It’s time for another Friday meetup:
1. Whining about All-Star snubs
There is an unearned incredulousness to so much of the whining over All-Star snubs. Russell Westbrook wagged his finger at coaches for failing to squeeze Paul George onto the Western Conference team — as if only a group of morons could omit George. He even took a veiled shot at Damian Lillard‘s All-Star campaigning, without naming Lillard (of course).
Anyone with a powerful voice — player, coach, media member, agent — sounding off about an All-Star snub with this level of sneering righteousness should be required to disclose who they would leave off the 12-man roster. Let’s hear it, Russ: Do you cut Lillard? On what grounds? One of the Warriors? Which one?
You get 12 roster spots. Not 15. Not infinity. Twelve. There are more than a dozen worthy players in each conference. George made my roster, but if you actually follow the rules and list every candidate, it’s clear he’s not a no-brainer.
Bruce Bowen, the Clippers’ color analyst, lamented during a game last weekend that Lou Williams wouldn’t make the team even though he belonged. Jeff Schwartz, perhaps the most powerful agent in the NBA, released a statement chastising coaches for leaving off Andre Drummond — a Schwartz client. (I had Drummond on my team, too.) The same rule should apply here: Who does an aggrieved agent or broadcaster remove?
Most of the complainers have a benign agenda: They are defending clients and teammates. They aren’t clinicians, and they probably aren’t combing through the All-Star pool player-by-player. They want to make someone important to them feel better. That’s fine! Westbrook’s rousing monologue apparently deepened his bond with George in a way that could change the Thunder’s long-term trajectory.
Still: There is a way to say your guy is deserving without claiming the voting pool has committed some grave injustice. Hammer the voters, and you should go through the same exercise they did in choosing the teams.
2. The state of Wilson Chandler
Denver can’t seem to find a groove. Injuries have contributed; we won’t know what this team is until Paul Millsap returns. But Chandler’s drop-off has chipped away at their depth and lineup flexibility. After years of hip issues, Chandler looks like he aged five years over one summer (at least before he broke out a bit against the Knicks on Thursday).
He’s shooting just 42 percent, and an ugly 32.5 percent from deep, and there are nights when he just doesn’t do anything. His usage rate has dropped from 20 percent all the way to 14.6 percent, by far the lowest mark of his career — a rate we’d normally associate with a role player who rarely touches the ball.
Chandler’s herky-jerky, Eurosteppy one-on-one game isn’t leading anywhere good; he’s shooting just 14-of-40 on isolations, per Synergy Sports, and he never gets to the line. (He’s solid on defense, and he always plays hard. Chandler is a great teammate.)
Chandler is probably best now as a small-ball power forward, but Denver is already crowded at that position. Chandler has a $12.8 million player option for next season, and what he does with it will have a huge impact on Denver’s cap-and-tax situation. Chandler is at the age where he might opt out to secure more long-term money, but if he keeps playing like this, he may not find a long-term deal to his liking.
3. Utah’s starting five
Utah has scored just 90.5 points per 100 possessions with those three on the floor — dead last among 500-plus trios that have logged at least 275 minutes together, per NBA.com. That is a full 10 points below Sacramento’s league-worst overall offense — equivalent to the gap between the Kings and the No. 4 Raptors. (Congrats to the Kings, by the way, for jumping out of the basement in points allowed per possession so that they are not dead last on both sides of the ball. And congrats to the Cavs for finally sinking to the bottom on defense!)
Opponents have outscored Utah by almost 16 points per 100 possessions in the 278 minutes those three have played together. Only six of those 500-plus trios have worse scoring margins. (Four of those six come from Sacramento.)
Favors thrived as a rim-running center when Gobert missed extended time, but he’s miscast playing alongside the French Rejection — at least given the present state of Utah’s perimeter talent. When Favors slides to center, about 57 percent of his shots come in the restricted area, per NBA.com. That drops below 40 percent when Favors plays alongside Gobert.
Favors spots up in the corner, but no one cares, and they shouldn’t; Favors is 5-of-24 on 3s, though he has told me is optimistic he will hit more next season after a year experimenting. Chilling there also takes him far from the rim; the twin towers look has barely nudged Utah’s anemic offensive rebounding rate.
Favors’s pick-and-pop long 2s don’t scare defenses. His post-up game — a method of manufacturing spacing when there is none — has stalled out; Favors is just 9-of-30 on post-up shots this season, per Synergy Sports.
The rise of Donovan Mitchell has relegated Rubio to more off-ball duty, and there may no perimeter guy worse suited to off-ball duty than Rubio. Teams don’t even pretend to guard him anymore.
It’s easier to suggest a lineup change from the outside than it is to make one. Rubio may be a Jazz man next season (not a certainty, by the way), and Utah is likely wary of crushing his confidence by benching him — and moving Mitchell to point guard. Potential replacements for Rubio are uninspiring, especially with Rodney Hood dealing with another case of Rodney Hood-itis. Thabo Sefolosha, a fill-in starter at multiple positions, is out for the season.
4. Jimmy Butler, bank shot artiste
For someone who plows toward buckets with a shoulder-checking brutality, Butler has a buttery-soft angled bank shot he likes to use in the post:
Oh, baby. There is just something about bank shots, isn’t there? Butler has no use for the rectangular white target. He aims above and to the right of it, confident that is the optimal landing spot from which the ball will drip down into the hoop.
Butler is sneakily one of the league’s great bank shot artists. He’s 23-of-38 on glassers so far, per shot-tracking data; only Kristaps Porzingis has made and attempted more. The sheer power of Butler’s game can obscure the touches of art and finesse within it.
5. Detroit’s aimless offense
Detroit is 8-18 since Dec. 1, and ranks dead last in points per possession over that stretch. Reggie Jackson‘s latest injury exacerbated a collapse that was already underway.
Jackson might only be something like the 20th-best starting point guard in the NBA, but even a player at that level is valuable to a team without anyone else who can break people down off the bounce. Tobias Harris comes closest, and he and Drummond have developed a nice two-man game. But Harris isn’t a playmaker for others.
Ish Smith is overmatched as a starting point guard. Defenders duck underneath picks against him, walling off the paint and daring him to shoot jumpers. He can scoot to the rim one-on-one as his guy backpedals, but that doesn’t unlock open looks for anyone else. When Smith shifts off the ball, Detroit is almost playing 4-on-5.
Avery Bradley prefers to pull up for long jumpers, and he’s barely making any of late. Most Detroit possessions involve a bunch of frisky running around that doesn’t amount to much:
Detroit got traction early in the season from all that cutting and screening. It was a new look for them. But it worked because it supplemented the Jackson-Drummond pick-and-roll, still Detroit’s most reliable way of slicing into the paint. Without that fail-safe — without any singular off-the-dribble threat — they go nowhere. Defenses switch screens on and off the ball, confident the Pistons won’t exploit mismatches. With few choices, they might want to try posting up Harris more after switches leave smaller guys on him.
Detroit is now 22-24. If it dips further over the next 10 days, we might get another seller at the deadline.
6. Dario Saric, blending in
That is not an easy ask, and the Sixers before the season were not sure Saric could start, or even play much with Philly’s two cornerstones. But Saric has proved a chameleon — good at so many things that he can shift from job to job depending on what each possession requires.
He’s a natural throwing entry passes to the post, and he’s shooting 38 percent from deep. Saric has (so far) made teams pay for abandoning him to double Embiid and Simmons down low. He’s a smart cutter — a must for anyone playing alongside Simmons and Embiid:
Simmons’ positional weirdness often scrambles the matchups, and when Saric finds a little guy stuck on him, he can go to work in the post. He’s a tidy 14-of-29 on shots from the block, per Synergy, and he’s one of the league’s slickest interior passers. He can dish with both hands, he sees the whole floor, and he has knack for threading tiny needles from unconventional angles:
Philly has scored 1.2 points per possession on any trip featuring a Saric post touch, 22nd among 120 guys who have posted up at least 30 times, according to Second Spectrum.
Philly’s starting lineup, outscoring opponents by a ridiculous 18 points per 100 possessions, wouldn’t work without Saric’s jack-of-all-trades game.
7. The Heat’s ‘Miami Vice’ jerseys
OH HELL YES.
These might be perfect. One way you know a jersey works: Strip away all the Heat identifiers — the “Miami” wordmark and flaming basketball — leaving just the pink-and-turquoise trim, and you would still know immediately that these jerseys could belong to only one NBA team. They are Miami. The city embraces its cheesy glitz, and in doing so, makes the kitschy cool. These jerseys do the same thing.
They strike the balance every team should strive for in crafting alternate jerseys: so daring you wonder if a team could really wear them 41 times (after seeing them in action last night, I think the Heat could), and distinctive and local enough that it feels like an event when the team dons them.
My only quibble: Is it possible to do something more with the flaming ball logo, beyond coloring it pink and aqua?
But that’s it. These are awesome — the very best of all 30 city edition duds. It would be a shame to retire them after one year.
8. The violent acrobatics of Jarell Martin
I know: The Grizzlies without Mike Conley are a tough sell. But they’re .500 since mid-December, and they have a bunch of youngish NBA randos that stoke some curiosity among scouts and die-hards.
Can I interest you in Jarell Martin, a 6-10 bowling ball who didn’t play serious basketball until late in high school and rampages with a turbocharged fury that almost seems dangerous? Martin is always flying around, doing stuff like this:
Martin loves to crash the offensive glass, no matter how far he has to go to get there, how many bodies are in the way, or that he might fall hopelessly behind on defense if he whiffs.
Fancy new motion-tracking stats (via Second Spectrum) try to quantify various ingredients in rebounding — including one that measures how often players wriggle themselves into better rebounding position while a shot is in the air. Martin ranks second in the whole stinking league, behind only Ian Mahinmi.
Martin does not do all that work to grab the ball, land again, and look for a kick-out pass. Tip-ins are for wimps. Martin wants to jump and cram that sucker back with maximum impact. He hangs on the rim like it’s a piece of jungle gym equipment more out of self-preservation — to stop his momentum — than as a way to taunt opponents.
Every bit of Martin’s game has a violent edge to it. He swings hard to block shots — so hard, you worry he might injure the shooter. When Martin spins in the post, he twirls so fast, he almost loses control of body.
There is an interesting package of basketball skills in here. Martin might never put them all together, but it’s fun watching him try.
9. Skal Labissiere, facing up
The Kings have thankfully cut Labissiere’s post touches per possession in half since Dec. 1, per Second Spectrum data. We’re seeing less of Labissiere flinging hopeless jump hooks over bigger dudes he can’t dislodge, and more of this:
He’s even canned a few 3s lately. As long as they’re tanking, the Kings should let Labissiere develop his face-up game against real NBA competition. He has soft touch and some fledgling feel for the game. Force-feed him some playmaking chances, and let him stretch those skills.
There have been rumblings the Kings might dump Labissiere to free up a roster spot so they absorb extra contracts from Cleveland in the percolating George Hill deal. If that’s true, a smart team will buy low on Labissiere.
10. Brandon Ingram, overdoing his solo act?
Last season’s Lakers were bad, but at least you could see what they wanted to be on offense: something in the Warriors mold, with multiple ball handlers, whirring motion, and a point guard (D’Angelo Russell) who could also spot up for 3s.
It has been hard to pinpoint any core identity this season, beyond “run and attack the paint.” Injuries have short-circuited that developmental process; guys can’t get used to playing with Lonzo Ball when he’s hurt. Luke Walton has shuffled through almost every two-man combination of his four rotation bigs. Only a few guys can say with any certainty they will be on the team next season. It is tough for a team to coalesce with free agency hovering over everything.
Ingram’s shot selection is a microcosm of L.A.’s on-again, off-again coherence on offense. Ingram is a canny playmaker who looks great on nights when his shots come in the flow. When he’s left to hunt his own — or when he stops the flow to do it — things don’t go as well:
Ingram is shooting just 34.9 percent (29-of-83) on a ton of isolations, 99th out of 124 players who have finished at least 25 such possessions, per Synergy Sports. He settles for a lot of tough, fading midrangers — bad shots for all but the most gifted scorers.
There is value in letting Ingram test himself. But a lot of those shots feel symptomatic of an unformed offense.