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.
Old Tony Parker: (Still) Money Around the Rim
When 34-year-old Tony Parker tore his left quadriceps muscle in the playoffs last season, part of me wondered whether it signaled a new phase for the speedster and for the San Antonio Spurs’ point guard position. There were rumblings of retirement (Parker quickly squashed them) and it seemed natural that if any Spur would show signs of aging, it would be the small point guard who relied on his quickness.
Instead, Parker returned a month ahead of schedule and looks very much like the player we’re used to seeing. When he burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old adding a much needed dose of flair to a staid Spurs offense, it was easy to lose sight of his skill and focus on his blazing speed. Now that his trademark speed has (slightly) declined, it’s easier to notice how he uses angles, footwork and his body to create enough space to finish over the trees.
The list of players who can get into the paint like Parker is fairly long; the list of players who can finish as efficiently as Parker when they get there is much shorter. Comparing Parker to the game’s current crop of point guard elites shows he’s still one of the best in the business when it comes to finishing around the rim and/or in the paint.
His career stats are even more impressive. Parker is one of the most efficient 2-point shooters of all-time under 6’4”.
Parker is a dominant force in the paint despite his small stature. He has added many layers to his game over the years, but his success has always revolved around his ability to get buckets in the paint at a uniquely high level. His impressive career has been built on that foundation, and it’s still carrying him today.
Utah’s Gut Handoffs
Handoffs and dribble handoffs (DHOs) have become popular actions in the NBA, but I love one of the variations commonly deployed by the Utah Jazz: the Gut handoff. Zach Lowe wrote about Quin Snyder’s philosophy of “advantage basketball” (I also explored the concept in my own Jazz article), and the Gut handoff is yet another example of how Utah’s playbook creates advantages for its players.
The action gets its name because it’s typically run in the middle of the floor with the handoff recipient running “up the gut”, but the Jazz use it on the wings as well. The general concept is to have the handoff recipient (1 in the diagram below) running away from the basket.
This accomplishes two things:
- The big defender normally can’t see the handoff coming and is totally reliant on communication from his teammates
- The angle of the handoff makes the defense commit to a side. If they don’t, they give the recipient a metric ton of space to launch an open three.
To maximize the action, you need players that can punish the defense in multiple ways. If the Jazz were to run this with Ricky Rubio, it would be easy to guard since defenses would happily loiter under the handoff and dare him to shoot. When it’s Donovan Mitchell or Rodney Hood receiving the handoff, however, the defense faces a dilemma.
If the defense is late getting through the screen or tries to shoot the gap and meet the ballhandler on the other side, it concedes a wide open three. If they try to chase over the screen and take away the three, the ballhandler has plenty of space to attack the rim and put pressure on the big defender.
Functionally, this action is similar to a regular pick-and-roll. You have a ballhandler (handoff recipient) and a screener, and the defense has to navigate it by choosing whether to go over or under the screen. But subtle tweaks like this keep the defense guessing—a necessity when you lack otherworldly talent.
Sneaky Chris Paul Mugging Big Men
When I watch Russell Westbrook, his insane athleticism and aggressiveness jump off the screen. When I watch Stephen Curry, I marvel at his shooting. When I watch Chris Paul, I’m in awe of how much smarter he is than everyone else on the floor.
I already mentioned the prevalence of handoffs in the modern NBA. The handoff motion (i.e. a big man holding the ball at the elbows and a guard/wing curling around him) is a common type of movement seen in many offenses. Oftentimes it’s not even the primary action and serves as a decoy to generate player movement and keep the defense on its toes. In these cases, the guard/wing continues his curling motion and the big man looks for another passing option.
Paul is a master at deciphering this kind of decoy and sifting through the “fluff” in opposing offenses. If the big man shows his hand by not fully committing to the fake handoff, Paul knows what’s going on. He recognizes when the big man with the ball turns his back and pounces like a snake blitzing its unsuspecting prey.
Paul may have a diminutive frame, but his IQ constantly makes bigger foes look tiny.
Omer Asik & the Plus-Minus Hall of Shame
All credit for this entry goes to my friend, Shawn. As we discussed the latest happenings around the league, he dropped this mind-boggling stat: in Wednesday’s game, Omer Asik registered a woeful plus/minus of -17. If you’ve watched Asik over the past few seasons, his negative impact won’t surprise you. The truly astonishing aspect?
He did it in just 3 minutes and 15 seconds of game action. I don’t even know how that’s possible.
Asik’s fall from grace has been emblematic of the game’s evolution. There was a time (not too long ago) when he was viewed as an undervalued asset capable of providing elite rim protection and anchoring a defense in the mold of Roy Hibbert.
Sadly, the style of play changed rapidly and the league passed him by. Asik was hampered by injuries and then a mysterious bacterial infection which turned out to be Crohn’s disease. For his sake, it’s good that he’s healthy enough to resume playing professional basketball, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll be helping anyone on the court any time soon.
The -17 he registered on Wednesday wasn’t really his fault, but that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy. The Pelicans were up by 33 and sent in some of their bench players: Omer Asik, Cheick Diallo, Darius Miller, Ian Clark, Jameer Nelson. The Brooklyn Nets got hot and went on a 17-0 run, but the 195 seconds of game play still weren’t kind to Asik. In that span, he gave up an open 3 and an and-1 layup, missed two free throws and had the ball in his hands for a shot-clock violation (that wasn’t really his fault, but still).
The massively detrimental plus/minus in such limited playing time had me wondering how rare Asik’s quirky performance was. Thankfully, Basketball-Reference had the answer. Here are the 19 players who have logged a -15 (or worse) in less than 4 minutes of game action. Ladies and gentlemen, the Plus-Minus Hall of Shame:
**Aside: Those of you who listen to the Open Floor podcast may recognize another inductee to the Plus-Minus Hall of Shame: Nolan Smith. In a recent episode, Ben Golliver discussed one of the worst performances he’s ever seen in person. The game he talks about is Nolan Smith’s entry on the above list (Joel Freeland is also on the list from that same game).