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Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive earned lots of attention around the NBA this summer when it was reported that he had pitched his coaches a 4-on-5 defense idea in which one player would cherry-pick to get an easy shot at the other end on every possession. It does not appear that head coach Michael Malone ever entertained the idea seriously, which might have played into his firing due to philosophical differences just a few weeks ago. At the same time, Yahoo's own Adrian Wojnarowski noted that new interim coach Tyrone Corbin was expected to implement some form of Ranadive's get-a-dunk-every-time-but-maybe-also-give-up-points-every-time plan.
The first two weeks of the Corbin era didn't include any obvious examples of the tactic, but Monday night's game at the Brooklyn Nets might have marked the opening salvo in the war against basketballular sanity. With 8:25 left in the second quarter, guard Ray McCallum was called for a palming violation to send the ball to the Nets. Veteran big man Reggie Evans appeared to be subbed out for DeMarcus Cousins on the same play and headed to the bench at that end. Except Cousins never officially entered the game, so Evans jumped from his seat in time to catch a pass from McCallum in transition. He appeared to have an easy dunk, but Mirza Teletovic caught up in time to block the shot and deny the Kings. Watch a video of the whole thing here (via The Brooklyn Game):
It's unclear if the Kings planned this move or simply happened upon it due to their own confusion. If they did attempt the cherry-picking for real, then it took a very different form than what most of us imagined this summer, when it seemed like a player would just hang out in plain sight as the opponents went about their offensive possession. What Evans did here is not so much a visionary act as blatant trickery, which makes it much less interesting than the initial proposal.
Even if it was not the plan, though, Ranadive and other minds likely learned something from Evans's failure. For one thing, it's pretty tough to make a full-court outlet pass right after a rebound, so defenders would have some time to get back to challenge a shot. The cherry-picker also needs to be athletic enough to complete the play fairly easy (unlike Evans) but not so athletic that he is a plus defender, which would seem to force him into duty as one of the members of the penalty-killing unit at the other end. In other words, "easy dunk guy" is still a job on the court with particular skills, no matter how much effort it requires.
Those of us who don't want to fixate on the intentionality of this play can look instead to a much better dunk later in the game, one that was definitely on purpose and with a much higher degree of difficulty. With roughly 3:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, Cousins exploded through Mason Plumlee for this thunderous finish:
The Kings couldn't end up with a win — the Nets nabbed a 107-99 victory — but at least they learned a valuable lesson about thinking outside the box. Cousins proved that there's still plenty of room for creativity in five-on-five basketball.
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