Welcome back to the film room. Another week has passed, and I have five new observations for you. We start out with some hideous jerseys. We then send it to the Timberwolves, who simply refuse to defend the paint. Next, we take a look at Clint Capela, who has merged basketball and volleyball. To wrap it up, we admire the Jazz’s ball movement and Stephen Curry’s shooting gravity.
The Miami HEAT, Hard On The Eyes
Listen, I know I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the…passionate, we’ll call them…HEAT fans. Even they, as much as their passion can override their abilities to think level-headed, must know that these jersey and the very design concept upon which they were created should be tossed into a suitcase and thrown into Biscayne Bay. I mean, my goodness:
I get that they’re going for the tie-dye look, but they went over the top with this half-and-half idea. Whenever the players are cycling through their offense, I feel like I’m watching a bunch of highlighters dancing. I almost wonder if it makes them easier to see each other moving on offense; maybe it becomes easier to locate moving teammates. I also wonder if it’s easier for help defenders to keep track of the HEAT on the floor since the brightness is very hard to ignore. The HEAT historically have some of my favorite uniform designs in the NBA. Their city edition design from last season (solid sky blue with the ‘Miami Vice’ cursive) was excellent. These, as the kids say, ain’t it.
Do The Timberwolves Know They Can Defend The Rim?
I guess I’m not surprised that a team that is *checks notes* 4-11 is horrific on the defensive end of the floor. The Timberwolves give up more than 112 points per 100 possessions–tied for fourth most in the NBA. Minnesota is giving up 51.5 points in the paint per game, good (bad) for second most in the league. They surrender 115.8 points per game, sixth most in the NBA. If they could find ways to just shave off five of those points in the paint per game, and get close to the league average in that category, Ryan Saunders’ defense might actually get out of the basement. Sure, maybe opponents are supplementing those paint scores with jumpers, but you like your odds to cut down a handful of those points by making offenses settle for lower-percentage shots. Any jump shot produces more positive value than this does for the Timberwolves’ defense:
There is such little resistance on this play that I might term it encouragement. First, there is not a single hand in a passing lane as this ball clears two help defenders to reach Clint Capela, who is so shocked at how vacant his lane to the rim is that he actually needs a moment to process the defense. Once he attacks the rim, all Timberwolves in his way avoid contact and basically give him an open runway. Have mercy.
Now, those numbers should come down from the sun once Karl-Anthony Towns returns. With him off the court (he has missed eleven games this season), the Timberwolves are being outscored by 11 points per 100 possessions. When Towns is on the court, Minnesota’s defense gives up fewer than 109 points per 100 possessions (a hair better than the league average) and they actually outscore opponents by more than 6 points per 100 possessions. In fact, Towns produces the only outscore per 100 possessions of all Timberwolves to have played at least 120 minutes. In other words, in those qualifying minutes I provided, no other Timberwolf is giving positive minutes. The funny thing is that Towns really isn’t that good of a defensive center; it’s more a testament to just how good of a player he is on the offensive end and how much space there is between Towns and the next best player on the roster.
I don’t know which is more concerning, though. Is it worse that the Timberwolves don’t seem to know that they’re permitted to protect the rim, or that they might know that they’re allowed to and are this bad at it?
Clint Capela, Professional Volleyball Player
Capela was a really valuable player far before he was traded to Atlanta last season. He has mastered the art of pick-and-roll dives, put-backs, rebounding on both ends, and protecting the rim. At this point in their careers, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic have limited defensive upside. Trae Young’s physical limitations contain the ceiling on his defensive upside. John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish all profile as promising defenders in their prime years. But, the anchor to protecting the rim is undoubtedly Clint Capela. Atlanta is holding opponents to 101.4 points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor, which is the best of all Hawks to register at least 350 minutes thus far in the 2020-21 season. Opponents connect on just below 42% of their field goals with Capela on the floor, the lowest field goal percentage allowed of all seven Hawks to average over twenty minutes per game. Capela isn’t just benefitting from his size, he’s combining IQ with timing to wreck opponents at the rim:
Capela cycles through the decisions he has to make as Naz Reid whirls his way into the lane. While Jarred Vanderbilt is certainly lurking, Capela’s decision is simple–stop the ball. Stopping the ball, as simple as it is, can often be a lost concept as defenders make decisions. But, Capela is quick to rotate back towards the right side of the restricted area when Reid spins back towards the outside of the lane. Capela is already in a strong position as his momentum carries him towards Reid. He waits patiently for the ball to go up, and then engulfs the rock in the air, spiking it like a volleyball. Notice how well he times it, too. If he waits too long, it’s a goaltending violation, as the ball either hits the backboard or is on its way down when he strikes it. If he goes too early, he’s at risk of committing a foul and sending Reid to the line. Capela waits for the ball to clear Reid’s hands and then uses the momentum he’s already built as he rotates to carry him as he jumps for the rock and swallows it. Not in Capela’s house, son.
The Hawks sit at 8-8, and that’s without the services of two of their biggest offseason acquisitions. If they’re going to achieve the goal that their offseason expenditures indicate they have envisioned, Capela is going to have to continue to play volleyball on defense.
When you’re 12-4, a lot of things are going really well. Utah’s defense, anchored by one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA in Rudy Gobert, is surrendering just fewer than 107 points per 100 possessions. That is good for fifth fewest in the league. But, the Jazz look different because of what they’re doing on the offensive end of the floor. Only once since drafting Donovan Mitchell have the Jazz averaged more than 23 assists per game for a whole season. Since drafting Mitchell, Utah has ranked top three in the NBA in frequency of ball-handler possessions in the pick-and-roll. The Jazz had become wildly reliant upon Mitchell to carry the offense as a pick-and-roll handler with Gobert as his partner. That means the ball doesn’t move all that much and the offense becomes predictable. Utah survived the first round when Mitchell was a rookie because of the lack of a scouting report on a team that had defied expectations to some degree. Each of the next two seasons, they fell short of expectations. Last season, they blew a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs because Denver figured out how to limit the Jazz offense beyond Mitchell. He would get his (and he had an unbelievable run in that first round series), but the Jazz struggled to score beyond him.
Now, they’ve gotten back to ball movement, and it’s delightful:
Timing is so important to success on a play-to-play basis in basketball. Bojan Bogdanovic attacks the close-out patiently and then ropes the ball over to Royce O’Neale in the corner. O’Neale lures the hard close from Draymond Green and then attacks the middle of the lane so that he can’t be cut off by the baseline. Green’s close is impossible to recover from, and it forces Kelly Oubre, Jr., Andrew Wiggins, and Stephen Curry to do something to perturb the attack. However, O’Neale stunts their decision-making by slowing down, which has the effect of relaxing Curry and Oubre enough that they retreat back to their primary assignments. That makes Wiggins the odd man to go and confront O’Neale. Gobert quietly sets a back-screen on James Wiseman, who, given his physical attributes, could theoretically be the only player physically capable of getting to Bogdanovic in time. The Jazz’s ball movement and relocation within the offense pulls Golden State’s defense out of position, and it gets them a three with more space than what a shooter could ever dream of.
The Jazz are averaging just a tad fewer than 24 assists per game, which still ranks in the bottom third of the NBA. But, they’re finally showing a more balanced diet on the offensive end.
Steph Curry’s Shooting Gravity Is Still Incredible
Surprised? No, I’m not surprised at all. Steph is the greatest shooter of all time, and by a country mile. He could never play another NBA game in his life and finish behind Ray Allen for the record, and Curry would still hold the belt for reputation as the greatest shooter ever. There’s not really a ton to break down here, but I want to appreciate greatness while it still has more to give. You can have your own biased reasons for liking or disliking Curry, but the truth is that Golden State was always unguardable–with or without Durant–because of Curry. The gravity that Curry has as a shooter draws so much attention that it allows teammates to get this open:
Draymond Green initiates the dribble hand-off, just like he’s done thousands of times. Curry, who passed Reggie Miller for second most made three-pointers in NBA history in this game, knew exactly what was to come before he retrieved the ball. Mitchell goes over the screen with him, and O’Neale meets him on the other side to set the trap. Curry was well-prepared for the trap, and feeds Green for a floater just below the free throw line. Curry’s gravity as a shooter is why Green had as much space as he did. Curry’s greatness made this play happen.
Say what you’d like about Steph Curry, but he’s always made his teammates better. Take another moment to appreciate the soon-to-be 33-year-old’s greatness, because there will never be another quite like him.
Featured Image: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images