chance

If you were to make a list of the most promising young guards in the NBA, chances new Memphis Grizzly Jerryd Bayless isn’t on it. Perhaps because he will be playing for his fourth NBA team as he enters his fifth season, Bayless feels more like an irrelevant NBA nomad than a talented prospect.

Nonetheless, the Arizona product makes a rather impressive list with his productive play last year. Bayless was one of only 12 guards still shy of their 24th birthday to post a PER above 17. While general evaluation stats like PER are less than perfect, they do still create a reasonable baseline for assessing production. Despite being a castoff from Toronto, there’s Bayless alongside Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the top young  guards in the NBA.

But while NBA franchises are building their futures around the other players on that list, Bayless landing on the Memphis roster drew a collective yawn from the basketball community.

Perhaps the indifference can be attributed to the inefficient manner in which Bayless often plays. Stats tell us that the most efficient scorers either finish at the rim, get to the free throw line and/or make a high a percentage of their 3-point attempts. Before last season, Bayless was hardly great at any of those things.

A promising development

But during the lockout shortened season, Bayless reversed career-long trends by shooting a scintillating 42 percent shooting from 3. While it is unlikely that he ever tops the 40 percent mark again, there is still plenty of hope for Bayless to become a consistent threat from beyond the arc. On top of shooting an impressive 82 percent from the free line for his career (a number that translates well to future 3-pt success), Bayless has no glaring mechanical

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Chris Paul’s useful technical foul

For a notorious control freak, Chris Paul has looked perilously close to losing command of his emotions in two playoff losses to the Memphis Grizzlies. Last night, Paul threw himself into near-hysterics over an official’s failure to give him a call on an obvious flop.

At that point in the 3rd quarter, the Grizzlies were comprehensively demolishing the Clippers. After battering the Clippers in the paint throughout the game, the Grizzlies led 73-51. Then, in the span of 80 seconds of game time that felt like about 10 minutes in real time, Paul, Caron Butler and Mo Williams were each whistled for a technical foul, every one for complaining to the officials.

Fast forward to 6:13 seconds left in the game (:55 left), and the Grizzlies are clinging to a six-point lead. Bet the Clips wish they could have those technical freethrows back, right?

You know what would have helped LA’s comeback? Not getting five technicals.

— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) May 10, 2012

Mr. Hollinger’s point is well taken, it’s stupid to give up free points of any kind. This is especially true when they come, essentially, from being a bunch of complainers.

But I’m not so sure the Clippers would have even been in this one without that weird burst of technicals in the third quarter.

Paul’s tantrum reminded me of another great athlete who used his mind as much as his physical ability to upend his opponents: John McEnroe.

McEnroe, along with a few others of his generation, was famous for arguing calls at great length, earning single point penalties and other minor infractions (though sometimes things escalated), in an effort not to win that specific point, but to change the emotional atmosphere of the match.

He would stalk the baseline, screaming at his opponent, the

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NBA Playoffs: Adjustments for May 2 games

Some adjustments to look for in the playoff games tonight.

Memphis Grizzlies (0-1) versus Los Angeles Clippers (1-0)

Even with out The Comeback, that might have been the most complete basketball game Blake Griffin has played as a pro. There weren’t any eye-popping numbers, but Griffin buckled down and did all the gritty things that helps teams win in the playoffs. Routinely (and rightly) criticized for defensive effort and performance, Griffin was very solid (especially in the second half) at that end Sunday night.

He battled Memphis bigs all game for post positioning, communicated and rotated effectively on defense. Griffin even switched out on a late pick-and-roll and forced OJ Mayo into a tough shot in the middle of the Clippers’ memorable run. Of course there were a few dunks, but there was no show-boating, no taunting, just a quiet, tough performance that got him something more important than a few highlight reel clips; a win in Memphis. If the “other” L.A. team wants to put a stranglehold on this series, they will need more of that from him tonight.

San Antonio Spurs (1-0) vs. Utah Jazz (0-1)

Playoff underdogs walk a fine line. On one hand, a team should always play to their strengths, but on the other, a team needs to adjust their identity at times in order to create problems or keep up with a more talented opponent. Ty Corbin, coaching in his first postseason, is trying to find where that line is.

To find it, he may want to examine his use of backup point guard Jamaal Tinsley. In Game 1, Corbin stuck to what seems to be his most recent rotation pattern, leaving Tinsley in for quite a long stretch in the second quarter. At the 10:03 mark in that period, Tony Parker re-entered the game for San Antonio and the Spurs promptly scored on 8 of

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Learning to love Memphis

This is the season of the ball rolling around on the floor. Of the bounce pass off the knee and out of bounds. Of the ugly win. Teams like Dallas, Phoenix and the Lakers, those teams that employed pure and precise offenses to run up the scores–those guys are out of place in this rough and tumble, dense, dirty, 66 game season. Teams get tired and sloppy. But that’s just peachy with the Memphis Grizzlies, who are quickly becoming one of my favorite team to watch this year.

The Grizzlies are grimy. Yes they’ve got skill and they share the ball, but what makes Memphis scary, and consistently enjoyable to watch, is that they don’t want to just force a bad shot, they want to deny the opportunity to shoot at all–they come to steal the ball. The Grizzlies are barely in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, meaning they are very good but not great at limiting scoring opportunities, but they lead the league in steals, and forced turnover percentage.

One in every six opponent possessions ends a turnover.

One in nine ends in a Memphis steal.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of getting steals for a team like Memphis. There’s just nothing so surprising, so unnerving as having the ball and then suddenly transferring possession to the other team. On rebound opportunities, there’s a shared understanding that the ball is up for grabs, and both teams should prepare for a change of possession. But a steal is a wild moment, and the Grizzlies do a marvelous job of creating then thriving in the chaos. Once long limbs and greedy hands relief the offense of the burden of possession, it’s Rudy Gay and Tony Allen, two of the most single-minded finishers in the league, plunging at breakneck

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HoopSpeak Previews NBA League Pass: Gems and Guilty Pleasures

The NBA released the 2011-12 schedule, or what Amar’e Stoudemire’s doctor calls “The Great Cartilage Death March.” It’s just one more signal that the NBA is almost upon us, and that means it’s time for fans to pony up for NBA League Pass.

This season will feature more top-flight NBA basketball than you can possibly take in: a full season of Carmelo’s (or are they Amare’s?) Knicks, and return of favorites like Heat Part Deux: This Time It’s MORE Personal, Grumpy Old Men: The Boston Years, The Wire References: An Oklahoma City Story and more. These are League Pass gems, the teams we need to watch.

But it also means it’s time to fall in love with things like Louis Scola’s shotfake and JaVale McGee’s endearing penchant for dribbling in the open court and trying to block his opponents warm up shots. These are the guilty pleasures. You may not admit that you like watching them in Daily Dime Live, but you can’t help screaming “Dagger!” when Jerryd Bayless hits a pull up three with 19 seconds left on the shotclock.

Here to preview the wide range of emotion and competence you’ll find this NBA season, is the HoopSpeak Live crew, with special guest Peepin’ James Herbert.

If you want to tell us how wrong we are, find us on Google+ tonight, we’ll be having a hangout around 9:30pm ET to talk it over! (That means you need to add us) 

James Herbert Gem: Memphis Grizzlies It’s really easy to root for a team with Tony Allen and Zach Randolph in the starting lineup. And you remember how much fun they were in the playoffs last season? Add Rudy Gay.  

Part of the reason Memphis’s run was so enjoyable was the fact it

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Marc Gasol’s defense will be key for Grizz in Game 7

[Editor's note: Nick Flynt writes for TalkHoops and tweets entertaining, enlightening basketball nuggets at an alarming rate. This is his first post for HoopSpeak.-Beckley]

The 2011 NBA Playoffs’ first Game 7 is on the way, gang. Another hard-fought, run-answering-run battle between the Grizzlies and Thunder has both teams heading back to Oklahoma City for the final act of the Western Conference Semifinals.

The plotlines and keys have been established, mostly, at this point: Kevin Durant’s offensive struggles down the stretch leading to Russell Westbrook taking control of the offense. Zach Randolph’s recent struggles from the field despite the Grizzlies’ determination to run the offense through him. Mike Conley’s recent inability to hit a shot. James Harden’s fantastic efficiency. Serge Ibaka’s everything.

Less attention has been paid, however, to Marc Gasol’s contributions to the Grizzlies’ success (and by proxy the Thunder’s struggles) on the defensive end.

As far as importance on both ends of the court, the Grizzlies have no player more important than Marc Gasol. In the playoffs, the Grizzlies’ net rating is +1.91 with Marc on the court and -11.20 with him off the floor.

The key? Memphis’s defensive rating jumps from 100.14 with Gasol on the floor to 112.13 with Gasol off. With no legitimate back-up center to help in the paint against the athletic Thunder guards (and the likes of Parker and Hill in the quarterfinals before this series), the Grizzlies’ ability to defend is Raptors-like (in fact, worse in the small sample size of the playoffs).

So, why is this?

Well, the passing-lane jumping, turnover-forcing dependent style of the Grizzlies is conducive to

A. Overplaying perimeter players one-on-one and in pick and roll sets to encourage drive-and-kicks or mid-range shots and

B. Allowing explosive players like Russell Westbrook into the lane if rotations aren’t

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Memphis thwarting Thunder offense in “Horns” set

A quick glance at Russell Westbrook’s line of 9-23 shooting and six assists against seven turnovers underscores how negatively he impacted the Thunder’s offense Sunday night. While most people are pinning (rightfully so) OKC’s Game 1 demise to the combination of Memphis’ hot-shooting and lackluster defense, the Thunder’s lack of offensive execution was just as much to blame.

With 2:21 left in the 2nd quarter and OKC trailing 54-38, ABC came back with a “Wired” segment that featured Thunder coach Scott Brooks imploring his team to be patient on offense and allow their offensive sets time to develop. While Brooks was addressing the whole team, he may as well just been staring directly at Westbrook.

One of the sets OKC struggled to execute starts in a “Horns” alignment that starts with Durant receiving a wide pin down on the wing. This is a relatively simple action seen at all levels, but with someone as skilled as Durant, it puts quite a strain on even the best defenses:

As Westbrook brings the ball toward the key, Durant comes off the screen from Perkins and his options are seemingly limitless. He can quickly catch and shoot, unleashing one of his deadly jumpers, or tight curl around the screener and attack the rim with one (or no) dribbles due his freakish length. And if defense focuses too much on him, he can simply fire a pass to a slipping screener for an easy bucket at the rim: Since most teams ask their defenders to trail good shooters like Durant, they are then forced to offer curl protection with their bigs. Durant will then respond by tight curling around the screen, dragging both his defender (X3) and the screener’s defender (X5) with him as he cuts toward the rim and out toward

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Digging deep on Gary Neal’s game saving three

As Sebastian Pruiti expertly notes in his post on the Gary Neal three that sent the Spurs-Grizzlies game into overtime, Shane Battier missed his assignment. He should have switched on Neal, throwing a wrench into the Spurs’ whole operation. But he didn’t, and Neal caught with space to shoot or take a dribble and shoot.

I got to participate in a 5-on-5 for ESPN.com in which we were asked about who draws up the best end of game plays. I took Gregg Popovich, and I’m feeling pretty good about that today. It’s his use misdirection and unmatched attention to detail that prompted my choice. In the last play, I think we got to see a bit of what makes Pop so great.

Wasn’t it odd that Manu Ginobili, the Spurs’ resident clutch artist and drainer of off the dribble threes was inbounding the ball? There was no way he was getting it back in time to shoot a decent shot. But it also took Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ most pesky and persistent defender out of the play. Clever.

Now, notice that the set was designed for Neal to catch the ball moving to right to left across the floor and towards the ball. This nuance has a sneaky little benefit. Because Neal is right handed, his catch and shoot motion is more natural moving this direction. Instead of having to rotate his entire body to bring his right shoulder square to the hoop as when he’s running left to right, Neal’s shooting shoulder is more stable as he pivots around his right foot to square to the hoop.

(Side note: It’s the same basic principle at work in a step back jumper. A right handed shooter is typically more comfortable driving to the left, planting on his right

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To beat Griz, Spurs must be patient

The notion of a 61 win team having to adjust to what a 46 win team is doing screams “Panic Move”, but it is precisely what Gregg Popovich and company need to do as they head into Game 4 tonight down 2-1 to the Mempis Grizzlies. While the emphasis for San Antonio this season has been on quicker shots in transition, the Spurs should slow the pace to a crawl in order to combat an aggressive Grizzlies defense much more effectively.

The Spurs over-reliance on shots in the first 14 seconds of the shot clock is causing a startling drop in their offensive production over the past two games. During Game 3 in particular, San Antonio chose to take the first shot available either in transition or the first action they ran in the half-court. The result was that the Spurs began to look eerily similar to the Milwaukee Bucks on offense rather than the team that finished the regular season ranked second in offensive efficiency.

All season long, Memphis’ defensive success has come much more from their aggression and attitude than technical perfection. They fly at shooters, get into passing lanes, and physically defend the basketball. By having the patience to run multiple actions in a possession and stressing crisp ball reversal at every opportunity, the Spurs will present much more of a challenge to a frenetic, scrambling Grizzlies defense. A great example of this is a possession the Spurs had with 10:21 left in the third quarter of Game 3.

The play starts out of a controlled secondary break with Tony Parker hitting trailing big man Antonio McDyess, who then immediately hits Richard Jefferson V-cutting on the right wing: Parker and McDyess then immediately look to double away for Manu Ginobilli to freed up at the top

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