THE WARRIORS SMALL BALL LINEUP OF DEATH

Commentary:

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Small isn’t terrible. Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images via Bleacher Report

Less than 20 games in and the Golden State Warriors have already made history. They have been on fire on offense, making shots from anywhere and anytime in the basketball court, and they have been a wall defensively, making stops and holding teams to poor shooting percentages.

They have been special as a group, complete on both ends. But what makes them even more special, is at a certain time in a game, they’re going to unleash their ultimate weapon. A weapon that no team in the NBA has figured out, so far. A weapon so lethal, its name is so fitting. The Small Ball Death Squad.

The Warriors’ small lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green has been one, if not the most effective lineup in the league so far, and they have proven so this year with their two comeback wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and closing out their game against the Chicago Bulls in crunch time, while sporting the unit. A five man group in which their tallest member on the court is 6’7″, that is destroying teams left and right. But how exactly are they doing it? Is it simply just going smaller than the opponent? It’s really not.

That exact same lineup together is posting a ridiculous 154.7 Offensive Rating in 64 minutes of playing together so far. They are lights out, shooting 63.6% from the field, and a mind-blowing 62.5% from 3PT, and an even mind-blowing 82% True Shooting Rate, with 72% of those shots being assisted. The SMDS is ultra efficient in scoring, mainly due to having 5 guys who’s capable of shooting the ball from three at a very good rate. Having 3 elite playmakers for their position in Curry, Iguodala and Green helps to take advantage of a well spread out floor, and their willing passer mentality scrambles the defense all together and creates open shots.

Defensively they have been stellar, posting an impressive 84.8 Defensive Rating, and holding opponents 38% shooting from the field. Big part of this is that the Warriors small lineup is so versatile that they can switch assignments in nearly every opponent and every play possible, especially Draymond Green, in which he could literally guard all five positions if he gets switched on. Opponent 3PT% vs the SMDS is at a lowly 17%, mainly due to the ability to switch on pick and rolls and stay true to their defensive tasks.

They are also clocking in at a 109 Pace Rate, which means they get a ton possessions as a unit. And that’s whats fueling either a comeback or a blowout. The small unit obviously plays fast, and they score fast and efficient, and they stop opponents which generates more possessions. And when needing to come back from 10 down with 4 minutes left, or closing out a tie game with two minutes remaining, this is the best recipe for it.

It’s no secret that the small ball lineup has been working, heck, this is the lineup that won won the Finals last year. But how effective and how tough defensively tough they are is what’s separating them from being just an adjustment to now being the most deadly lineup in the NBA. A squad that hot offensively, generates more possessions, unselfish and can stop literally anyone may not get beat if they continue on with this level of play, and that makes their name, the Small Ball Death Squad so apropos.

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HASSAN WHITESIDE’S EMERGENCE COULD BE VERY TROUBLING FOR THE HEAT

Commentary:

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Could be too expensive to keep. Photo courtesy Fox Sports

Two years ago, the Miami Heat took a flier on a 7 foot Center who have been out of the NBA, made a name for himself overseas, and went back to the States and dominated the D-League. Now, their biggest problem moving forward is to how to keep him.

Hassan Whiteside has been a revelation. Last year, he was known as the guy who has the size and the athletic ability but not the mental fortitude to stay or succeed in the NBA. Fast forward a couple of years, and now he’s been a defensive stalwart, a shot blocking machine and on of the key reasons why the Heat has been enjoying success early on. From an outcast, to now averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds and close to 5 blocks per game, Whiteside has established himself as one of the top Centers in the league, and maybe on of the best rim protectors so far.

His shot blocking ability is on par with the very best in the league. He’s in the top 10 among Centers in Opponent FG% allowed vs Contes (per Nylon Calculus). He can clean up the boards, being in the top 5 in rebounding in the entire NBA. Hassan has definitely been a force in the paint defensively, protecting the rim and cleaning up misses. He’s offensively contributing as well. 14 points on 60% shooting, which is mostly coming from the inside, but good enough to make him a threat to score.

Whiteside has been so good, he’s being considered as an All-Star this year, and this is something the Miami Heat has not prepared for.

Whiteside is an Unrestricted Free Agent next year, and he’s playing like he’ going to get paid a max contract. Miami has a dilemma. Hassan can easily sign with anyone in the league that has enough room to sign him, and they can’t match that offer as he’s Unrestricted.

Another problem is that Miami only has his Early Bird Rights, not the full Bird Rights, which means they can only offer only as much as $6 million per year if they are over the cap, in which next year, including the cap holds they will have with their free agents, they will be.

Miami also will need to consider if they would resign Dwyane Wade, who’s also an Unrestricted Free Agent next year, which would cost pretty much around close the the max, if not the max. Miami also has used Wade’s Bird Rights to resign him this year, so he has no Bird Rights coming in.

Miami’s problem is that Hassan Whiteside has become too good. Too good that it would be really tough to resign him for his projected price. The Heat are at around $82 million (including cap holds) next year, not even close to being enough even if the cap rises to around $90 million projected. Miami can circumvent this by clearing all their cap holds, but that means just around $32 million for either Wade and Whiteside to be resigned, and not to mention thinning the bench completely. The Heat would have to be great negotiators to convince the one or both take price cuts, or face with a situation in which they could only keep one. (numbers courtesy of Spotrac)

Or Miami could just cut loses and put Whiteside on the trade block and get some assets than completely losing him via Free Agency for nothing, but replacing one of the best rim protectors in the league right now would be such a big task. In any case, they are in a situation where they have to make a decision on what and how to deal with Whiteside’s pending Free Agency. But that’s also a tough task in itself, as Whiteside is only making around $981,000, which means any trade for him straight up has to be around a player with the same salary, or no more than $1.1 million, and there’s not a lot of players with the same value as Hassan who’s making as much as him. It has to be draft picks, or it would involve other players, players the Heat may not want to move, but will be forced to just to match salaries if they pursue a Hassan trade.

The Heat are facing a tough situation here. They’re diamond in the rough has been a bright shining star, but with that, they are in a precarious situation to lose him and not get anything back, or keep him and possibly let their biggest icon in Dwyane Wade go.

Miami fans should cherish the days where Hassan would swat shots left and right, as this could very well be the last season he’s doing it in a Heat uniform.

KEVIN MCHALE GETS THE BLAME FOR ROCKETS EARLY MELTDOWN.

Commentary:

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers

Sacked. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets have fired Head Coach Kevin McHale last Wednesday after a dismal 5-7 start, and losing 4 straight prior to being relieved.

Coming from a year after reaching the Western Conference Finals, which also included a mega comeback in the 2nd round vs the Clippers after being down 3-1 in the series, the Rockets have struggled to compile wins this early in the season.

For a team that prioritizes shooting nothing but lay ups and three’s they are 29th in both statistical categories. James Harden, who had a sensational MVP type season, has been dropping the points, but on a very inefficient 37% from the field, while shooting a career low 26% from three, and taking 9 shots per game from beyond the arc. Trevor Ariza has not shot the 3 ball good as well, shooting at 31%, regressed from being a 40% and 35% shooter from distance the last couple of years respectively. The Rockets are 27th in Offensive Rating, which is due to the struggles from the field to score. Being 8th in Turnovers suggest that they are also struggling to find rhythm on their sets.

Defensively, they leave nothing to be desired. 27th in Defensive Efficiency, 27th in Points per Game Allowed, 27th in Opponent FG% 22nd in 3PT FG% allowed. They have been atrocious defensively, and is much more evident against the Boston Celtics, ironically, Kevin McHale’s last game as Houston’s head coach, where they refused to track back and stop Celtics’ fast breaks. They are 23rd in Rebounding, partly due to the fact that they allow opponents baskets at an easy rate.

The players themselves look dejected, disinterested and just flat out quit in their 4 game losing streak. Someone had to take the fall, especially when expectations are higher due their previous results. Kevin McHale is the guy, basically being blamed for his players’ lack of will, shooting slump and not having any leadership on the floor. Now granted, not everyone has said the McHale is one of the top coaches in the league, but to fire him after just 10 games, not to mention the fact that he brought the Rockets into the West finals suggest that there could be panic going on in the management, and something has to be shaken up.

Unfortunately, it seems like it’s easier to fire a coach than to fix the team, which actually doesn’t need fixing, but just need a jump start.

IS THIS THE YEAR PHOENIX GOES OVER THE HUMP?

Commentary:

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Same system with a different core that still looks successful. Photo courtesy of YIMG.com

For the last couple of years, the Phoenix Suns have been close into making it back to the Playoffs, but have failed to do.

Then comes the moves. Trading Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat, one, if not their best player in the last two years was looked at as questionable. Acquiring Isaiah Thomas and then trading him to the Boston Celtics the very same year was treated as an experiment that didn’t work. And just like a couple of years, the Suns missed a spot in the final eight of the West.

Enter 2015-16 season, the Suns have made big news by trading Marcus Morris to Detroit, a move that have irked the other twin Markieff to the point that it has been a distraction. They also signed Tyson Chandler in the process, also deemed questionable as it looked that he will take minutes, and therefore development from Alex Len.

Not everyone has expected the Suns to make a run, compare to the last two years, but somehow, these Suns are making a run for it, again. They’re currently 4th in the Western Conference, 2nd in their Division, a division in which the Los Angeles Clippers, considered being a championship contender, is in.

They have been good offensively. 11th in the league in FG%, 4th in 3PT%, in the top 10 in Offensive Rating, and 3rd in both Points Per Game and Pace. Big part of the Suns’ offensive capabilities is the play of their back court. Eric Gordon and Brandon Knight, the guy that Phoenix basically traded Goran Dragic for, have been superb. Combined, they are averaging 43 Points per game, shooting a combined 47% from the field, 38% from 3PT line and averaging a combined 11 assists per game. Bledsoe is quietly having an efficient year and is shooting the lights out, while Knight has picked up his good play after struggling in his first few Phoenix stints. The two have continued the success of the Two PG system the Suns have been running the past couple of years.

They are allowing 100 Point per Game, which is middle of the pack, but their 99 Defensive Rating is 7th in the NBA, which makes them in the top category. They have been playing tough and gritty, led by Tyson Chandler patrolling and PJ Tucker who has been a tough defender his entire career. Bledsoe adds to it with close to 3 steals per game, putting him in the top 5 in the category.

While not being the best of the bunch on defense, they have done enough, add to it their efficient offense, Phoenix has looked like the Suns team of the last two seasons, ready to be in the Playoff, and surely in the hunt. It is early, but the results have been optimistic, the system, albeit with a new core, is working, and Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are playing like All-Stars.

Expectations are lower this year, compare to the last few seasons, but it seems like Phoenix is once again on the cusp of going over the hump and finally reach the post season.

THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVE’S FUTURE COULD BE NOW.

Commentary:

Everyone knows they're coming. But not everyone expected it was going to be really early.  CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com

Everyone knows they’re coming. But not everyone expected it was going to be really early. CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com

With two 1st overall picks in their hands, it’s easy to think that the next team to rise in the NBA would be the Minnesota Timberwolves, but never could have anyone imagined that the rise would start this soon.

The Wolves have shown some early season progress, that it’s safe to suggest that the wait time for this young squad to be really good is significantly cut. While they are still teetering .500, the flashes of brilliance hasn’t gone unnoticed, beating powerhouse teams like Atlanta and Chicago.

Most of it is due to the play of their big time, ultra young duo of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Both #1 overall picks in back to back years, the duo has propelled Minny to a bit of relevancy in the NBA. People are clamoring to the potential of the two, and how they’ll fare with the rest of the league once they get their experience in, but instead they are already carrying the franchise to being one of the most exciting teams in the League.

Towns have been very impressive, and has been playing like a seasoned pro in his first year in the league, at just 19 years old. He has shown great poise on offense, a good skill set on the post and outside the paint, has played well defensively and is in the top 10 in rebounding and blocks. He’s quickly becoming one of the best Centers in the league, again, on his first year. Andrew Wiggins on the other hand, made some big strides, specifically in scoring. He jumped from 16.9 points per game last year, to 19.8 points per game this season currently. He has been more assertive, which was the biggest knock on him not only coming into the league but last year as well. And he’s doing this shooting below his averages from last year’s, which gives him a potential to pick up his efficiency as the season progresses.

Add to it the addition of a healthy Ricky Rubio, who while he’s still struggling with his shooting, has been on point in everything else on the court, especially on the defensive side. Rubio’s shot efficiency still hasn’t improved, but he’s back in his distributing ways, averaging around 10 assists per game. Defensively, he’s has been on par as he has been when healthy, averaging 2.3 steals per contest and posting a very impressive 96 Defensive Rating.

With Towns, Wiggins, Rubio, and possibly with the help of veteran Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince being crafty veterans who can still provide some cover, the Wolves have jumped in 5th this year in Defensive Efficiency allowing 95 points per 100 possessions, compared to being last the previous season, allowing 109 (stats from NBA.com/stats). With Towns being able to block shots, Rubio on the top of the league in steals, and an athletic wing who can defend from the perimeter, Minnesota is evolving into a defensive powerhouse, and it’s happening very early than most people think will happen.

And while the most optimistic part is that they can wait for another year or two to shape this roster as they already have the two foundation for their franchise, the Wolves have some assets they can move to improve the team and possibly be a Playoff contender right now. They have a core of young guys in Zach Lavine, Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica and some veterans in Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic that they could package and get another player that could give them a bump. While being very good defensively, keep in mind that this team is starting Prince at SF, a position in which they could definitely use an upgrade on. The potential of Zach Lavine and the solid contributions of Dieng, Bjelica, Martin and possibly Pekovic could certainly be a good trade chip to be able to land another quality player who could be an upgrade at the other wing position, and possibly improve in more than they’ve already been.

It’s not going to be a surprise when Minnesota becomes a powerhouse team in a few years. But right now, it’s looking like it will not be a surprise if the Timberwolves contend for a post-season spot either.

KRISTAPS PORZINGIS’ DENIED OF A BUZZER BEATING GAME WINNER.

Commentary:

New York Knicks rookie big man Kristaps Porzingis has been impressive so far. But what he did last night has gotten the optimism level a little more higher in the Big Apple.

Unfortunately, Porzingis’ buzzer beater came off .01 second late, making the basket no good. The Knicks eventually lost the game against the Charlotte Hornets, due to basket being waived off, but even though it was rough, there’s a couple of things to take positive in that buzzer beater that never was.

Porzingis, as mentioned in the video, was able to read the defense and react. Not everyone in the NBA can do that, let alone a 20 year old rookie. This shows good basketball IQ and good feel for the game. For a young player to have that feel for the game early on, it would make the game easier for him as he continues to grow within the next few year. With this shot, it also boost the confidence level  and mental toughness in Porzingis. To know that he can make the big shots will only help his development in being a very good player, and a mentally tough one that won’t break during crunch time.

He’s still on a learning curve, but so far, it has been a pretty sight.

If only the pass was good. The Knicks have to remember that he’s 7’3″, and not pass it to his hip.

Video courtesy of YouTube user NBAHighlights2

COULD THIS GUYS BE FIRST TIMER ALL-STARS THIS YEAR?

Commentary:

Hey now, you're an All-Star? Photo courtesy of bet.com

Hey now, you’re an All-Star? Photo courtesy of bet.com

It’s has been a couple of weeks in, still very much in the baby stages of the season. But the season has already showen a good amount of players playing terrific for their respective teams. With that, it also has already showcased a few emerging guys. Young guys who could cement themselves into legitimate stardom this season by potentially being selected in their first All-Star bid these year.

A few names on each Conferences have popped into the scene, and is making a great case for being a first timer All-Star.

Eastern Conference:

Andre Drummond:
15-16 averages so far: 18.6 PPG, 19 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 24.05 PER

Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

He’s been one of the bright spots of the Detroit Pistons, who’s having a really good start. He’s also leading the league in Total Rebounds per game, and Offensive Rebounds per game, he’s cleaning up every miss so far. But what makes him more special is the bump in scoring, from 13.8 last year to  18.6 this year. So not only is he a defensive anchor, he’s become an offensive option.


Bradley Beal:
15-16 averages so far: 22.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1 SPG, 18.13 PER

Photo courtesy of according2sources.com

Photo courtesy of according2sources.com

Beal has evolved into not just a scorer, but an efficient one. He’s 9th in the NBA in scoring, but he’s doing so at 48% from the field. He’s also red hot in shooting the threes so far, posting a very efficient 47% from beyond the arc taking 5 attempts per game. Beal is slowly making a case as one of the best SG in the NBA right now, and he’s on the right track with his efficient scoring.

Hassan Whiteside:
15-16 averages so far: 13.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.7 BPG, 22.68 PER

Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

So far, Hassan Whiteside’s play is dismissing the idea that he was a one hit wonder. He continues to post great numbers in rebounding and shot blocking, in which he ranks 3rd in the league as of right now. He’s been presence in the paint, on offense and on defense. And to top it off, he’s scoring on an efficient 66% from the field. He is a gem that got picked up by Miami, and he’s shining brighter day by day.

Isaiah Thomas:
15-16 averages so far: 22 PPG, 6.8 APG, 2 SPG, 24.06 PER

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

He has been the lone bright spot for the Boston Celtics in the first few weeks of the season. Thomas has been carrying the offensive load for the C’s, and has done so very well despite averaging just 29 minutes per game. Only knock is he’s shooting 40% from the field, but he’s been making shots when it counts, and getting others their share of scoring with his passing in the process. Would be hard not to notice his production.

Also worth mentioning:
Nikola Vucevic
Jahlil Okafor
Greg Monroe

Western Conference:

Kawhi Leonard:
15-16 averages so far: 21.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2 SPG, 23.59 PER

Photo courtesy of rantsports.com

Photo courtesy of rantsports.com

It’s crazy to think that Kawhi Leonard has already won a championship, a Finals MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year and he hasn’t played an All-Star game just yet. But this is most certainly the year he should make it. Not only has he picked up his excellent defense from the last few years, he has stepped up as the San Antonio Spurs’ main offensive weapon, and he’s doing so pretty well. Leonard is pretty much an All-Star lock this year, barring injuries.

Draymond Green
:
15-16 averages so far: 11.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 7.6 RPG, 15.21 PER

Photo courtesy of panicbutton.sportsblog.com

       Bob Donnan – USA Today Sports

He’s the very definition of an All-Star talent that doesn’t stand out with the scoring, but does everything else on the court. He’s been excellent defensively, and has been a main cog in their offense not by being the scorer, but as the second facilitator for the Golden State Warriors, who’s having a really hot start. His energy, passion and overall command of the game should get him consideration for and All-Star berth despite not being an off the chart scorer.

CJ McCollum
15-16 averages so far: 22.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 4.3 RPG, 21.93 PER

Photo courtesy of advancedsportslogic.com

Photo courtesy of advancedsportslogic.com

CJ McCollum has been a great revelation for the Portland Trail Blazers. He simply took over the scoring that LaMarcus Aldridge has left behind when he decided to play for the Spurs instead, and doing so in a very efficient manner, shooting 47% from the field, and 46% from 3PT with 6 attempt from the rainbow territory per game. Sustainability is the question, but we’ve seen this kind of performance since last year’s Playoff series vs the Memphis Grizzlies, so it’s a safe bet that this is a trend. He could be a surprise All-Star pick, but he’s posting the numbers to be in consideration.

DeAndre Jordan
:
15-16 averages so far: 9.7 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 3.8 BPG, 19.51 PER

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

DeAndre has picked up his defensive dominance from last season to this season, and that should be worth a look for an All-Star bid. Another player who doesn’t wow anyone with his offensive prowess, but could picked due to his control on the defensive end. He’s 2nd in both Rebounds and Blocks in the NBA right now, and that could be the key for his selection if he continues to keep posting those numbers.

Also worth mentioning:
Eric Bledsoe
Gordon Hayward