3-pointers, Hibbert/Verticality, JohnHenson, Suns, Rockets, OKC Bench, Hockey Assists

-Life beyond the Arc: Is a heavy reliance on the 3-pointer the future of basketball? (from Zach Lowe at Grantland):

“Nevada Smith, coach of the most innovative pro basketball team you’ve never seen, says almost all the criticism he hears about his chosen strategy comes from older fans and scouts.

“It’s mostly those old-school basketball guys,” says Smith, coach of the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers, who have attempted 46 3-pointers per game over their 9-1 start to this season. “They ask why we’re doing this. They say it’s not basketball.”

Smith just laughs it off. The Vipers, Houston’s D-League affiliate, average nearly 112 possessions per game — about a dozen more than any NBA team. All that sprinting and 3-point gunning has produced 115 points per 100 possessions, best in the D-League and a number that would blow away the entire NBA. “If we could take a 3 every time down the court,” Smith says, “we probably would. There’s going to be a game where we shoot 60. I’m telling you. And people are going to think we’re crazy.”

No NBA team is doing anything close to what Smith and the Vipes1 are pulling in the D-League. But it’s not an accident that the Rockets’ D-League team is playing this way. Daryl Morey, Houston’s GM, controlled the search for the Vipers’ coach, and Morey made it clear he liked the run-and-gun style Smith’s teams played at Ithaca College and Keystone College, Smith says. “They wanted someone whose teams would play in the 130s,” Smith says. “I don’t think they’d ever hire someone who played in the 80s.”

” Coaches and analytics experts agree that NBA teams are not close to reaching the optimum upper limit on 3-point attempts, with the success of the Vipers perhaps serving as evidence. In strict mathematical terms, not even Houston is taking enough 3s. We’re still in a place where the huge majority of 3-pointers are the product of the kind of fun ball movement the league sought to unleash by banning the handcheck, scrapping the old illegal-defense rule, and replacing it with the defensive three-seconds rule in the early 2000s. Those tweaks combined to give ball handlers more freedom of movement on the perimeter, and to declutter the lane of both interior defenders and post-up players.”

“The league is just watching, content but thoughtful: How far will the Vipers and Rockets go?”

Read it (and more from Lowe) here: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10148890/the-reliance-3-pointer-whether-not-hurting-nba

- The Secret Weapon Behind Making Phoenix Suns Offense Click (from Jared Dubin at BleacherReport):

” At the quarter pole of this NBA season, it’s safe to say the Phoenix Suns are the biggest surprise story in the league. Sitting at 14-9 and in sixth place in the Western Conference, the Suns have already won nearly as many games as some expected them to win all season (In ESPN’s Summer Forecast series, in which I was a participant, the Suns were projected to finish last in the Western Conference and win just 22 games all year).

The Suns play at a pretty quick pace, as new head coach Jeff Hornacek indicated they would in an offseason chat with Grantland’s Zach Lowe. They’re not quite as fast as the Seven Seconds or Less teams, but they are in the top half of the league in possessions per game, averaging about a possession more per game than they did last season, per NBA.com.

They push the ball up the floor at nearly every opportunity and, as such, lead the league in fast-break points on both a per-game and per-possession basis, according to NBA.com.

The engine that drives the transition attack is Eric Bledsoe, who is likely the most terrifying open-court force in the league west of LeBron James.

Bledsoe’s hounding perimeter ball pressure helps the Suns force turnovers, which in turn fuels the break. According to mySynergySports (subscription required), Bledsoe finishes over 23 percent of his plays (defined as a possession that ends with a FGA, FTA or TO) in transition, where he averages 1.22 points per play (PPP) and shoots 66.7 percent from the field. Additionally, 40 of Bledsoe’s 109 assists on the season have come in transition.

Bledsoe is a bowling ball of energy and, though he can appear out of control at times, he’s never more dangerous than when attacking the basket on the break with a full head of steam. He’s an outrageous athletic specimen, capable of feats very few other players in the league can accomplish. It’s not uncommon to see him beat the entire defense down the floor and lay one in within just a few seconds of a made basket.

Bledsoe’s backcourt mate Goran Dragic has also been a terror in transition, averaging 1.39 PPP, shooting 65.7 percent from the floor and making half of his threes, per Synergy. Dragic also has 22 transition assists (out of 121 total) so far this season. The 62 transition assists he and Bledsoe have combined for account for over 30 percent of Pheonix’s total transition baskets this year.

The Bledsoe-Dragic backcourt has been a resounding success, sharing the “point guard” duties just as Hornacek envisioned in his summer chat with Lowe.”

Read it here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1891805-the-secret-weapon-behind-making-phoenix-suns-offense-click

- Rockets’ parade of injuries thwarts planned progress (from Jonathan Feigen at Houston Chronicle):

” Dwight Howard offered another reminder of his preseason pledge. The Rockets, he had said, would be better in December than in November and better still in February and on through the season. That had not changed.

His logic – assuming the Rockets conquer their ongoing difficulty with taking each opponent seriously – was undeniable. But there have been detours on the route he had planned.

The Rockets’ continuing run of injuries, beginning with the opening-night abdominal injury to Pat Beverley to Jeremy Lin’s back spasms and James Harden’s sprained ankle this weekend, have more than taken players out of the rotation.

Rockets players have missed a combined 43 games. They missed a combined 50 games all of last season. But beyond often being shorthanded and with injury issues that do not compare to those of the Chicago Bulls, whom they face Wednesday at Toyota Center, the constant changing of the lineup has stalled the progress Howard predicted.

“We haven’t had our full roster for long periods of time through this entire season,” Harden said. “It’s kind of stressful we can’t get a rhythm with each other. But it’ll come around. It’s still early.”

Read it here: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/article/Rockets-parade-of-injuries-thwarts-planned-5070187.php?t=e5c6e112a9f992f472

- Lamb Boosts Surging Thunder Bench (from Jeff Caplan at NBA.com):

“Thunder coach Scott Brooks doesn’t get the sudden fuss over his bench.

“We’ve always played 10 guys. I’ve done it for many years,” Brooks said. “All of a sudden we’re all getting credit that we’re playing 10 guys. It’s baffling that we’re all of a sudden talking about it.”

The fuss isn’t so much over the number of guys coming off the bench, but rather the numbers those guys are putting up. For a team so reliant on its two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder bench is scoring more this season than at any time during the Big Three era with super sixth man James Harden, as well as last season when Kevin Martin replaced the Houston-bound Harden.

This Thunder bench (according to hoopsstats.com) ranks 11th in the league in scoring (33.8 ppg) and is statistically blowing away past incarnations in a number of categories: Sixth in rebounding (17.1), eighth in offensive rebounding (4.7), 11th in assists (7.2), third in field-goal percentage (47.4) and ninth in minutes (19.2). That’s a top-11 ranking in six key categories.

Last season’s bench ranked in the bottom 11 in five of those categories (field-goal percentage, 45.2, being the lone exception).

Outside of stalwart forward-center Nick Collison, this is largely a new-name bench. Third-year point guard Reggie Jackson has been excellent and his ascension from 14.2 mpg last season to 24.8 mpg this season was somewhat predictable after his 2013 playoff breakout as Westbrook’s stand-in. More doubts centered around 6-foot-5, second-year shooting guard Jeremy Lamb and his ability to handle a hefty bench role for the first time in his career. Averaging 9.8 ppg and shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc in 20.7 mpg, so far, so good.

Add 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams, OKC’s at-the-time unheralded 12th pick in the Draft, spot minutes for 2012 first-round pick Perry Jones and a still-healthy dose of court time for everlasting point guard Derek Fisher, and the Thunder’s bench is producing at previously unseen levels. Three-point percentage (33.9), ranking 20th in the league, is the only lacking category.”

Read it here: http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2013/12/16/lamb-helps-boost-surging-thunder-bench/

For more on Jeremy Lamb:

- Thunder play breakdown: Horns pindown for Jeremy Lamb (from KevinHFY at welcometoloudcity.com):

Jeremy Lamb has played about as well as anyone could’ve hoped for so far in his first full season of action. He’s averaging 17.0 points and 2.3 threes per 36 minutes on 48.7% shooting from the field and 41.1% from behind the arc. With Kevin Martin in Minnesota, Lamb has stepped into that three-point specialist role and performed admirably. 70.3% of his field goals have been assisted upon, including 93.3% of his threes.

The Thunder love to get Lamb in motion and free him up with off-ball screens. Screen plays account for 18.4% of Lamb’s shots, per MySynergySports, and he’s learned to read how to use screens very well. One of the screens the Thunder like to use with Lamb is a pindown screen set for him near the corner of the basket, and Lamb then curls up to the three-point line. There have been instances where they’ve set the pindown screen for him before the point guard has even brought the ball past half-court, leading to a shot made just seconds into the half-court offense.

One of the specific plays the Thunder utilize to get Lamb open is a horns pindown play where the play begins with a pass to one of two big men at the elbows”

Read it here: http://www.welcometoloudcity.com/2013/12/17/5218144/film-room-thunder-play-breakdown-horns-pindown-jeremy-lamb

And for more on Steven Adams:

- Bringing the Thunder (from James Robinson at the New Zealnd Herald):

NZ’s Steven Adams is hanging on to his humility amid the egos and high- flying lifestyle of the NBA.

Read it here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11161894

- Blazers Ring Up “Hockey Assists” Through Ball Movement (from Dane Carbaugh at Blazersedge.com):

” Players at the NBA level don’t want to be called selfish, but they definitely don’t want to be seen as “too unselfish.” Getting a team to consistently make the extra pass is tough, because it requires that all of their major perimeter players balance the natural urge to call their own number with an assertive search for the highest-quality opportunity.

Blazers F Dorell Wright recently told Blazersedge. “Guys move the ball in here, guys are really into the hockey assist. If you have a good shot, pass it to the guy with the better shot. Good teams do that. If [we want to] continue to shoot the ball like this, play well, and get wins, that’s what it’s going to take.”

This season, Portland has excelled at the secondary assist. Commonly referred to as the “hockey assist”, this is when a player makes a pass in anticipation of an additional pass being made to score a basket. Many Portland sets have complex hockey assists built-in to the main action of the play.”

Read the rest and watch a video breakdown of the Portland Trail Blazers’ ball movement showing how they are registering plenty of “hockey assists” this season here: http://www.blazersedge.com/2013/12/16/5213962/playbook-breakdown-blazers-ring-up-hockey-assists-through-ball

- John Henson and the Milwaukee Bucks commitment to the post-up (from Jeremy Schmidt at Bucksteball.com):

“Where virtually everyone else on the roster of the Milwaukee Bucks has failed, John Henson has succeeded. Opportunities have been readily available for the likes of Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova, OJ Mayo and everyone else looking to either establish an NBA career or move that career in a new direction, yet, the Khris Middleton success story aside, each of those players has underwhelmed.

Knight still hasn’t played with any of the rhythms of a point guard. Ilyasova has been as inconsistent and unproductive as he’s ever been as a Milwaukee Buck. Mayo hasn’t been a number one scorer, the kind he was advertised to be coming out of college, maybe the kind he once dreamed of being, but a roller coaster ride of a shooter. Each of those three has been far more role player than building block.

But Henson, he’s been good. He’s been reliable. He’s been fun.”

Read it here: http://www.bucksketball.com/2013/12/john-henson-and-the-milwaukee-bucks-commitment-to-the-post-up/

- Has Roy Hibbert become too good for the rule of verticality? (from Mike Prada at SBNation):

“Roy Hibbert is the league’s best rim protector and is the key to Indiana’s league-best defense, but has he reached the point where his reputation for challenging shots without fouling has allowed him to get away with committing fouls?”

Read it here: http://www.sbnation.com/2013/12/16/5195960/roy-hibbert-verticality-analysis-indiana-pacers

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