During the 2000-01 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, finished 22nd in the league for defensive rating. They went on to win the championship, and are still the only team this century to finish outside the top 10 in defensive rating and win a title.
One key caveat for that Lakers team is that they were a quintessential on-off switch team. Ultimately, that switch was stuck in an off position as the veteran group coasted through its title defense campaign. Famously, the switch was emphatically flipped on in the playoffs as head coach Phil Jackson’s team led all 16 playoff squads in defensive rating en route to a 16-1 rampage.
20 years later, the Brooklyn Nets have assembled a frightening collection of offensive talent. The trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving has been nearly an unstoppable force in its short time together. Durant’s mid-range pull-up game remains an outlier in NBA history in terms of effectiveness, as does Harden’s step-back three and a knack for drawing fouls. Irving’s artistry in isolation has only been rivaled by the Jean-Michel Basquiat-inspired court he calls home.
With those three playing at that level, the Nets should be a clear-cut title favorite. Yet there is understandable trepidation due to the other half of the game.
The Nets currently rank 23rd in defensive rating, and that number is even worse if you filter it since the team traded for Harden and lost an interior presence in Jarrett Allen. The alarm bells rang their loudest when the Nets gave up 149 points, including 48 in the fourth quarter, during that sloppy loss to the Washington Wizards.
Going back to the turn of the century, that Lakers team had solid defenders up and down the roster. While effort has been an issue for this Nets team, their defensive talent extends about as far as Kevin Durant’s wingspan.
Barring a major buyout or trade acquisition, the Nets will not be able to suddenly transform into a great or even good defense. That said, they probably don’t need to be a great or even good defense to win a championship. With an offense poised to shatter records, an average defense could do just fine.
Can this team as currently constructed climb to the middle of the pack defensively? It’s tough to say, given the evidence at this point, but there have been a couple of encouraging signs.
Using Cleaning the Glass, the Nets’ worst defensive performances have come against the league’s bottom-feeders. In that shootout against the Wizards, they allowed Bradley Beal and co. to post a 130.9 offensive rating, good for 18 full points above their current mark for the season. The game before that, they allowed the Oklahoma City Thunder to score about 117 points per 100 possessions, up from their 27th ranked 105.6 number for the season.
Meanwhile, they have held up a little better against tougher competition. In their games against the league’s two best offensives, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, the Nets kept those teams right around their average offensive rating for the season. Those numbers hint that poor effort is certainly a factor.
The most frequently used lineups since the Harden trade has held up moderately well. The small-ball lineup of Irving, Harden, Joe Harris, Durant and Jeff Green has posted a 110.3 defensive rating. The more traditional lineup with DeAndre Jordan in Green’s spot boasts a 108.0 number, per Cleaning the Glass. Better, both of those numbers hover around league-average.
The real issues have come when the team goes to its bench. The Nets particularly lack any depth behind Jordan in the frontcourt. Reggie Perry, usually the backup center, was cut out of the rotation against the Clippers – and more recently assigned to the G League affiliate – as the team went exclusively with either a small-ball unit or Jordan at center.
Due to the personnel, the Nets’ defense has relied on a lot of switching when defending both on and off-ball screens. This scheme requires strict attention to detail and can look stout when the team is in sync but leads to very easy attempts for the opposition when a single mistake is made.
Against the Miami HEAT, in what was likely the Nets’ best defensive performance of the season, the group executed these switches well. Here Durant, Green and Bruce Brown perfectly coordinate a three-way switch against a Miami set play, leading to a Brown steal.
Switching constantly can mitigate the Nets’ biggest weakness, interior defense. It can also lead to miscommunications and mismatches that opponents can hunt.
When the focus isn’t there, a blown switch leads to a wide-open layup or three. Against the Wizards, these mistakes were frequent. Here, based on the reaction after the play, it looks like Durant fails to signal the switch on a pin down for Davis Bertans, concluding in a three and the foul.
The Nets also failed to communicate on this Mo Wagner screen-and-roll with Beal, ending up with a wide-open dunk for the big German.
Switching also can allow teams with great scorers to hunt favorable matchups. This was in full display against the Clippers when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard sought out isolations against Irving and Harris.
On the first play of the game, Leonard gets the switch to Irving. The Brooklyn defense shrinks to help on the potential Leonard drive, leaving Nicolas Batum wide-open for three.
While those downsides are less than ideal, the Nets have shown an ability to outweigh them with solid play when engaged. In the same quarter of that game, Durant and Irving do a great job re-switching to get Durant back to Leonard. The two-time Finals MVP makes a great shot, but the defense was solid.
But when Jordan is in the game, the Nets are forced to rely on more drop coverage. This is when the player guarding the screener drops back into the paint as the guard fights over the screen.
The results have been mixed. Brown is feisty, but the Nets do not have many options when they need to defend smaller guards. If the defender tasked with the guard lags over the screen, Jordan will be defending a 1-on-2 in the paint.
The Bucks attacked this coverage repeatedly using Jordan’s man, Giannis Antetokounmpo, as a screener. The Nets held up well, especially when the right defenders were tasked with the play. Here Durant slithers over the screen and makes a great contest from behind to alter the shot, but Brooklyn was unable to secure the rebound.
The issues with this coverage can come when a team with solid guards attack the Nets’ weak links on the perimeter. Below, the Bucks have a favorable matchup with Jrue Holiday guarded by Harden. Harden fails to stay attached over the screen, resulting in Holiday drawing out Jordan and finding Antetokounmpo for a dunk.
While these issues can be attributed to the roster, some of this can also be blamed on the lack of practice time for this group. Newcomer Steve Nash seems to be switching between different schemes on a quarter-to-quarter basis. The experimentation is a conscious choice, of course, as the Nets would rather be making these mistakes in February than in May.
Another encouraging sign for Brooklyn is their transition defense and rebounding, two necessary fundamentals for a good team. They have been right around league-average in rebounding and even slightly above average in transition defense since the Harden trade, per Cleaning the Glass. The old adage that the best defense is a good offense rings true here, as the Nets keep opponents out of transition by simply making shots.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Nets continue to grow as a defensive unit as the season goes on. They have yet to play a true post-up threat that will test their biggest weakness, which comes in the form of Joel Embiid on Saturday.
It is likely they also grab another interior presence via trade or buyout, and they will certainly be interested in the services of someone like PJ Tucker should he be available.
For now, the team will continue to learn through trial and error – really, it is the only option. The effort will come and go in this truncated season, but the key is the ceiling this team can reach when fully engaged. While there are too many weak links on the roster to construct a great defense, an average one paired with a historically great offense could be enough to reach the top of the mountain.
2021 Tokyo Olympics: USA vs. Iran – Men’s Basketball Preview, Prediction, & Odds
Team USA is coming off their first Olympics’ loss in men’s basketball since 2004. In the post-game press conference after USA lost 89-79 against France, head coach Greg Popovich said, “When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed. I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.” Leading up to this matchup, another contributing factor for the team’s loss was Wizards‘ guard Bradley Beal bowing out of the Olympics after being placed in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols during training camp. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Beal averaged 31.3 points per game. Regarding the injury report, as of July 27th, there are no reported injuries for these two teams.
Moreover, the USA’s second men’s basketball game of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is schedule for Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST). Unfortunately, the next two USA men’s basketball games are not guaranteed to air live on television in the United States. However, the games can be watched on NBC channels (delayed) and NBC’s exclusive streaming service known as Peacock. Plus, the NBC Sports mobile app will stream the games live. Free trials are also available for Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Sling TV, or AT&T TV Now. The game can also be watched via NBA League Pass. For betting on medal and group winners for men’s basketball, Bovada offers the best service.
Date & Time: Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST)
Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan
Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC (delayed)
Spread: USA -41.5 (-110) (per DraftKings Sportsbook)
Best Moneyline: USA -8000, Iran +2500 (per DraftKings Sportsbook)
Team USA Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Draymond Green
C: Bam Adebayo
Team Iran Starting Lineup:
PG: Mohammad Jamshidi
SG: Behnam Yakhchali
SF: Arsalan Kazemi
PF: Samad Nikkhah Bahrami
C: Hamed Haddadi
Bovada and MyBookie are two available betting sites for gambling on men’s basketball during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The best NBA betting apps are from MyBookie, BetUS, Bovada, Intertops, and BetOnline. With MyBookie, the app offers a $500 deposit bonus for new users. For the USA vs. Iran matchup, if an individual wants to bet on the best moneyline, DraftKings is another option as well.
USA vs. Iran Preview
Referencing Bovada’s Olympics odds, Team USA is the favorite to win gold in men’s basketball, with odds showing -250. Slovenia and Australia are tied for second, possessing +800 odds. With odds showing +75000, Iran ranks 12th for odds to win the gold medal. They could still win their fourth consecutive gold medal in basketball, but this team appears to be different from previous USA men’s basketball teams. Their performance against the French was pitiful. Anyways, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook, this past Sunday, USA opened as 12.5-point favorites versus Iran. However, yesterday the oddsmakers changed their projection to 29.5-point favorites. As of Tuesday, July 27, DraftKings Sportsbook has USA listed as 41.5-point favorites over Iran.
Team USA’s starting lineup in the Olympics consisted of Zach LaVine, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Bam Adebayo. In the team’s 89-79 loss against France, with a total of 29 points, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell led the team in scoring. However, Mitchell’s performance was not sufficient enough to carry the team. His teammates around him failed to contribute at a higher level. In 25 minutes played, Kemba Walker closed out his performance with 10 points and three rebounds. Marcus Smart also scored 11 points and made two assists. For the winning team, the leading scorer for France was Evan Fournier, finishing his game with 22 points, three rebounds, and four assists.
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) July 25, 2021
While the turnovers and field goal percentages were identical between these two teams, the difference-makers were personal fouls and free throw shooting percentage. France shot 21-for-25 (84 percent) from the free throw line, whereas USA shot 14-for-21 (66.7 percent). Additionally, France committed 17 fouls in the match, which was all right considering USA had a total of 24 personal fouls called against them. Despite small forward Kevin Durant scoring 10 points, he also fouled out of the game. This was another poor game plan by Coach Popovich. This was especially evident in the team’s consecutive losses against Australia and Nigeria during those exhibition games. Practice games or not, USA looked less than mediocre, never mind lethargic and disinterested.
Then again, Iran is also trying to recover from an 84-78 loss versus Czech Republic. Guard Behnam Yakhchali led the team on the stat sheet, ending his performance with 23 points, three rebounds, and four assists in 36 minutes played. In 29 minutes on the court, Mohammad Jamshidi had 16 points, one rebound, and seven assists. For the Czech Republic, with 16 points, Patrik Auda led his team in points. While the Czechs out-rebounded the Iranians 43 to 33, they also had fewer turnovers. The winning team had 15 turnovers, while Iran had 21 overall.
The team came close to erasing a 21-point deficit. Iran’s past starting lineup was Benam Yakhchali, Mohammad Jamshidi, Samad Bahrami, Arsalan Kazemi, and Hamed Haddadi. Though, this is subject to change. The projected starting lineup is listed in the game details section shown above. Yakhchali will once again be returning as a guard, and of course, he led the team in scoring against the Czech Republic.
A brave Iran nearly erased a 21-point deficit, coming as close as 4 late in the fourth, but Czech Republic prevail to open their Olympic account! 🇨🇿
— FIBA #Tokyo2020 (@FIBA) July 25, 2021
Prediction: USA wins by 15+ points
Team USA is nearly a 42-point favorite against Iran. Based on their previous 89-79 defeat versus France, it is certainly hard to believe this team will beat a team by 40 points. Many bettors were not expecting for Durant to foul out, either. After their 10-point loss, Bovada adjusted the odds of USA winning their group. Now, France has the favored -550 odds of winning Group A, whereas USA has +400 odds. Though, between USA and Iran right now, the Americans are obviously the best of the worst. All things considered, USA will likely have their first bounce-back victory, but the question right now is, how many points will they win by?
Some bettors are speculating a 12-point margin of victory, however, others are suggesting 23 points. A prediction of at least 15 points sounds reasonable. Why? It’s because Iran’s men’s basketball team has lost multiple games already. In the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Round (2019) for Group F, Japan defeated Iran 70-56. Then, Spain defeated Iran 73-65 later in the year. Iran losing 84-78 versus the Czech Republic just adds to this notable trend. Nevertheless, while some could say that Iran is due for their first win, so is the USA. The Americans have not lost multiple games since 2004. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, the USA lost 92-73 versus Puerto Rico, 94-90 against Lithuania, and 89-81 versus Argentina. Time will tell if the Americans can turn over a new leaf.
NBA Trade Rumors: Bradley Beal never requested a trade, remains committed to Wizards
This NBA offseason has been a frustrating one for some die-hard fans, especially Washington Wizards‘ fans. On June 18, 2021, news broke concerning shooting guard Bradley Beal announcing his commitment to play for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. A few weeks ago, it was reported by USA Basketball that Beal would not play in the Tokyo Olympics. And, this was because the 28-year-old three-time NBA All-Star had to enter the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Missouri native.
In an interview published by CBS Sports on July 15, 2021, regarding the chance to play for USA Basketball, Beal told CBS’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain, “It’s an honor. It’s something that you take for granted. Not a lot of guys in the league get this opportunity. We all know that. We didn’t live up to what we wanted to a few years ago (in the 2019 FIBA World Cup), and so now we have an opportunity to get back what’s rightfully ours.”
In 2010, Beal won the FIBA-Under 17 World Cup MVP. Though, everyone can see his passion for basketball. Needless to say, it is an awful experience for any athlete to have to bow out of the Olympics. In addition to this unfortunate news, there is all kinds of speculation across the Internet concerning Beal’s future with the Wizards. From Boston.com, it was reported two days ago that Beal would welcome a trade if he was moved to the Boston Celtics. The report also included three other teams: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers. This latest news information was originally reported by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. Last Saturday, Fischer stated, “Boston’s path to securing Beal would appear far more costly, as the Celtics’ offer almost certainly has to include Jaylen Brown and all of their future draft picks they are able to part with.”
Word has spread across front offices around the NBA: Bradley Beal is weighing whether to request a trade from the Washington Wizards.
— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) July 24, 2021
Although the report could still be accurate, many fans are asking for more evidence to help support this claim. This is Beal’s team; he was drafted by Washington third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Would the Wizards be wiling to trade their star player for Jaylen Brown and potential future draft picks? This remains to be seen. Plus, everyone should keep in mind that although Beal was open to a trade, at least he never demanded an immediate trade. The latest news is likely just trade rumors and meaningless gossip.
Moreover, the 2020-21 Wizards finished 34-38 (.472), ranking third in the Southeast Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. The team lost four games to one in the first round of the postseason against the 76ers. The Wizards have not appeared in the NBA Finals since the 1978-79 season, and they have not won the championship since the 1977-78 season, when they defeated the Seattle Supersonics in Game 7 105-99. Not to mention, the Wizards were called the Bullets back then.
After the season ended, the organization agreed to part ways with head coach Scott Brooks. Perhaps Coach Brooks leaving the team is leading Beal to ask more questions about his own future. According to one report by NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk, Beal was irked over the organization hiring Wes Unseld Jr. over Sam Cassell for the vacant head coach position. How much does this play into trade talks?
Well, we all know that Beal is a competitive player, so three consecutive losing seasons by Washington might not be cutting it for him. Then again, a great player should be willing to give a new coach a chance. Last season, in 60 games played, the six-foot-three guard averaged 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. The 9-year NBA veteran also shot 48.5 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. In the 2021 All-Star Game, in 31 minutes played, Beal scored 26 points.
On October 17, 2019, Beal signed a two-year, $72 million extension with Washington. He earned $28.7 million this past season, and he will earn $34.5 million in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Beal’s player option for the 2022-23 season is also $37.2 million. So, folks should keep in mind that Beal is still showing his loyalty to the Wizards. He is only considering a trade request before the draft. The key word here is “considering.” Having said this, not even LeBron James is safe from a trade in this league. Ok, maybe only James is safe.
Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.
Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.
The Grizzlies and Pelicans have agreed on a trade to send Jonas Valanciunas, 2021 Nos. 17 and 51 picks to New Orleans for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, 2021 picks Nos. 10 and 40 and a protected 2022 first-round pick via the Lakers, per @wojespn pic.twitter.com/q7ZoqzpJjt
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 26, 2021
Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.
From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.
Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.
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