Rookie Update: Trae Young’s game management

(photo cred: SB Nation)

A couple days ago, Trae Young and his Atlanta Hawks played the Miami Heat and came out victorious. While a win over a well-coached Heat team with a winning culture is certainly impressive, the most impressive feat was Young’s ability to make good decisions with the ball.

15 assists later, we see why Young was such a highly touted prospect.

Lucky for you, I am here to take you through this game, as well as others. Read on and find out exactly why Young has had a promising start to his career. Take a peek into his future and see how Young has adapted to the NBA game, and proving why scouts may be wrong about his game management skills.

Flashback: Where did we have Trae Young ranked?

Young was our number four prospect overall. His player profile highlighted some of the usual strengths for Young: NBA Range, extreme handle, excellent vision. It also profiled his weaknesses, such as his slight frame, shot selection, and inability to quarterback the game (or so we thought.)

During his initial NBA season, we expected Young to have some growing pains. He is going to take pull-up jumpers when he should pass instead, he is going to take contested shots among the trees, he is going to take 30 footers 9 seconds into the shot clock. Fine, okay.

Yet, what Young has shown so far is encouraging. With each game, his decision making has become better. While it may not always show in the turnover numbers, it shows in the eye test. Thankfully, there is plenty of game tape available.

Stick with me as I take you some early season progression of Trae Young’s game.

1. Pass this ball!

Earlier this year, against the Dallas Mavericks, Trae Young dazzled during the late stages of the game. Yet, he still made a crucial mistake when driving against forward Maxi Kleber.

Young beat Kleber off the dribble and darted towards the hoop, where rim-protector DeAndre Jordan was waiting. Seemingly, Young was scared by the prospect of DJ, and decided to cut back into Kleber in order to put his shot up. Consequentially, the shot was swatted.

Young missed a wide open Alex Len in the corner. Len has not been known to be a 3-point shooter, but check out his current 3-point numbers.

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm Lg Pos G 3P 3PA 3P%
2017-18 24 PHO NBA C 69 0.0 0.0 .333
2018-19 25 ATL NBA C 9 0.7 1.8 .375
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/6/2018.

Additionally, Len is taking half of his 3-pointers from the corner and hitting 37.5 percent of those attempts. What’s my point? Young should have kicked this ball to Len for a corner triple. Instead, he went back into the much taller defender and had his shot blocked. Check out the video below.

2. The right decision.

Bad decision by Young, correct? It seemed like he learned from this mistake, however. Look at what Young did against the Heat during the opening stages of their game. After beating Josh Richardson off the bounce, Young sees the monstrosity of Hassan Whiteside coming to protect the paint. So, what does he do?

This time, Young noticed that Kelly Olynyk was also coming over to be a shot blocker. Olynyk left his man, Omari Spellman, wide open. Young displayed his top-notch vision and slinged a gorgeous one-handed, left-handed pass to Spellman who drilled the triple.

The change in decision making here is noteworthy.  Will Young continue to make this good decision? No, not all the time. But his ability to recognize this shot-blocking threat and find the open shooter is nothing to be taken lightly. Simply put, not every starting NBA guard can make this read or deliver this pass. 

3. Using the body correctly

Guess what? Its Kleber time again! This time around, Young absolutely embarrassed Dennis Smith Jr with some nifty ball-handling (Sorry, DSJ!) Then, he takes on Kleber. Young is able to go strong into the chest of Kleber, and then bounce away from him. This gives him the space possible to put up a solid layup attempt, which goes in.

In the prior Young/Kleber clip, Young moved back into Kleber, but it did not create space. In fact, it eliminated space. Watch below and see exactly what I am talking about. This is what Young needs to do more of.

Young can finish around the rim, despite his small frame. He needs to pick and choose when to do so, however. Yet, the signs are showing that Young may be getting the hang of this.

4. Manipulating opposing big men

Out of all the Trae Young footage I have watched this year, this clip may be my favorite. And for good reason, too.

The Hawks run a horn set here, and the play is designed to free up either Spellman or Kent Bazemore for a 3-pointer. We know this because Len abandons his pick for Young and instead, runs crosscourt to set a screen for Bazemore. Bazemore (probably) has the option of going backdoor for a lob or coming around the pick to get a catch-and-shoot trey. He is well defended and the option for a pass is not there.

Young’s next read is to be for Spellman who popped to the perimeter. Yet, Young is doubled off of the pick, and has no clear angle to Spellman. What he does next displays his high-level basketball IQ and a growing sense of patience.

Young’s first two options are blown up, so he maintains his dribble and takes Olynyk one on one. KO’s upright stance is not ideal for the Heat. What’s more, capable defender Josh Richardson gets turned around, and in that instant he loses Spellman who cuts hard towards the rim.

So, Young fakes a layup attempt to free up the space needed to dump a pass off to Spellman. Trae has minimal room to make this pass, but sneaks it in there regardless. Spellman gets an and-one. Watch the entire clip for two angles of this play.

This play shows you the eyes that reside in the back of Mr. Young’s head. His playmaking ability is much better that what we saw during his college days, as he has more court to operate with. NBA spacing has done wonders for Young already, and he will continue to take advantage of spacing as his game grows. His ability to force opposing bigs into troubling situations is truly impressive sometimes.

5. Turning down good shots

Uhhhh….who thought we would be criticizing Young for turning down 3-pointers during his rookie season? Not me.

During this play, Young collects his rebound from a miss and resets the offense. Eventually, he gets the ball in a pick and roll and has tons of space for an open trey ball. Before I show you the film, take a look at how much space he has for the 3-point shot.

young 3 spacing.PNG

For a guy with such shooting prowess, this needs to be a pull-up 3-point attempt. Needs. To. Be. NBA analytic nerds probably cursed aloud when they saw this poor decision making. Young would go on to make a running jumper, but it was an inefficient shot that will miss more times than it goes in.

6. Pushing the pace with the pass

At Oklahoma, Young had an absurdly high usage percentage. My guy held the ball for what seemed like forever. Scouts worried if this would carry over to the League. So far, it looks like Young has made some substantial changes to the way he approaches offense.

Specifically, Young has placed an emphasis on pushing the pace. Yet, he is not always doing this by flying down the court with the ball in his hands. Young is letting that thang fly, and finding wide open players for both fast break 3-pointers and dunks. Example one is below.

Young never puts this ball down after receiving it with one hand. Love the celebration as well. In this next example, Young shows that he still has to learn when it’s the best time to make this pass.

As the Heat score this bucket, keep your eyes on Trae. He never takes his eyes off of Taurean Prince. Young rips a full court pass to Prince and hopes TP can make something out of nothing. Miami already has defenders back and the play eventually results in a travel from Len.

This is still promising, though. Young clearly already has great chemistry with Prince. Not only does he let Prince operate with the ball on a ton of possessions without interfering, but he constantly looks for Prince during breakouts. If anything, it may be Prince that needs to be more alert! The clip below will demonstrate what I mean.

Wrap up

We are still way to early into Trae Young’s career, but he is surely proving the “bust” scouts wrong. Mile Bridges has some words to say to these people.

Want some more Twitter stuff? Yes, you do. We all do. This one comes courtesy of a fellow stats nerd. With all the early season rookie hype going to Luka Doncic (as well as Wendell Carter Jr, among others), we may have overlooked Young’s hot start to his career. His first few games compare pretty well to another NBA legend.

Hmmmm….Of course, to project Young to be the next Big O would be irresponsible. But, Young is quieting critics everywhere. His decision making is constantly improving. Sure, he has to continue to nail down when to shoot the ball and when to make the right pass. This will come, however, as Young has shown he is trending in the right direction here.

Get on the bandwagon now, people. There is still room.

@Mattesposito

11/4 Timberwolves @ Blazers Rapid Reactions

Final Score: Blazers: 111, Timberwolves: 81

In what was a gloomy night with General Soreness, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose out, the Wolves showed little life. Tonight’s Rapid Reactions will be a little different. The reactions will be mostly from the fans, getting their thoughts on the game. Let’s dive in!

My Thoughts:

Your Thoughts:

As you can tell, all is good in Wolves land. Sleep well Wolves nation.

And as always, ice up, you don’t want general soreness.

One way the Suns love to use DeAndre Ayton

(photo cred SB Nation)

Let’s catch up with DeAndre Ayton, shall we?

At ProCity Hoops, we had DeAndre Ayton ranked as our number 2 overall prospect, right behind that Luka guy who is already the best player on the Dallas Mavericks. When scouting Ayton, we dug deep and tried to find out what his strengths were beyond simply being a behemoth of a man.

Sure, Ayton is a physical freak who moves in ways 7-footers should not move. Oh, and he has decent touch and mobility. His passing was something, however, that was always underrated. Ayton possesses the vision to pass out of double teams, something he saw often in college.

Yet, the Phoenix Suns are using him in a different way. They are giving him the ball around the perimeter, then having him face the basket and make reads (see Horford, Al.) Instead, the Suns seem to be running an extraordinary amount of dribble handoffs (DHO) through Ayton. It has paid off; look at Ayton’s stats and assist numbers so far throughout the year. Below is his assist percentage.

Advanced Table
Season Tm Lg Pos G MP PER AST%
2018-19 PHO NBA C 8 253 22.5 17.7
Career NBA 8 253 22.5 17.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/4/2018.

Compare that assist percentage to other skilled big men who operate often from the DHO, such as Horford (20.5 percent), Joel Embiid (19.5 percent) and Anthony Davis (19.5 percent.

We listed Ayton as being a soft screener with poor technique in our scouting report. But, the dude is so freakin’ big that he can still be wildly effective. His IQ for the game and ability to make the right read gives Phoenix the confidence to have Ayton run DHOs. In fact, many times Ayton does not even dribble, turning this DHO into a simple HO. Regardless, let’s go through the various options Phoenix can score from using Ayton as the handoff-screener.

 

The Pull-Up

Having Devin Booker on your team must be nice.

Especially when you have a monster setting screens for you after a nice handoff. This is exactly what Ayton does for Booker on plenty of occasions and the two seem to have solid chemistry already.

On this play, Ayton pops between the elbow and the perimeter, catches a pass and then immediately looks to handoff to Booker. Here is the crazy part: Ayton never really sets a screen. The mere threat of him impeding the path of Dennis Smith Jr is enough for DSJ to slow up and let Booker get half a step on him.

Oh, and when Booker gets half a step on you…..

Watch these two go at it again, this time versus the defensively astute Golden State Warriors. Ayton hands off to Booker, then Ayton rolls to the rim, which is something he did not do in the previous clip.

When Ayton rolls, his combination of athleticism, wingspan and size demands that defenders must stick with him. We call this roll gravity. Despite 7-footer Damien Jones and 6’9″ forward-turned-center Kevon Looney being next to Ayton, Andre Iguodala feels the needs to stick with Ayton.

Iggy realized his mistake, but it was too late. Booker got just enough separation and popped for a beautiful 15 foot jumper. Swish. Watch below.

The Drive/The Cut

Eventually, teams will catch on to this set. They will recognize that a DHO/HO with Ayton and Booker will likely result in Booker looking for his pull-up. Considering Booker is a lethal shooter this makes sense.

Yet, this play can be used to free up driving space for the receivers of the handoff. In this next clip, also against Golden State, Ayton runs a rarely seen corner handoff with Isaiah Canaan.

Watch as Ayton sets the softest of screens against Curry. I’m not sure you can even call it a screen, but Ayton still disrupts the path of Curry, who is trying to stick with Canaan. Curry gets beat, and Draymond Green has to help.

Canaan could have (and should have) flipped a lob pass for Ayton, who was rolling to hoop unguarded. Uncharacteristically, Draymond underates Canaan’s scoring ability and lets him score a layup. All of this was made possible by Ayton’s massive frame and rollability.


Memphis looked like another team that may have wised up to this play. Here, the Grizzlies try and prevent Josh Jackson from taking a handoff from Ayton. Smartly, Jackson does a quick V-Cut and strides towards the hoop. Ayton slings a gorgeous one-handed pass to Jackson, which finds its way between two defenders. Jackson then scores a layup.

When teams try and prevent guards or wings from taking this handoffs, Ayton can beat them by making great reads like the one seen above. His passing ability and vision is both underrated and underappreciated, although not for long.

In this next video, the Toronto Raptors recognize that this play is to be a DHO from Ayton to one of Phoenix’s guards. So, the Raptors prevent both Booker and Canaan from receiving this handoff. In fact, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry, two plus defenders, do an excellent job at preventing this.

Yet, the shifty Devin Booker fakes out Lowry, cuts to the hoop and gets a nice read from Ayton for a layup. Ayton’s ability to hit a 17-foot jumper keeps Jonas Valanciunas far enough from the hoop that the rim is unprotected and Booker can take advantage of it. Expect more of this going forward.

What is Next to Come

Ayton has shown the skill to roll to the rim and throw down lobs. He wants to do this when coming out of these DHO and screens. At Arizona, Ayton did not always have the space to do this, however. This may be why this particular skill was not written about indepthly during all of the 2018 scouting reports. See for yourself below.

Ayton runs a DHO for current New York Knick Allonzo Trier. He rolls to the rim for a lob pass, but there is not enough spacing. UConn can keep a defender in the paint to prevent this passing from ever happening, and recover quickly enough if the ball is swung to the perimeter.

The pass comes to Ayton, but it was not the one he wanted. He has to dribble around two defenders and take a hook shot. It goes in, but the most efficient play would have been the lob pass.

Against the Warriors, we again see Ayton call for this roll pass. There is no one between him and the rim. Ryan Anderson gets the handoff, uses the screen and opts to take a contested long range two, arguably the worst shot in basketball. This pass must go to Ayton! I mean, look at this screenshot!

ayton roll.PNG

Watch the play for yourself. The Suns were lucky it worked out, but this shot should usually result in a miss. The right read needs to be done here.

Going forward, the Suns needs more of the play shown below. Booker and Ayton execute the DHO perfectly. Ayton rolls to the rim and takes a bounce pass between two defenders. He doesn’t field it cleanly, but Ayton recovers to simply shoot over the smaller help defender.

The (slight) Adjustment

The Suns need to find a way to consistently put three or four floor spacers on the court. Why? This will stretch the defense and give Ayton more room to roll during these DHOs. Think about (homer alert) the Boston Celtics and when they run Horford and a ballhander through screens/DHOs.

Take a peak at what the Cs do here. With Horford (screener), Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, they have four shooters on the court. In this set, Marcus Smart, the non-spacer, takes the handoff from Horford. All three of Irving, Rozier and Tatum flash to the perimeter, which draws their defenders out of the paint.

Smart drives hard to the hoop, beating his man. Ekpe Udoh is forced to abandon Horford and prevent Smart from getting an easy layup. Horford receives a lob from Smart which results in a slam.

This was an impressive set against a good Jazz defense. Do the Suns have enough shooters to mimic this lineup? Probably not. Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Booker are traditionally plus shooters, and T.J. Warren has added that to his game this year. Yet, Anderson has proved that his defensive miscues are not always worth the offensive spacing he provides.

The Suns should run out Booker, Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Warren and Ayton in small ball lineups. The trio of Booker, Warren and Bridges should draw defenders to the perimeter. The Suns seem hesitant to run Booker as their nominal point guard, despite him having the ability to do so.

Regardless, Phoenix cannot afford to stunt the growth of DeAndre Ayton or their other stars. Give the young guys some run, while also mixing veteran spacers into lineups with Ayton. This will give him the experience of running DHOs as either passer, lob-finisher, or popper.

11/2 Timberwolves @ Warriors Rapid Reactions

Final Score: Warriors: 116, Timberwolves: 99

Timberwolves:

  • Minnesota held with the Warriors for most of the game, but the Warriors made their typical fourth quarter run to put Minnesota away. However, the Timberwolves’ play up until the halfway mark in the fourth was encouraging.
  • Minnesota was not shy from the three-point line. The Wolves attempted 45 threes in the game, but they connected on just 13 of the tries. In contrast, the Warriors made just as many threes, but it took Golden State 11 less attempts.
  • Jimmy Butler was ice cold from three. After a great display of three-point shooting in the win over the Lakers on Monday, Butler was 0-8 from three tonight. Butler forced a number of shots throughout the game, especially in the fourth quarter when Minnesota needed a bucket.
  • The Timberwolves move the ball with Tyus Jones. The Wolves’ ball movement with and without Jones in the game is a completely different story. Jones recorded eight assists tonight, and when he was on the bench, the Wolves lost all ball movement.
  • The Timberwolves only turned the ball over five times, yet they still lost by double-digits. Against the Warriors, Minnesota needed to play a perfect game to come out with the victory, and in terms of turnovers, they did just that.

Warriors:

  • When Golden State gets DeMarcus Cousins healthy, this team will quite literally be unbeatable. Teams currently have a chance to play a perfect game to beat Golden State. However, when the Warriors add another all-star into their lineup, teams might as well not even show up to the arena.
  • Steph Curry makes basketball look so easy. Curry barely broke a sweat tonight, yet he managed 28 points on 11-24 shooting from the field. In what seemed like a “quiet” performance for Curry, games like this could help boost Curry into another MVP-type season.
  • Golden State dominated the glass. The Warriors controlled the boards on both sides of the ball, gathering 61 total rebounds, compared to Minnesota’s 39 rebounds. The Warriors kept Minnesota off the offensive glass, something the Timberwolves have been very good at this season.
  • No matter how much you like or dislike the Warriors, they are super fun to watch. The Warriors move the ball like no other team in the NBA. When the Warriors are having fun and flying the ball around the court, there isn’t quite anything that compares in terms of pure ball movement.

The Triumphant Journey of Derrick Rose

It all started in 2008, with a strike of good luck.

The Chicago Bulls won the draft lottery, which was a 1.7 percent chance of landing the first pick. With that, they selected none other than Chicago native Derrick Rose.

Rose came into the league ambitious and confident. He ended his rookie season with the Bull’s averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 assists per game after shooting 47.5% from the field.

Later that year, before playoffs, Rose injured his wrist. Wasn’t a big deal, he only missed a single game. After that, he managed to rack up 36 points in his playoffs debut against the Boston Celtics.

Rose was then named 2009 Rookie of the Year.

The next year’s season brought Rose more injuries. Nothing too devastating… yet. He injured his hip, which luckily didn’t cause him to miss any games. Then only about a month later, he injured his wrist. That caused him to miss four games, then he returned and finished out his sophomore season relatively healthy. Rose averaged 20.8 points and six assists per game.

The 2010-11 season begun with a healthy Rose who dropped 28 and 39 in the first two games of the season. Rose was playing like himself, and only improving as time went on. He ended up averaging 25 points and 7.7 assists, while shooting 44.5% percent from the field.

At 22 years old, Rose was named the league MVP. He became the youngest in NBA history to be awarded such an honor.

Then, the season that changed everything started.

The 2011-12 season brought Rose nothing but misfortune, and became a statement making season for years to come.

Rose began the season normal, however, he did hit a few road blocks with minor injuries here and there. He missed a few games ever so often, but was seeming to always manage to return to normal.

It was game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Bulls hosted the Philadelphia 76ers. Thirty-seven minutes into Rose’s playing time, he tore his ACL in his left knee. If you remember the game, it was an emotional one. Every player on the Bulls bench was concerned, shocked and feeling for Rose. There was a feeling of heaviness among the arena for the rest of the night. Chicago went on to win the game, but ended up losing the series 2-4 without the lead of Rose.

Rose sat out the entire season of 2012-13, recovering.

October 5th, 2013 was when Rose finally stepped foot on the hardwood again. He ended up dropping solid numbers in preseason. He started averaging around 16 points a game in the regular season.

Rose was hit with a stroke of bad luck yet again. He tore the meniscus in his right knee, while playing against the Portland Trailblazers on the road. It ended up being a season ending injury. Bulls fans and basketball fans in general all mourned for Rose’s unfortunate happening.

After recovering, the point guard hit the hardwood running to kick off the 2014-15 season. He was starting, playing solid minutes and averaging decent numbers. Rose then tore his meniscus AGAIN, same knee. It started to seem like this guy was cursed, and just couldn’t catch a break.

The rest of Rose’s career with the Bulls entailed a sexual assault case (which is still evolving), broken facial bones, rolled ankles, tendonitis and then BOOM, he’s traded.

Rose joined the New York Knicks for the 2016-17 season where he averaged 18 points a game, which was his highest PPG since 2012. In the latter half of that season, Rose tore his meniscus yet again, and was forced to sit out the final five games of the season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Rose for the 2017-18 season. During a game versus the Milwaukee Bucks, Rose was fouled hard and suffered an ankle injury that led to him miss a total of 32 games.

In March of that same year, the Minnesota Timberwolves sought out a deal to snag Rose.

He went on to play nine games with the Timberwolves before their season ended, and averaged a low 5.8 points.

Looking back, Rose has been through hell, which some things he may still be dealing with. He’s been injury ridden, which caused him to be tossed around to several teams, and has hit so many road blocks that it’s almost unbelievable that he’s still trying. Some may call it insanity.

However, it’s intriguing. The same point guard that was averaging 8.4 points last season just dropped a career-high 50 points on Halloween in the Timberwolves’ 128-125 win over the Utah Jazz. Several athletes took to twitter to send some praise Rose’s way. Some say he’s “revived” his career. Some are calling it a fluke. Who knows? It may be too early in the season to dub it a complete comeback. It’ll take time. There’s a whole season ahead of us.

In his eight games played thus far this year, he’s averaging 18.8 points and 5 turnovers.

10/29 Lakers @ Timberwolves Rapid Reactions

Timberwolves and Lakers

Final Score: Timberwolves: 124, Lakers: 120

Timberwolves:

  • It was a much better night for the Timberwolves after a putrid showing last Friday night against the Bucks. Minnesota’s offense was firing on all cylinders. The defense was a different story, but the offense was enough against the Lakers.
  • Butler was on fire in the four quarter. Butler paved the way for Minnesota in the fourth, including his ridiculous, clutch three to seal the win. Overall, Jimmy recorded 32 points on 12-20 shooting from the field, including 6-7 from three. While it’s clear the Wolves need to trade Butler, it would be nice if Butler continues to help Minnesota get wins until then.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns plays his most active game of the season. KAT put up 25 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Towns was active on both ends of the floor, which included Towns grabbing nine offensive rebounds.
  • I continue to not understand Derrick Rose. Unfortunately, Thibs still thinks Rose is the former MVP, so when Rose struggles, Thibs leaves him in the game. Rose shot 4-16 from the field tonight in 29 minutes. Rose continues to be an up-and-down player for the Wolves, but he continues to get heavy minutes.
  • The Timberwolves dominated points at the charity stripe. Minnesota recorded 26 points at the line, compared to Los Angeles’ 10. For the Lakers, it’s hard to win games with that big of a disparity at the free-throw line.

Lakers:

  • The Lakers continue to play fast, really fast. Coming into the night, the Lakers played with the fourth fastest pace in the league. Contrary to LeBron’s normal pace of play, the Lakers continue to run with the ball. If the Lakers can tighten up on defense, their offense can lead them to great heights.
  • JaVale McGee is turning into a valuable player for Los Angeles. McGee has been great at running the floor and protecting the paint this season, and that continued tonight. McGee put up 13 points and blocked three shots in tonight’s game. If McGee continues to do the small things to help the Lakers win, he will continue to see more and more minutes.
  • Lonzo Ball had a rough night. Ball was a team worst -11 tonight, and he shot 0-4 from three. Ball has improved this season, but his four points and one assist tonight was not one of his best games.
  • The Lakers can’t afford to drop too many more games in a row to start the season. Los Angeles is off to a 2-5 start to the season, and in a brutally tough Western Conference, there isn’t a lot of breathing room. The Lakers will look to get back on track against the Dallas Mavericks on Halloween night.

 

10/28 Wizards @ Clippers Rapid Reactions

Final Score: Wizards 104, Clippers 136

Washington Wizards:

What in the world is going on with this Wizards team?

  • Hey! The rebounding wasn’t an issue! You wan’t to know why? Because there practically weren’t any to grab! The Clippers shot a blistering 54% from the field and 55% from beyond the arc. Washington had one defensive lapse on top of another, and there was a lacksidasical effort all across the board tonight. This season (so far) was perfectly summed up in a John Wall mishandled ball in which he lost and then simply stood next to the grapple for the ball, watching his teammates wreslte to grab his own error.
  • Otto Porter has caught his share of criticism from head coach Scott Brooks throughout past games, and didn’t do much tonight to change his stance on Porter’s play. In thirty minutes, the forward made six shots on 33% shooting, along with a few boards and assists. The poor effort, along with the early exit of Markieff Morris, spelled early disaster for this team. HOWEVER, that does not excuse the accompanying white flag that came from the remaining starters in the game.
  • Although it is very early in the season, there seems to be the possibility of some possible locker-room dysfunction already. Accountability was an issue last season, and in a year where it has already gone not-so-according to plan, this could be an problem that tears a team apart. In what feels like a make-or-break year for the head coach, and even some players on the team, this is not a good look for what was figured to be a promising year for this group.

Play of the Game: This feels like a game not-so-deserving of one. In fact, I am incredibly tempted to put a “Not Play of the Game”. In a bad performance, usually there is still a bright spot, but today there isn’t a whole lot of positives surrounding this team currently.

 

Los Angeles Clippers:

  • This was a performance that should get Clippers fans excited for the outlook of their team. The feelings surrounding this franchise coming into the season were mixed, with some thinking this was a bridge season until the team could find its next star, and others intrigued by the possibilities and potential this cast presents. This performance, and especially the success of shooting from deep, shows the ability of this team even without a true “superstar”.
  • The Clippers got great production off the bench, especially from fan favorite Boban Marjanovic tonight. That bench stumped both the starting and reserve units of the Washington team this evening. Combined with a great defensive efforts from their starters, this is a recipe for the type of team LA will have to be if they want to be a serious threat in the West come late in the year.
  • A great point was brought up during the Clippers broadcast late in the third quarter- “This team doesn’t have a superstar caliber player, and that may not be the worst thing in the world”. Doc Rivers through these few games has shown tremendous coaching in the lineups and skill he has brought out of his players. This team will need to embody the old fashioned “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” style, and they have the potential to do so.

Play of the Game: With 2:40 left in the first quarter, Bradley Beal grabbed a rebound and attempted a layup to make it a one score game. Avery Bradley flew in to swat the ball away, setting the defensive tone early and keeping the Wizards behind.

10/28 Jazz @ Mavericks Rapid Reactions

Final Score: Jazz 113, Mavericks 104

Utah Jazz:

  • Georges Niang. Have you heard that name before? If not, remember it, because he’s been ballin’ for the Utah Jazz and will only be getting more minutes as the season progresses if he continues to play at the level that he is. Niang’s basketball IQ is high, as he makes great reads and takes good shots consistently. He finished the night with 13 points on 4-5 shooting in 13 minutes.
  • Early on Mavs players could not stay in front of Jazz players on defense. Utah had easy access to the basket in the first half, although in the latter part of the game Dallas did improve on that front.
  • Six consecutive double-doubles for Rudy Gobert to start the season. First time that’s been done for Utah since Carlos Boozer back in the day. Gobert finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.
  • The confusing season of Ricky Rubio continues. After posting 28 points and 12 assists in New Orleans, Rubio had just 6 points on 2-9 shooting. He did have 8 assists, however.
  • Grayson Allen has taken advantage of the minutes he’s received early on this season. He had the best +/- of any Jazz player with a +17 on a perfect 3/3 shooting night with 11 points. With all the pieces the Jazz have, it’ll be interesting to see how minutes are distributed to the rookie as we move along.

Dallas Mavericks:

  • The Jazz were cruising early on in this one but started to lose their way some in the 2nd quarter due partly to Dallas’ increased defense and advantage in the turnover margin. At halftime the Mavs forced 13 turnovers, but had nine of their own.
  • Dennis Smith Jr. is a legit young talent in this league. The Mavs building around Smith and Doncic is as good of a plan during a rebuild that you can have for a team. Smith caught fire in the 3rd quarter, scoring a total of 27 points on the night.
  • Smith had a good night, but also made some costly mistakes down the stretch. In a game which the Mavs remained in striking distance, Smith missed two layups as the Mavs were going on a run and committed a couple of late fouls. For Smith to take the next step he has to start sinking those layups and playing a full game of consistent basketball.
  • Overall tonight Dallas played well and gave Utah a good fight. This is the best Mavs team I think I’ve seen in a few years, and should play solid basketball moving forward.

Where does De’Aaron Fox rank among NBA point guards?

Most of the NBA’s best point guards did not have a significant spike in production from their rookie season to their second year in the league.

Go down the list — Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, etc. — and you’ll notice the typical progression involves a slight uptick in the major bulk stats of points and assists, and maybe a significant jump in shooting percentages. That could be attributed to the game slowing down for a second-year player who isn’t pressing as much as a rookie.

In that sense, what De’Aaron Fox is doing for the Sacramento Kings in the very early stages of the 2018-19 season is an exception to the rule — presuming that he is in fact on the road to becoming one of the NBA’s top players at his position.

As a rookie last season, Fox — the No. 5 pick in the draft out of Kentucky — averaged 11.6 points, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game, shooting 41.2 percent from the field.

Six games into Year 2, Fox is putting up 17.7 points, 7.0 assists and 1.3 steals while hitting 47.4 percent of his shots from the field.

If Fox keeps this up, the leap he will make between his first and second pro seasons would mimic that of Kemba Walker, the Charlotte Hornets’ two-time All-Star point guard. Walker averaged 12.1 points and 4.4 assists on 36 percent shooting as a rookie for a Charlotte team that posted a historically awful 7-59 record during a 66-game lockout-shortened season. In his second year, Walker upped his numbers to 17.7 points and 5.7 assists while shooting 42 percent. Charlotte was a little bit better than before, finishing 21-61.

The seemingly overnight improvement for Fox could be chalked up primarily to confidence. Not from Fox, who is utterly confident in his abilities, but rather from Kings coach Dave Joerger.

Going into his rookie year, Fox was described by Joerger as possibly having the highest basketball IQ on the team. However, Joerger tends to take it slow with his rookies. Fox began the season coming off the bench behind veteran point guard George Hill.

Fox eventually earned the full-time starting job (and Hill was eventually traded), but the Kings were a team that appeared unsure of its identity — only half-committed to its youth movement while still leaning on veterans like Zach Randolph and Vince Carter who are near the end of their respective careers.

This season, the Kings are all-in on the kids: Fox (20 years old), rookie forward Marvin Bagley III (19), shooting guard Buddy Hield (24), center Willie Cauley-Stein (25), forward Harry Giles (20), wing Justin Jackson (23), center Skal Labissiere (22) and guard Frank Mason III (24).

Carter was allowed to walk in free agency over the summer, and Randolph — the team’s leading scorer last season — has not played a single minute through the Kings’ first six games.

Fox has benefited from being handed the keys to the Kings from Day 1 of training camp as the starting point guard. He’s playing over 32 minutes per game in October, compared to last December when he played just 22 minutes per game.

Joerger gave Fox another ringing endorsement recently at the Kings’ Media Day:

“The best thing you can do for him is play fast and give him as much room as possible,” Joerger said Monday at the Kings practice facility during media day. “To play small and try to do that is best for De’Aaron. He’s our franchise guy. I think he is and I think everybody kind of agrees on that.”

On Friday, Fox and the Kings faced the Washington Wizards, meaning Fox went head-to-head with All-Star point guard John Wall.

Because they both played college ball at Kentucky, and because they’re two of the fastest men in the sport, Fox has often been compared to Wall. Which makes their 1-on-1 meetings something of a litmus test for Fox’s progress.

Fox faced Wall and the Wizards twice last season, and two times he was badly outplayed while the Kings lost convincingly.

On Friday, Fox led the Sacramento to a 116-112 victory while putting up 18 points and nine assists, shooting 7-for-14 (50 percent) from the field. Wall had 26 points, eight assists and three steals while making 9-for-20 (45 percent) from the field.

The good version of Fox and the still-learning version of Fox were both on display. The good was the baseline crossover and dunk he threw down in the first half, and when he scored or assisted on 15 straight points for the Kings in the fourth quarter. The bad was later in the fourth quarter when he took two ill-advised, rushed shots in the same possession that he missed badly when Sacramento was trying to protect a three-point lead.

Fox’s leadership also factored into the win over the Wizards. He was the one encouraging Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica to keep shooting even after he missed his first few attempts. Bjelica wound up being huge for the Kings with 24 points and six threes.

Between his individual stats, some standout performances against other good point guards, and the fact that the Kings are doing better than expected at 3-3 heading into a four-game Eastern Conference road trip that starts Monday in Miami, it’s worth asking …

Where does Fox rank among the NBA’s starting point guards right now?

I have him in the top 15:

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Russell Westbrook
  3. Chris Paul
  4. Kyrie Irving
  5. Kemba Walker
  6. Damian Lillard
  7. Ben Simmons
  8. John Wall
  9. Kyle Lowry
  10. Rajon Rondo
  11. Jrue Holiday
  12. De’Aaron Fox
  13. Mike Conley
  14. Reggie Jackson
  15. Goran Dragic

When the Kings beat Westbrook and the Thunder, Fox put up 22 points and 10 assists while shooting 58 percent from the field. Westbrook finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, shooting 56 percent.

In Sacramento’s win over Memphis, Fox posted 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists on 43 percent shooting, while Conley went for 27 points, six rebounds and five assists on 45 percent shooting.

In the Kings’ loss to the Pelicans, Fox put up 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 50 percent shooting against Holiday, who had 15 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists on 45 percent shooting.

Numbers aren’t everything, of course.

Perhaps the most impressive thing Fox has done this season is take the reigns of a very young team and help make them competitive. The Kings still need a lot of work defensively, but offensively they’ve been good enough to hang in there with or beat some more talented, experienced teams.

More specifically, Fox has improved in his ability to run the Kings’ offense and play under control.

He has always been fast and a great athlete, but sometimes Fox plays too fast for his own good. Now he’s learning how to play point guard in the NBA. Ideally, what you’d want Fox to do is blend that Allen Iverson speed with an Andre Miller approach to the game.

If he does that, Fox will continue moving up the ranks as one of the league’s best at what he does.

We need to talk about the Milwaukee Bucks

(photo cred ESPN)

So I’m going to say something and I need you all to be good friends and just let me say it without shouting at me before I even finish my sentence…

The Milwaukee Bucks are legitimate contenders to win the Eastern Conference. 

Deep breath. I know that in the NBA, we don’t handle change all that well. Twitter explodes when someone gets traded or falls to injury. We hold onto our favorite teams that aren’t our favorite teams and say things like, “I’m a Celtics fan, but Miami could finish as the 3 seed if Hassan Whiteside plays like he did three years ago.”

But sometimes greatness smacks you in the teeth and you have to be able to recognize it. And guess what, the Milwaukee Bucks under coach Bud are GREAT. The season is only five games deep for the Bucks and normally I call for caution in these situations. Now, however, it has come time to call a spade a spade. The Bucks have officially entered the realm of Contender and left the realm of Pretender.

How did they do it?

The Numbers

Allow me to show you two different images. The first one will be from the Bucks 2017-18 season. Pay attention to the 3-point shooting numbers and how pedestrian, if not below average they were.

2017 bucks.PNG

Not good, right? This second image, however, will show you the Budenholzer effect. I present to you: The 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks

2018 bucks.PNG

Woah. See how the emphasis is on 3-pointers and not 2s? Also, check out the number of shots taken per game. The Bucks are taking way more field goal attempts this year, and it has paid off.

Clearly, the Bucks have placed an emphasis on pacing and spacing. They are finally playing modern NBA basketball, and taking advantage of the snipers on their team. I hope you liked the Basketball-reference.com images, because you are about to get a lot more of them!

Brook Lopez – 38% from 3 on 7.2 attempts per game

And that is not even the sexiest part. Chec out his 3PAr (3-point attempt rate.) Lopez isn’t just taking a lot of triples, but that is largely the only type of field goal he is taking. The shot selection is key for understanding why this team is 5-0.

Advanced Table
Season Age Tm G MP PER TS% 3PAr
2017-18 29 LAL 74 1735 16.4 .557 .410
2018-19 30 MIL 5 130 16.1 .643 .735
Career 641 19983 20.5 .566 .088
9 seasons NJN,BRK 562 18118 21.0 .566 .052
1 season LAL 74 1735 16.4 .557 .410
1 season MIL 5 130 16.1 .643 .735
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2018.

John Henson – 45% from 3 on 2.2 attempts per game

Don’t look now, but John Henson has played awesome for the Bucks. To boot, he has changed his game too. This dude may finally be living up to his contract. How? I’ll tell you with another image.

Shooting Table
3-Pt 3-Pt
% of % of % of % of % of Corn Corn
Season Age Tm G FG% Dist. 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 ❤ 3P %3PA 3P%
2017-18 27 MIL 76 .572 4.5 .558 .317 .026 .084 .014 .143 .000
2018-19 28 MIL 5 .444 12.1 .370 .185 .037 .000 .407 .364 .500
Career 396 .540 4.6 .518 .359 .052 .060 .010 .250 .333
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2018.

Bro, what? Henson is taking 55 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the hoop. He is taking another 40 percent of shots from deep. That’s modern big man shot selection for ya! Where did this come from?! Henson has literally never been a 3-point shooter, and all of a sudden is hitting 36 percent of his corner triples? Woah. When Henson appears in a Zach Lowe article, give me some credit.

Eric Bledsoe – career low in 2 point field goal attempt rate

…but a career high in assist percentage.

Clearly, Bledsoe has gotten the message from coach Bud. Take less twos and keep the ball moving. Guess what? It has translated to wins. Although early still, Bledsoe is taking 2-pointers on only 56 percent of his shots. His career average for that category is 72 percent. What’s more, Bledsoe is averaging a career high in assist percentage at 33 percent. Love it. Plus, his defense has seemed to return.

Khris Middleton – 57 percent from 3 on 7.6 attempts per game

Uhhhhhh, can you say All-Star birth?

The Bucks have an insane offensive rating  of 128 when Middleton is on the court, as in they score 128 points per every 100 possessions. I need my inhaler.

Middleton is known for being not only a potent 3-point shooter, but a guy who can beat you in the midrange. His touch is incredible and he can take you from the post, high post, or just about anywhere on the court. This year, however, Middleton is taking noticeably less midrange shots and focusing on 3s and shots close to the rim.

Shooting Table
% of % of % of % of % of % of
Season Age Tm G 2P 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 ❤ 3P
2017-18 26 MIL 82 .680 .140 .133 .218 .189 .320
2018-19 27 MIL 5 .465 .169 .127 .155 .014 .535
Career 383 .677 .155 .128 .178 .216 .323
6 seasons MIL 356 .677 .153 .127 .180 .216 .323
1 season DET 27 .681 .206 .142 .121 .213 .319
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/27/2018.

Okay, we have seen some stats. We get it, the Bucks are spacing the floor, bombing triples and creating space for Giannis to complete his “Dunk on everyone” 2018-19 agenda. But what does this offense look like?

The Eye Test

Bud has brought his Spursian offensive scheming to the Milwaukee, and it has been dynamite. Specifically, what is he doing? Bud has often given Giannis the ball in isolated situations when the Greek Freak has a mismatch. For instance, what him work Landry Shamet in the post (sorry, Landry.)


Giannis catches the ball in a post-up, and everyone HAS to pay attention to him. So what do the Bucks do? They keep three capable, if not plus, 3-point shooters on the perimeter. Do not be fooled, however. Giannis knows exactly which guy he is looking for: Brook Lopez. We know this because Tony Snells sets a screen for Lopez to get open on the opposite wing.

Bud will do this often. He likes to load up the weak-side with shooters and create a mismatch for Giannis on the strong-side of the court. Giannis can either take his man off the dribble and do MVP stuff, of use his above average vision to find open shooters. Giannis has as much gravity as anyone in the league, and draws literally 5 defenders to the paint (or right outside of it.) Think i’m joking?

bucks giannis.PNG

In this next Giannis post possession, he has open shooters on the perimeter. But, Giannis realizes his mismatch and decides to shoot a hook shot. Good decision, considering he is 6’11” and 4 feet from the hoop. Look at the gravity he draws, however. This will be here all season long for the Bucks, and defenses will have to pick their poison.


The Bucks also run a plethora of players in the pick and roll as the ball handler. Khris Middleton is incredibly underrated in this area. Middleton is a good passer, but has a knack for knowing when to drive on a player or shoot over him. Watch these two possessions below with Middleton running the PnR.

The first set is a basic pick and roll with Henson as the screener. There is some weak-side movement but Middleton sees the space and pulls up. In the next set of action, a horns set, Middleton gets an inch of space and makes Ben Simmons pay for it with a jumper. Bud seems to emphasize player freedom, and Middleton certainly has the green light.


I would not forgive myself if I did not talk about Eric Bledsoe. Last season, the point guard was often on the receiving end of criticism. This year, however, Bledsoe has played some of the best basketball of his career. I’m all in on the Bledsoe Revival campaign.

His vision has always gone underappreciated, but Bledsoe has traditionally been a top-notch passer. Let’s give him his due shine. Before I play this next clip of Bledsoe mastering a drive and dish, I want to show you a freeze frame.

bledsoe vision.PNG

What happened here? Bledsoe beat his man off a drive, and sees an open shooter in the corner. But Damyean Dotson sees him too, so he sprints to close out on the corner shooter. Despite a horrible angle, Bledsoe actually sees Dotson running to the corner threat. So, Bledsoe whips a one-handed pass to the perimeter and Middleton calmly drains a three. Last year, Bledsoe may have likely pulled up for a jumper or tried to go to the rim. This year, he is finding wide open men and opponents are paying dearly. See for yourself.

What’s next?

The Bucks take on the Toronto Raptors Monday night, in what will be a clash of the East’s top two teams (as of now.) Please, tune in! See Giannis take on Kawhi. See if Bud can outsmart a rookie head coach. See if the Bucks can go toe to toe with one of the East’s top dogs. See if this article will look even better than it does now!

@Mattesposito_