This piece will be a think-piece about Game 3 of the 2016 Championship between the Cavaliers and Warriors and how it should affect our thought process going forward.
1) Firstly, Kyrie Irving was pretty awesome last night. Not just on offense, where he not only hit shots but occasionally passed the ball. (8 Assists in Game 3 to only 1 Assist in Game 2.) But also on defense where his improved effort was instantly noticeable and definitely meant something.
That’s not to say that it was his defense that was affecting Curry, since Kyrie is still not a great defender, even when he tries hard. But trying hard is worth points. And the effort definitely contributed to Cleveland’s ability to play faster in a meaningful way. (Except when it was Iman Shumpert who was playing fast. Or even then it was meaningful, yet more in the way that a basketball game can sometimes resemble a scene from the Three Stooges.
2) So what was affecting Curry? Hopefully it was in his head. Curry just seemed tuned out, missing shots he normally makes and making careless rookie decisions. And Curry’s apathetic play eventually spread to most of the Warriors. Though it wasn’t the case in the beginning of the game. In the beginning of the game, Thompson and the rest of the Warriors were missing shots they often make (including free throws) and that’s part of what allowed Cleveland to take such a big lead. The variance that even great shooters have in jump shooting.
3) Missed shots are big though, even when they are lucky. When a team is consistently playing off of another team’s misses, it allows them to have more transition and semi-transition opportunities, which lead to more easy scoring opportunities. And we could see this time and again in Game 3. As we could going the other way in Game 2. One team’s misses leading to the others easy opportunities. And for the most part Cleveland was much better at converting (or seemed to be) their transition opportunities than they were in Game, except perhaps for the 2nd quarter where Cleveland as a team briefly fell apart.
In part because Kyrie started pounding his pud again. Stop dribbling, make a decision, shoot or move the ball.
4) Richard Jefferson was instrumental, especially with the wise decision to often place him (or Lebron) on Draymond Green. This maneuver short circuits the Curry-Green screens, since switching is now feasible, without losing much defense on either player. (Over the long haul, Curry and Green will beat you, at least a decent percentage of the time, because that’s what they do, but this is a good start. And variance could win out over a short series, which is what we have left.)
5) What this also means is placing Channing Frye or sometimes Tristan Thompson on smaller players like Andre Iguodola or Harrison Barnes, etc . . . We did notice Channing Frye get beat on these plays on several occasions. But the notable thing about this is that these are one-on-one plays where the team is not involved. This is the primary aspect my overly caustic piece in advance of Game 3 was about, trying to turn Golden State into a team that has to beat you One-on-One, not with the pass. Golden State can still win that way, but it’s possible to hang with them.
6) One reason why is that getting any team to play that way greatly eliminates the three from the repertoire of weapons. Unless you’re Curry or perhaps Lillard, and we all know Curry had an off-night, off-the-dribble threes are just very difficult. Klay Thompson hit one in transition because Kyrie didn’t play up on him with enough urgency, but that one was straight on with a very late contest. (Thompson was able to get his feet set.) It’s much different than trying to get the same shot in a half court situation.
7) I don’t know if Kevin Love has much of a place in this series. How Cleveland deals with his inevitable return will be very instrumental in what happens the rest of the series. It’s just very difficult to play Love when Curry is on the court. Since Golden State will find a way to attack him off of screens or off the dribble or both.
It’s a very difficult situation, since Love is probably Cleveland’s second best player vs. every team in league except Golden State and perhaps San Antonio. Vs. every one else, Love is very good and a large reason why Cleveland had such an easy time in the East. Versus teams filled with two-way players that can attack Cleveland from every position, he’s just not a good fit. And becomes one of Cleveland’s worst players.
8) It’s an interesting dichotomy and one that should have us thinking not just about Henry Ellenson (who resembles Love in many ways), but also Denzel Valentine, who is like the 6’6″ Wing version of Kevin Love. And offense and boards Wing who might not give you anything else on defense. And will probably find himself in certain playoff series where his game is ultimately a liability.
It is easier to hide a Wing. But where are you hiding a Wing vs. Cleveland or Golden State. You play Valentine vs. either team, either he gets beaten by his man (Barnes, Thompson, Iguodola, Livingston) or they screen until he has to defend Curry or Green. And he’d definitely be Golden States target, since they are smart enough to spot and target mismatches on the fly, as almost all good to great teams are.
9) It’s an important and simple conceptual test. When looking at prospects we should also look at the Semi-Finals and Finals of the NBA Championship. We should ask would it be possible for this player to play in this series? What would his role be? Which player’s success might he one day be able to replicate?So that leaves us with a pool of teams: Golden State, Cleveland, Oklahoma City and Toronto. If you want, you can also add in the Spurs perhaps the Clippers, who were beaten by injury, as much as they were beaten by the Trailblazers. The Trailblazers might be an example of what happens when you start multiple perimeter players who can’t defend and don’t have Bigs who can properly cover up their mistakes. Bad shit.
10) With players like Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Deyonta Davis, Kris Dunn and Wade Baldwin, the answers are easy. Even with middling outcomes, it’s not hard to see how these players could fit in this series. Or the previous ones.
And I’d say the same is true, more or less, with DeAndre Bembry, Patrick McCaw, Gary Payton II, Brice Johnson (if you believe he might be able to improve his jumper and stretch it out), and Derrick Jones Jr. (who will need to improve his J, but who has all the tools to be an impact defender in the vein of Andre Roberson). Athletically, defensively, these players can play.
11) There, a player like Denzel Valentine, who I still like in this draft, has more questions. And also Henry Ellenson.
12) They are not alone in that. Potential defensive savant Chinanu Onuaku has similar questions. As we’ve seen, the biggest of the Bigs have played less and less as the Playoffs have gone on, Steven Adams being the rare exception. But Steven Adams is also the rare Big who can move his feet with guards and cover immense amount of ground moving forward as well.
I’m not positive that Onuaku is that kind of player. (Joakim Noah would also fit this archetype.) As a player, I think Onuaku falls more in line with Bogut, albeit a slightly smaller version of that kind of player. And I mean that as compliment. One that Onuaku has earned as a player with his passing potential on offense and his success on defense. But Bogut was also only a 20 minute per game guy during the season. And he’s averaged 18 minutes or less in each of the playoff series.
Though Onuaku is likely to be very productive in the minutes he does play, such a fate is very possible for Onuaku in the future. Especially if he gets stuck in the wrong series.
13) There are ways these players can make up for their deficiencies. With Ellenson and Onuaku, the best way would be to improve on their potential defensive deficiencies. With Onuaku, that means improvement in space. With Ellenson, that means improvement basically everywhere besides rebounding.
With Valentine it means become as good on defense as Kyle Korver has, with similar deficiencies, and then become Korver with passing on offense. This is a big ask. But it also might be necessary for Valentine to truly be a valuable player.
14) Which is also to say, if Valentine gets good but only on one side of the ball, he might become a very difficult player to build around on a second contract. Though such players often keep trade value, even after a big contract is signed.
15) Of course we have to address the athletic, young guys with potentially low BBIQ: Stephen Zimmerman, Jaylen Brown, Marquese Chriss, Dejounte Murray, Malik Beasley, Skal Labissiere, Cheick Diallo.
Besides perhaps Bismack Biyombo, who was very late to basketball if I remember correctly, Terrence Ross and Iman Shumpert, you don’t see a lot of guys in these series who don’t know what they are doing when they are on the court. And you don’t see a lot of players, especially guys who play PG to PF, who don’t have significant perimeter skills, often including passing and/or ball movement with the ability to make quick, decisive, intelligent decisions. It’s one quality of Richard Jefferson’s that Van Gundy aptly pointed out last night.
16) This is not to say these players can’t improve. Of course they can. It’s just not all that often you see players like this change their temperaments. Which might mean that a lot of these players might be limited to the bench in a series like this one, if their teams got this far. Of course, the Bigger the player it is, the easier it is to find a space on the team, even without significant ball skills. So Zimmerman, Labissiere and Diallo might have a small advantage from that standpoint. They also might be even more lost than the other players I’ve listed. Especially Malik Beasley, who is listed with these players not necessarily because he has low on court intelligence on offense (where he’s an excellent shooter and generally shoot decent shots), but because he’s athletic enough to play defense and chooses not to do so.
17) Then there are several older players who might fit. Pascal Siakam at Center. Malcolm Brogdon, who reminds me a little of a Raja Bell type. Taurean Prince, Jake Layman, Dorian Finney-Smith. Perhaps Ron Baker. I’d imagine most of these guys coming off the bench on a good team with Siakam, Brogdon and Prince having some chance of developing into legit starters.
18) Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield. If they shoot, and the numbers suggest that both players have a good chance to do so, the question marks are going to be on defense. If they take money off the table on defense, their shooting won’t matter. We don’t see a single player like that getting significant minutes at the end of the playoffs. If they become average or better than average on defense, then they become useful on almost any team, as legit starters, and if they shoot well enough, as potential borderline all-stars.
If Stevens or Thibodeau gets a hold of them, I’ll probably re-rank them quite a bit higher after the draft, since context does affect results. But on most of the teams they are talked about going to, I think a positive defensive outcome is relatively unlikely.
19) I mentioned older players before. I didn’t mention the ones who are more athletic and project with some potential on defense, but are incredibly unlikely to have roles on offense if they don’t develop jump shots. And these players are all unlikely to develop jump shots: Shaq Harrison (who is a slightly smaller Iman Shumpert with an even worse jump shot), Armani Moore (who is one of the worst perimeter shooters in college basketball history, though still a pretty decent player despite this fact), Jonathon Holton (who played PF almost his whole career and doesn’t have perimeter skills on offense) and Alex Hamilton (whose an athletic Wing with horrible jump shooting results through four years of college.)
20) There are the potential back-up Point guards who’d probably get reamed on defense in this series. (Well, Kahlil Felder could be a starter.) We’re talking about Felder, Ulis, Moore, Moody, Jackson, Barber, Van Vleet. These guys aren’t playing defense vs. Livingston or Iguodola and they aren’t playing defense vs. anyone on Cleveland either. Josh Adams is most likely in this boat as well.
21) Then there’s Caris LeVert, who has all the offensive skills to fit in this series, but will have to get quite a lot better on defense. Though you could survive with him on Shumpert or perhaps Livingston, since he’s tall enough to perhaps take away that mid-range game.
22) Who does that leave us with? Some European guys, who I know of but am mostly not scouting: Bender, Zizic, Zubac, Luwawu, Cordinier, etc . . .
23) And also a few additional older prospects who aren’t being talked about as much. Kyle Collinsworth, John Brown, Terry Tarpey, AJ English, Jordan Fouse, and Thomas Walkup.
24) I’ve always liked the way AJ English plays but don’t see him as a huge NBA contributor. He’s a combo guard who doesn’t play defense.
25) I haven’t seen John Brown but know he’s athletic and probably a decent three-point shot away from being a player of some significance.
I haven’t seen Terry Tarpey, but know he’s decently long and has an excellent statistical profile from all angles. Unfortunately he probably won’t get a chance, but I’d sign him as a priority free agent for summer league if I were making decisions. Or at least get him in for workouts.
26) Jordan Fouse really seems like he’s stuck between positions. Though he might be okay as a small-ball four. A pretty solid passer. Has never shot jumpers but has a decent enough shooting profile that improvement wouldn’t be surprising. Great at playing off-ball defense. And might be just athletic enough to switch screens and not get killed. Though it’s impossible to tell for sure.
27) Kyle Collinsworth is a player I’m going to do a long write-up about in the near future. He’s old, but he’s also historically good, and as we’ll see when examining his aging curve, his ability has always been in line with any number of guys who have succeeded at the NBA level. That was true when he was a 19-year-old Freshman. And it was true when he was a 22-year-old sophomore. Even if you forget the last two years happened and just consider his Age 19 and Age 22 season, his comparables are decently impressive.
28) Lastly there’s Thomas Walkup, another player who I’m going to a longer write-up about. You may remember him from this past NCAA tournament, where his heavily outmanned Stephen F. Austin team likely beats Notre Dame if not for an amazing last second tip-in and a couple of bum calls in the minutes leading up to it.
Or you might remember him from when I talked about a player who possesses a +50 Net Rating, which is basically Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis type-shit. Even for a senior, that’s impressive. And it’s basically a redo of his junior year when he was +40 or so.
He doesn’t seem super-athletic, but he understands timing and space. And there’s just too many plays being made on both sides of the ball for some of it not to translate at the next level. Imagine if Jared Dudley was 6’4″ or 6’5″ with a 6’8″ Wingspan, was a little more hard-nosed, paid more attention to detail and wasn’t fat, and you’d have some idea of the type of player Walkup could become if given a chance. People will question his competition, and rightly so. But I’ve made this nifty table that shows, Walkup was pretty good regardless of the competition he played:
This table represents the per 40 numbers for Thomas Walkup in the 19 games he played against major or high mid-major competition. Mostly Top 100 RPI teams and a few of them in the Top 10.
5 games from his Freshman year vs. Tulsa, San Diego, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Stanford.
3 games his sophomore year vs. Texas, VCU and UCLA. (This is the UCLA team with 4 NBA players in Kyle Anderson, Norman Powell, Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams, against whom Walkup was 10-17 from the field for 22 points with 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 3 turnovers.) UCLA and VCU were both ranked in the top 20 of the RPI.
5 games as a junior vs. Northern Iowa, Xavier, Baylor, Utah, and Memphis. Northern Iowa, Utah, Baylor were all Top 17 in the RPI. Xavier was 28.
And 6 games this past year vs. Baylor, Northern Iowa, Arizona St., UAB, West Virginia and Notre Dame. West Virginia being ranked 11, Baylor being ranked 28.
29) For Walkup, this is basically the equivalent of the in-conference portion of an NCAA season, but spread from when he was 18 or 19 to when he was 22 or 23. And it’s a very difficult schedule, since at least 7 of the games were vs. Top 20 RPI teams. While nearly half of them, 9, were against Top 30 RPI teams. And teams whose strengths were at the positions that Walkup has played if we consider UCLA with Anderson, Powell, and Adams. Or Baylor with Prince, O’Neale, Gathers. Or West Virginia with their defensive wrecking crew.
And Walkup played nary a bad game amongst them. Overall 18 points per 40 on 50% shooting from the field, a nearly 80% free throw percentage, a .4 FTr, with 7.5 rebounds per 40, 2.8 assists per 40, 1.7 steals, .44 blocks, and only 2.8 turnovers are the kinds of numbers that we’d take to suggest an NBA career if this player weren’t so lightly recruited. And 551 minutes is a reasonable sample size.
30) I’ll address Walkup’s shooting in the next post I write about him, but I’d just like to say that if you were including all Top 100 RPI teams he played, you’d have to include some smaller schools from his conference, who Walkup absolutely destroyed. I didn’t want to include them because I didn’t want anyone to think the numbers were unfairly skewed by including lesser competition. But just know, the line could be even more impressive than it already is. And with a significantly larger sample.
There are ways to investigate the careers of these smaller school players, especially if they played for a team that was successful in the NCAA tournament. He’s a guy I really hope gets a chance in the league, even if he’s not drafted. And vs. many of more well-known prospects, whose success was more or less middling vs. this type of competition, I’d definitely be more interested to see what Walkup could do.
31) Lastly, if you want to check out who Jameel Warney is as a future NBA player, probably some mix of Alan Williams and Kyle O’Quinn. That’s a potentially useful player, even off the bench in a series like this one. Especially if it turns out he can move laterally on defense. Which is still a question mark, even though he seems to move well when I’ve seen him.
32) Well almost lastly. Players like Poeltl and Domantas Sabonis, I could imagine them vs. Oklahoma City or perhaps vs. Toronto, but it’s hard to imagine what they’d be doing in the NBA Finals. Playing 8-10 minutes a game most likely.
The NBA is changing, and most of the best teams don’t look much like they used to. Last night, for a large segment of the game we saw two teams play squads that were almost entirely between 6’5″ and 6’9″. And even when that wasn’t the case, it was only broken in most cases because Cleveland and Golden State’s star PG are both 6’3″.