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NBA Sunday: Worrying About the Warriors

Despite the 31-6 record, the Warriors have defensive deficiencies that must be addressed.

Moke Hamilton



The Golden State Warriors may be 31-6, but that doesn’t mean much considering that they’re a combined 0-5 against the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Although it’s true that the playoffs are still several months away, some of the issues that have plagued the Warriors may not be solvable without addressing one of their key personnel issues. After all, the old adage holds true; you can’t teach size.

* * * * * *

Winning in the NBA requires many things—talent, capable coaching and good luck, to name a few. There may be differing opinions as it relates to whether or not being an elite defensive team is a requisite for the highest level of success, but at the very least, a championship caliber team needs to be able to get stops in the waning moments of games. What the Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies and Cavaliers have each proven to have, though, are players that the Warriors appear to have difficulty stopping.

The Spurs and Warriors met on the first night of the regular season and considering the 129-100 final score by which the Warriors lost, one could easily surmise that the final result was an aberration. The Warriors won’t meet the Spurs again until May, but what was revealed in that game was that the Warriors defensive rotations and ability to simultaneously stop a driving swingman and defend against a big midrange shooter were questionable, at least. Kawhi Leonard had his way with Golden State, getting wherever he wanted on the perimeter while LaMarcus Aldridge used his size advantage to finish in the paint. That the team shot 12-for-24 from the three-point line was an obvious help.

Still, in the losses that the Warriors have suffered since then, there have been some alarming consistencies. On December 1, after succumbing to the Houston Rockets by the tune of a 132-127 overtime decision, James Harden had danced and pranced his way to a 29-point, 15-rebound, 13-assist triple-double and got 11 combined three-pointers from Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Sam Dekker.

What these losses revealed are two things: first, despite being a plus-defensive team, the Warriors do not have a defender on the roster that is capable of single-handedly shutting down the game’s elite wing players. Like in years past, the Warriors continue to employ trapping schemes and swift rotations to cover up for their lack of size. The problem, however, is that with more and more NBA teams coming to rely on floor spacing and three-point shooting, it’s becoming impossible for the Warriors to both guard the perimeter as a team and defend the paint as a team. As seen in their January 6 loss against the Grizzlies (where the Warriors blew a 24-point lead), the Dubs had absolutely no answer for the combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Mike Conley’s 27 points and 12 assists obviously went a long way as well.

Again, it may still be relatively early in the season, but the Warriors have some issues that they need to resolve. The propensity of most people would be to look at their 31-6 record and dismiss any talk of an imminent demise, but doing so would be a tremendous mistake that could thwart the Warriors as they attempt to become a part of the first NBA Finals trilogy in history. Because to be frank, there’s no way the Cavaliers aren’t winning the East.

If the Dubs want to meet them there, though, they’ve got a few things to figure out.

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Any NBA general manager would have jumped at the opportunity to add a player like Kevin Durant. There were obvious chemistry concerns, just as there were when LeBron James and Dwayne Wade decided to join forces in Miami. That’s where good coaching comes in. A good coach is able to connect with his players and help them buy into a common goal. To his credit, Kerr seems to have found a happy medium.

However, signing Durant came at an obvious cost. Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights were amongst the salary cap casualties. Bogut, Ezeli and Speights were each able to guard the interior by themselves, giving the other four players the ability to zone trap the basketball and otherwise use a strength in numbers approach to thwart opposing offenses. Even when the Warriors utilized their “Death Lineup,” which features Draymond Green as the center, depending on matchups and situations, Kerr would often go to one of the three aforementioned big men in key moments, even if only for a few minutes.

What was special about the small lineup that featured Green as the center was the uniqueness of it. During the 2014-15 championship season, opposing coaches had little experience battling and figuring out how to overcome it. At that time, Aldridge hadn’t joined the Spurs, the Grizzlies were unhealthy and Kevin Love was still trying to figure out how to fit in with the Cavaliers. In other words, the league was completely different back then. Things have changed, and the Warriors need to adjust. In short, Kerr needs to either find more rotation minutes for Zaza Pachulia or JaVale McGee or general manager Bob Myers needs to find a way to replace Bogut by finding a center who can defend, pass, rebound and finish.

For all that has been said of the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, not enough has been said of the fact that Bogut was missing in action. Injured during the third quarter of Game 5 (a game the Warriors would end up losing), the Warriors missed their starting center for the remainder of the Finals.

Said differently, including their Christmas Day choke job, the Warriors are 0-4 against the Cavaliers in their last four games—all played without Bogut. Meanwhile, entering Game 5 of the 2016 Finals, the Warriors had gone an impressive 8-1 against the Cavs in their nine prior meetings.

Again, at 31-6, it’s difficult to find much to complain about if you’re a fan of the Golden State Warriors, but their regular season dominance won’t mean much when the playoffs begin. Returning to the NBA Finals for a third consecutive year will likely require going through at least two of the Grizzlies, Spurs, Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. In each their own right, those four teams have some of the common characteristics of teams that we have seen give the Warriors problems recently.

And then, if they’re lucky, the Cavaliers will probably be there waiting for them in the Finals.

* * * * * *

In acquiring Durant and cutting ties with some of the key defensive rotation players from last season’s team, the Warriors have effectively doubled down on the idea that they can outshoot and outscore other teams when they need to. For the most part, it has been a winning strategy—just not against the Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies and Cavaliers.

Make no mistake about it. The Warriors have work to do. Their championship hopes depend on it.


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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte



San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders



The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies



It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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