Earlier in the season I wrote about the Sacramento Kings’ overpowering transition game from a big-picture perspective, exploring the numbers behind it and the importance of speed to the Kings’ newfound identity (you can read that piece here). Now it’s time to dig into the film and explore the “how?” Whenever I tune into a Kings game, five factors consistently emerge that explain their transition dominance.
In an NBA season defined by ridiculous pace, the Sacramento Kings are the most drastic example of the league’s need for speed. The young Kings look like a completely new team, and they’ve raced out to a surprising 6-4 start fueled by their breakneck pace.
Sacramento was the slowest team in the league last year, weighed down by a rotation that prominently featured aging, methodical vets. Those Kings felt rudderless, lacking any direction or overarching philosophy. You’d be hard-pressed to question the team’s identity this season.
The Kings live in transition and currently rank second in the league in pace (per NBA.com/Stats). They run off turnovers, they run off misses, they run off makes. They run relentlessly, and that merciless pace is wearing down opponents. Continue reading
League Pass Don’t Lie is an outlet for me to nerd out and celebrate some of the cool/bizarre/fascinating things I noticed when I got sucked into the League Pass wormhole this week.
Ben Simmons & TFW You’ve Never Played Kawhi Leonard Before
Some players are so uniquely great that film alone is inadequate preparation; you need to get on a court with them to truly understand the extent of their impact. Ben Simmons learned that the hard way in his first ever game against Kawhi Leonard. The Toronto Raptors defense has overwhelmed its prey with a devastating combination of length, speed and intelligence, but Leonard is the keystone.
He glides across the court with a silkiness that makes it look like he’s playing under water. His enormous hands seem to have a magnetic attraction to the ball. He’s too quick to blow by and too strong to back down. The normal rules don’t apply to Kawhi.
Players—even stars—cannot run on autopilot when Leonard shares the court with them. Things that are typically left to instinct require constant focus when Kawhi is the adversary. You know, things like holding a ball, or dribbling, or making what is normally an easy pass:
Simmons set a career-high with 11 turnovers on the night, completely outpacing his previous personal worst (7 TOs). It was eye-opening to watch Simmons—normally so poised—look completely outclassed and distressed on multiple occasions, but that’s what Kawhi Leonard does. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fringe NBA player or an MVP, Kawhi is an equal-opportunity defensive nightmare unlike any other player in the league. Continue reading
As far as record-breaking performances go, Klay Thompson’s 14-trey, 52-point shooting exhibition was as unsurprising as it gets. After making just 14% of his threes over the first seven games of the season, we knew a hailstorm was on the horizon. And we knew there was a chance it would all come in one game.
Klay’s explosion came less than a week after Stephen Curry humiliated the Washington Wizards with his own 51-point game. On only nine occasions have teammates dropped 50 points in the same season. Last night, Curry and Klay added to The Gospel of Splash, becoming the only pair to accomplish the feat twice.
The other 50-point duos:
The Dallas Mavericks are in the development phase of their life cycle, waving goodbye to a franchise icon while ushering in the next generation of (hopeful) stars. The future of the organization now rests on the development of Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. As much as we dissect the pre-NBA film on every prospect to scout their natural abilities, the trajectory of a player’s career is equally dependent on the ‘Nurture’ part of the equation. Landing in the right situation is vital to any prospect’s chances of realizing their potential.
Though Doncic and Smith Jr. differ by 4 inches, 23 lbs and 4,680 miles1, their on-court roles will be very similar: create offense out of the pick-and-roll. When it comes to that primary skill, Dallas should serve as a Pick-and-Roll Academy of sorts—a perfect testing ground equipped with a few key training aids to fast-track their development. Continue reading
We haven’t even hit media day yet, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are on the brink of collapse. Jimmy Butler, once the star that would legitimize them, has requested a trade. Tom Thibodeau, once an unassailable hire, is now an embattled coach whose seat just got hotter. Andrew Wiggins, once a can’t-miss prospect, is overpaid with questionable shot selection (on and off the court). Perhaps most concerning of all: Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t signed his extension and reportedly will not do so until the Butler situation is resolved.
The deadline to sign an extension is October 15th. Maybe he’ll sign it the second Butler is no longer a Timberwolf. Maybe he’s waiting to assess the post-Butler roster and make his choice then. It’s unclear what exactly Towns wants, but this is an interesting case study in negotiating power for young stars still on rookie deals. Normally, a maximum rookie extension for a player of Towns’ caliber is a formality. By withholding his signature, Towns is flexing his nascent franchise player muscles. Continue reading
Inimitable things are usually polarizing, and Nikola Jokic is no exception. Even within his own team—a franchise for which he is now unquestionably the figurehead after inking a 5-year, $148M contract—there are signs of hesitation. This uncertainty doesn’t concern his talent (which is undeniable), but how one goes about maximizing it. It’s one thing to revel in his offensive genius from afar; building a scheme around his brilliance, however, requires creativity and a level of trust not commonly afforded to big men.
Most of the offensively gifted giants are play-finishers (e.g. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid). They score at a high volume but are often dependent on teammates to create offense1. The other end of the spectrum is home to big men who add value with passing (e.g. Al Horford, Draymond Green, Marc Gasol). These players make their teammates better but can’t shoulder the burden of being a team’s primary scorer. Nikola Jokic is a tantalizing hybrid with the potential to carry an offense in a way we have rarely (if ever) seen from a true big man. Continue reading
The best NBA franchises thrive on the margins. Any team can make a no-brainer draft pick, but the exemplary organizations maximize their talent by consistently nailing the minor decisions. One such example is the second round of the draft1. Though it is rare for second-round picks to blossom into full-blown All-Stars, overlooked gems are unearthed in every draft.
Even with the caveat of a minuscule sample size, the 2018 Summer League revealed a few potential second-round steals that could yield major dividends for their teams (e.g. Mitchell Robinson, De’Anthony Melton, Svi Mykhailiuk). The mere possibility of nabbing a rotation-worthy player in the second round is enough of a reward, but the value of those picks can be amplified by contract structure.
The overwhelming majority of second-round picks sign for the minimum (or close to it), but it’s the years—not the money—that can matter most in these situations from the team’s perspective. Continue reading
Facing adversity after a lopsided loss, the Utah Jazz did what they’ve done all season: regroup, make the necessary adjustments and outexecute the opponent. The Jazz stumbled out of the gate in Game 1 as the Houston Rockets’ switching defense stymied their offense. The hand-offs and motion that make up Quin Snyder’s playbook were often negated by Houston switches, and Utah’s pick-and-roll offense struggled to find any oxygen. The results were very different in Game 2, and Utah emphasized their counter from the very first possession: slipping the screen. Continue reading
This Boston Celtics – Philadelphia 76ers series has something for everyone: superstar-level talent; an injury-depleted roster that won’t quit; a tactical battle on the sidelines; and so many narratives that writers have to choose between revisiting the history between the franchises or gazing into their crystal balls at the two squads that could potentially define the Eastern Conference for the next five years. But most of that stuff is window dressing. The most important aspect of the series will be the matchup of Joel Embiid and Al Horford.
That’s not to detract from the talent and importance of the other players on the floor. Ben Simmons will rebound from a subpar Game 1 and show us why he’s the closest thing to a LeBron James successor we’ve ever seen. Jayson Tatum will continue to marinate in the slow-cooker as the “third wheel” in the Rookie of the Year debate who could very well end up being the best player of the bunch. I guess Terry Rozier could actually continue to play like this and make us all (myself included) cringe at those jokes we made at Danny Ainge’s expense.
But Joel Embiid and Al Horford are not merely the best players on their rosters; they are the stylistic anchors that dictate the identity of their teams. In Game 1, we didn’t see them go head-to-head that frequently, but those minutes will be the bellwether for this series. Continue reading