Irving thrilled to finally have help

The Cavaliers guard spoke about the changes in leadership and his own role.

      
 

 

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Kyrie Irving on his first three years in Cleveland: ‘I didn’t really have help from anybody’

The Cavaliers guard spoke about the changes in leadership and his own role.

      
 

 

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How Derek Fisher Can Help Each Point Guard on NY Knicks Roster

Phil Jackson’s presidency over the New York Knicks has brought a sea change to the point-guard position. He upgraded at starter in the form of Jose Calderon, 32, and added promising 21-year-old Shane Larkin to share backup duties with returning veteran of the game Pablo Prigioni, 37. Now, like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant before them, these slightly more ancillary players will need to tailor their abilities to the triangle offense.

The 2014-15 season also marks the point of embarkation for rookie head coach Derek Fisher after 18 seasons played mostly at the point, 10 of which came during Jackson’s tenure as Los Angeles Lakers coach. Fisher’s experience as a guard in the triangle system should provide a unique angle to impart wisdom to his new charges.

However, as Jason Kidd proved with the Brooklyn Nets last season, copious experience playing the point does not necessarily make for a virtuoso coach of point guards. Fisher will need to harness the full breadth of his leadership and experience to produce success with the Knicks roster, which boasts Carmelo Anthony and more question marks than anything else.

The team has made a significant upgrade at PG already, but while Calderon and Prigioni clearly complement the roster, and Larkin brims with potential, each of them will benefit in different areas from the first-year coaching wisdom of “D-Fish.”

But first, it is necessary to examine the new strength of the position and the new offensive system.

 

Making Trades and Drawing the Triangle

Jackson swung a nifty pre-draft trade in late June that sent Tyson Chandler back to the Dallas Mavericks along with Raymond Felton in exchange for Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, essentially a swap of starting point guards and centers. The trade also sent guards Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington to the Knicks, plus a pair of second-round picks.

Jackson subsequently included Ellington in a trade with the Sacramento Kings for forwards Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw, helping to better balance the roster.

Tweets from ESPN’s Marc Stein had suggested that the team was trying to move Ellington and considered including Prigioni or Larkin as a sweetener:

Instead, both remained in the backcourt, and the Knicks parted with budding big man Jeremy Tyler. Retaining both Prigioni and Larkin implies that Jackson and Fisher like what they have at the position and believe they can run the new offense.

According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, “Fisher thinks Anthony can do the same (in the triangle), operating out of the pinch post the way Jordan, Pippen and Bryant did.” Anthony, the league’s leading scorer in 2012-13, profiles as an ideal player to center the triangle around, and he will be found most often around the elbows receiving passes on the weak side. 

Fisher reinforced his opinion of ‘Melo during the Las Vegas Summer League, saying the following:

It’s an area where he likes to operate, even before now, being able to play in this system. But it will be important that we don’t just put him there and watch him play, which is easy to do with great players.

That means the point guards will have to be active—no “iso Melo“—but in the triangle system, passing responsibility diffuses throughout the team. Melo could very well lead the team in assists. The onus will be on the guards to maintain a strong shooting percentage from the perimeter and knock down spot-up jumpers produced through ball movement as a team.

Fortunately, Prigioni and Calderon both ranked in the top five for three-point shooting last season at 46.4 percent and 44.9, respectively. Only Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard made more triples than Calderon among all point guards. In stark contrast, Raymond Felton shot 39.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent beyond the arc as the starting point guard last year.

Despite their gaudy long-range shooting, which meshes very well with the triangle, Fisher will look to isolate one aspect of both Calderon’s and Prigioni‘s play which must be addressed. 

 

Mask Calderon’s Defense

The primary difference between Calderon and Prigioni consists in their defense. Prigioni plays like an effective agitator for his age, invading passing lanes and pestering the ball. Calderon, on the other hand, has mainly been a practitioner of the “matador defense” sometimes observed in previous seasons by Knicks announcer Walt Frazier.

The book on Calderon’s D remains that he’s an intelligent player who can get to the right spot, but he lacks both the athleticism and the quickness to prevent most guards from blowing by him.

Tim Cato from Mavs Moneyball phrased it well for Knicks blogger Scott Davis of Posting & Toasting

Calderon has been a slow player ever since he entered the league, and the years haven’t done any favor. He just can’t keep up. His foot-speed is often several steps behind the player he’s guarding.

Once upon a time, Fisher also knew the pain of playing against much younger, much quicker guards. The challenge for the new coach will not be coming in trying to convey loads of defensive know-how, but rather in masking Calderon’s slow pace on the defensive end. He cannot get quicker, so the D will have to compensate. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert will be crucial factors in Fisher’s ability to help Calderon when the other team has the ball. Hardaway showed plenty of offensive spark as a rookie, but his defense made him a liability when his shot wasn’t falling. Shumpert makes a living off of his defense, but his field-goal percentage has dropped with each season, from 40.1 percent to 39.6 to 37.8 in 2013-14.

In the middle, Dalembert can still play effective defense, but the team lost a former Defensive Player of the Year in Chandler. Fisher will have to preach plenty of help on D with Calderon in the starting five, all while coaching up Hardaway to be a two-way player and helping Shumpert find a shooting rhythm. 

 

Teach Prigioni the Joy of Shooting

Prigioni served as an effective contributor in 2013-14, as the Knicks netted four more points per 100 possessions than opponents with him on the court, per Basketball-Reference.

He also has something of an awkward-looking three-point shot despite hitting 46.4 percent of them. Within his shooting motion lies absolutely none of the grace of Ray Allen’s stroke and not even a hint of Steve Novak’s sweet form.

Instead, Prigioni seems to push the ball rim-ward, leaning and leaping forward with hesitation and hope in equal measure. Worse still, he’s gun shy. 

Carmelo Anthony talked about it back in December 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal‘s Chris Herring (subscription required): “Sometimes he turns down shots, and I be like, ‘What the (heck), man? You’re wide open; shoot the ball!’”

Somehow, through two NBA seasons, the Argentine has managed to become one of the league’s most proficient three-point shooters while maintaining a staunch pass-first mindset. Teams often left him on an island to instead bracket Carmelo, giving Prigioni plenty of open looks, but he hardly made a meal of them and passed up copious opportunities. 

Fisher knows a thing or two about hitting big-time shots, and he can persuade Prigioni that sometimes you have to think “shoot first” if you’re open. The triangle will require trust in the system to produce high-quality looks, and Prigioni proved proficient at that when he pulled the trigger. Of his 191 field-goal attempts, 140 came on three-pointers, and only Kyle Korver hit them at a higher percentage.

But Prigioni only attempted 3.9 per 36 minutes last season, via Basketball-Reference. Calderon’s per-36 average of 6.2 three-point attempts will give his teammate something to shoot for. 

 

Mold Larkin into a Consistent Contributor

Larkin, who will be 22 when the season begins, stands just 5’11″ with 176 pounds on his frame. Fisher measured only 6’1″, proving that small guards can excel in the triangle and at the highest level of NBA competition. Larkin can meditate on that as he attempts to forge an NBA career from his wealth of potential. 

He showed his ability to dominate inferior competition over four games in the D-League, averaging 15.3 points (on 47 percent shooting and 57 percent from three-point range), 8.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds over 35.8 minutes per game.

He also showed solid per-36 stats as an NBA reserve in 2013-14, via Basketball-Reference, but inefficient shooting (38 percent from the field) and too many turnovers (2.9 per 36) helped limit him to 10.2 minutes per game over 48 tilts with the Mavericks.

Fisher will have to harness all the versatility and skill Larkin has to offer, while also shaping the game of a point guard with a little more than half a season of experience. 

As Aldridge put it:

For a young point guard like Shane Larkin, who’s used to defaulting into screen-and-roll action with a big when the shot clock is winding down (instead of moving the ball and cutting through), the triangle is such a different animal. You must learn quickly that it’s not your pass, but the next one, that might lead to a basket.

Based on the summer league results, Larkin will undergo a lengthy learning process. Expect plenty of “rookie moments” like these:

As the young guard irons out the foolish turnovers and ill-advised shots, among other things, the Knicks could possibly have a slightly smaller, much younger version of D-Fish in the making.

And Larkin will have a supremely qualified tutor to learn from. In the terms of ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk: “Even though he is coaching for the first time in his career, Fisher brings a wealth of championship experience, toughness and leadership.” 

Add that coaching to his team’s increasing grasp on the triangle, and the Knicks could look back fondly on the decision not to send Larkin to Sacramento.

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Jose Calderon believes he can help Carmelo Anthony in N.Y.

New York Knicks new point guard Jose Calderon, who was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, hopes he can play alongside Carmelo Anthony. Calderon believes he can make life better for Anthony, who will test free agency next month. “He’s one of the best players in our league and I’d love to play with him,” Calderon said Friday, via NBA.com. “I think I could help him to just take a lot of pressure out of him, just give him the ball when he’s ready for it.” Calderon, 32, has averaged 10.2 points and 6.8 assists in nine seasons while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. He hopes the Knicks’ leading scorer re-signs with the team. “I think he’s a great player, one of the best. I’d love to play with him,” Calderon said. “He could be a big part of this for sure, there’s no question about that. Anything I can do 

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Andrew Wiggins’ Big Hops Can’t Help Him with a Jump Rope

Andrew Wiggins may be one of the most athletic players in the 2014 NBA draft, but there are still some activities that he struggles with.

On the day before the draft, Wiggins attempted to jump rope at an NBA Cares event in New York. The kids around him didn’t have much trouble with the jump ropes, but the 6’8″ prospect had a trouble getting into a rhythm. 

Luckily, Wiggins can shoot a basketball better than he can jump rope.

[KUsports.com, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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5 proven NBA draft prospects who could help right away

Looking for a ready-made NBA player? The college ranks had some good ones this year.

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Ohio State Basketball: Will Buckeyes Help Big Ten Be Nation’s Best Conference?

The Big Ten has been a bridesmaid instead of a bride in the college basketball world recently.

It is almost always one of the best conferences in the country during the regular season and regularly sends teams to the Final Four, but the last national championship for the league came from Michigan State in 2000.

Ohio State has certainly been a part of this trend, with multiple trips to the Final Four, multiple No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, a loss in the national championship and a heartbreaking loss to underdog Wichita State in the Elite Eight over the course of the past 10 years.

The question is, can the Buckeyes help the Big Ten establish itself as the nation’s best conference during the 2014-15 campaign?

Regardless of what too-early preseason polls say, the thought here is that Ohio State is much better than it was last year, even if it did lose Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross. One reason why is that Thad Matta brought in a loaded recruiting class, which Jerry Meyer of 247Sports commented on, via Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors:

It’s funny, some people across the country are quick to doubt Thad and his ability to recruit. Yet, he typically brings in some great classes. 

Ohio State is one of the top programs in the country. The stability and the consistency they have there has been impressive. Going into every year, I assume they could be a Final Four contender. Maybe they need a little bit of a punch here or a spark there as far talent infusion to be a team you think can win a national championship.

With Matta at the helm, the Buckeyes will bring the typically stout defense they always do, even if it falls off a bit without Craft. It is the potential offense that should have fans excited.

D’Angelo Russell will lead the attack from the perimeter with the versatility to play either point guard or shooting guard. He has a lethal three-point shot, an explosive first step off the bounce and the basketball IQ to find open teammates when the defense collapses.

Shannon Scott returns with his speed and gradually improving jumper, and the absence of Craft means he gets to move to his natural point guard position full time.

Sam Thompson and Marc Loving also return, and if Thompson’s improvement over the course of last year is any indication, he will be one of Ohio State’s best offensive weapons. Loving should also take a jump from his freshman to sophomore campaign, and his smooth stroke from distance should open up the floor for some of his teammates to attack off the dribble.

It won’t just be the Amir Williams show down low either, as Matta landed Temple transfer Anthony Lee. Lee is a legitimate double-double guy who will give the Buckeyes their best low-post presence on both ends of the floor and on the glass since Jared Sullinger left.

Throw in a bench that consists of the sharp-shooting Kameron Williams, the strong Jae’Sean Tate and the explosive and versatile Keita Bates-Diop, and the scarlet and gray will have more depth this year as well.

This isn’t a national championship team, but it will go further than its early March Madness exit we saw last season against Dayton, which will certainly help the Big Ten’s national perception.

As for some of the other squads, Wisconsin is absolutely loaded. The Badgers were an impossibly deep Kentucky three-pointer away from reaching the national championship last season and return every major contributor except Ben Brust. With Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker, Wisconsin will not only be the Big Ten favorites but also one of the national title favorites.

Michigan State lost plenty of talent but still has the trio of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson. What’s more, Tom Izzo is still the head coach, and he can work magic with much less than that. Look for Dawson to make a leap and contend for Big Ten Player of the Year this season.

Then there is upstart Nebraska, which made the NCAA tournament last year for what seemed like the first time in 200 years. The Cornhuskers still have Terran Petteway, who is arguably the best pure scorer returning in the Big Ten, and should be even better this season than they were in 2013-14.

Michigan and Iowa will give the league some depth at the high end of the middle class as well.

Ultimately, the Big Ten needs to prove itself on the court.

Winning the Big Ten/ACC Challenge would be a good place to start, especially since the perception of the ACC will improve this year with the addition of Louisville to go along with Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina. The ACC used to dominate this event, but the Big Ten has flexed its muscles recently and hopes to do so again.

Of course, an impressive showing in the NCAA tournament for the Buckeyes and the rest of the teams on this list is a must. We are a championship-dominated sports society—that’s why fans of every single SEC team have been able to claim their college football superiority by riding the coattails of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Cam Newton. The Big Ten could thus really use a national title. 

Wisconsin is its best chance to do just that. No pressure or anything, Badgers.

 

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Duke Basketball: Will Blue Devils Help ACC Be Nation’s Best Conference?

The additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and now Louisville were supposed to make the ACC a basketball superpower, but that’s not exactly what we saw last year.

There was not a single ACC team that made it to the Elite Eight, and Duke, which is always at the forefront of any ACC hoops news, fell flat on its face against Mercer in the round of 64.

It really made Mike Krzyzewski’s pre-tournament comments to reporters look somewhat regrettable:

I’ll get in trouble probably for saying it. Like the Atlantic 10, they’re a really good conference. I hear people saying there are six teams in there. Come on. I mean, they’re good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through. But really … our league should get more respect. The fact that Pitt comes in here and people are saying they have to do something, come on. Come on, man. I don’t get it. The Clemson team we played [Friday] night is a heck of a basketball team.

Clearly, the ACC has some ground to make up if it wants to be considered the best conference in the land. A good place to start is with Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.

Duke may have featured Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood last season, but it will be a better all-around club in 2014-15.

Jahlil Okafor will be an absolute monster to deal with for the rest of the league in his freshman season. He will contend for ACC Player of the Year honors because of his ability to carve out space on the blocks, grab every rebound he can get his hands on and swat away opposing challenges.

He is incredibly strong, brings polished post moves to the table and may just be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.

Fellow freshman Tyus Jones will run the show from the perimeter and is the perfect point guard for a team that is loaded with talent across the board. He is capable of scoring on his own, but will be more than willing to serve as a floor general who dishes out assists left and right.

Another freshman, Justise Winslow, is arguably the most important incoming player in terms of correcting what went wrong last year.

He is an absolute defensive force who can guard anything from a point guard to a power forward thanks to his incredible wingspan, lateral quickness and vertical leap. He will also help rebound and can score from the outside or off the dribble.

Returnees Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon vastly improved by ACC play last year once they settled into their roles.

Sulaimon will be playing off the ball more often this year with Jones, but he is a knockdown three-point shooter who will thrive off open looks from Jones’ dishes and double-teams on Okafor.

Jefferson will also have more room to operate on the block across from Okafor. If nothing else, Okafor and Jefferson make up an incredible rebounding tandem that should help improve that weakness from last year.

Guys like Quinn Cook, Marshall Plumlee, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye and Grayson Allen give Mike Krzyzewski a deeper bench this year across every position, mixing big-game experience with raw talent.

When Duke needs a spark on the offensive, end it can go to Allen. When it needs help on the boards, it can go to Plumlee. When it needs a steadying hand, it can turn to Cook.

The Blue Devils will be one of the best teams in the country this season, but the ACC needs more than just that.

North Carolina lost James Michael McAdoo, but Marcus Paige gives it arguably the best point guard in the country. Throw in a deeper roster that features Theo Pinson, Joel Berry, Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto, and the Tobacco Road rivalry will be must-see basketball.

Elsewhere, Louisville didn’t come to the ACC just to play third banana to the power couple of UNC and Duke.

Yes, the Cardinals lost Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, but Montrezl Harrell shocked the world by announcing his return. We are talking about an NBA talent who will serve as a double-double threat every night and grace highlight reels with his incredible dunks and blocks.

Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear and Terry Rozier give Rick Pitino some depth to work with as well.

Virginia will also contend for another ACC crown, even without Joe Harris. Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill form an impressive trio, and Mike Tobey and London Perrantes could turn into special contributors also.

Throw in the Cavaliers’ suffocating defense and steady control of the game, and they will certainly return to the Big Dance in 2014-15.

Syracuse lost a ton of talent, but Jim Boeheim will have the Orange competing behind his lockdown 2-3 zone. Pittsburgh and North Carolina State could give the league some depth.

It’s hard to find a better league than the ACC at the top with the powerful foursome of Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse. That group represents decades of college basketball tradition, legendary coaches, intimidating venues and elite players that will represent the conference proudly this season.

The ACC doesn’t quite have the depth that some of the other conferences do at this point, but if we see multiple ACC teams in the Final Four, that really won’t matter in terms of public perception.

 

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Dragic, Bledsoe help Suns hold off Wizards

WASHINGTON — After letting a 25-point lead dwindle to three, Suns guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe got back to business Wednesday night, combining to finish with 48 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds, helping Phoenix beat the Washington Wizards 99-93 for its fifth consecutive victory.

The Suns moved into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Both clubs are 43-29 with 10 games remaining.

The Suns have won seven of their last eight, coinciding with Bledsoe’s return to the starting lineup after missing 2 months because of knee surgery. He had 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Dragic wound up with 25 points, six assists and seven rebounds.

John Wall led Washington with 29 points and six assists.

The Wizards, sixth in the Eastern Conference, lost for the fourth time in five games.

Phoenix led by as much as 75-50 in the third quarter, but Washington kept chipping away at that, getting as close as 83-79 on Wall’s three-point pl

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Can the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Veterans Help Push the Team over the Top?

The Oklahoma City Thunder may have star power, but their NBA Finals hopes could rest on the shoulders of their veterans.

A reasonable person can argue that the Thunder are a bit top heavy. Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook…and then what? Who is the Thunder’s fourth-best player?

Is it Reggie Jackson? Thabo Sefolosha? Caron Butler? Or is OKC‘s fourth-best more of a concept than an individual?

The Thunder rely so much on their veterans. That’s a mindset Scott Brooks has set up and hasn’t let go of in his time as Oklahoma City coach. 

He loves himself some Derek Fisher. He’ll support Kendrick Perkins forever. And maybe those are the types who have to step up for the Thunder to win their first championship since moving to Oklahoma. Maybe, for OKC to win it all, the Nick Collisons of the world just need to play effectively for 16 postseason wins.

 

Health

When part of your championship hopes rest on the shoulders of older guys, you better hope you can keep them healthy.

That’s part of why the San Antonio Spurs are so brilliant. It’s not just about their roster composition; it’s how they manage their players.

Gregg Popovich will sit Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan when they’re healthy. He doesn’t care about doing it for nationally televised games, just whenever works best for his team. And the Spurs are almost always healthy heading into the postseason.

That can’t be a coincidence. It has to be more than chance that the best coach in the NBA implements a strategy to avoid injuries, and it works seemingly every year. That’s just knowing how to manage health.

Now, though, the Thunder aren’t fully healthy, and the injuries extend beyond the realm of Russell Westbrook.

Perkins hasn’t played since Feb. 20 because of a groin injury, and there’s a chance he doesn’t return for the rest of the regular season. Thabo Sefolosha, who has been out with a calf injury, hasn’t stepped on a court since Feb. 28.

Those may seem like menial players, but they’re integral in their own ways. They’re the veterans, the glue guys, the ones who Brooks insists on playing even if they don’t always help as much as he thinks.

There’s a reason the Thunder have allowed 1.3 more points per 100 possessions since the Sefolosha injury. He makes a difference on the wing, a bigger one than Jeremy Lamb and an off-the-ball Jackson if only because of his rotations and consistency. 

The Thunder, who are 9-7 over their past 16 games, may just be in a slump. It could just be an end-of-season lag, considering there hasn’t been a difference in the defense schematically. But the absence of Sefolosha is hurting them, and they should be anxiously awaiting his return.

 

Defense

Defense is so much about familiarity.

That’s one of the reasons the Memphis Grizzlies are consistently one of the toughest defensive teams in the NBA. They communicate, they have the personnel, but they also have the chemistry.

If you can have a couple of bigs who know how to defend with a key wing or guard, everything just seems a little bit easier, slightly more intuitive. And when those guys have played together for years, there’s an almost telepathic sense of where to be on the court.

Memphis has Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the big men who always know exactly where each other are at all times. It has Mike Conley, Tony Allen and the rest of the Grit n’ Grind crew. And it feels like all those guys have been together since Tennessee was boasting the popularity of Andrew Jackson and not “Ga-ZBo.”

The Thunder actually aren’t all that different. One of the reasons the OKC defense has gotten so much better over the past few years is familiarity alone.

Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Collison, Fisher, Perkins and Sefolosha all know each other so well at this point. The rotations make sense. They look better than they have in any other season.

Sure, Durant has improved with age. Ibaka has stepped up his game to such a point this year, that you could argue he’s one of the most improved defensive players in the NBA. That is, amongst those who believe it’s harder to go from good to great than from average to good.

Once the Thunder get Perkins and Sefolosha back, the familiarity starts to return a bit. That’s a way to find some sort of tangible value in a veteran vs. a rookie. Familiarity can be its own form of leadership, and the Thunder, amongst other teams, are helping prove that.

 

Spacing the Floor

The corner three isn’t just a good shot because it’s 1’9″ shorter than one from above the break. It also signifies something more.

A corner three is a catch-and-shoot attempt. It’s almost always an assisted shot, one that teams get either in transition, on a drive-and-kick or on a swing around the perimeter.

It signifies proper scheme and execution with the ability to space the floor. And if you take and make a bunch of corner threes, you probably have an above-average offense.

The Thunder are actually an exception to all of this.

Oklahoma City doesn’t take a bunch of corner threes, and it doesn’t make many, either.

In the past, Sefolosha has been the camped-out-in-the-corner shooter. But he hasn’t been as effective in that role this year, though he was massively improving before he got hurt.

That’s part of why OKC had to bring in Caron Butler, who has sunk 42 percent of his threes from the corners over the past two seasons. It’s a spacing issue, one that has to be remedied before the end of the postseason. 

So many teams employ these aggressive, heavy-trapping schemes on defense, and one of the ways to beat that sort of strategy is by getting the ball to the corners for the 22′ three.

The Thunder have attempted just the 15th-most corner threes (subscription required) in the NBA. And they’re making only 34 percent of them, third-to-last in the league.

If Butler, along with a healthy Sefolosha, can provide some help with spacing in the corners, that’s only going to assist the Thunder in spreading the floor during the playoffs. And on a night when Durant may not be hitting all his shots and Westbrook can’t play every minute (considering he may still have playing-time restrictions in the playoffs), OKC could use that extra way to get offense.

 

Too Many Minutes?

It’s the question that so many Thunder fans have wondered over the past few years: Does Scott Brooks commit to his veterans too much?

No one’s saying that about Sefolosha or Collison. And Butler hasn’t been a member of the Thunder nearly long enough to invoke any sort of playing-time narrative. Nope, in the end, it all comes down to Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins.

That’s “in the end” of the argument and in the end of games, as well. There’s so much Perkins and Fisher. Too much Perkins and Fisher.

Brooks has always shown a great propensity to overplay his vets, even after benching Perk for a short period in a game against the Miami Heat earlier this season.

It’s not just about playing time. It’s about crunch-time minutes. And Brooks is feeding Fisher fourth-quarter burn like no other.

Fisher is playing 7.6 minutes per fourth quarter on the season and has played in the final period in all but six of his games played. That’s more playing time than he averages in any other quarter. He’s a legitimate closer. 

So if Brooks is going to let Fisher (and Perkins, on occasion) close games and help to decide the outcomes of Thunder playoff matchups, then there’s a problem there.

Reggie Jackson gives OKC a better chance. Nick Collison or Steven Adams do, as well. It’s about movement, athleticism, defense, decision making. Pretty much everything.

We think of Fisher as the veteran leader, but how often does he chuck up a three that makes us cringe? We label Perkins as the same, but his inability to move laterally makes it generally impossible for him to defend any play that isn’t directly around the paint.

Those guys have skills, which make them deserving of some burn, but at some point, they become overexposed. And that’s the issue with the Thunder’s vets. They can play a role, but sometimes, that role is too prominent.

Can Fisher heavily contribute to a playoff team for the amount of minutes Brooks expects? Can Perkins? And it’s not like the Thunder coach is much of an adjuster in the postseason.

If the Thunder’s elite players take over, clearly this team is good enough to win a championship. But if Brooks runs Fisher and Perkins even more in the postseason, then OKC may get in its own way too much to win the whole thing.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

*All statistics current as of March 27 and from basketball-reference.com and NBA.com, unless otherwise noted. 

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