Every championship team needs its glue guy.
Without Andre Iguodala, the Warriors proved to be quite vulnerable when the Rockets pushed them to the brink in this year’s conference finals. Without Shane Battier, the Lebron-led Heat teams would have never had that extra gear to push them to a championship. Without Lamar Odom, the Kobe-Pau Lakers never regained their status as title contenders.
The most distinguished glue guy to ever step foot on a basketball court was one Robert Horry. “Big Shot Bob” never came close to being a star when he played, but he will always be remembered for his consistent abilities to come through in the clutch for seven championship teams over his 16-year career.
Stars are without a doubt the main ingredient to any championship team in this league, but the glue guys are the ones that add the finishing touches.
There aren’t set criteria for what makes a player a “glue guy”. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a dead-eye three-point shooter. He doesn’t have to be a top-notch athlete. He doesn’t have to be a defensive guru or a scoring spark. What qualifies a player for the title of glue guy is his ability to give his team an extra edge.
Since joining the league in 2014, Marcus Smart has become the NBA’s ultimate glue guy, which primarily comes from him being one of the league’s most unique players.
In the past four years, Smart has been the living embodiment of a mixed bag. From the very get-go, Smart has been one of the league’s best, most versatile defenders, capable of holding his own against just about any player of any height. Better yet, his effort and hustle for loose balls really set the tone for the Celtics’ defense on a nightly basis. Anyone who has watched him would tell you that Smart would put his life on the line if it meant bettering his team.
That, unfortunately, has been evened out by Smart’s offensive shortcomings, specifically shooting-wise. Smart’s shooting percentages are not just bad. They’re historically bad. Smart has consistently shot in the 35-36 range percentage-wise from the field, including only breaking through the 30 percent from three-point barrier twice in his four-year career.
But that’s what makes watching Smart so entertaining. He’s never been afraid of the moment. It doesn’t matter if he gets blocked in embarrassing fashion as he drives for a layup or if he airballs a wide-open three-pointer. If given the chance, Smart will try those exact same actions again without a second thought.
Even if his shooting numbers are flat-out egregious, metrics have proven that the Celtics offense has been better with Smart on the floor than off. This year, the Celtics were +1.1 points per 100 possessions on offense with Smart on the floor during the regular season and were +0.7 points per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor in the playoffs as well.
Those aren’t the most impressive numbers, but for someone who shoots at an impressively bad rate as Smart, those stats show that he can still be useful offensively. Smart’s versatility, as he can play positions 1-3, as well as his passing abilities, as his assist averages have gone from up from three to five a game, may have something to do with that.
Smart’s tenacity on both sides of the ball, for better or worse, makes him a winning player in this league, which effectively made him the first building block of the Brad Stevens era.
Smart technically wasn’t on the Celtics when Brad Stevens first took over as head coach, but he joined the team just as the wheels started turning in the Brad Stevens era. From the last days of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to the brief but productive days of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the potentially glorious of days of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum among others, Smart’s been there to do his fill for the Celtics. Judging off of the agreement that he and the Celtics came to, it sounds like the role he has is the one he wants for a long time.
A few months back, I had written about Smart’s upcoming free agency, believing that his best course of action was to take the qualifying offer, but the agreement between Smart and the Celtics showed that both sides truly wanted Smart to be a Celtic long-term.
On the Celtics side, they could have ridden out Smart’s restricted free agency, lowballed him even less or have him take the qualifying offer so that they could avoid the luxury tax. On Smart’s side, with the market dried up, Smart could have taken the qualifying offer, played out the season then see who would be interested in his services next summer in a free agency that’s expected to have a lot more available money.
Instead, the two came agreed because both wanted Smart to remain a Celtic, and why wouldn’t they? There’s a fair argument that without Smart, the Celtics could have been eliminated as early as the first round. The Bucks had the Celtics right where they wanted them when they tied them 2-2 in the first round, but when Smart came back from his wrist injury the following game, he gave the Celtics another dimension that sealed the Bucks’ fate.
Though Smart’s contributions played a key role in avoiding the upset against the Bucks, it was Smart’s play against the Sixers in the second round, specifically in the last minute of the series-clinching win in Game 5, that showed not just how important Smart is to the Celtics, but also summarized the Marcus Smart experience as a whole.
In the last minute of Game 5 with the Celtics down a bucket, Smart did the following:
-Tipped in a missed lay-up by Jayson Tatum to tie the game
-Forced Dario Saric to turn the ball over on a risky no-call
-Found Tatum in the post for the go-ahead layup
-Missed a free throw he was trying to make
-Made a free throw he was trying to miss
-Intercepted Ben Simmons’ hail mary heave as time expired
Did Smart win that game by himself? No, but he was the catalyst to the Celtics’ victory. If it hadn’t been for him, the Celtics could have very well gone back to Philadelphia with only a one-game lead and all the momentum shifting to the Sixers’ side. Instead, Boston went on to their second consecutive conference finals in a gentleman’s sweep.
Smart may not be a star, but his impact on the Celtics is undeniable. Fans have been wondering for years if Smart was the right pick when the Celtics took him sixth overall in the 2014 draft. To answer that, they must know that Brad Stevens has valued versatility above everything else since becoming the Celtics’ head coach. Smart’s style isn’t the prettiest, but he fits Stevens’ versatile way of thinking to a T, meaning that, in the end, he helps his team win.
Even if he’ll give everyone a heart attack first.
NBA Daily: In Context: The Elam Ending & The 2019 NBA Finals
The “Elam Ending” brought more excitement to the NBA All-Star Game, but how would it affect games that matter most? Douglas Farmer takes a look at the 2019 NBA Finals through the Elam lens.
For all those bothered that Sunday’s All-Star Game ended on a free throw, let’s not remind them of the 2019 NBA Finals. Let’s not remember that — with less than a second remaining on the clock — Kawhi Leonard hit three free throws to turn a one-point lead into a four-point victory and a Toronto Raptors-winning championship.
Of course, if the “Elam Ending” had been in place for that Game 6, some different choices would have been made. That disclaimer aside, Leonard’s final free throw gave the Raptors what would likely have been the target score in that hypothetical. In fact, four of the six NBA Finals games ended on the likely target scores, anyway, while the other two never reached it.
Before walking through those scenarios, a quick description of the Elam Ending for those who did not follow Sunday’s exhibition: With a predetermined amount of time remaining, the clock is turned off; the game ends when a team reaches a “target score” established by adding a set number of points to the leading team’s score when the clock turns off. In the All-Star Game, the clock turned off for the entire fourth quarter, adding 24 points — a Kobe Bryant tribute — to the leading team’s score. For a more practical setting, it would be far less time and far fewer points.
Developed by a University of Dayton professor, Nick Elam, the well-named Elam Ending — which has been featured in the enormously-popular The Basketball Tournament over the last few years — adds eight points to the leading score at the first dead ball after the four-minute mark. If used in the NBA, Elam has suggested adding seven points at the last media timeout, coming at the first dead ball after the three-minute mark.
His rationale for seven stems from dividing typical full-game scoring rates by 16, but that fails to factor in late-game urgency and the inherent skewing to such a sample size. In short, the first three minutes will have less average scoring than the last three minutes simply because a bucket at the 2:59 mark is more likely than one a second into the game, not to mention a shot at 0:01 is more likely than one at 9:01.
Talked about this with Professor Elam and he made the point that starting the “ending” portion too early will wear everyone out, which is why his proposal is add 7 to high score at first stoppage under 3 minutes. https://t.co/GndXjOhyRz
— Anchorage Man (@SethPartnow) February 17, 2020
Thus, many have settled on eight — potentially another Kobe Bryant tribute — as the likely additional number if ever considered in the NBA. While the ending intends to remove any logic to intentionally fouling in late-game situations and thus preserving a truer state of the game we love, its effects go much further into strategy, lineup rotations and redefining the idea of “clutch.”
What it does not do, however, is shorten the game, at least in terms of points, as many incorrectly assume it does. Consider last year’s NBA Finals …
GAME 1: Raptors win, 118-109
First off, if we are to use the All-Star Game version of this drama-inducing ending, only two of the six Finals games would have reached the third quarter-dependent target score. Playoff games grind through the fourth quarter — but again, that was a gimmick for the exhibition contest. Any practical usage would have included a shorter ending.
The first dead ball after the three-minute mark in Game 1 came at the 2:35 mark with the Raptors leading 110-101, just after a Stephen Curry three-point play. Adding eight points to that 110 gives the final winning total, a number reached when Toronto guard Kyle Lowry hit a 28-foot three-pointer with 30 seconds left. At that point, it was essentially considered icing on the cake, turning a 115-106 lead into a 12-point margin — but in this theoretical, it would have been the game-winning shot.
Any 28-footer is dramatic, but that would have been quite the scene to start the Finals.
GAME 2: Warriors win, 109-104
The final minutes of this became a slog, so a more inspired conclusion would have been appreciated by all. A total of 3:18 passed between buckets from the 4:26 mark to the 1:08, keeping the score at 106-98 at the needed dead ball. Golden State added only an Andre Iguodala three-pointer with seven seconds remaining to stymie a Toronto charge that would’ve brought them within two. If the Warriors had needed to get to 114, it seems borderline-likely the Raptors would have pulled off the win and swept the series, considering that those were the only points Golden State scored in the final 5:39.
GAME 3: Raptors win, 123-109
Toronto led 115-103 at the last media timeout, while a Marc Gasol three made it 121-107 with 1:07 left before a Pascal Siakam layup reached the possible target score with a 14-point lead. Golden State was not coming back, so an Elam Ending would have at least expedited the ending. Jacob Evans may have been most appreciative of that as he missed two field-goal attempts after Siakam’s decisive points. Regardless, not much in the way of drama here.
GAME 4: Raptors win, 105-92
Again, it is hard to envision the Elam Ending changing much about this game — even with the inherent strategic shifts to it. Toronto led 99-89 with 2:48 left, but neither team exactly stressed in the final minutes. Curry turned a three-point play and the Raptors hit a trio of mid-range jumpers. Toronto did not reach the presumed 107 target score, but another mid-range shot from Siakam — who hit two of the aforementioned three — would not have taken long, and Golden State would not have rattled off 15 points before he hit it.
Both in real life and in this exercise, this blowout was the point in the series everyone began to realize what the Raptors really were about to do.
GAME 5: Raptors win, 106-105
As much as the Elam Ending was designed to eliminate an influx of free throws, it also puts an impetus on making shots. That might not sound revolutionary but, as often as not, games are determined by misses. Toronto led Game 5 by a score of 103-97 at the 2:59 mark when Draymond Green fouled Leonard. From that point on, the Raptors went 1-of-6 from the field.
Sure, Golden State hit a trio of three-pointers to take the lead and the game, while the Raptors struggled to get the ball anywhere near the hoop. But as impressive as the Warriors’ barrage was, wouldn’t everyone have preferred Curry or Klay Thompson to hit two more and break 111?
NBA, change the rules, make every fourth quarter like that fourth quarter…
— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) February 17, 2020
GAME 6: Raptors win, 114-110, and clinch the series
Here is where the Elam Ending would have provided a championship-worthy moment. In literal terms, Leonard’s three free throws with hardly any time remaining gave Toronto the 114 target score necessitated by a 106-101 lead at the 2:49 mark. For practicality, Golden State probably would not have melted down with back-to-back technical and personal fouls when they collectively realized a full-court, miracle three-pointer would be needed to win the game.
Instead, Iguodala would not have fouled Leonard at all — let alone earned the technical. The Raptors would have clung to a one-point lead, needing just three more to win the title.
The Elam Ending does not bring about the end of the game any faster in basketball terms — in real-time, though, the dearth of fouls unquestionably speeds things up — but it largely brings the dramatic moments we remember.
Of course, Anthony Davis’ clinching free throw was not all that abnormal.
Still, in the context of a recently-thrilling NBA Finals, it’s easy to see why the Elam Ending has people hyped to talk about basketball nuances again — naturally, however, it does not guarantee drama.
NBA Daily: Russell Westbrook — Full Throttle
When Houston traded for Russell Westbrook last summer, they had to embrace him, warts and all. Matt John goes into what the Rockets have done to achieve just that and how their most recent deals could net them the most efficient Westbrook they could’ve hoped for.
Russell Westbrook doesn’t care what you call him, whether a high-usage, low-efficiency chucker, an anti-spacer that clogs the lane, or an empty stat-chaser. To Westbrook, it’s all the same: noise, especially if you are focused on Basketball Betting.
And, no matter what you may think of him, nothing is stopping Westbrook from playing at his own pace: fast (to say the least).
Westbrook’s style is so lively, so twitchy, that it’s hard not to it in just about everything he does on the court. While it’s certainly contributed to many of his flaws, the aggression he’s played with, the bounce in his step, has helped him rack up the accolades and eye-popping stats that he has throughout his career.
As a basketball player, Westbrook is the quintessential perfect storm; a tornado of fire, accolades and counting stats.
But because his warts — his sans-Kevin Durant postseason success, his paltry shooting numbers (particularly this season) — are as obvious as his talent, nobody seemed enthralled when it was announced that Westbrook was set to rejoin James Harden, this time with the Houston Rockets. Dating back to Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal in 2010, there has arguably never been as little fanfare concerning two former MVPs joining forces.
There was one silver lining, however: in his new home, Westbrook would be surrounded by shooters. Better yet, shooters that would prove consistently reliable on the defensive end. In Houston, Westbrook wouldn’t have to be Mr. Do It All. But would it be enough?
No was the early, and loud, return. Through the season’s first two months, the Rockets were 23-11, a strong record, no doubt. But fans couldn’t help but wonder if Westbrook had helped, or hurt, their cause. By New Year’s Eve, Houston was plus-3.9 with Westbrook on the floor, but were somehow better — plus–9.5 — with him off.
The Rockets may have managed with Westbrook, but he wasn’t making them better. Of course, in that time, Westbrook had carried his weight as Houston’s no. 2 — 24.2 points and 7.1 assists — but his efficiency was as bad as it had ever been, if not worse. His 43/23/80 splits, while also coughing the ball up 4.4 times a game, had Rockets fans in shambles, the 23 percent from three-point range especially glaring as Westbrook was taking nearly five a game.
Making matters worse, Chris Paul, whom Daryl Morey traded for Westbrook, was not-so-quietly having his healthiest, most productive season since 2016 with the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. On top of Westbrook’s struggles, Paul’s resurgence made it seem as if Morey had made a terrible mistake.
But, Westbrook seemed to turn a corner in the new year. In January, he averaged 32.5 points on 52/25/76 splits, while the Rockets were plus-2.5 with him on the court and minus-0.9 with him off. While that was an improvement, Houston went 7-7, though Westbrook missed four of those games. Even if he was technically better, he still served as the scapegoat.
Something was holding both the Rockets and Westbrook back.
That something, in Westbook’s case, was the Rockets. Morey and Co. had asked Westbrook to play their style, which meant spot-up threes — not exactly Westbrook’s forte — and a slower pace. In essence, it was the complete antithesis of Westbrook. In time, it became clear that, if Morey’s experiment was ever going to work, Houston would have to adapt to Westbrook, not the other way around.
And, because Morey would do anything and everything in his power to win, the Rockets did just that. By trading Clint Capela, who, while a young, proven and still promising big, was a poor fit with Westbrook, for Robert Covington, Houston embraced small-ball and, in turn, embraced Westbrook’s ability and game to the fullest extent.
Relying on Covington, Danuel House Jr and PJ Tucker to hold their own against much bigger frontcourts will be an interesting sight come playoff time. And trading Capela — a young, high-upside and cost-controlled big — is certainly a gamble. But this version of the Rockets may arguably be the closest thing we ever see to the “perfect team” around Westbrook, and it may just be Houston’s best bet to win a title.
Now, the lane is completely free. Westbrook will be playing with shooters virtually non-stop. That means fewer threes on his part, driving to the basket with no one to get in his way, opening up more room for those shooters. And, while Westbrook’s perfect team does not equate to the perfect team period, it could equate to a deeper playoff run.
Since Houston’s shift, the returns have been promising. Post-Capela (his last appearance was Jan. 29), Houston has played six games and gone 4-2. And, minus their stinker against Phoenix, another game in which Westbrook did not play, each of those games has provided ample proof that an entire small-ball squad can be viable. Houston came out the victor against two of the best teams in the NBA this season, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, and another team with plenty of size, the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Rockets have also averaged 115.9 points per game, while Westbrook has led the team with 34 points per game and shot 51.5 percent from the field. So, in other words, he’s being efficient. Just don’t ask about his three-point shooting.
A “sample size” disclaimer will probably haunt the Rockets between now and the postseason, but the headline here is that thus far, it’s working. It’s not all because of Westbrook — through this stretch, Houston has been a plus-0.9 when Westbrook’s hit the bench — but he’s not hurting them as he did before.
In due time, we’ll see if Morey’s latest experimental maneuvering will pay off. But it’s clear that, if they go down, they’ll go down with Westbrook, rather than against him. They’ll be confident for sure, because, come the postseason, Westbrook will hit the court as he always has: full throttle.
NBA Daily: Trade Deadline Gives Jerome Robinson Opportunity And Encouragement
After struggling to break into the Clippers’ stingy rotation, Jerome Robinson was part of a three-team trade last Thursday that landed him on the Washington Wizards. Drew Maresca explores the the new opportunity available to Robinson in Washington, D.C.
Always one of the most entertaining times of the year, the trade deadline is an annual must-see event for basketball fans. But in addition to the excitement it brings, it can also introduce a headwind of confusion. Case in point: The three-team trade between the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers.
After lots of posturing and deliberation, the Knicks agreed to trade Marcus Morris to the Clippers for Moe Harkless, an unprotected 2020 first-round pick and more.
But even with that structure decided upon, that aforementioned more remained undefined for longer than fans on either side would have liked. Even after the Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell rumors were debunked, there was still a lot of excitement in New York about potentially acquiring one or more of the following young talents: Terrance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele or Jerome Robinson. All three had been rumored to be headed for the Big Apple at some point in the run-up to the deadline.
Just like the rest of us, Robinson watched as the trade continued to unfold.
“I knew that same day, that morning, that it could be the Knicks or the Wizards,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “At that point, I knew I was probably going to be out of [Los Angeles]. I didn’t know where to. But I eventually got a phone call and it was Washington.”
In short, Robinson is a 22-year-old former lottery pick — No. 13 overall back in 2018 — and a talented scorer that has struggled to acclimate and find consistent court time since he joined the league.
But it’s not entirely his fault.
At 6-foot-4, Robinson was chosen by a team with plenty of established shooting guards on the roster already. Immediately, Robinson was competing directly with established players like Avery Bradley and Lou Williams for the right to even step on the floor. And then there was Shamet too, another rookie that arrived in Los Angeles during the 2019 deadline and quickly gobbled up most of the remaining minutes.
As if the chances to develop weren’t hard enough to come by for Robinson, the Clippers’ successful offseason meant they would enter 2019-20 with legitimate championship aspirations. And with the team focused solely on reaching the NBA Finals, Robinson assumed he was in basketball purgatory — but the trade deadline brought along a new opportunity.
“I think [being traded] is a blessing in disguise,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase what I can do. I just have to go do it.”
Robinson received less than 10 minutes per game during his rookie season and only got a minuscule bump up to 11.3 this season. Given aspirations and additions, the team couldn’t give Robinson the playing time he needed to find some much-needed footing. Former head coach Doc Rivers’ main criticism of Robinson was that he didn’t look for his own shot enough.
These days, however, Scott Brooks — the Wizards’ head coach — and Robinson, unsurprisingly, have already spoken about this and the message is the same one that Rivers previously preached: Look for your shot.
“Me and Scott talked a couple of days ago,” Robinson said. “After practice, chopped it up for 10 or 15 minutes. He told me he wants me to just be me and not hesitate.
“Coach thinks that’s something I’ve always been able to do, but that I’ve been hesitant with at times in Los Angeles,” Robinson continued. “I told him that was due more to some kind of circumstances.”
But Robinson is obviously excited to play with more freedom and learn from in-game experiences.
“That’s something I can do here, whereas [with the Clippers], if you have a bad game, it’s kind of next man up.”
But there’s no rush in Washington.
The Wizards are still in the early stages of a rebuild and won’t likely be contenders soon, so Robinson will have the opportunity to become the first guard off the bench for the Wizards. And that newly-found chance will be invaluable as it’ll finally allow for him to prove that he belongs in the NBA.
Drew Gooden, the Wizards’ announcer and a 14-year NBA veteran, also spoke with Basketball Insiders about the good fortune Robinson will have at his new home.
“The situation that the Washington Wizards are in as an organization, you just don’t know what’s going to happen this summer at all,” Gooden said. “But he can definitely play himself into a better situation through your playing and willingness to be in the organization.”
So far, so good for Robinson and the Wizards. Since the move, Robinson’s minutes have already increased to 18.3 minutes per game — but other challenges lie ahead for the sophomore, like learning an entirely new playbook.
“That can be difficult,” Ish Smith told Basketball Insiders. “Especially for him because he’s playing right away. A lot of times when I’ve been moved, I wasn’t playing. The good thing about here with coach Brooks is that it’s free-flowing.
“We play so unselfishly that it makes it easier to adjust to and there’s not a lot to think about.”
Further, Gooden spoke about what Robinson must do to continue improving.
“I think there’s only so much on-the-court work you can, or I could, do with guys,” Gooden told Basketball Insiders. “Then it becomes mentoring and the mental aspect and adjustments. Lots of people forget that. It’s not just knocking down shots — it’s ‘how can I get that shot consistently?’ [and] ‘how can I knock it down more consistently?’ That’s the mental part.
“And then the preparation leading up to the game is another skill a player must have,” Gooden continued. “And it’s hard to have that as a younger player. So if there’s an opportunity to talk to him and steer him in the right direction on or off the court, I’m up for it.”
Despite a slow start in the league, Robinson still has loads of tools that are valuable in the modern NBA landscape. And that’s why the Wizards and those close to the team are excited for Robinson to ramp up.
“What I’ve seen so far is that [Robinson] has a lot of pop to his game,” Gooden said. “I know that term’s used in baseball more, but it translates to the NBA game in that when he’s on the court, something’s going to happen.
“He’s not just running back and forth,” Gooden added. “He’s either scoring the ball, creating a hard foul or turnover, something’s going to happen. I’ve seen him play really hard and with a lot of energy so far.”
Over his 10 years playing professional basketball, Smith has seen his fair share of new opportunities too — and he’s ready to see what Robinson does next.
“His talent is there,” Smith told Basketball Insiders. “He just needs to adjust to things – different coaching, teammates, areas of the country. But so far, so good. And it’s our job to make him comfortable so that he can succeed.”
If Smith and co. handle all that and Robinson flourishes with the Wizards, the young prospect might ultimately fulfill his potential. So even though Robinson’s career didn’t kick off as expected with a franchise with fast-moving aspirations, there’s always a chance to grow and get better.
And with the knowledgable encouragement of those around him like Brooks, Smith and Gooden, it’s officially Robinson’s turn to make a name for himself in Washington.