Clippers at Nets
The Nets made a statement with Thursday's win vs. Doc Rivers and the visiting Clippers, finally looking like a $102 million team laden with veteran All-Stars and former All-Stars as they racked up their third straight victory. With an 8-14 record, Brooklyn is now one game out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and just two games out of the No. 4 seed.
Even this rainbow had a storm cloud, however, as Brook Lopez sprained his left ankle and didn't return after the third quarter (UPDATE: Brook has been listed as 'questionable' to play on Friday). He was able to return to the Nets' bench, he wanted to re-enter the game, and he did travel with the team for Friday's matchup vs. Detroit. That said, I'd be surprised if he's in uniform vs. the Pistons. He has a history of foot injuries and just recovered from a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss seven games in November (after two DNPs last month he said he felt "good enough to play," a vivid reminder that player's self-diagnosis doesn't always mean much).
Assuming Lopez does miss at least Friday's game, Andray Blatche (21 points, nine rebounds on Thursday) should move into the starting lineup and match his current splits in five starts -- 13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks with solid percentages from the field and at the line. Kevin Garnett will also get a boost but he finished with just two points and six rebounds on Thursday and hasn't played more than 28 minutes in a game all season, so his upside is rather limited. Rookie Mason Plumlee, who has been a pleasant surprise, fouled out of Thursday's game in 15 minutes, will also get a temporary boost if Lopez sits.
Jason Kidd kept Alan Anderson in the starting lineup and played him a team-high 36 minutes, but Anderson finished with a paltry three points on 1-of-9 shooting, two rebounds and one assist. He remains a 3-point specialist even if he keeps the SF job over Paul Pierce, who looked sharper in his second game back from a hand fracture. The Truth scored 10 points with two 3-pointers, seven rebounds, five assists and one steal, and with Andrei Kirilenko (back) out indefinitely it makes sense to pick up Pierce wherever he's available. He's never been worse than a top-50 fantasy value during his 16-year career but he's mired in the late 100s at the moment, so I'm anticipating an upward correction in the coming weeks and months.
One fantasy stalwart I'd happily quit on is Joe Johnson, who is clinging to value with 15.4 points, 1.9 threes, 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 0.4 steals per game. Those numbers came for the most part without Deron Williams and Paul Pierce in the lineup, and they're likely headed south for the winter. He scored 21 points on Thursday, including 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, and if I owned him in any leagues I'd be routinely packaging him as a trade chip.
Chris Paul led the Clippers with 20 points on Thursday, joining Jamal Crawford (19) and Blake Griffin (12) as the only Clippers with double-digit scoring in a loss at Brooklyn. CP3's 11.4 assists per game easily lead the NBA but he was held to a season-low two assists in 28 minutes as the game quickly slid away from the Clippers' control -- he played only 43 seconds in the fourth quarter and exited for good with his team down by 18 points. The low assists were a product of both the score and the Clips' inability to knock down shots. That will happen when a team’s starting SG is Willie Green, shooting 31.9 percent this season, and its most recent acquisition is 35-year-old Stephen Jackson, himself a career 41.5 percent shooter.
Jamal Crawford made 5-of-11 field goals but he's always been more adept at getting his own shots off the dribble, and even spot-up specialist Jared Dudley shot 1-of-7 to lower his season FG mark to 42.1 percent. L.A. currently ranks seventh in the league in team FG percentage (46.1 percent), thanks almost entirely to DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, and I imagine teams will continue to pack the paint and dare the Redick-less Clippers to beat them from the perimeter.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $50,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Friday night's games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $7,500. Starts at 7pm ET on Friday. Here's the FanDuel link.
Rockets at Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers also won their third straight game on Thursday, knocking off the visiting Rockets 111-104 behind another massive, MVP-worthy game from LaMarcus Aldridge. He scored 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting, grabbed 25 rebounds, and chipped in two assists, two steals and two blocks with a single turnover in 41 minutes. He played with the same 'you-can't-stop-me' ease that he had while scoring 38 points vs. the Thunder on Dec. 4, and the Rockets simply had no answer for his mid-range arsenal. He shot 12-of-22 from mid-range and continues to make incredibly difficult shots look routine. And unlike Dwight Howard, who also blew up on Thursday, Aldridge prevents intentional fouling by shooting 80 percent at the FT line. He is the only player in Trail Blazers history to finish with 30+ points and 25+ rebounds, surpassing even the great Bill Walton.
The fun wasn't limited to Aldridge, as Robin Lopez piled up a 16 & 10 double-double with two blocks, Nicolas Batum had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists, Wes Matthews scored 18 points (albeit without his usual efficiency), and Mo Williams led all reserves with 13 points and four dimes. The only letdown was Damian Lillard, who handed out six assists but only scored eight points on 1-of-10 shooting (the Patrick Beverley effect), while getting his shot blocked five times (the Dwight Howard effect, as the entire Blazers' team has only been blocked an average of 3.6 times per game this season).
I'd like to highlight Lopez's double-double for the very fact that it doesn't stand out. Through seven December games he has quietly averaged 12.1 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, and he's even made a combined 17-of-18 free throws. Lopez deserves tons of credit for developing his game over the years. He rarely picks up silly fouls any longer, averaging 3.1 personals per 36 minutes, and as the Blazers' announcers point out every single game he's a model big man when it comes to the rule of 'verticality', sticking his long arms straight up in the air and daring players to shoot a field goal through the uprights. He is also averaging his best-ever rebounding rate, which had been a frequent criticism during his years with the Suns. Portland has resisted any talks about trading Lopez, according to the rumor-mill, and it's easy to see why the team with the best record in the West wouldn't mess with their chemistry.
For the Rockets, Thursday was another disappointing loss (their second in a row) which falls squarely on their lackluster team defense. Individually, they got big games from James Harden (25 points, six rebounds, seven assists) and Dwight Howard (32 points, 17 rebounds, two steals, three blocks). Patrick Beverley also played hell-hound defense, as usual, to finish with nine points, 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals and one block in 39 minutes.
Jeremy Lin (knee) was quiet in his return, scoring five points with two assists in 15 minutes off the bench, but that's to be expected after a six-game absence. He may not match his lofty splits from November (15.3 points, 1.4 triples, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals) but I still expect him to hold value as a key reserve on a fast-paced team. Another guy with a sub-par line was Chandler Parsons, who logged 38 minutes but only shot 6-of-18 from the field for 14 points. His back spasms have cost him two games in December and we may hear about them again, but for now he's safe to keep active as Houston finishes their road trip with games on Friday and Sunday.
For breaking news, injury updates and statistical curiosities, follow me on Twitter @Knaus_RW
Go-to plays...Kyle Lowry...Rudy Gay…Jumpin' Joe Fulks...and more
Below is a chart displaying the frequency with which each NBA team is using different offensive plays (e.g. pick-and-roll, transition). I compiled all of this using only free services available on NBA.com in partnership with Synergy Sports, but I'm not aware of any free sites at which you can see all of this in one spot. For the sake of clarity, convenience and further research, I'm also making available this spreadsheet from which this chart was drawn. Peruse it at your leisure.
Why is this data interesting? As a fan of the game I am fascinated to know that the Mavericks run easily the most pick-and-rolls of any team. The many variations of that basic play, the bread-and-butter of most NBA teams, account for fully 30.3 percent of the Mavs' plays this season. The next team down the list is the Clippers at 25.6 percent. This one statistic has a variety of causes, outcomes and implications. Jose Calderon is a very good pick-and-roll point guard, certainly more proficient than Kyle Lowry, and his departure is one reason why Jonas Valanciunas and (especially) Amir Johnson got off to such a slow start.
It is not Calderon who is powering the Mavs' engine, however, as he's only using 12 percent of the Mavs' pick-and-rolls this season. Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki only combine to use another 24 percent. It is Monta Ellis who uses 31.6 percent of Dallas' pick-and-rolls, converting at a solid 0.92 points per possession. You can dig as deep as you please, or simply note the glaring tendencies. Some confirm what seems obvious -- a quarter of Miami's offense comes from spot-ups, Memphis leads the league in post-ups, the Pistons are tops in put-backs, and the Knicks lead in isolation plays. But did you know that Houston relies less on pick-and-rolls than any other team in the NBA, despite being the third-most efficient team in that category last season at 0.92 points per possession? James Harden was personally the fifth-most efficient player in such situations during the 2012-13 season, and the pick-and-roll possibilities with Harden/Howard/Lin/etc. has inspired more than a few analytical love letters.
Thursday's NBA news cycle was dominated by Kyle Lowry trade chatter, so I'll shift gears and give some quick thoughts on that situation. First of all, Knicks owner James Dolan has reportedly scuttled a proposed deal sending Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and one of the following to the Raptors: Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. or a 2018 first-round pick. Adrian Wojnarowski described the Nets as "the most direct competition" in a trade for Lowry, the Warriors were briefly rumored to be involved, and plenty of speculation was drummed up about other teams, most of which reeks of leverage-seeking gamesmanship from Toronto.
To complicate matters, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is currently overseas on a pre-planned scouting trip. It's still possible that Lowry could be dealt in a complicated, multi-player deal with New York, in which Toronto lands Felton and the other assets they're demanding. That's a very steep price for Lowry, however, whose deal expires at the end of the season, and the Knicks' efforts to build their current core around Carmelo Anthony have left them nearly bereft of future draft picks. To sacrifice yet another pick and a promising player in Hardaway Jr. or Shumpert seems unthinkable, but Dolan has never been constrained by reason and he's not about to start now.
From a fantasy perspective, Lowry's 2.2 triples per game have been a big part of his stellar value and could be altered depending upon where he's dealt. He has taken an astounding 6.0 three-pointers per game this season, and he's converting them at a 36.2 percent clip. Barely any of his 3s come from the wings, however, and 47.1 percent of all of his attempts are coming from above the break. That fact makes his infrequent attempts within eight feet (32.6 percent) more palatable. If he did head to New York, here are some numbers owners should keep in mind:
The Raptors are averaging 98.0 points on 82.8 possessions per game, while attempting 21.7 three-pointers and 25.3 free throws.
The Knicks are averaging 93.8 points on 83.1 FG attempts per game, while attempting 25.3 three-pointers and 17.3 free throws.
Overall, the Raptors offense relies more heavily on pick-and-rolls, cuts and movement off screens, while the Knicks rely more on post-ups, isolations and especially spot-ups.
As a multi-league Lowry owner my primary concern would be the fact that Lowry has averaged 87.1 touches per game, the ninth-highest total in the NBA. Raymond Felton ranks 27th at 73.1 touches per game, and Carmelo Anthony isn't much lower with 68.7 per game. J.R. Smith is a wild card, as his touches could spike if his surgically-repaired knee stops nagging at him. It seems very unlikely, therefore, that Lowry would have the ball in his hands as often as he has with the Raptors.
Data such as this has a direct bearing on fantasy values, which we can use to at least partially analyze Rudy Gay's move to Sacramento.
NOTE: Each line below includes the following: 1) Type of play, 2) Percentage of the Raptors' plays Gay used in that category, 3) How Gay's 'points per possession' fared compared to the league average, 4) Gay's 'points per possession'.
Pick-and-roll: 19% Below Average (0.73)
Spot-up: 17% Below Average (0.95)
Transition: 16% Below Average (0.68)
Post-up: 27% Below Average (0.69)
Put-back: 12% Average (1.11)
Cut: 13% Average (1.28)
Off-ball screen: 17% Below Average (0.41)
Other: 13% Good (0.69)
Hand off: 18% Good (1.22)
Isolation: 42% Below Average (0.77)
Now let's look at the Kings' offense prior to Gay's arrival:
Off-ball screen: 5.5%
Hand off: 2.9%
The Kings' play breakdown doesn't veer wildly from league averages, but they've been using noticeably fewer pick-and-rolls, isolations and cuts while getting more shots from post-ups, spot-ups, put-backs and off-ball screens. The bulk of Gay's shots came out of isolations, post-ups and pick-and-rolls for Toronto, so the Kings' reluctance to call such plays immediately suggests that his touches will decrease. Sacramento also utilizes cuts less frequently than most teams, which unfortunately is one of the few areas in which Gay ranks 'average' or 'good'.
Just how 'below average' has Gay been? During his disastrous partial season with Toronto, his gaudily horrible numbers had him on pace to be the 14th player in NBA history who attempted at least 18.6 shots per game but shot 38.6 percent or worse from the field. Allen Iverson was the most recent member in 2003-04, preceded by Jamal Mashburn in 1995-96 (to be fair, he only played 18 games that year). Philadelphia Warriors guard "Jumpin' Joe" Fulks made the ignominious list four times in the late 1940s while leading the league (BAA) in scoring, but Celtics great Bob Cousy trumps everyone with five appearances on the list.
It's not a historical footnote players should carry like a torch into the modern era, and it's something Kings coach Mike Malone was ready to address soon after the trade went down. "Yes, this year has not been a good year for him, shooting 18 times a game, shooting 38 percent from the field," Malone said. "But I think playing alongside a guy like DeMarcus will open up things. They didn’t have that kind of a post presence in Toronto. They had that in Memphis."
That's a succinct argument for Gay's attempts decreasing (somewhat) while his percentages increase (somewhat) in Malone's structured offense. "We don't want it to be just dribble, dribble, dribble, no ball movement, easy to guard and shoot," Malone added, taking an implicit dig at Dwane Casey's offense which relies more on isolations than any team but the Knicks. "Rudy's going to buy in. He's a high-character kid. We're happy to have him and he'll buy in."
I'm willing to buy in also, to the idea that Gay and the Kings will have a symbiotic relationship which also helps fantasy owners, if only by limiting Gay's touches/attempts while earning him some easier looks. After all, there are thousands of players in NBA history who have shot 38.8 percent or worse from the field. The key is not to rub it in our faces.
A quick note on Greivis Vasquez, as I've already had multiple emails and a few comments wondering about his value in the event of a K-Low trade. Yes, I think that Vasquez will definitely start at PG ahead of Dwight Buycks and Julyan Stone. The potential arrival of a guy like Raymond Felton is concerning and could lead to a minute-share, but even in a best-case scenario I'm not sold on Vasquez. One positive angle is that he's excited to run more pick-and-rolls, which bodes well for Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. “I was watching [the Raptors’ game against the Lakers on Sunday] at home," Vasquez said. "The first eight plays were pick-and-rolls. I was like, ‘Yes, this is heaven for me.’ It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun."
The not-so-fun angle is that Vasquez has never been more than a borderline value in nine-cat leagues (or middle-round value in eight-cat), even when averaging 35 minutes with New Orleans last season. His 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 9.0 assists catch the eye, but he also shot 43.4 percent with 1.1 threes, 0.9 steals and 3.2 turnovers per game. So even if he does monopolize the Raptors' PG minutes for the rest of the season, I'm not cutting anyone with reliable value to get him in nine-cat.