League Pass Don’t Lie: Stay Away from Ntilikina; Cavs Pin-In Screens; Protect Embiid; Dion Without a Plan

Frank Ntilikina

It’s been a week since the last League Pass Don’t Lie. Here are some of the things that jumped out to me as I bounced around various games in the last seven days.


Don’t Dribble Near Frank Ntilikina

The scouting report on Frank Ntilikina suggested he could eventually become a defensive menace, but I think the widespread belief was that it might take the 19-year-old a while to adjust to NBA basketball (especially after injuries impeded his summer league and preseason). That hasn’t been the case on the defensive end.

The rookie has used his impressive frame (6’6” with a 7’0” wingspan) and foot speed to harass ball handlers and be a general nuisance. It’s only been 11 games, but he’s already posting some impressive defensive statistics:

  • Steals per game: 2.0 (3rd in NBA)
  • Deflections per 36 minutes: 4.3 (3rd in NBA, ≥ 100 mins played)
  • Steal percentage: 4.8% (1st in NBA, ≥ 100 mins played)

Some of it might be the novelty factor (i.e. opponents facing him for the first time), but his long arms and quick hands aren’t going anywhere. It won’t be too long before opposing ball handlers have to start tracking Ntilikina’s position and perhaps being extra cautious when he’s in the vicinity:

The Kristaps Porzingis Show is dominating the headlines, but Ntilikina’s play has been an important development for the Knicks. There is still a ton of growth needed (particularly on the offensive end), but he looks like a promising young prospect to groom alongside Porzingis.

When was the last time the Knicks had two intriguing talents on their rookie deals and actually held onto them? If the Knicks can be patient (please stop laughing) and take a long-term approach to team-building (seriously, stop laughing), there may be something special here.


The Cleveland Cavaliers and their “Pin-In Screens”

The Cleveland Cavaliers defense is a mess and their non-shooting new additions (Rose, Wade, Green) have been underwhelming, but there’s still beauty in watching how Ty Lue and the Cavs scheme up open looks for their long-range weapons.

One of the ways they do this is with these pin-in screens (I don’t know if there’s a specific hoopsy name for this type of screen, but I feel like I’ve heard this term used so I’m sticking with it until further notice).

The defense isn’t prepared for a screen to come from these angles. What initially looks like poor spacing is quickly transformed into an advantage for the offense as the screener occupies both defenders and creates plenty of space and time for the shooter to let it fly.

The Cavs offense is still incredibly fun to watch when LeBron is on the floor with shooters. It’s all the other minutes that get depressingly ugly.


Please Get Joel Embiid Off the Baseline

Watching Joel Embiid play basketball brings me so much joy and simultaneously fills me with fear. Every time he hits the floor, I find myself holding my breath until he’s back on his feet. Unfortunately this apprehension is constant, even when he’s on the bench—mostly because he doesn’t sit on the bench but lies down on the baseline.

I must sound like an overbearing parent, but is there any way we can get this guy further away from the action? He showed us his emergency evacuation plan on one play against the Clippers when it looked like bodies might start flying in his general direction. It didn’t fill me with confidence.

Granted, there are a few players who take that spot on the baseline (including Embiid’s teammate J.J. Redick) and I’ve never seen any collisions unfold. Despite this fact, let’s not take any chances with The Process.


Dion Waiters: Jumping Without a Parachute (or a Plan)

One of earliest things you’re taught in basketball is to not leave your feet unless you know what you’re doing with the ball. Some players (e.g. LeBron James, John Wall, healthy Derrick Rose) have been able to ignore this maxim and avoid making too many mistakes thanks to good awareness and exceptional athleticism (specifically hang time).

Dion Waiters doesn’t have that kind of awareness or athleticism, so he often gets himself into trouble by starting his gather and going airborne without an exit strategy.

So far, this poor decision-making has shown up in his stats as his turnover metrics are all career-highs at the moment:

Waiters TOs

Waiters occasionally makes some of those impressive hanging kickout passes to shooters, but the risks of these plays outweigh the benefits. This specific habit isn’t a huge problem for the Heat, but it might be symptomatic of a larger issue.

An ankle injury in late March ended Waiters’s 2016-17 campaign, and he’s still experiencing pain in that ankle according to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald. Anecdotally, it looks like Waiters doesn’t have as much space on his drives to the rim as he did last year. That might be the result of decreased explosiveness due to his ankle pain, or it might just be because the Heat aren’t shooting the ball well and teams are sending more help on their drives:

Heat shooting woes

It’s too early to make any grand conclusions, but it’s worth monitoring these two factors (three-point shooting and Dion’s driving efficiency) as the season progresses. Both are necessary ingredients for a successful Heat season.

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