Dwyane Wade’s defensive slide

Dwyane Wade’s dropoff throughout the 2013 playoffs has been steep and sudden.

Just a month and a half ago he was registering his seventh top-10 regular season PER in the last eight years. Now he’s being outplayed by Lance Stephensons and Danny Greens of the world, and can’t get to the rim or play consistent defense because of a right knee injury that’s sapped his athleticism and explosion, spawning the once-inconceivable notion that Wade would be better suited coming off the bench.

While most of the discussion about Wade has centered on what he can’t or isn’t doing offensively, his struggles on the defensive end of the floor have been just as jarring.

Wade’s decision to play through his grueling injury is admirable in and of itself, and a decline in his defensive effectiveness is understandable and expected. But a significant portion of his defensive miscues have stemmed from lackadaisical effort and questionable technique, not physical aptitude.

His incessant tendency to gamble in the passing lanes has always been offset by his superhuman athleticism, but with his speed and quickness diminished, those same gambles have become either ineffective or nonexistent. Danny Green has killed the Heat, and often Wade, by simply finding the right place to stand.

Though Green certainly deserves big time credit for his stellar performance thus far, there’s a reason why he’s been wide-open on a handful of three-pointers: Dwyane Wade’s defense, or lack thereof. By my count, six of Green’s 16 three-pointers have been a direct result of Wade’s defensive miscues, and the blame for another two of Green’s threes should be split between Wade and a teammate.

The Spurs’ offense has capitalized on the Heat’s defensive chaos, effectively providing the requisite spacing, ball movement and timing

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HoopSpeak Network

Theories on why you don’t like the Spurs

Check out the Spurs-Grizzlies Western Conference Finals TV ratings so far. It’s brutal. Least viewed Conference Finals since 2007. And who played in that one? Yep, those same old Spurs.

One of the better-watched NBA Finals since MJ involves the Spurs, actually. Yes, those Spurs. The unpopular ones. In 1999, San Antonio routed the Knicks in front of a large national audience, a far larger audience than would ever see either team again. New York was the main draw, but this was San Antonio’s launching pad for a decade of renown. Many forget, but young Tim Duncan was lithe and quick–not unlike young Kevin Garnett. Before he was Shaq-branded as “The Big Fundamental,” Duncan was something else entirely. He was so many exciting possibilities. He was a shot-swatting power forward in a center’s body who could pass like a guard. As a rookie, he scored 32 points in his first career playoff game as the announcers lost their minds. It would have seemed inconceivable, back then, that his glory would play to crickets.

It’s almost remarkable that the Spurs haven’t caught on after so much time. Eventually, a brand has to build, especially if it’s synonymous with success. Much of catching on nationally is just about cluing the public into who you are in the first place. Appear in the playoffs, thrive in the playoffs, and you have yourself some cachet. Familiarity equals brand recognition and brand recognition brings the ratings. Peyton Manning in the playoffs? “Let’s watch, I am familiar with that person,” so says the casual fan brain.

But, after 16 years, the San Antonio Spurs have failed to prompt that thought process. Since the least-viewed-ever NBA Finals in 2007, the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker triumvirate hasn’t grown in fame or stature, apparently.

That those Finals came against LeBron James

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Chris Paul knows all, is that a problem?

On TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz profiles the strain of defining and embracing a system of play in Los Angeles. Here’s what he said about the Clippers:

Back in November, when Los Angeles was engulfed in System Overload the week Brown was dismissed and D’Antoni hired, Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was asked which system he deployed.

“Chris Paul,” Del Negro said.

Del Negro wasn’t being flip or coy. The question was straightforward, and he offered the best approximation of his team’s blueprint when it had the ball — the Chris Paul System.

“All those names and all that stuff,” Del Negro said of the Princeton, the spread, seven seconds or less, etc. “You just put the ball in the best player’s hands.”

To Del Negro and Paul, the NBA is a superstar league, and the offense they run is dictated by Paul. In the Clippers’ world, his instincts take precedent over any dogma. That intuition is rooted in strong principles. Paul will probe, but he’s meticulous and patient, and in the half court he’ll rarely act until the defense is leveraged.

“On offense, you just try to make the right play,” Paul said. “Every time I come down the court, I want to make sure that two people have to guard me, no matter what. If I’m in a ball screen, I want to make two people have guard me and then somebody is going to be open.”

The Chris Paul system has its advantages — mainly that Chris Paul gets to do what he wants. But when he was hurt, we saw the difference between a system that is player driven, and a system, like the Spurs, that is driven by philosophy.

When Parker or Ginobili or Duncan — or even all three! — get hurt, the Spurs

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All that Josh Smith can be

“I feel like I’m a max player. I feel I bring a lot to the table. I have a lot of versatility. For what I do and what I give this ball club, I feel like I’m worth it.” – Josh Smith, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Josh Smith, a free agent this offseason, believes that he is worthy of receiving the biggest contract teams can offer him. If he got his max contract, about $16.5 million per year, he would become the 15th highest paid player in the league. Is Josh Smith really that good?

Any analysis of Smith’s game should begin on the defensive end. With his 6’9” and 225 lbs. frame, he possesses an uncommon combination of size, speed and mental dexterity that allows him to effectively guard multiple positions. Defense is notoriously difficult to quantitatively assess, but Bradford Doolittle’s latest attempt to measure perimeter defense ranked Josh Smith the best in the league, ahead of elite wing-stoppers like Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen. Despite being a bit small for a power forward, Smith is a pretty effective post defender as well. In 96 post-ups this year (according to mySynergySports), Smith’s opponents only shoot 38.5%. He also fouls very rarely, 6.3% of the time, while (along with his team) causing a turnover on a full 25% of post-up attempts.

Smith is averaging 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes this year, which is right in line with his career averages. The only other players to do that for their careers are Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Ben Wallace and Andrei Kirilenko, winners of a combined seven Defensive Player of the Year awards and 26 All-Defensive Team selections. Smith has been voted to the NBA’s All-Defensive 2nd Team once, and he probably should have made it a

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How Kendrick Perkins makes a difference

Kendrick Perkins was brought to Oklahoma to defend Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, not Tony Parker. Against the Spurs quickness, he has occasionally appeared hopelessly overmatched. But on the balance, his terrific post defense, particularly on Tim Duncan, has been a boon to the Thunder.

Duncan is shooting just under 38 percent from the field in this series after he shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the Spurs’ four game sweep of the Clippers. Here are the key reasons why Kendrick is such an effective post defender.

Light feet

Perkins’ dramatically changed his body during the lockout, reportedly dropping 31 lbs and dramatically improving his quickness. Though he remains vulnerable in space, in the post, Perkins’ footwork has been solid. He has been able to cut off Tim Duncan and prevent him from finding angles towards the rim. When he can avoid being beat by the first move, his strength and size allow him to bother Duncan without over-pursuing the Big Fundamental’s fakes.

Big ol’ body

Despite being 31 pounds lighter, Perkins is still a huge man. He outweighs all of the Spurs’ big men save DeJuan Blair who hasn’t played much in this series. His sheer mass has forced Duncan to fade away in the post throughout the series, which, more than anything, is the likely cause of his low FG percentage. Against smaller or less talented defenders, Duncan can turn over either shoulder and shoot a jumper, baby hook, or running sweep. Because he’s unable to move Perkins off his spot, Tim has been unable to use his full arsenal of post moves, and thus has been less effective than usual. Because of Perkins’ physical play, Duncan has turned to his stronger right side on the

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Gregg Popovich: mundane genius

Gregg Popovich, as far as I can tell, is the only NBA coach who routinely fouls bad foul shooters on the opposing teams to gain a strategic advantage. The reaction to this from fans and media has been to paint Pop as sort of rascal — the kind of guy who will game the system without shame or apology.

But the real mystery isn’t what makes Popovich so brazen and inventive, but why the rest of the NBA hasn’t figured out that it should be doing the very same thing.

It’s instances like these that make me wonder if Popovich is as smart as we make him out to be (and I kind of think that’s the case either way), or if everyone else in the NBA is just being stupid by not following his example.

Here’s what John Hollinger said about the intentional fouling and during the 2008 playoffs:

For years, coaches have tripped all over themselves with how to use the Hack-a-Shaq. In the first-round series against Phoenix, Gregg Popovich became the first to really master how to use this weapon to his advantage. He used it in second quarters, when he had guys like Jacque Vaughn andRobert Horry in the game anyway and didn’t care if they picked up fouls, and used it when he had the lead to eliminate the chance of a 3-pointer.

Most of all, he used it at the end of quarters to get the last shot, and is continuing to use it with Tyson Chandler and Melvin Ely in the New Orleans series. If New Orleans has the ball with 25 seconds or less left, Popovich simply fouls intentionally so he can get the ball back for the Spurs. This should be a Eureka! moment for other coaches, and I expect

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The Spurs are boring, which is a shame

“We don’t care.”

Gregg Popovich said it with a snort, almost disdainfully. The dismissal was in response to a reporter’s question on how the Spurs aren’t getting much attention, despite all the winning. I was in the press gaggle of a meaningless Warriors game, a bit green to this business, a bit shocked to see Pop fulfill the stereotype up close.

“We don’t care.”

It’s a defensive pose, but one spat with such precision as to simultaneously beam a ring of verisimilitude. It has the aura of a man speaking of a long disavowed family member, where, “I don’t care what he’s up to,” can also carry a hint of, “We’d be close if he was smart enough to value me.”

We aren’t smart enough to value these Spurs, apparently. They very well could be the league’s best team, and few outside of Texas want to see them advance in anything other than age. Get off the stage, gramps, I’m trying to watch Russell Westbrook dunk his arms off. They dispatched the Jazz with the autopilot brutality of a seasoned sushi chef, ripping the tail out of a live lobster. It was an awesome display of basketball mastery that so few saw or cared about. Today is our time to bask in the glory of Chris Paul’s eventually doomed team.

Regardless of how many times you’ll hear a basketball writer insist that the Spurs aren’t boring, most fans find them exactly that. San Antonio is objectively boring, if the measure is what the average basketball consumer prefers. Call their dullness a myth, but it’s more truth than figment if the buying public refuses to like a brand they’ve been exposed to for 14 years. The Spurs don’t rate. Game 1 of the Spurs-Jazz series garnered roughly three fourths

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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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Spurs in Space

The usually goofy Duncan tones it down a bit

The most valuable commodity in basketball is space. Defenses are constantly working to devour it; offenses are on an unceasingly seeking to find it. Over the last two seasons, no team has systematically generated and exploited space on the basketball court better than the San Antonio Spurs. It’s no surprise that in that same period, they have had the most productive offense.

For a decade, the Spurs offense was built on the idea that no team could guard Tim Duncan with one player and that Duncan could always establish position to catch the ball dangerously close to the rim. After forcing teams to respond to Duncan with an extra player, the rest of court was suddenly spacious and the Spurs role players feasted on the opportunities.

During that decade the Spurs, lead by Duncan, were lauded as great champions and a model franchise. They were also, to many, incredibly boring.

But that Duncan and those Spurs are long gone. The Big Fundamental can still rebound and score inside with the best of them (check his stats per 36 minutes), but the days of tossing it in to Timmy once a possession for 38 minutes a night are over. So as Duncan slowed down, San Antonio needed to find new ways of creating space on the court.

Let Parker push it

That started in earnest in 2010, when Gregg Popovich decided to design the entire offense around Tony Parker (and to an extent Manu Ginobili, but we’ll focus mostly on Parker here). That meant running. Last year, the Spurs went from the nineteenth fastest team in the league to fourtheenth.  This year they are the eighth fastest team, ahead of every projected playoff team besides the D’Antoni powered Knicks and

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Watching Steve Nash

Steve Nash is 38, skinny, slow, white, and has terrible hair. His eyes are so wide set that people have theorized they may actually increase incredible peripheral vision thus aiding his legendary passing. Two or three times a game, Nash will curl off a high screen to the free throw line and, without breaking stride, elevate about nine inches off the ground and shoot and often swish the kind of runner that would get 99.2% of the league benched for the rest of the game. He also has this weird ability to shoot an almost flat-footed yet fading away seven-footer with the exact same form he uses on pull-up 27-footers.

It goes without saying that he’s an incredibly weird player. This is part of the entertainment factor.

As I often do whenever I watch Nash — now or 10 years ago– I react to these kind of plays like someone reading a Snapple “real fact.” I’m pretty sure you can’t power a bullet train with its passengers’ brain waves…then again Steve Nash did just bank-swish a running left-handed hook shot over Tim Duncan.

Yes, I was watching the Suns, who should really be an out-and-out terrible team, hang with Duncan’s (now Tony Parker’s) Spurs. Somehow, it was another classic; these teams continue to hold significance for one another that is belied by their respective places in the league.

From 2004-2010, the Nash-lead Phoenix Suns and Duncan-dominated San Antonio Spurs had the best rivalry in the NBA. They were almost poetic in their diametric opposition. Duncan and the Spurs: so successful but so difficult to enjoy (for many); Nash and the Suns: unable to take the final step but widely regarded as the most entertaining team in the NBA.

Duncan had all the physical tools. He was the ACC pedigree

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