Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mike D’Antoni and the Shadow of Showtime

Introduction: Two Guys Walk into a G-Chat Window

me: zach lowe wrote a better version of everything i wanted to write about d’antoni. like literally every point i was going to make: d’antoni is 1) a great offensive coach who 2) got short-shrifted because of people choosing to look at things without nuance and 3) has had a decent (if not great) defense any time he has had above average defensive personnel and 4) now has dwight frigging howard.

Jim Cavan: I think the whole “Buss wanted Showtime 2″ angle would be interesting, vis-a-vis how much theoretical wiggle room it gives D’Antoni

me: hmm

Part the First: What iz a Showtimez?

With apologies to Moses Malone and his twelve-thirteenths-accurate prediction on the outcome of the 1983 postseason, there is not a team in NBA history more identified with its unofficial moniker than the Showtime Lakers that rode to glory in the 1980′s under Pat Riley (who, like Moses, stopped counting at fo’). Because of the inability to separate the team from the nickname and the nickname from the team, it is easy to take just this one word as an adequate and all-encompassing description of a monolithic team that runned* and gunned at lightning speed, outscoring an endless progression of huffing and puffing opponents for a full decade.

*Screw grammar, this phrase should rhyme no matter the tense.

Some facts:

  • Pat Riley took over as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers 11 games into the 1981-82 season. He remained head coach through the end of the 1989-1990 season. The Lakers finished in first place in both of those seasons and every one in between. Their lowest win total over this stretch was 54 games. Their average win total was exactly 60.00.
  • NBA teams completed 213 full seasons in that 9 year span (i.e., the sum of the number of teams in the NBA for each year in the sample). If you sort these 213 seasons by Pace, Showtime’s entries rank 44, 45, 56, 57, 64, 89, 124, 152, and 199. As you might expect, they got slower as they got older. The mean of those 9 numbers is 92.2 compared to a sample mean of 106.5. On average, the Showtime Lakers played faster than the average 1980′s team, but not by much. Even their fastest season does not fall in the top 2 deciles of the sample (Unsurprisingly, the top 5 teams in the sample are all Nuggets teams, including every single Denver entry from 1981-82 through 1984-85). Speaking only in terms of pace, Showtime was unremarkable.
  • Sort those same 213 seasons by offensive rating, however, and reality begins to conform a bit more with perception. The 1986-87 Lakers scored more efficiently than any other team in the sample (an astonishing 115.6 points per 100) and five other Showtime squads turn up in the top 11. The worst Showtime offense was the first; the 1981-82 Lakers scored 110.2 points per 100, which still claims a spot in the top 25% of the sample and would have finished second in the league last season. Showtime’s ability to produce points was every bit as good as the mythology suggests.
  • How did Showtime produce points? Why, that’s simple: they made ALL OF THEIR SHOTS. Of the 213 seasons completed by NBA teams between 1981-82 and 1989-90, the Showtime Lakers registered the 4 best team field goal percentages, including a 1984-85 campaign when they converted on an absolutely unreal 54.5% (!!!!!!!!!) of their shots from the floor. Of the nine Lakers who played at least 1,000 minutes that season, eight of them shot at least 52%. This is completely and utterly unprecedented and, given the league’s ever-increasing emphasis on the three-pointer, will absolutely never ever ever be replicated. Ever.*
  • It bears mentioning that the Lakers’ FG% and eFG% dominance was the most important, but not only, component of their offensive brilliance — all nine entries for each of the other three four factors (TOV%, FT Rate, OREB%) also land in the top half of the sample. As a result, they finished first in ORtg 6 times, second twice, and fifth once (in 1983-84, when Magic played only 67 games). Altogether it adds up to the greatest stretch of offensive dominance in the modern history of the NBA. And other than the aesthetic beauty of the Magic/Worthy fastbreak, pace had very little to do with it.
  • Stylistic offensive indicators fluctuated wildly over the course of the Showtime Era, revealing a team that was able to adapt to an evolving league. For example, the Lakers’ pace changed as mentioned above, their annual 3-point attempt totals ranged from 94 to 841, and their FT/FGA ratio ranged from .20 to .28.
  • Oh! Defense! Never better than 7th, only once worse than 10th. Remarkably consistent in being good but not great.

*The 3 seasons that didn’t land in the top 10 ranked 16th, 25th, and 54th. The outlier was 1989-90, the year after Kareem retired. In that season, the Lakers decided on the fly to slow things down and become an all-out 3-point shooting team. They made 37% from deep, meaning that despite the (relatively) pedestrian FG%, that squad’s eFG% is still 21st best in the sample. They also reduced their turnover rate to 12.8%, making their 1989-90 ORtg the sixth best in the sample despite a marked drop-off in what had previously been their offensive bread-and-butter. They won 63 games and made the Finals. Ugh…Riley is a genius. Let’s move on.

So, from a strictly statistical perspective, “Showtime” is stylistically elusive but unfailingly efficient. In the unfeeling eyes of data, “Showtime” simply meant playing at an above-average (but unspectacular) pace and making shots at a clip that nobody else could match. I have now taken the most beautiful offense in the history of basketball and reduced it to a few numbers and some descriptors that could also apply to a German widget factory. You’re welcome.

Part the Second: Once You Pop…

[Sets stopwatch to seven seconds. PressessssssssssSTART.]

Mike D’Antoni is an NBA coach (SHOT)

He first coached in Denver but gained prominence in Phoenix in the early part of the last decade (SHOT)

He built an offense around the wizard-like point guard skills of the previously underappreciated Steve Nash (SHOT)

Together, he, Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, and a bevy of shooters as nameless as (but far more accurate than) henchmen in a Bond film built the best offense since the Showtime Lakers called it a decade (SHOT)

He left Phoenix (likely under some degree of organizational duress) to coach the New York Knicks who hoped to use the cache of his famously player-friendly system to woo LeBron James to Madison Square Garden (SHOT)

The Knicks struck out in the LeBron sweepstakes and signed D’Antoni’s old finisher Stoudemire as something of a consolation prize (SHOT)

With Stoudemire, journeyman point guard Ray Felton, and a cast of has-beens, never-weres, and theretofore-unknowns, D’Antoni constructed a free-flowing, pick-and-roll heavy offense that made an MVP candidate of Amar’e and turned his no-name supporting cast into the most adored Knicks squad in over a decade (SHOT)

Said supporting cast was traded, practically in its entirety, for Carmelo Anthony, perhaps the NBA player whose offensive philosophy was least compatible with D’Antoni’s (SHOT)

You know that thing that usually happens when there is a stylistic or philosophical clash between an NBA coach and a dynamic, marketable star player with 4 years left on his contract and the hopes of a city on his shoulders? Well, it happened. (WHISTLE)

Many assumed that this would mark the end of D’Antoni’s head coaching career, saddled as he was with a reputation for running an amusing sideshow that would never seem attractive to a team with title hopes. Like, say, the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers…

Part the Third: …You Can’t Stop!

A G-Chat Conversation with a Friend: 31 October, 2012

Julian: they prob should fire brown. i say probably b/c idk who they would hire.

me: d’antoni! lakers should basically say to d’antoni you can be the coach but our condition is we are hiring a defensive coordinator who will be given a lot of autonomy. non-negotiable.

Julian: hah. i think it would fail for the same reasons that it failed in ny

me: knicks defense was good under d’antoni once they got chandler, dwight should have the same effect

Julian: kobe will complain just like melo did about being asked to camp at the 3pt line and watch them run high pnr

me: kobe can break the scoring record at that pace and with those open looks AND save his legs

Julian: yeah well, he won’t see it that way

me: what available coach is better than dantoni?

Julian: idk that there is one, i just don’t see any way kobe accepts dantoni’s scheme

A G-Chat Conversation with a Friend: 9 November, 2012

me: mike brown

Julian: fired? hah.

me: yeah. didn’t buss vote-of-confidence him like yesterday? like i know a vote of confidence is typically a bad sign but not THAT fast.

Julian: yeah that’s incredible. oh, dantoni. the same thing is just going to happen that happened with melo though unless dantoni isn’t going to try it. but why hire him then?

me: you don’t think nash helps get buy-in?

Julian: nah i don’t, kobe is too alpha and has already won in a way that suits him

me: would be so awesome if they hired d’antoni, kobe complained, and they traded kobe. obv 0% chance but it would be like my favorite thing any team did ever.

Julian: do you think jackson comes back? big risk to his legacy

me: i think its pretty no-win for him

Julian: yeah. now at least i can see how correct i was about it being impossible that brown was the major problem.

Part the Fourth: Whither Showtime?

First of all, Mike D’Antoni does not run an offense that bears any special resemblance to Showtime . He has never coached a player with the back-to-the-basket acumen of Kareem (few have) and would have to fundamentally change his system to accommodate one.* His preferred wings, who are instructed first and foremost to get open beyond the arc and shoot quickly off of the catch, could not be more diametrically opposed to James Worthy in offensive style.** And while one could argue that Magic and Nash are the two greatest playmakers and visionaries in the history of their position, their similarities mostly end there (where Magic had size and versatility, Nash moves with the ball like Lionel Messi and has an all-time great jumper). The reason that D’Antoni’s offense is compared to Showtime is, really, quite simple:

1) D’Antoni teams play fast.

2) 80′s offenses played fast.

3) Showtime was the best and most memorable 80′s offense, even if it was not especially fast in the context of its time.

*Gasol, while obviously not Kareem, is a great post scorer, but happens to be an even better pick-and-roll big and passer. Look for him to play a more versatile but less explosive version of the Amar’e role in D’Antoni’s system. That is, when Howard isn’t playing a MORE explosive but LESS versatile version of the Amar’e role. God, this offense could crush the world.

**Worthy was a 24% career three point shooter who attempted roughly 3/4 of his career threes in the four years after Riley left and Worthy’s knees began to rob him of his all-world talent as a finisher. To the extent that Showtime had a three-point-shooting element, it was provided by Byron Scott and Michael Cooper and was mostly marginalized until Riley’s last couple of years.

Sometimes free association lends impressions that differ from analytically-derived conclusions. But sometimes, and maybe this is the big point here, it’s the impression that matters more. What if 7 Seconds or Less takes off in LA? What if Kobe buys in and Gasol and Nash make music and Howard gives Coach Mike that One Thing he never had in Phoenix and Ron Artest and Antawn Jamison go all Quentin Richardson and Boris Diaw on us? What if the Lakers ride a breathtaking floor general and a Hall of Fame wing and the league’s most skilled big and the league’s most physically dominant force and a bunch of Guys You Forgot About to a historically great offense and an NBA title? What if they look beautiful while they do it? And what if, in so doing, they bring about the redemption of a coach who seems to have taken a wrong turn between Innovator and Mastermind that has landed him at Novelty?

Will it be Showtime? Not really. But should we care?

40 comments on “Mike D’Antoni and the Shadow of Showtime

  1. PD

    Great article.

    love the mix between the advance stats and the aesthetics. keep them coming. and humor. love it.

    i do find the commentary on pace super interesting. the year riley took over the average pace factor for the league was 100.9. his last the average was 98.3. those d’antoni phoenix teams averaged around a 96 rating when we was there. how the league changed stylistically (the early 90′s bulls were slow paced and alot of teams especially in the east in how reacted to them) and with the rule changes (conversely the allowing of zone defenses and hand check rules has opened some things up but made defenses so much more complex) is amazing.

  2. PD

    speaking of humor. part of d’antoni’s interview with tj simers of the la times:

    “Got bad news for you, Mike. You’re losing 73% to 11% to Phil Jackson in a poll of who people would like to see coaching the Lakers.”

    D’Antoni laughs. “I’ve got some really close friends who are Laker fans and they were disappointed I got the job.”

    in response to when he will be on the bench:

    He will fly to Los Angeles on Wednesday, meet his team Thursday and says he’s probably aiming to make his Lakers coaching debut Sunday.

    “When I feel better I’ll start coaching, and I think miraculously I’ll start feeling better when Steve [Nash] is feeling better,” he says. “I’ve already tried coaching without him and that didn’t work out too well, so I’m thinking I’ll be smart this time.”

    i don’t know if this d’antoni/lakers thing will work. i will always enjoy his interviews.

  3. Kurt

    Great analysis, Mike!
    Question for those people a few years older than me who watched basketball in the 80′s: Why was the pace so fast that the average team from that period makes the Nellie Warriors and the D’Antoni Suns look slow by comparison?
    I’ve watched a few Youtube clips of Lakers-Celtics finals games. It seems like the offenses and defenses were much simpler. Since the offenses had less to run, it could be quicker to get a decent shot. The defenses seemed much less complicated, less athletic, and less intense, even in a finals game. Less offense to run and less defense draining the shot clock would make the pace look faster.

    Is this correct? If not, are there other/additional reasons?

  4. Kurt

    It’s also true that the number of possessions in a game doesn’t necessarily reflect how fast the team is playing. For example, a turnover ends a possession. On the other hand, a lot of fast ball movement and cuts could still take more seconds on the shot clock because of good defensive rotations, making it take longer to get off a good shot.

  5. PD

    i agree somewhat. though in context to this article the pace rating is important. he was just trying to dissect what the “showtime” offense was. it was known for the fast break. it seems he was just trying to add context to the era and how it was efficient and up tempo but not just simply just “run and gun “.

    he even says:

    “I have now taken the most beautiful offense in the history of basketball and reduced it to a few numbers and some descriptors that could also apply to a German widget factory. You’re welcome.”

    so i assume he kind of feels what you are saying.

  6. Frank

    Meanwhile, what’s going on with our turnover rate is just amazing. #1 in fewest TOs given up, #1 in most TOs caused. Jason Kidd has 2 TOs in 114 minutes. Ronnie Brewer has 2 TOs in 134 minutes. JR has 5 TOs in 168 minutes. Even Felton has a pretty decent TO-R (10.9). Melo’s TO-R is only 7.7, a career best. And these guys basically do all the ballhandling for the team.

    This is outrageously good, and probably not sustainable?

    Big test against Memphis with Conley/Allen patrolling the passing lanes.

  7. Juany8

    Frank:
    Meanwhile, what’s going on with our turnover rate is just amazing. #1 in fewest TOs given up, #1 in most TOs caused.Jason Kidd has 2 TOs in 114 minutes. Ronnie Brewer has 2 TOs in 134 minutes. JR has 5 TOs in 168 minutes. Even Felton has a pretty decent TO-R (10.9).Melo’s TO-R is only 7.7, a career best. And these guys basically do all the ballhandling for the team.

    This is outrageously good, and probably not sustainable?

    Big test against Memphis with Conley/Allen patrolling the passing lanes.

    It’s not sustainable in the sense that it won’t stay at the best in the league, but unless you’d be disappointed with a 60 win season it’s not really a big deal lol. The Knicks are currently playing at a pace the 96 Bulls would struggle to keep up with, pretty sure most Knicks fans could live with an impressive showing against Miami in the ECF.

    As of now, factoring in all the injuries and everything, I’m bumping my win prediction up to 55 from 52. I hoped Felton and Kidd would come play like it was 2011, but didn’t actually expect them to. Nor did I expect JR to fully realize his talent the way he has up to this point. Prigs, Sheed, and Thomas have also performed admirably, even though neither of the big guys can hit a jumper worth shit right now

  8. lavor postell

    I agree with this post as a whole and I wish the best for D’Antoni, but let’s call it exactly like it happened.

    Rewind back right after the Melo trade. The Knicks, with Billups, Melo and Amar’e, had the most efficient offense in the league. Our problem was, as was expected when Amar’e is playing the five, our defense was horrendous.

    So what happens as soon as the lockout ended? We amnesty Billups and add Tyson Chandler so that our defense isn’t historically bad and immediately jumps up to a top-10 standing in the league. However our offense was a complete and utter shitshow.

    Yes he had major problems to deal with like finding a serviceable point guard, but his solutions to this problem were completely foolish. We had the Carmelo point forward experiment which lead to Melo playing some of the most inefficient, isolated basketball of his career.

    Everybody was ripping Melo for not facilitating more and hogging the ball when the reality is if you expect a player of Melo’s specific skillset to run your offense like Lebron James you’re kidding yourself. Dallas would never ask Dirk to do this. Ditto for OKC and Durant. That is not where skilled isolation players thrive and where they can destroy your offensive fluency.

    His use of Stoudemire during this period was also a joke. Since D’Antoni apparently could not think of any creative ways to use Tyson off the ball, he became the predominant roll man in the offense and STAT became a spot up three point shooter.

    I understand the difficulties in getting STAT-Melo-Tyson to work effectively on offense especially with our rotating supporting cast last year, but D’Antoni, for me didn’t really change to his personnel at all. He simply ran his offense, tailored for a strong pg, on a team devoid of any NBA caliber talent at that position and used his most skilled offensive player in a role he was completely at odds with.

    And if he’s going to get credit for our top-10 defensive ranking…

  9. lavor postell

    This carried on even when we lucked in to Lin. Linsanity was great, but the euphoria of that stretch clouds the memory of an offense that still wasn’t very good (minus lineups with Novak which were otherworldy).

    Then when we got at least Lin and Melo back with Chandler we simply made Melo a floor spacing, spot up 3-point shooter so Lin and Tyson could run pNr all day.

    I can understand people wanting Melo to be unselfish, but this is a foolish way to use a $63 million investment on a player who has proven can be the center piece on an efficient offensive unit, especially considering how he thrived with Billups in Denver and New York.

    So we lose I forgot how many in a row I want to say 7 and D’Antoni quits and gets a pass because Melo “quit on him”. I’m sorry, but I can kind of see it from Melo’s point of view. He’s taking a beating in the media at the beginning of the season when we open 8-15 and he’s sacrificing by playing completely out of position.

    Then we stumble upon a great find in Lin, salvage our season with both STAT and Melo out. Then Melo comes back and is asked not merely to share the offensive possessions with Lin, but to take a complete supporting role?

    I mean Woodson in his minimal time with Lin-Melo-STAT-Tyson healthy had a team that was winning and was at least attempting to put all of those players in positions where they were comfortable and capable of succeeding. He’d get Melo touches at the right elbow and in post up situations. Amar’e was getting his legs and got iso touches and pNr opportunities. People forget Lin was adjusting to a less pg heavy offense and more iso heavy sets, but our growth was happening, 4th quarter of the late season win in Philly immediately springs to mind.

    D’Antoni failed in even attempting to do so and this idea that he didn’t get a fair shake, while certainly true to some degree, fails to address his glaring errors in the 2011-2012 season.

  10. Juany8

    Well said lavor, people complain that D’Antoni didn’t get a fair shake since the team wasn’t built for his system, but there is NO other coach in the league for which that is an excuse. A coach is brought in to coach the players he has, not the ones he wishes he had. You never hear Woodson complaining about how Melo won’t stand in the corner for the pick and roll to work, mostly because that is a colossal waste of Melo’s talents. Also, how come now one brings up how he’s run every good player the Knicks had into the ground, every player that has a hot start under D’Antoni eventually has cooled off, and they all tend to play unsustainable minutes. Everyone forgets that a common complaint in Phoenix is that he always coached a shit bench, something that has become a strength under Alvin Gentry and Mike Woodson in both the last jobs he had/

  11. Kurt

    For those of you who have Synergy:
    I’ve always wondered what D’Antoni did to integrate Shaq after that trade. Although it didn’t work in the playoffs because of Duncan’s 3 pointer, it succeeded wildly on offense in the regular season, and Amar’e played like an MVP candidate since he didn’t have to bang against 5′s.

    Obviously there was no good point guard last year until Linsanity, but I didn’t understand why he didn’t use ’08 as a model. Similarly, now that we have real point guards rather than Weekend at Bibby’s, there should be a way to integrate STAT on offense and make it thrive. Obviously, Melo has an advantage playing against slower 4′s, but otherwise I don’t think Woodson should find it that impossible to integrate the 3 of them.

  12. d-mar

    Seems incredibly quiet on this board on a day when our team is 5-0 and about to be severely tested by two top teams back to back on the road.

    I’m wondering what the activity level would be on this site if we were 1-4 right now. I have a small hunch this board would be exploding with “I told you so’s” and Melo trade lamentations.

    Just wondering – where are all the folks who predicted doom and gloom during the preseason?

  13. Juany8

    d-mar:
    Seems incredibly quiet on this board on a day when our team is 5-0 and about to be severely tested by two top teams back to back on the road.

    I’m wondering what the activity level would be on this site if we were 1-4 right now. I have a small hunch this board would be exploding with “I told you so’s” and Melo trade lamentations.

    Just wondering– where are all the folks who predicted doom and gloom during the preseason?

    Unfortunately I’m pretty sure most fans on this board are in wait and see mode with these Knicks. After an entire offseason worrying about advancing past the first round, the fact that these Knicks could be legit contenders is a little tough to believe. Furthermore, Amar’e and Shump aren’t back, and I’m sure quite a few people are worried that this is the Knicks, and they’ll force Amar’e in even if the Knicks are 25-2 with a +13 point differential, leading to a prompt 10 game losing streak lol

  14. daJudge

    I pretty much favor Lavor Postell’s analysis regarding D’Antoni. But for me, mostly, I just didn’t like his abject neglect relative to defense, basics, tough physical play and his inability to modify his system to the talents of the team. Melo has his issues, sure, but isn’t that what coaching is supposed to be about? Manage the players. What else could possibly justify his existence as coach? Of course we don’t expect D’Antoni to get off the bench and hit a jump shot, but he is supposed to plan, optimize and manage the players he has on his roster. I really don’t wish him the best in LA at all. It might sound harsh, but I thought he kind of sucked with our team as an architect and I hope he fails again. As a human being I have no clue whether he is a good guy or what, and, either do you. He seems like a decent guy through the various media filters, but my very imprecise impressions point to a passive aggressive personality. I know, this has really no validity and it is just my opinion. I’m really glad he’s gone and good luck with Kobe, Mike.

  15. Juany8

    daJudge:
    I pretty much favor Lavor Postell’s analysis regarding D’Antoni.But for me, mostly, I just didn’t like his abject neglect relative to defense, basics, tough physical play and his inability to modify his system to the talents of the team.Melo has his issues, sure, but isn’t that what coaching is supposed to be about?Manage the players.What else could possibly justify his existence as coach?Of course we don’t expect D’Antoni to get off the bench and hit a jump shot, but he is supposed to plan, optimize and manage the players he has on his roster.I really don’t wish him the best in LA at all.It might sound harsh, but I thought he kind of sucked with our team as an architect and I hope he fails again. As a human being I have no clue whether he is a good guy or what, and, either do you.He seems like a decent guy through the various media filters, but my very imprecise impressions point to a passive aggressive personality. I know, this has really no validity and it is just my opinion.I’m really glad he’s gone and good luck with Kobe, Mike.

    If you go to Nuggets boards (or ask THCJ) you’ll notice that George Karl isn’t as well liked or respected as you might think. JR and Melo never responded to Karl or D’Antoni, as far as I’m concerned Woodson is a clearly superior coach to both. As far as I can tell, his only problem seemed to be that nobody noticed that he had Mike Bibby as his point guard in Atlanta and HAD to run the offense through Joe Johnson. He still had teams that ranked highly in offensive efficiency

  16. BigBlueAL

    Give Woodson credit all day long for the job he has done as Knicks coach and for the way he has seemingly been able to get Melo to play at his best. But to use Melo not liking playing for them as a reason to downgrade Karl and D’Antoni and call them not really good coaches is absurd.

    D’Antoni in Phoenix won 62, 54, 61 and 55 games in his 4 full seasons reaching the West Finals twice. One of those teams had a starting lineup of Nash/Raja Bell/Marion/Diaw/Kurt Thomas with Eddie House and James Jones playing the 5th and 7th most minutes on the team.

    George Karl has won over 50 games 11 times, winning over 60 games 3 times. He made the NBA Finals once and reached the Conference Finals with 3 different teams.

    Mike Woodson has done a phenomenal job so far as Knicks coach but his record/credentials as an NBA head coach are nowhere near as good as what Karl and D’Antoni have accomplished.

  17. Juany8

    Z-man:
    Juany, you watch the Rockets game? Thoughts?

    Asik is a clear cut better player than Anthony Davis right now, and he looks surprisingly small to me for some reason. Was surprised by the offensive polish in his game though, after watching his national namhionship performance against Kansas I honestly thought he was going to be a reverse Durant, a multiple time Defensive Player of the Year who’s average offensively because of his freakish build. Now I can see some KG comparisons, but still a long way to go.

    As far as James Harden goes, he might be one of the top 5 smartest offensive players in the league. He just plays within an offense to perfection, he really is a lot like Manu Ginobli in that he just consistently makes smart basketball plays and has pretty awesome talent.

    Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown any ability to actually carry an offense when the main plays are being shut down and no one else is getting open. When a strong defense with a solid wing defender has played him, he’s just looked bad, a lot like how Jeremy Lin would look great against Toronto and Minnesota and get slaughtered by Miami. They are both very intelligent players who know how to make positive plays and are consistently committed to doing so, but part of being a superstar means sometimes taking over a game with the ball in your hands against an elite defense set to stop you.

    2 of the biggest skills a leading player has to have is an ability to avoid turnovers while taking shots or making passes, and the ability to properly handle hard double teams (which does partly depend on teammates) Harden would be an excellent second option, someone who wouldn’t be the primary focus of the game plan and wouldn’t always face the team’s best wing defender. Lin has been solid so far, but he hasn’t even been a clear cut better player than Felton. Lowry on the other…

  18. Brian Cronin

    As far as James Harden goes, he might be one of the top 5 smartest offensive players in the league. He just plays within an offense to perfection, he really is a lot like Manu Ginobli in that he just consistently makes smart basketball plays and has pretty awesome talent.

    I think the end of the Miami game showed a lot of what you’re saying. He couldn’t get a shot off, so he made some excellent (I mean excellent) passes that ended up in a number of wide open threes (two went in, Lin airballed his) but when he couldn’t find an open teammate, he couldn’t get his shot off himself and had a number of ugly off balance threes plus one ugly one-on-three drive. Sort of like the off balance three Lebron nailed at around the one minute mark. Harden’s, though, weren’t even close to going in.

    I think if they added a decent power forward, the Rockets could actually be good. Someone who could actually draw attention and be fed the ball. Or hell, just someone who could actually play the PnR with Harden and Lin period.

    And no, that was actually not too many uses of the word “actually.”

  19. knicknyk

    Yeah odd I wanted to get a glimpse as to what Juany was talking about & i noticed that the bigs don’t set any picks /screens for Lin. They barely set any for him which is odd & most of the time he has to ask for it which wasn’t the case in NY. They set picks/screens for James Harden (they aren’t being set very good by the way) though but none for Lin. That was the best way for him to get by his defender in NY and attack the basket but in Houston that isn’t happening anymore.

    In fact I watched the first two games with Lin/Harden & the Rockets played well when both guards were handling the lead guard duties. But after those two games Harden has been running 80% of the offense & Lin like 20%. Lin is now being used as a spot up shooter & defender (Hardens defense is atrocious by the way while Lin’s has been impressive & much improved from last year).

    I question the competency of the coaching staff because on twitter it was said that the team will try to implement more PNR plays for Lin which is telling that all they have been doing is using Harden as the playmaker. Why invest 25 million if you aren’t going to use Lin at what he is good at a pnr threat? His USG is one of the lowest in the NBA & he is getting 10 FGA a game it seems for someone who really should be a second scoring option. His numbers across the board are solid aside from his FG%. Only thing that stands out in that department is that his FG% is 60% at the RIM but all of his buckets come in transition not in the half court which is the opposite of last year where he was terrible in transition & great in the half court.

    Also the Rockets PF is atrocious. He is getting out rebounded by Lin on daily basis. They really need a low post threat that can run the pnr like a champ. Someone who attracts attention from the defense that would open things up so much for the guards.

  20. Brian Cronin

    Yeah, it is pretty insane how Lin is being used as a spot-up shooter in the Houston offense. That seriously makes zero sense. That’s not his game at all. It’d be like the Blazers having Lillard as a spot-up shooter, the Thunder having Westbrook as a spot-up shooter, the Cavs having Irving as a spot-up shooter, the Wizards having Wall as a spot-up shooter, etc. It doesn’t make any sense. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the other players they have. As we’ve all noted a lot, you can’t very well do the PnR when there’s no one to do the PnR with.

  21. knicknyk

    Yes exactly. But they aren’t even running plays for him. Like there was a time when Lin was the only playmaker out there & Harden was sitting & his teammates looked lost, nobody was setting picks or screens nothing for him. Harden comes in & everything goes back to normal. And it wasn’t like this in the first two games it is quite startling. that is why I think that the coaches fell for Hardens MVP level performance way to much & likely in practice they focused on Harden as the primary playmaker & had Lin playing off the ball.

    Like I said his USG is way to low they are using him like Mario Chalmers of the heat playing solid defense & spotting up but Harden isn’t LBJ. Everything else across the board is solid for him aside from his scoring but when you are getting 10 FGA a game or less (less than Morris Patterson Parsons Asik) in a lot of cases your FG% definitely won’t look good.

    When the coach said that he would implement PNR plays for Lin I was like are you kidding me 7 games in now you say that. If the Rockets are committed to Harden as the long term primary playmaker they would be better off trading Lin & getting a courtney Lee type player & make him the SG & having Harden as the main playmaker. But in my opinion Harden shouldn’t be playmaking to the degree he has been now. Now that I think about it Lin would make sense in LA with Nash & Dantoni.

  22. Brian Cronin

    The “problem” is that the Rockets didn’t know that they’d get Harden. Harden is a lot better than Lin and they have a lot of similar playmaking skills, so of course Harden is going to take the lead. But yes, it is good to know that they are trying to get Lin more involved in sets when Harden is on the bench. That does seem to be an easily solved problem.

  23. Brian Cronin

    Looking around the league, big wins for the Grizzlies and the Clippers. Let’s hope that the Grizzlies are so busy celebrating tonight’s win over the Thunder that they’re distracted on Friday.

    Also, speaking of former Knicks, David Lee is freakishly consistent. His scoring numbers are down through eight games, but I can practically guarantee you that that is a sample size issue based on the one horrendous game he had to start the season (2-14 for 8 points). Everything else is almost exactly the same as it has been the last few years.

  24. knicknyk

    Yes fair point the Harden thing really changed a lot of things. I personally think Harden should run the offense 60% of the time & Lin 40% of the time. Harden’s playmaking skills imo leaves a lot to be desired imo & the few times Lin was actually allowed to run the offense (in the first two games) you could see the difference between the two. For example I saw several Lin to harden backdoor cut. I haven’t seen that in a few games.

    Also Harden will always be defended by the best defender of the opposing team Iggy Allen LBJ. That is why they need to figure out a better balance in the lead guard duties. If Lin is Mario Chalmers & Harden is a easily shut down version of LBJ then they won’t win many games. Hardens USG is the highest amongst NBA SG’s & he is playing the most minutes to that can’t be healthy for a guy that was expecting to come off the bench this season. Harden running the offense 80% of the time & Lin 20% of the time won’t cut it.

  25. knicknyk

    Looking around the NBA also what happened to Ersan Illyasova & Roy Hibbert? They haven’t been playing well at all. The Pacers are looking really weak right now who would have thought that the loss of Collison & Granger would be that big. Also Brandon Jennings & JR Smith seem to be in contract year mode.

  26. Juany8

    You guys have a lot of good points about Harden and Lin, I’ve actually been very impressed with Lin’s playmaking especially, and his defense has been quite solid, if not great. Unfortunately I’m going to have to come out and say that Lin can’t score with this current Rockets team. You guys nailed the issue, there is no one to pick and roll with (although Asik is improving) the Rockets really need a solid PF to round out this team and let it grow. The Rockets are basically a jump shooting team right now, like San Antonio without Tim Duncan lol, only with awful coaching. Any big man who could finish in traffic and hit a jumper would work right now, he doesn’t even need to be a serious post up threat. Patterson looks like a nice big coming off the bench, especially if he improves his shooting, but he’s just not a starter, and Morris sucks….

  27. Z-man

    Thanks, Juany. What about Lin’s D? Vasquez had a tremendous game and almost brought them back from the dead in the second half. I was following the play-by-play on espn and Lin did not hit a shot in the second half, only had one assist, and Vasquez went off. Made me wonder whether his knee is acting up.

    Parsons seemed to come up big, is he good?

  28. Juany8

    Z-man:
    Thanks, Juany. What about Lin’s D? Vasquez had a tremendous game and almost brought them back from the dead in the second half. I was following the play-by-play on espn and Lin did not hit a shot in the second half, only had one assist, and Vasquez went off. Made me wonder whether his knee is acting up.

    Parsons seemed to come up big, is he good?

    The best way that I can describe Parsons is as a poor man’s (maybe homeless man’s lol) version of Luol Deng. He’s a tough defender, can run the court, play a lot of minutes, hit the 3 and mid range shot, and has some scoring and playmaking ability when he has some space. Won’t be leading an offense any time soon, but he’s a nice cog and should round out into a very nice starter. The Rockets are fine at the wings with Harden and Parsons for now, although they need an elite defender off the bench to help out Harden because for all his offensive skill he is just bad at defense. Imagine Melo in the past, letting shooters run free and switching on pick and rolls pretty often, except without the super strength to shut down his man when the game is on the line. It’s quite ugly…

    Lin isn’t a great defender, I still cringe every time I see him smash into a screen and give his man a gulf of room, but he’s very intelligent and quite capable of bodying his man up one on one, which he could not do anywhere near as well last year. The steals make him overrated, every game the rockets announcers are gushing about the steals, but no one thinks that Kidd’s steals per 48 make him a better defender than Brewer or Shump right? Still I expected a Jennings-Ellis level of horror on the defensive end when Lin and Harden were set to be the starters, and Lin at least has exceeded my expectations. Needs to learn to guard the pick and roll though, it’s difficult to defend but he’s painful to watch…

  29. yellowboy90

    Juany8: The best way that I can describe Parsons is as a poor man’s (maybe homeless man’s lol) version of Luol Deng. He’s a tough defender, can run the court, play a lot of minutes, hit the 3 and mid range shot, and has some scoring and playmaking ability when he has some space. Won’t be leading an offense any time soon, but he’s a nice cog and should round out into a very nice starter. The Rockets are fine at the wings with Harden and Parsons for now, although they need an elite defender off the bench to help out Harden because for all his offensive skill he is just bad at defense. Imagine Melo in the past, letting shooters run free and switching on pick and rolls pretty often, except without the super strength to shut down his man when the game is on the line. It’s quite ugly…

    I’m a UF fan so I’ve been watching Parsons since H.S. and he has not tapped into his full potential yet(only his second year so duh). I’m not saying he is going to be a star but If he can keep improving his shot and develop his handles more while also improving as a defender he will be a nice starter for Houston like you said. He played point forward a lot at UF and while I doubt he will do that in the Nba he can hopefully create plays for others more as he develops. Also, when Kobe Byrant gives you credit that’s pretty good.

    Now I’m just waiting a few more years when the Knicks pick up his former teammate(Nick Calathes) who is playing overseas ala James White. lol. J/k.

  30. Juany8

    yellowboy90: I’m a UF fan so I’ve been watching Parsons since H.S. and he has not tapped into his full potential yet(only his second year so duh). I’m not saying he is going to be a star but If he can keep improving his shot and develop his handles more while also improving as a defender he will be a nice starter for Houston like you said. He played point forward a lot at UF and while I doubt he will do that in the Nba he can hopefully create plays for others more as he develops. Also, when Kobe Byrant gives you credit that’s pretty good.

    Now I’m just waiting a few more years when the Knicks pick up his former teammate(Nick Calathes) who is playing overseas ala James White. lol. J/k.

    He’s already running some side pick and rolls off the main action and passing pretty well, I really liked what I saw from him last year, and would not be surprised to see a small step back overall as he tries to expand his game on a middling team. Every Rockets fan I’ve talked to loves him, he’s going to be a stud for years to come

  31. yellowboy90

    Brian Cronin:
    Oh yeah, Parsens is a keeper. There’s a reason they were so quick to dump Buddinger.

    I thought he would have been a perfect fit in NY the year he was drafted especially in MDA’s system. He would have made a nice back up three for Melo. Also, I think he is really going to be at his best when his body matures and fully develop his man body. When he will be able to add strength to his athleticism and length is when he will take off in my opinion.

    Sidenote: Billy Donavan is putting out some good players. They really do a great job developing talent. I wished Speights and Calathes would have stayed but glad that at least Speights have found a home. Also, if Eric Murphy keeps balling he may make it as a stretch four ala Matt Bonner.

  32. StatsTeacher

    Been over on the Rockets Board a lot lately. They are really angry at “McFail” for his coaching (now Sampson is in charge). Lin is doing some things way better than last year, but his offense has completely gone to hell. It’s like he’s back at GS hoping for Biedrins to run PnR with him. So far — terrible use of him. LOTS of trade talk (on the boards) about Lin for Gasol to get back with MDA. LAL MUST lose Gasol by next year or they will pay off the national debt in Lux Tax lol. (Gasol makes 19.2 mil/season!) Knicks look GREAT. The old guys are holding together (so far) and they are rollin’. Considering IND has fallen off a cliff, Detroit and Toronto drove the same bus, can’t see Knicks in anything except #2 seed. Amazing turn of events in a young season.

  33. Juany8

    StatsTeacher:
    Been over on the Rockets Board a lot lately.They are really angry at “McFail” for his coaching (now Sampson is in charge).Lin is doing some things way better than last year, but his offense has completely gone to hell.It’s like he’s back at GS hoping for Biedrins to run PnR with him.So far — terrible use of him.LOTS of trade talk (on the boards) about Lin for Gasol to get back with MDA.LAL MUST lose Gasol by next year or they will pay off the national debt in Lux Tax lol.(Gasol makes 19.2 mil/season!) Knicks look GREAT. The old guys are holding together (so far) and they are rollin’.Considering IND has fallen off a cliff, Detroit and Toronto drove the same bus, can’t see Knicks in anything except #2 seed.Amazing turn of events in a young season.

    “McFail” is fucking awful, but I really don’t think Gasol will fix this team’s problems if freaking Toney Douglas is left to run the show. Besides what’s Nash supposed to do, go ahead and retire?

    This team needs a pick and roll player, wonder if they could be convinced to take Amar’e for one of their PF tweeners and maybe Scott Machado. I don’t think Amar’e is done as a productive offensive player, but he needs to get away from Chandler and he gets in the way of Melo playing the 4, which has given this team Miami’s offense (super spaced floor with a real post up threat and good roll men) with a ridiculous defense that actually includes a shot blocker and good post defender. New York doesn’t need to play Miami’s style of ridiculous ball pressure because the paint is covered anyways, so they won’t have to hope that the face a team like OKC that goes cold in the playoffs (who can forget Harden missing wide open 3 after wide open 3…)

  34. StatsTeacher

    Juany8 — agree completely. HOU doesn’t need Gasol, and I doubt they would do it. They need Asik to develop Chandler’s offensive (PnR) game. He is trying but his hands are about 40% granite. Miami can be beaten by Big Dudes. They now play Bosh, all 230 pounds (or so) of him, at center. The Joel Anthony crablike, sideways defensive scheme is over. If it’s LAL or even SA from the west and the Knicks don’t take out MIA, MIA could easily lose to a bigger more physical team.

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