Andre Drummond is on the march

When Greg Monroe jokingly suggested that Andre Drummond’s nickname should be “Big Penguin,” he certainly wasn’t taking into account Drummond’s enormous wingspan and habit of flying through the air to snatch his meals high above the rim.

And as Drummond entered the 2012 Draft, that he possessed these physical abilities seemed to be the only givens about his game. Questions were everywhere: Would he be in shape? Did he love basketball enough to improve some of his glaring weaknesses (he is only shooting 40 percent from the free throw line)? Was he Kwame Brown or Dwight Howard?

For now, stop looking for the nuances and artistry traditionally associated with franchise big men. Here’s what counts: Andre Drummond can dunk and rebound at the highest level in the NBA.

Look at this comparison to Team USA starting center Tyson Chandler’s numbers this year, focusing on per/36 numbers and advanced stats. (Click image to enlarge.)

The two big men have identical PERs and Drummond is already a better rebounder and shot blocker, while fouling and turning the ball over at virtually the same rate.  Basically, many advanced stats suggest at 19 years old, Drummond is a consistent free throw shot away from mimicking Chandler’s production.

Of course, Drummond is still a long, long ways from understanding team defensive concepts well enough to improve consistently defensive patch holes left by his weaker teammates the way Chandler does. Sure Drummond blocks and alters shots — sometimes from out of nowhere like a shark exploding out of the ocean with a seal in its jaws — however the Pistons don’t play better defense with him on the court.

But no one should expect 18 year olds to deliver on defense. Even a player like Kevin Garnett, who will likely be remembered as

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HoopSpeak Network

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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Clippers should rejuvenate Chris Paul

Chris Paul is a Los Angeles Clipper. Suddenly, the Clippers relevant, exciting, and a potential threat to win the Western Conference. Pretty much everyone believes Chris Paul is and will be fantastic. Still, some wonder if he’s already on the gradual down slope of his career.  But Clippers fans should take heart: the numbers suggest Paul is headed for a big year.

The 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons are the finest of Paul’s career to date– virtuoso performances that stack up with the best by a point guard in the last 25 years. So why the downward trend in the year since? Well, besides an injury riddled 2009-10 season, a change in personnel – including losing Tyson Chandler – significantly impacted Paul’s game.

Chandler, at the time, was the perfect running mate for Paul, his Amar’e to Paul’s Steve Nash.

According to HoopData, in the ’08 and ’09 seasons (when he led the NBA in assist percentage at well over 50%), Paul was dolling out approximately 4.5 assists per-40 minutes that led to points at the rim. In the years since Chandler’s departure, those marks have dropped to 3.5, while the number of assists leading to mid-range jumpers has climbed significantly.

None of this should be surprising given that the Hornets replaced a 7-foot pick-and-roll nightmare with Emeka Okafur and used David West primarily as a pick-and-pop target.

Last year, the Hornets ranked 29th in the NBA in shot attempts at the rim and shot 64% on those opportunities. The Clippers, on the other hand, attempted the 4th most shots at the rim and made greater than 65% of these–all with Baron Davis and Mo Williams running the show.

Another reason for the tangible and perceived drop-off in Paul’s production has to do with how the burden to create

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Technique of the Week: Going straight up

Joel Anthony eats a Tyson Chandler forearm to stop a dunk without fouling

Technique of the Week is a HoopSpeak feature that highlights the technical nuances that makes great players special and role players meaningful

Technique: Going Straight Up

Why it’s important:

Being able to lock down the opponent’s top offensive threat is great, but what’s even more valuable these days is a defender who can also stop his teammates’ assignments from scoring near the rim. The NBA players who do that best do so by challenging at the hoop without fouling—by going straight up.

It’s almost impossible to stay in front of the big, ultra athletic wings and guards in the league today. As a result, many teams have developed complex defensive schemes designed to keep as many bodies as possible between the ball and the basket without drawing a defensive three second violation. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on rotating defenders to not only get in position to offer resistance, but then actually affect the shot. The increasing value of that role is why light footed big men with little to offer offensively like Tyson Chandler and Joel Anthony seem to be overpaid but probably aren’t.

This technique is rarer than one might assume. Sure, there are plenty of players who can protect the hoop by hacking anything with a pulse that enters the lane. The JaVale McGees of the league enforce a “no easy buckets” policy that reroutes driving players to the freethrow line, but the reality is that there may be no easier NBA bucket than the points earned at the charity stripe. The name says it all—it’s an efficient and reliable method of scoring that truly great defensive teams, like the San Antonio clubs in the mid 2000s, take

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Dallas avoiding double trouble

On Tuesday, NBA Playbook’s Sebastian Pruiti outlined how the Miami Heat – specifically LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – were able to pick apart the Dallas Mavericks defense from the high post when double-teamed. The bigger picture in the first four games of the NBA Finals, however, has been the excellent job the Mavs have done at preventing the Heat from consistently beating them when they choose to double or apply additional pressure to the ball.

It’s not that Dallas isn’t committing extra defenders or double-teaming the ball handler, but rather they are avoiding doing so in settings where there are no help defenders in the area. They’ve applied added pressure without giving up a lot of open looks.

Synergy Sports tracks data on three different play-types in which the defense often opts to commit with a double-team or extra defender: post-ups, isolations and pick-and-roll sets. During the regular season Miami was good, not great, at capitalizing on these opportunities, scoring .98 points per possession on 48.1% shooting overall. In four Finals games against Dallas these marks have plummeted to .67 ppp on 35.6% shooting.

Several factors are at play here. First, Miami isn’t converting open opportunities at the same rate we’re used to seeing from them. During the regular season the Heat connected on just over 45% of their open jumpers compared to 40% in the playoffs. Secondly – and more importantly – Dallas has often managed to pressure and recover rather than committing the help defender to a hard double.

This is where the acquisition of Tyson Chandler is paying massive dividends for the Mavs. While the Heat often rely on their pick-and-roll game to create open opportunities as a byproduct of a collapsing defense, Chandler’s unique athleticism for a 7-footer makes him the perfect hedge

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Tyson Chandler coming on strong

Everyone knows that if the Mavs can win the franchise’s first NBA title, Dirk Nowitzki will be the Finals MVP. His production, both scoring and rebounding, has been constant and extraordinary, and his impact on his teammates’ play is unmatched.

But who has been the second most important Maverick?

Maybe Shawn Marion, whose unexpected offense—on the glass and in the post—and iron-nosed defense on LeBron James has utterly negated a presumed mismatch for Miami.

One might offer Jason Terry, who has played well late in both Maverick wins. He’s been inconsistent, but backed up his tough talk after Game 3 by driving at will against LeBron James in the final moments of Game 4. As Terry’s 4th quarters have gone, so have the Mavericks. He was shut out in two losses, but averaged 8.5 points in the 4th quarter of their two wins.

But if you factor in consistency, minutes played, and impact on both ends, there’s plenty of evidence that the Mavericks second most important player is Tyson Chandler. Rick Carlisle has needed the former #2 overall pick’s best, too. With Brendan Haywood injured and ineffective, Chandler’s minutes have increased in each game this series, from 33 in Game 1, to a whopping 43 in Game 4.

Chandler has contributed meaningfully in all the categories you would expect for a fast, active 7-footer with questionable touch: defense and rebounding. His rebounds have gone up in each game, from four in Game 1, to 16 in Game 4. In the Finals, with Chandler on the bench, the Heat’s rebounding rate skyrockets from 47.4% to 56.9% and its Offensive efficiency goes from 98.26 points per 100 possessions–worse than any team in the regular season–to 114.3 points per 100 possessions—better than any team in the regular season.

Specifically, Statscube tells

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Scouting the Dallas Mavericks: Defense

Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part II of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.

Defensive Scheme/Philosophy

Once Dallas is in the half-court defensively, they rely on a rotation-based man to man defense with doses of their 2-3 zone sprinkled in. While the 2-3 look is the base, it essentially morphs into a match-up zone due to the NBA defensive 3-second rules. They rarely use it for an extended period of time and tend to employ it on dead balls or after timeouts for a handful of possessions.

They have great positional flexibility with both Kidd and Marion able to guard at least three different positions. Neither are what they used to be, but this flexibility allows Dallas to hide some of their weaker defenders easier against non-threats. Given their size in the front court, they look to funnel teams toward the middle of the floor with their pick and roll coverage due to the ability to consistently have a shot-blocking threat protecting the rim at the center position.

The interesting part of the Mavs defensive scheme is the way they protect Dirk. A team defense based on rotations (as opposed to stunting) naturally and necessarily puts its players in a position to rotate into a mismatch. Given Nowitzki’s offensive value to Dallas, it is an absolute must to keep him from getting into foul trouble or being ground down by tough, physical match-ups.

The twist in the Mavs’ scheme basically requires Dirk to avoid any potential mismatches by only switching or rotating onto other non-threats. The following video shows you Dallas’ rotation out of trap of Kevin Durant off a pick and roll. This is a good look at how a typical

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Scouting the Dallas Mavericks: Offense

Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part I of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.

Offensive Scheme/Philosophy

The Mavericks are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league and it’s based off a few simple principles. They not only space the floor perfectly, but the majority of the players know exactly what their role is. The scheme obviously all centers around superstar Dirk Nowitzki, but Rick Carlisle and his staff should get credit for consistently putting their players in positions to be successful.

Before arriving in Dallas, Carlisle had the reputation as a set-heavy coach. He’s scaled that back quite a bit with the Mavs. Carlisle looks to control the flow early most games with a few sets involving his grinders, typically defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson.

This certainly isn’t the best use of personnel; but it still is a great piece of coaching. Calling sets for a player like Stevenson or Tyson Chandler early helps keep them more engaged on the defensive end of the floor. It’s not that these players need the touches or they won’t compete on defense, but most players tend to be more focused when contributing on both ends of the floor. So whether it’s an on or off ball screen, Stevenson usually gets a touch or two within the first three possessions.

Beyond the opening moments, Carlisle’s set calling comes in standard settings (after timeouts or dead ball situations) or when Dirk is out of the game. The rest of the time Dallas generally plays out of a relatively simple 3 out, 2 in motion-style offense that relies heavily on ball screen action, spacing, and keeping the floor spread for Nowitzki isolations.

The Mavericks will enter

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