It's time to unwrap our weekly package of some of my favorite (and least favorite) things in the NBA.
10 things I like and don't like
1. Egregious non-Rondo passing up of layups
Three years ago, I wrote a column wondering about the upper limits of the NBA's 3-point boom, and whether the league risked evolving toward stylistic homogeneity -- with every team slowly gravitating toward a triple-heavy philosophy.
The boom has accelerated this season, and front-office analytics gurus almost universally agree that the average team still isn't close to jacking the optimal number of 3s. The Rockets, who launched an insane 61 (!) 3s against New Orleans last week, might not even be there.
The 3-pointer and the league's move over the last 15 years to open up the drive-and-kick game have clearly created a better product. Fans love watching five skilled players run the floor and whip the ball around for long-range shots.
But the worriers were onto something. Under the current rules regime, it is just hard to compete if you take ten fewer 3s than your opponent. It's simple math, and teams have figured it out. It is leading to more plays like this:
That is very close to a perversion of what basketball is supposed to be. The goal of the game is to put the ball into the basket. Layups and dunks are the best shots -- the highest-percentage chance of scoring two points. Almost every offense ever constructed has been designed to produce them. Three-point shooters are valuable in part because they draw defenders away from the paint, broadening corridors to the basket.
When guys forgo layups to hunt open 3s, something has gone a little sideways. Kyrie Irving's dish is an extreme example. He passes up a near-100 percent chance of two points to get Richard Jefferson something like a 50 percent of scoring three. Irving exchanges two points in expected value for 1.5.
Most such tradeoffs aren't so stark. Players swap contested layups they might hit 60 or 70 percent of the time for open 3s. The math on those exchanges is closer, and perhaps even if they result in an elite shooter getting an open short corner 3.
Thinkers have kicked around a lot of potential tweaks that could rewind that math, including moving the arc back and/or scrapping the corner 3. Jeff Van Gundy even proposed awarding only 2.5 points for corner 3s. None of those things are happening.
Maybe the estimable Haralabos Voulgaris landed on the easiest quick fix: Encourage layup attempts by banning the charge, or at least making it harder for defensive players to draw them. Give slashers the benefit of the doubt, and maybe they'll try more layups instead of flinging the ball 30 feet from paydirt.
The league is not in problem territory yet. A huge majority of fans seem to like this style of play fine. I do, too. There are still teams like Chicago and San Antonio working other parts of the floor. But those teams increasingly look antique, and they have to be historically great at the things they do well to hang with the triple brigade. Meanwhile, some of the old 3-phobic holdouts -- Memphis, New York, Minnesota -- are dragging themselves into modernity.
In almost every game, you can spot one or two kickout passes that make you wonder what the future will look like -- and when a larger number of fans might object.
2. Getting out of the way being less embarrassing than posterization
It's sad that this ...
... gets so much more attention than this embarrassing surrender from Marcin Gortat:
I mean, on some level, I get it. An explosive event is easier to spot than the absence of something -- in this case, courage and help defense. Completing a dunk over a real challenge is a bigger accomplishment than flying by a dude whose main goal is to avoid SportsCenter victimization.
But the gap in attention between the two is alarming. We should celebrate Brook Lopez's dutiful effort even as we blush at the devastation wreaked upon him. If we're going to Vine every instance of James Harden falling asleep on a backdoor cut, shouldn't we reserve the same mockery for cowardice in the face of an oncoming dunk?
Do we just need a catchy term for this sort of submission -- the equivalent of "dunked on" for matadors? Let's hear some suggestions.
3. Steven Adams, now featuring more dribbles!
This looks simple, but it's not -- especially for a 7-foot agitator:
Player development coaches spend entire seasons teaching big men their first one-dribble move. Once they have that down, it might take another year of rote practice -- and maybe longer -- for the big galoot to master two- or three-dribble moves with enough confidence to bust them out in a game. Anthony Davis went through that exact progression, and only now, in Year 5, is Davis comfortable bringing the ball up the floor and taking a bunch of decisive dribbles on the block.
The post-KD Thunder are bereft of shooting, and defenses have adjusted by packing the lane -- and taking away all those alley-oops Adams got last year on the pick-and-roll.
Adams has learned to get buckets the hard way -- with hooks in the post, floaters, and two-dribble moves like this that freeze help defenders waiting to crash in from the weak side.
4. A new kind of "Cha-Cha Slide" torture
I'm already resigned to the fact that I will be muttering the "Cha-Cha Slide" on my death bed after hearing it a gazillion times in NBA arenas: "Everybody clap your hands. Clap, clap, clap -- clap your hands!" Its tyranny is unrivaled, and merciless.
But a couple teams (including Oklahoma City) have taken it a cruel step further by preceding the mantra with the one word "Everybody" from the C+C Music Factory classic "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now"). You hear that "Everybody," and you perk up, ready for the full "Everybody Dance Now!" exclamation we all remember from childhood.
And then, that glorious single "Everybody" transitions into the same old "clap your hands" command: "Everybody clap your hands!" It is a remix from hell. It is a taunt. For the sake of my mental health, stop doing this.
5. Trevor Booker, coast-to-coast
Booker is a bright spot in every dreary Nets loss - a sneering ruckus rampaging coast-to-coast after snagging a defensive rebound. He is fast, and he is mean, and he is not afraid to pick up his dribble, smash his shoulder into your chest, and float the ball in as you crumble to the floor.
Booker is overmatched as a starting power forward, but he's exactly type of veteran Brooklyn wants around its kiddies: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Harris, Chris McCullough (I think he still exists), Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert -- the latter finally cracking the rotation as a multi-positional tabula rasa. Booker hustles for loose balls and stray rebounds, and generally plays as if Brooklyn is in must-win games. That's healthy for young guys to see.
On the downside, Brooklyn is now the third team to discover the experiment of "Trevor Booker: Competent 3-Point Shooter" may never come to fruition.
6. Detroit's offense, after the script ends
The Pistons have been mired in turmoil since Reggie Jackson's return, and their offense is down to 21st in points per possession. There is something a little overly scripted about Detroit's possessions. They start every trip with some sort of set play -- a Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope flying from the corner to take dribble handoff, or some action for one of their tweener forwards.
If the defense handles that, things just kind of stall. Jackson exacerbated that effect against Chicago this week, when he pouted in the corner, hands on hips, in a passive-aggressive tantrum after teammates called out his shot selection. But the tendency persists even when Jackson is engaged.
Detroit just doesn't have a ton of intuitive playmakers who can improvise into some two-man game, smash some sucker with a well-timed flare screen, or work a series of swirling off-ball cuts. Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris are score-first one-on-one artists, and Drummond's post-up game has tanked as an end-of-clock fail-safe; he's shooting just 40 percent from the post and he rarely draws fouls, in part because he's attempting more long-distance jump hooks this season.
It's unclear how much this really hurts Detroit in the aggregate; they are shooting 40 percent in the last four seconds of the shot clock, one of the best marks in the league, though they rank much worse on shots attempted with between seven and four seconds left on the ticker, according to NBA.com.
They have guys who can put their heads down and create something from nothing. But against top-shelf defenses, it would be useful to play with a little more collective feel when the first step in a possession fails to produce a shot.
7. The Mavs, looking like a real team again
Watching the Mavs won't feel quite right until That Dude is lofting one-legged fadeaways that drip down the backboard. But with Deron Williams, J.J. Barea, and Devin Harris back, at least Dallas looks like a real NBA team again. They're 4-4 in their last eight games, with a rousing win over the gagging Blazers on Wednesday.
A month ago, it was painful to watch these guys grind for 80 points. In some games, it seemed like every play was an isolation for Harrison Barnes on the block or at Dirk's old spot smack in the middle of the foul line. Barnes managed, but going to that well over and over is the sign of a dead-in-the-water offense. The Mavs just didn't really have anyone else who could dribble.
With Williams and Barea back, Dallas can lean on the good ol' spread pick-and-roll. Williams has been hot, and Dorian Finney-Smith looks like a real find. He's defending four positions - including Damian Lillard for much of that Portland win - and looking more confident on offense. His jumper isn't quite there, but it's not busted, either; Finney-Smith is shooting 35 from deep, and if he ekes past league-average, Dallas may have something.
8. The Brazilian Blur, still blurry
A lot of us wondered why Phoenix, clearly in rebuild mode, devoted so much roster space and cashola to past-their-prime veterans. The Suns wanted mentors who could still play -- guys who could set an example, and hopefully keep Phoenix within spitting distance of the No. 8 seed. Straddling the line between rebuilding and chasing present-day wins is really hard, and the Suns have fallen on their faces -- again.
But it's not because of the greybeards. Tyson Chandler is devouring rebounds, Jared Dudley is sizzling from deep, and Leandro Barbosa is a zig-zaggy delight. He has been a consistent spark of the Phoenix bench, shooting 47 overall and a tidy 43 on 3s. The Suns are better with Barbosa on the floor; he's part of a weirdo bench mob that has sprinted Phoenix back into a handful of recent games.
Best of all, even at 34, he's still the freaking Brazilian blur. He has the lightning first step, the zippy crossovers, and those gliding layups that arc just over the fingertips of a shot-blocker who underestimated how much speed Barbosa has left in reserve. He plays with a peppy verve that is irresistible. That horse medicine works.
9. Avery Bradley, knockdown shooter
I was an Avery Bradley skeptic: He's short for his position, he can't really dribble, and he loves long 2s. Just another overblown Boston athlete.
Bradley has worked his butt off and proven us wrong. He's a knockdown shooter now from all over the place: 49 percent on corner 3s, 41 percent on longer triples, 45 percent on those dreaded long 2s, and a ridiculous 55 percent on tricky shots between 10 and 16 feet from the rim, per Basketball-Reference.
He still succumbs to the siren song of long pull-up 2s, but he hits enough that they represent a perfectly fine outcome for Boston -- especially late on the shot clock. He has canned 44 percent of his pull-up jumpers, the 5th-best mark among the 60 players who jack at least four such shots per game. (The four ahead of him: DeMar DeRozan, C.J. McCollum, George Hill, Nick Young.)
He's snaring boards at by far a career-best rate, and Boston needs all the gang rebounding it can get.
Bradley still isn't much of a pick-and-roll orchestrator, but he's become one helluva NBA player -- and a borderline elite shooter. Good for him.
10. Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd, keeping it lively
We knew it would be soothing to have Kevin Calabro back in our League Pass lives, with his classic broadcast voice and distinctive catchphrases. I giggled on Wednesday when Calabro talked about a Portland shooter "setting his tootsies" -- i.e., setting his feet -- before a jumper. What a legend.
But those of us who don't follow much college hoops had no idea what a witty and fun presence Hurd, a former Oregon State hooper, would bring as Calabro's tag-team partner. Hurd sees the nuances of team schemes in real time, and that's not easy sitting courtside with coaches and ready substitute players standing in your way. It's clear both guys watch a lot of film of upcoming Portland opponents.
Hurd and Calabro already have a playful chemistry, dotted with well-timed jabs of humor. Give the Blazers' broadcast a listen.