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Posts Tagged ‘Defense

James Harden sucks at defense, does it have to stay that way?

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“James Harden sucks at defense” became a meme near the end of this season, thanks to a handful of long youtube videos showing his lowlights over the year. On his worst plays Harden isn’t just bad, but an embarrassment, often standing in the middle of nowhere and making his team play 4 on 5 defensively. He was giving no fucks.

However, what’s interesting of course, is Harden on paper should not be a defensive sieve. He’s one of the biggest SGs in the league in length and strength, has adequate lateral mobility and his feel for the game is strong, which should allow him to read defensive plays well. This is compounded by how in Oklahoma City Harden was quickly emerging as one of their better defenders before the trade, enough to defend Lebron James at times in the 2012 Finals.

So what’s going on here? Why is James Harden now the abomination of the league on defense? My guess is it’s energy. In his 3rd OKC season he averaged 31.4 minutes per game, while he’s been at 38 minutes or higher both his Houston seasons. Harden does not strike me as a specimen conditioning wise and it’s no secret he enjoys nightlife, which could play into having less than perfect energy level. What’s more is Harden’s ratio of driving to the rim vs athleticism is as lopsided as any player’s I’ve seen. Harden drives to the rim and free throw line as much as anyone in the league, despite being a good, but not dynamic athlete. His ballhandling and first step help him do this. Most other players who drive as regularly as him, are freaks of nature like Dwyane Wade and Lebron James athletically. This style of play in addition to the minutes played, may cause him to burn energy faster. Compare him to Paul George, who is the anti James Harden in regards to his athleticism and driving. George is one of the best athletes in the game, but is average at driving to the basket because of ballhandling problems. This may leave more of his athletic energy for the defensive end of the floor, where he plays at a defensive player of the year level.

How does one fix this? The first clear cut fix to reduce his minutes. If anything Harden’s less than perfect physical condition and driving heavy style of game, which also makes him a risk to get banged up, make him a candidate to specifically play less than the standard 35-36 minutes, let alone more. With the Spurs leading the way for reducing minutes this year, there’s nothing wrong with Harden playing an effective 32 or 33 per game. Secondly, Houston may want to free up some energy by taking Harden off the ball. Although he’s not used to this, as a great 3 point shooter one would think in time, he could learn to spot up and space the floor. At the least, it’d make him a diversion while players like Lin and Beverly drive to the basket. One could also try playing Harden at small forward more often with two ballhandlers in the backcourt.

It bears mentioning that with the cost of Harden’s defense there may be a reward coming with it. Harden’s offensive production is absolutely enormous, an ultra efficient 25 points a game while being his team’s best playmaker, gave him the 3rd best offensive season on paper this year behind Lebron and Durant. If one reduced his minutes and increased his defensive responsibility, his offensive volume and efficiency could be reduced.

If Harden is not capable of putting up both the offensive statistics he did the last 2 years while playing more defense, it may be simply a matter of talent. We know Harden is a fantastic talent, but we don’t know if he’s a talent on the tier of some of the legends of this era like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul. There may be one tier below that he presides in. Or he could make a big leap from year 5 to year 7-9 and become one of our great stars. How young the 2009 draft trio of Harden, Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry is, has been understated. Some players have hit their peak by their 5th season, but others have not. As a recent example Durant’s 5th season was his 2011-2012 Finals year, but by his regular season in his MVP 7th year, was clearly a different animal. Kevin Garnett in his 5th season in 1999-2000 was a phenomenal player, but by his 9th season in 2003-2004 season, he was spectacular at an even different level. If James Harden and the Rockets commit themselves to maximizing his career, by a season like his 8th or 9th, he could still be the MVP of the league, since his offensive statistics are already better than many MVP seasons.

Written by jr.

May 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Was Dwight Howard’s defense always overrated?

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The Dwight.One of the reasons Dwight Howard hasn’t improved the Lakers as much as expected, is a less than significant defensive impact. The team ranks 19th in DRTG, low for a team with a 3x Defensive Player of the Year. There are a lot of factors that can be blamed for this. Mike D’Antoni’s systems have never been known for defense, the Lakers are filled with slow perimeter players and Howard isn’t healthy. That’s fine.

But I’d like to re-examine how we came to the conclusion Howard is an elite defender. For one, he dominated in the flashiest defensive statistics, blocks per game. But what it really came down to is Orlando’s elite defensive teams and the personnel he played with.  The Magic finished 1st, 3rd, and 3rd in DRTG in Dwight’s DPOY years from 09-11, made more impressive when considering he played with anti-defensive players like Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Vince Carter, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson during that time. On the surface it looks like Dwight was carrying otherwise terrible defensive teams to top 5 rankings on his own.

This may be true, but contextual factors may have helped. The Magic’s slow pace and reluctance to send anyone to the offensive glass but Howard, may have helped them prevent any transition baskets, as well as gang rebound on the defensive glass instead of trying to leak out to score any fastbreak points. This may be while in 2009 they finished 1st on the defensive glass and 29th in offensive rebounding, in 2010 they finished 1st in defensive rebounding and 25th in offensive rebounding, while in 2011 they finished 1st in defensive rebounding and 15th in offensive rebounding. Such a wide gap between defensive and offensive rebounding performance is likely related to players making an effort to go for the former and not the latter, something halfcourt defensive coaches often employ. Furthermore in general, while the Magic’s supporting cast wasn’t athletic, what they almost all had in common is a high basketball IQ. If one considers IQ and positional awareness to be as important as physical tools when judging defense (personally I think it’s more important, possibly even 70% position and IQ, 30% physical tools), those Magic perimeter players aren’t as defensively inadequate in talent as one would think.

Judging Dwight defensively by his team results is difficult. He might be responsible for those results, he might not be. The results themselves aren’t necessarily proof. So let me throw out my objective way of judging defense. I believe it’s a combination of physical tools and intelligence/feel. While having the speed to rotate hard on opponents and length to disrupt them is important, rotating correctly positionally is also huge. That’s why Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are still very effective defensive players after their athleticism has slipped and why a players like Luol Deng and a younger Shane Battier didn’t need amazing speed to be great defenders. Where players get particularly devastating defensively to me, is when they have both dominant physical tools and dominant positional intelligence. The younger Garnett and Duncan exemplified this, as well as other historically great big defenders like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Walton, Bill Russell, etc. As for perimeter players, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had both. While in modern day aside from Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala and Paul George are two wing defenders I consider to be that complete package defensively of knockout physical tools and feel.

This is the main reason I’m not sold on Dwight Howard defensively. His physical tools and impact for his time were exceptional, no doubt. However his positional IQ and feel is behind the greats. He’s certainly not bad in that category, maybe even above average. But players like Duncan, Garnett, Russell, Robinson, Walton, etc. are geniuses on that end of the floor. Howard positionally is less than flawless. While the defense of his teammates and his health hurts his defense, there have been many plays as a Laker where positionally he found himself in a questionable spot or late. Present Howard is still a level up athletically from present Garnett and Duncan and he’s worse defender than them. Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert are playing better defense not because they’re physically more imposing than present Howard, but because they’re smarter players. This is something Howard can’t blame his banged up body on. It’s a flaw and I wonder if it extends back farther than people realize. Putting aside the Magic’s defensive results which may be affected by noise, without believing in Dwight’s IQ or feel as elite, I can’t say he passes the sniff test as a historically great defender during his prime. In fact if my estimate of 70% of defense being related to non-physical tools is true, I’m not sure I love more than like Howard as a defender at all.

Written by jr.

March 1, 2013 at 10:45 am

Posted in Basketball

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Dwight Howard: Not the only reason the Magic have been a great defensive team

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Washington Wizards v/s Orlando Magic February ...

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It seems no-one can doubt that Dwight Howard is the best defensive player in the NBA. But just how much is Howard responsible for the Magic’s perennially top 5 DRTG rankings?

For many, it’s all Howard. Because it appears nobody other member of the Magic is defensively significant. The Magic won 59 games and made the NBA Finals with Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis in the starting lineup. Nelson is an undersized PG, Lee a rookie at the time, Turkoglu is one of the NBA’s slowest SFs, and Lewis is an out of position SF. Thus the Magic dominating defensively with that team is quite a feat on Howard’s end.

But not so fast. Defense is a tricky subject. Half of good defense can be from the system. The following choices can be made. If a team holds back on offensive rebounding, they can all but guarantee transition defense against the opponent’s counterpunch. If everyone is sent to the defensive glass instead of a player or two leaking out as an outlet, defensive rebounding and the ability to close off space to prevent putback points can improve. Thus a team can take off a few points from an opponent by strategy alone. But it also comes at the cost of those easy points offensively. If a team wants to make it a halfcourt game defensively, they’ll probably be forced to make it one offensively as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

January 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Why the Minnesota Timberwolves taking Derrick Williams #2 is a bad idea

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Derrick Williams.

Image by Neon Tommy via Flickr

Since the Minnesota Timberwolves landed the #2 pick in last month’s NBA lottery, insiders like Chad Ford (ESPN.com) and Jonathan Givony (Draftexpress.com) have stated their interest in taking Derrick Williams 2nd. Williams has long been ranked the 2nd best prospect in the draft.

I believe Minnesota taking Williams is a bad idea.

One of the biggest questions about Derrick Williams is whether he is a SF or PF. I see him as a clear PF. He should specialize playing the pick and roll and pick and pop with his ability to finish and hit outside jumpers. He thrives with the space created by these plays like a less athletic Amare Stoudemire. That’s where his offensive all-star potential is. There were initial concerns about his 6’8 size but having a good 7’2 wingspan makes up for it, as similarly sized but long players David West, Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap have shown.

The small forward position on the other hand, where Minnesota will play him if he’s drafted there due to Kevin Love‘s presence at PF, plays to his weaknesses. Read the rest of this entry »

How to make the good times last, Memphis Grizzlies

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Left: Jim Calhoun, head basketball coach, Univ...

Fitting Rudy Gay in will be essential to the Grizzlies next season (Image via Wikipedia)

The Memphis Grizzlies’ memorable 2011 playoff run reminds me a lot of the LA Clippers in 2006. Like the Clippers, this is the Grizzlies first real playoff run after eons of terrible years. Both were built with strong frontcourts anchored by a 20 and 10 PF having his first real success in Zach Randolph and Elton Brand. Both ended with 7 game 2nd round losses.

The Clippers couldn’t keep it up and fell back to their usual ways the next year. The Grizzlies need to make the right moves to make sure they don’t follow suit.

So why did the Clippers fall back to earth? Sam Cassell’s decline played its part, as did Elton Brand and Chris Kaman both having lesser seasons – and Corey Maggette’s presence the whole year hurt the team’s ball movement. I’d also point the finger at Mike Dunleavy for not being a strong enough coach to keep the team’s defense and ball movement together for more than one year.

Here’s what the Grizzlies should do to get back to this spot next year:

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Written by jr.

May 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

How they got here: The Memphis Grizzlies’ defensive culture change

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Memphis Grizzlies logo

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So, the Memphis Grizzlies are now a good basketball team. There’s a handful of reasons why. They have great frontcourt talent with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and good perimeter players in Mike Conley, Jr., O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Tony Allen and Shane Battier. But their success is really built on elite defense and making the unselfish play offensively. The Grizzlies team culture is in the right place. They play the right way.

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