Confessions of a Crap Artist: Another Weekly Roundtable
USA Today Sports
These weekly roundtables have quickly become a part of our regular routines and we have every intention of extending them through the rest of the regular season. We hope you’re enjoying them as much as we are.
This week we’re joined by special guest star Alex Wong, known in certain circles of the internet as Steven LeBron. Alex is a gentleman and a scholar, who also happens to be on the verge of becoming a published author — you can pre-order a copy of his new book here. It’s a honor to get to ramble alongside him and if you’re not already familiar with him and his work, I hope this is a stirring introduction.
Editor’s Note: Cameron Purn (@KeeperOTCourt) is the author of this week’s questions.
1. The Timberwolves are 0-10 in games decided by four points or less. What’s really going on here, if anything?
Alex Wong (@steven_lebron): One of the most frustrating teams to watch this season. While you realize the limitations of the roster (their lack of depth, inconsistency on defense), the individual talent makes it feel like they should be a better team. The 0-10 record in games decided by four points or less seems to suggest a specific problem late in close games, but I think it’s just a reflection of the ceiling of the team. Aside from any specific late game issues, I’d be more concern in games where they’ve been unable to hold leads in the fourth quarter and execute down the stretch. The problem isn’t just the last few possessions of the game. The guy below me loves pizza.
Patrick Redford (@patrickredford): Execution, probably. I am totally projecting here, but there are clear and demonstrable locker room issues, and that’s probably oozing onto the court in the form of chemistry issues.
Zachary Bennett: (@ZacharyBD): Oh all of the things I could say….. The Wolves are running out of excuses, really, after burning them after each loss — hoping they don’t happen again. The stat is deceptive because they’ve come from behind in a lot of those games. It’s a combination of late game execution, mixed in with some issues with chemistry. Feels like Rick Adelman doesn’t have control of his locker room, or isn’t – at least – pointing them in the right direction, anyway.
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): Dumb luck, mostly. Sure, the execution isn’t 100% there, but I’m not about making any Wolves issue more than it is. They are a really good team who have had a really bad hand dealt to them, I confidently think they are a playoff team.
Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla): A combination of poor execution and bad luck. Minnesota lost the nail-biter against Dallas the day before New Year’s Eve, for example, because of a pretty blatant missed call, two late three-pointers by Shawn Marion, and some inexplicable free throws by Sam Dalembert. Of course, the Wolves would have won had they made their shots, but still. They aren’t good enough defensively to win games when they aren’t hitting their shots, and unfortunately for them, they haven’t hit their shots in close games.
Kevin Ferrigan (@NBACouchside): It might just be bad luck, but with a 0-10 record in close games, I’m inclined to think, just from a Bayesian perspective, there is almost certainly more to it than simple bad luck. It probably has much to do with the fact that the Wolves have the worst rim protection in the league between Pekovic and Love (seriously, go check out their at the rim SportsVu numbers, they are sooooo bad) so they can’t consistently get stops and on the flip side, their offense can stagnate in the halfcourt in crunch time because Ricky Rubio can’t and won’t shoot.
Rich Kraetsch (@richkraetsch): I’ve seen a few of these 10 losses and it is a combo of bad luck but I tend to agree with Kevin on a lot of his points, they don’t get stops and when their offense gets in a half court situation (as is prone to happening in close/late game situations) there’s spacing issues and a general lack of offensive creativity.
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): My man Mr. Patty has this one right. This one has “progression to the mean” written all over it. Execution is part of it, but what they be this close in games if they were flat out unable to execute? I’m assuming the “average” team finishes around .500, and I’d be shocked if from this point forward, they weren’t right in that neighborhood.
Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): I haven’t watched all of the losses but the close ones I have seen (about half) have come down to essentially a coin flip play (loose ball, turnover) or a blown call (OOH, ED MALLOY). The questions about the lack of chemistry, bad coaching, Ricky Rubio struggles are partly true but if the Wolves are a less crappy 4-6 or even 3-7 in these games, none of those problems would make the light of day. It doesn’t mean the media is wrong; it’s just reminding us how much winning cures anything and everything.
2. Damian Lillard is currently shooting 5.5 percentage better than Stephen Curry from three-point range. Are the two worth comparing, or is Curry far ahead of him as a player?
Wong: Curry’s never had a season where he’s shot below even 43% from three until this season, so I’m sure things will eventually bear out. At this point, you have to go with Curry as the better player. I wonder, with Portland’s success, when everyone will start dissecting Lillard’s game to the point of overkill, a sort of rise to stardom, tear him down, then build him back up narrative that seems to happen with a lot of players. I think it’s called the Russell Westbrook trajectory.
Redford: They’re definitely worth comparing, in the sense that they are both young point guards with connections to Oakland. I think Curry is a better player due to his passing skills and ability to manufacture tiny pockets of space, but Lillard is sort of a midpoint between Curry and Monta Ellis.
Bennett: I feel this may be an apples and oranges question. Curry feels like a more rounded point guard whereas Lillard is more of a scorer. Should be interesting to see if Lillard develops a more rounded game as his career goes on. I feel he’ll end up a lot like fellow Trail Blazer, Mo Williams, and becoming a scoring threat off the bench if he’s unable to become more of a ‘pure point guard’.
Patty: I think that’s a great stat to defend against the “Damian Lillard is overrated crowd.” I’m not sure Lillard will be an All-Star this season, but I have no problem with him getting in. As for Curry comparisons, Dame did break the record for most threes in a season by a rookie. He will have to keep shooting it well, but if he makes long balls at this rate for another year and a half I’m more than confident he will be comparable.
Karalla: That’s quite the stat. It’s early in Lillard’s career to be comparing him to any player, considering we’ve seen him for something like 100 games. If his three-point game stays consistent, he and LaMarcus Aldridge will be a lot of fun to watch for a very long time. I agree that right now he fits more in the mold of a “scorer” than does Curry, who has become an excellent facilitator. (Playing with a shooter as lights-out as Klay Thompson certainly helps that perception, as well.)
Ferrigan: It’s too early for me to put Dame in Steph’s category as a shooter, just because Steph’s such an outlier, that I’d want to see Lillard continue to do this sort of thing for a longer period of time before I crowned him as the league’s best shooter. Dame’s stroke is really pretty, though. In terms of overall impact, Steph’s better, but Dame is further along at this point in his career than Curry was, so maybe he’s got a higher ceiling.
Kraetsch: Interesting, I wouldn’t have thought that just by watching the two players but it makes sense Damian is a hell of a player and anyone in the “he’s overrated” camp needs to get malaria (from the mosquitoes… because they are camping…. at the…okay). With that said, I still think Curry is way ahead of him just because we’ve seen Steph do it for a few years now, he’s a career 43.7% from three whereas Lillard is still only 39.5%. If Lillard does this again next year, okay, let’s start talking but for now, Steph is still a class ahead of him.
Soppe: If we are talking three-point contest, I’d put these two right next to each other. But as far as NBA talent level is concerned, I’ve still got Curry a step ahead. Curry’s quick release cannot be matched, allowing him to create his own space. I also trust Curry as a point guard/offensive orchestrator a shade more than Lillard, but the “who will have a better career” question might be determined on the defensive end. It’s perfectly legal to get in a defensive stance and make a stop. All of that being said, if I’m starting a team around a point guard today, it’s Lillard over Curry (durability and athleticism are a soft spot for me).
Liu: Worth comparing but not a better player. Homerism time! But really, Stephen Curry is probably a better player at this point in his career, and for the foreseeable future. Lillard is shooting better but isn’t necessarily a better shooter or creator. For all of Lillard’s athleticism, he’s shooting worse in two-point land and attempting a career-high in threes. While both are average defenders at best, Curry has shown more, to this point, to actually work around pick-and-rolls.
3. Stephen Curry and David Lee are generally considered to be poor defenders (especially Lee). Yet, the Warriors currently boast the league’s 3rd best defensive rating. Is public conception wrong regarding their individual abilities, or must we merely look to the execution of their teammates?
Wong: Mark Jackson is an above average coach, the Warriors are a stout defensive team based on the metrics; all of this is very strange. For all the criticism that’s been thrown at Lee and to a lesser extent Curry, when Bogut and Iguodala are out there, this is a competent five-man squad on the defensive end.
Redford: I think we’re all wrong on them, to a certain degree. Credit has to be due to the scheme for putting Curry in ideal positions, but he has quick hands if nothing else. Both Lee and Curry are small for their positions and the root of their problems, however big they are, is in mere physical deficiency.
Bennett: The Warriors play within a system and aren’t dependent on 1-on-1 defending. So the public conception is blown out of proportion?
Patty: A little of both. Curry is a better defender than people like to credit him, and while no one will mistake Lee of being Roy Hibbert he can be solid when left to just his man. They have the talented help defenders in Iggy and Bogut, and because of that the scope of Curry and Lee’s focus is greatly narrowed. My question is can Iggy be considered a defensive anchor without being a center?
Karalla: The 2010-11 Mavs were a top-10 defensive team while throwing out Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and J.J. Barea for major minutes. It’s possible to field a quality defensive team even if only a couple plus defenders play big minutes.
Ferrigan: I think it’s mostly their teammates, but I also think they are both killed a little too much for their defense. Steph is labeled a bad defender almost viscerally because he’s skinny and seems like he’d be really bad on defense. He’s not a plus by any means, but he’s also not terrible. He grabs plenty of steals and generally does an okay job of funneling guys to the right spots. Lee is terrible at help defense, but much like Carlos Boozer, he is able to mitigate some of the damage by being a great rebounder and a decent one on one defender.
Kraetsch: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think the public focuses in on the individual defensive statistics but forgets that this is basketball and team concepts mean a lot more than an individual. Sure, David Lee isn’t a great one-on-one guy but he fits their defensive system well, rotates just fine and never does something that makes to groan ala Andrea Bargnani. Ditto for Curry, not a great one-on-one guy, but it really doesn’t mean, I mean look at that defensive efficiency, clearly it doesn’t matter.
Soppe: I’ve got a theory here. Defensive efficiency is based on points per possession. The Warriors play at a fast pace, thus forcing opponents to stop them or increase their offensive tempo to an unreasonable level (neither of which is easy to do). That’s right, it’s the “a great offense is a good defense” argument. Great defenses rely on making offenses uncomfortable, and while this isn’t the textbook way of doing it, the same goal is accomplished.
Liu: Because no one outside of Warriors fans and die-hard hoops watchers know about Andrew Bogut, it’s a shock anytime someone points out the Dubs defensive efficiency. Before the season, it wouldn’t shock some of us (and I know Jacob Frankel agrees) if the Warriors played better on defense than offense. David Lee is awful on defense and will remain that way but when he’s energized he at least gives some type of effort. Curry can at least stay in front of his man and isn’t a Monta Ellis-type. Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala and Bogut’s presence makes everything easier for everyone else. Klay Thompson can shift onto second options and Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green are both capable defenders (with the latter taking on Monta and Dirk in a game earlier this season).
4. Does Blake Griffin never foul on his posterizations (i.e. his recent one over Humphries) or is the league turning a blind eye?
Wong: I’ve never thought about his dunks that way, which means I am one of a million people just enamored by the athleticism on display. (Also, at what point do we retire the word posterization. I suppose gifterization sounds like a little tacky).
Redford: He totally fouls, but I think they’re cool enough that rules can be glossed over.
Bennett: I’m not going to say Griffin never fouls on these rim-rockers, but, the league certainly isn’t looking to call a foul on him. Maybe we see this change, maybe we don’t. Big explosive dunks sell tickets, and also, provide the culprit with endorsement deals — pretty good thing, for both of them, right now.
Patty: I think it gets a cold shoulder much in the way travels are ignored. If every offensive foul was called, the game would be slowed down to difficult to watch levels.
Karalla: The league is definitely turning a blind eye, because dunks make the highlight reels and for some reasons fans can’t get enough of them. Griffin has literally pushed off defenders’ skulls for leverage on his way to the hoop, and no one blows a whistle. I guess it’s a necessary evil in today’s NBA. I don’t mind it, though, because it only adds fuel to the “LA is an incredibly villainous team” fire that rages within my soul.
Ferrigan: I’m in favor of less fouls being called, both on offense and on defense, so I’m not going to make a big push for Blake to be getting called on these. The NBA would do very well to go to a more Euroleague interpretation on fouls, under which much more contact is permitted. It allows for a game that flows much more freely. It’s also one big reason the “Euros are soft” narrative is so stupid.
Kraetsch: Yeah, he does but who cares? He flies, it makes a loud noise, the crowd goes insane and the NBA shows up on NewsFeeds and highlight shows everywhere. They turn a blind eye but honestly, imagine how pissed you’d be if a guy from your team threw down one of these dunks and it was waived off for a charge.
Soppe: Maybe, maybe not. Does LeBron travel a lot? Did Jordan push off on occasion? Like everyone is saying, there is no downside to having him do his thing (except for the clowns who think they can stop him).
Liu: I say, let that man dunk. Or throw the ball into the basket. Whatever.
5. Which team is currently being the most impacted by player injuries?
Wong: Bulls. Also someone needs to turn off the injury setting to this season, it’s getting a little ridiculous. As for in-season injuries, Westbrook is pretty huge too just because three surgeries on his knee in such a short period time is cause for concern even though he’s slated to be back after the All-Star break. The Thunder already lost a legitimate shot at returning to the Finals last year because of an injured Westbrook, and it would just suck as a basketball fan if this team wasn’t fully healthy come playoff time just to see how far they can go again.
Redford: If Carl Landry was healthy, the Kings would be the prospective four seed.
Bennett: The Chicago Bulls.
Patty: I’d imagine the Suns outlook is vastly different without Eric Bledsoe, but the Chicago Bulls still seems correct despite being a boring answer.
Karalla: I’m going to be a contrarian here and say the Lakers. Against Dallas the other night, Wes Johnson played something like 35 minutes. LA needs Kobe. LA needs Nash. Instead, it has Swaggy P.
Ferrigan: It’s undoubtedly my Chicago Bulls. They lost Rose and as a result, they made the decision to trade Luol Deng for what amount to scraps. Now they stink, despite trying really hard.
Kraetsch: C’mon, one team went from a potential 2-3 seed to a team in tank mode as a result of a few injuries, it’s the Chicago Bulls. A dark horse here is the Oklahoma City Thunder who I think would be a runaway best team in the league and NBA Finals favorites if not for the rinky knees of Russell Westbrook.
Soppe: Bulls … but if this is like when Tiger Woods was at his peak and we are being asked who is next in line, I’ll say the Hawks. Al Horford gave them an elite front line and made them the third best team in the East. Without him, there’s a chance they are still the three seed, but they are much more Toronto Raptors than Indiana Pacers.
Liu: Every single basketball team. It sure feels that way, doesn’t it? To answer the question, there’s probably two ways to answer this: most impacted in terms of wins and losses, and the other most impacted in terms of overall goals. The Chicago Bulls weren’t going to beat the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat in seven games with or without Derrick Rose (he looked awful coming back) but were a viable 3-seed before trading their franchise stalwart, Luol Deng. As for the overall goal, it’s got to be the Oklahoma City Thunder. The best team in the Western Conference and the best player outside of All-Galaxy LeBron James, the Thunder had serious championship aspirations. But with Westbrook’s third knee operation, we have no idea if he’ll ever be the same. Losing Rose was bad for the Bulls. But losing essentially their own Rose, the Thunder could be looking at another disappointing offseason.