Essential The Official ESPN Insider Thread (ESPN+)

Discussion in 'The Coliseum' started by track 1, Oct 9, 2012.

  1. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    The Kansas City blitzes
    If the first game is proof of anything, Spagnuolo won't hesitate to blitz. The Chiefs blitzed on 47.6% of their dropbacks in the regular-season matchup between these two teams. That was the second-highest rate the Bucs saw in a game this season and the fourth-highest blitz rate employed by the Chiefs in any of their regular-season contests. Kansas City sacked Brady only once, but it was able to influence incompletions with pressure. It also forced a Brady interception with a seven-man blitz:


    I think Spagnuolo's defense is going to ask Brady to make these throws -- long, deep, and down the sideline -- against pressure. In the NFC title game, we saw the difference pressure makes when Brady attempts these passes. At the end of the second quarter, without any pressure, he fired a perfect pass more than 54 yards in the air down the left sideline to Miller for a critical touchdown. Then, in the fourth quarter, instant pressure after a blown blocking assignment from Leonard Fournette led Brady to toss up a prayer to Evans, who never turned around for the ball. Packers corner Jaire Alexander came away with an easy interception.

    Spagnuolo will use all kinds of blitzes to create pressure from unexpected places, and as the game wears on and the Chiefs get a lead, he'll get more aggressive. The Chiefs most frequently used overloaded zone blitzes to try to overwhelm one side of the line while dropping someone from the opposite side into coverage. They also tried to just overwhelm Tampa's protections with sheer volume, sending six- and seven-man pressures while playing Cover 1 and even occasionally Cover Zero. Playing without any deep safeties against the Chiefs would be extremely dangerous. It's risky against the Buccaneers too, but Spagnuolo trusts his cornerbacks to hold up in coverage against Tampa's receivers.

    Of course, Brady has seen a few blitzes in his day, and he knows where to go with the football when the opportunity arises. Here, the Chiefs send a five-man pressure to try to overload the weak side of the protection. They play Cover 2 behind and drop defensive end Alex Okafor (57) off of the line of scrimmage to serve as the hook defender. Rob Gronkowski (87) runs a classic Cover 2 beater with a seam route, and there's no way Okafor is going to be able to run with the legendary tight end. Brady is under pressure quickly, but he has an easy target available and hits Gronk for a 29-yard completion.



    How Brady will fight back
    Brady, Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will have more than one solution for the Chiefs' defense. One thing we've seen the Bucs do as this season has progressed, per ESPN's Seth Walder, is run more crossing routes. The Patriots ran plenty of crossers in years past, and while Arians prefers vertical routes, the crossers help make life easier for Brady and create opportunities for yards after the catch.

    If the Chiefs want to play man or Cover 1 behind those blitzes, crossers will help create picks and get Antonio Brown and others to the sideline with an opportunity to break a tackle for big gains. While it wasn't on a crossing route, Ronald Jones scored a 37-yard touchdown on a checkdown against the Chiefs in Week 12 after making Damien Wilson miss and jumping over a tackle attempt from Daniel Sorensen. Brady will take easy completions to his backs and tight ends and challenge those guys to tackle in the open field.

    Speaking of his tight ends, I wonder whether Arians will try to use more two-tight-end groups to try to get the Chiefs into their base defense while masking his intentions. The Bucs were generally an 11 personnel team, using one running back, one tight end and three wideouts 56.2% of the time. They used 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) 20.4% of the time, but by NFL Next Gen Stats' definition of success, they were more effective on offense working out of 12 personnel (54% success rate) than they were in their base 11 personnel (49%). They've repeated both those general usage rates and success rates in the postseason.

    The Chiefs went back and forth in dealing with 12 personnel, playing their base defense just under 42%, their nickel package just over 47% of the time and their dime package for the remaining 16 snaps. They were much better defending 12 personnel out of nickel than they were out of base, allowing a 36% success rate with five defensive backs on the field to a 48% success rate with four defensive backs.


    They've faced only six snaps of 12 personnel in the postseason and matched up with their base defense all six times. My first guess is that they would keep that up in the Super Bowl, in part because Gronkowski is such a devastating blocker. Arians is relatively inflexible when it comes to week-to-week game plans, so the Bucs might just do whatever they typically do and dare the Chiefs to stop them.

    One other thing the Bucs might do is something I haven't discussed much in this piece: run the football. The Chiefs rank 31st in rush defense DVOA and have been the worst team in the league at stopping opposing rushing attacks in power situations, like third- or fourth-and-short.

    Ke'Shawn Vaughn's fumble against Washington was similarly damaging. It has become clear that Tampa is better off using Fournette as its primary back; in addition to having better hands than Jones, Fournette has averaged right around 0 EPA to Jones's minus-0.21 EPA per rush. Then again, when your optimal choice isn't adding any expected points, maybe you're better off just throwing the football anyway.





    No risk it, no biscuit?
    The decision-making of the two coaches made a huge difference in Super Bowl LIV. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan dialed things down before halftime and kicked a field goal on fourth-and-short, while Reid initially sent out his punt team before a fourth-and-short in the first quarter before changing his mind. He sent out his offense instead, with the Chiefs converting on fourth down and scoring a touchdown two plays later.

    By all accounts, we can expect Reid to stay aggressive with his dominant offense. The Chiefs famously went for it on fourth-and-1 in the divisional round, with Chad Henne hitting Hill for a short completion to end the win over the Browns. Reid's Chiefs also picked up a fourth-and-1 against the Bills in the first half last week, extending a drive that eventually produced a touchdown. The future Hall of Famer was a liability on fourth downs and late in games for a long time, but Reid appears to have turned a corner after getting Mahomes.

    Bucs coach Bruce Arians, on the other hand, might have had his own moment last week. Facing a fourth-and-4 from the Green Bay 45-yard line with 13 seconds left to go in the first half, it seemed likely that he would punt and push the game to halftime. Instead, just like Reid the prior year, he sent out his punting unit and then changed his mind. Arians called timeout, with Brady converting to Fournette to move the chains. On the next play, Brady threw deep and hit Scotty Miller for a 39-yard touchdown. Those seven points came in handy in a game the Bucs won by five.

    Overall, though, Arians has a mixed record. He's known for famously espousing a "No risk it, no biscuit" philosophy, but that was hardly borne out by his decision-making. He will certainly get aggressive in situations where teams are expecting him to run, to the extent that you can call out his decisions to throw the football in advance.

    In terms of his fourth-down decision-making, though, he is wildly inconsistent. Against the Saints, for example, he went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34-yard line with a Brady sneak. Great. Later on that drive, with Tampa facing a fourth-and-1 from the New Orleans 8-yard line, Arians ... called for his team to kick a field goal. In December, with an untimed down before halftime and the ball on the 1-yard line, Arians chose to kick a 19-yard field goal instead of attempting to score. You could argue that Arians might have been trying to keep Brady fresh for the postseason, but the legendary QB sneaker plunged six times during the regular season and twice more during the playoffs.


    In a single game, this might not matter. Heading into last year's Super Bowl, though, Shanahan had made some curious fourth-down calls, only for those decisions to fly under the radar because his team was winning. Against the Chiefs, they mattered more. Neither of these coaches is Bill Belichick or John Harbaugh when it comes to fourth-down decisions, but I have more faith in Reid to make the right call.


    Which team has the special-teams advantage?
    In just about every season before 2020, comparing the Chiefs and Buccaneers would have revealed a huge mismatch with special teams. Under Dave Toub's stewardship, the Chiefs have consistently enjoyed some of the best special-teams work in football. The Bucs ... not so much. Licht has wandered through the kicking wilderness for the entirety of his run in Tampa, cycling through everybody from Kyle Brindza to Matt Gay to second-round pick Roberto Aguayo.

    This season, though, the gap isn't quite as significant. Tampa's special teams are still bad, finishing 26th in the league, but the Chiefs fell all the way from second in Football Outsiders' special-teams statistics a year ago to 17th. They were great on kickoff returns, but they were well below average on kickoffs and one of the league's worst teams at returning punts.

    Kansas City kicker Harrison Butker was solid for most of the regular season, but he missed an extra point and a 33-yard field goal attempt in the win over the Browns in the divisional round. There were anxious Chiefs fans when Butker lined up in the AFC Championship Game, but he went 6-for-6 on his kicks there. The two failures against the Browns are the only kicks he has missed during the second half of the season. I'm not overly concerned about him heading into the Super Bowl.

    Ryan Succop missed an extra point on a sloppy field in Washington but has otherwise been perfect this postseason, going 8-for-9 on extra points and 8-for-8 on field goals. He was just below league average during the regular season. The Bucs were below average or worse across the board, including subpar marks on punts (25th in the league) and kickoffs (26th). Hardman is a threat to break a big kick return in this game.


    The pick
    It wouldn't shock me if the Bucs won Sunday. They're stronger on both sides of the line of scrimmage than the Chiefs, whose tackles are the most obvious weak point for either team at any position. Brady and one of the best offenses in league history famously lost against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII because they weren't able to block four-man rushes all night. There's a chance that the Chiefs won't be able to hold off the Buccaneers' rush, and if Tampa can get pressure without needing to blitz, it can play safe coverage and take away most of the big plays that destroyed the Bucs during the regular season.

    Last year, though, the Chiefs were facing a team with an even better front four and a dominant running game. I picked the 49ers because they could control the line of scrimmage, and for three quarters, I felt very smart. In the fourth quarter ... I did not. The pass rush tired, Mahomes took over and Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't able to keep up. Andy Reid outcoached the guy on the other sideline, and the Chiefs won.

    The prediction is the least interesting and meaningful part of these sorts of previews, but like everybody else, I'd like to be right. To be right, I had to spend the entire Super Bowl LIV watching every single Chiefs snap counting on Mahomes to not do something magical. That was torturous. There's no fun in that, and I swore to myself that I wouldn't do it again if (or when) the Chiefs made it back to the Super Bowl.

    Well, here we are. Before the season began, I went on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt and predicted that the Chiefs would beat the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, 31-17. I think things will be a little closer than my preseason projection, but I'm not sitting through another Super Bowl expecting Mahomes to struggle. Brady getting back to a 10th Super Bowl is incredible, but this is Mahomes' era. Chiefs 31, Buccaneers 24.
     
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  2. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    NBA predictions: MVP, trade deadline moves and Finals matchups

    What will happen in the rest of the NBA season? Who will win each conference and make the NBA Finals?

    We polled the ESPN Forecast panel of experts -- including NBA writers, editors and analysts -- for their predictions now that we are one-third of the way through the 2020-21 NBA season. The topics include the most likely conference finals and NBA Finals matchups, the best rookie in five years and the best player in the league.

    Here are the results.





    Who is most likely to win MVP?


    Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James has taken a commanding lead in this race, though there's still plenty of time for a deep list of contenders to make their case.

    But if James takes the crown as the best player on the league's best team, it may be difficult for anyone else to break through.

    MORE: Breaking down the MVP race into tiers

    [​IMG]





    Which rookie will be the best player in five years?

    Although he's had some up and down moments so far, Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman is the clear pick here.

    No. 2 overall pick LaMelo Ball is in the running along with lottery steal Tyrese Haliburton (No. 12).

    MORE: Mike Schmitz's NBA rookie surprises

    [​IMG]





    Which teams are most likely to make the East finals?

    The Nets' superteam is an overwhelming favorite here, though their challenger is less clear.

    Our panel likes the 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks as the other top two teams in the conference.

    Voters picked their top two choices

    • Brooklyn Nets: 80.8%
    • Philadelphia 76ers: 61.5%
    • Milwaukee Bucks: 53.8%
    MORE: Kevin Pelton's weekly NBA mailbag

    [​IMG]



    Which teams are most likely to make the West finals?

    Our entire panel sees LeBron James and the Lakers making it back to the conference finals -- with the conference-leading LA Clippers a strong favorite as their most likely opponent.

    Voters picked their top two choices

    • Los Angeles Lakers: 100%
    • LA Clippers: 76.9%
    • Utah Jazz: 23.1%
    MORE: Zach Lowe's 10 things he likes and doesn't like

    [​IMG]





    Who is most likely to win the NBA Finals?

    LeBron and the Lakers also run away with this one.

    For reference, ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives the Lakers a 32.2% chance to win it all (No. 1 overall) while FiveThirtyEight has the Lakers at 23% (also No. 1 overall).

    • Los Angeles Lakers: 69.2%
    • Philadelphia 76ers: 7.7%
    • Brooklyn Nets: 7.7%
    MORE: How the Nuggets snapped Utah's win streak

    [​IMG]





    Which team most needs to be a trade deadline buyer?

    With a chance to potentially cause some damage in the West, the young Denver Nuggets are the most popular pick here.

    • Denver Nuggets: 34.6%
    • Milwaukee Bucks: 19.2%
    • Philadelphia 76ers: 11.5%
    MORE: NBA awards debate

    [​IMG]




    Which team most needs to be a trade deadline seller?
    The "someone save Bradley Beal" memes are surely a factor here, as the Washington Wizards currently have the worst record in the weaker Eastern Conference.

    MORE: No one was right about Luka Doncic's ceiling

    [​IMG]




    Fact or fiction: All 30 teams will play 72 regular-season games
    The NBA's plans to make up all postponed games due to COVID-19 protocols remain unclear right now, but our panel predicts it's unlikely that every team completes the scheduled 72 games, which could lead to some interesting wrinkles to the playoff race down the stretch.

    • Fiction: 92.3%
    • Fact: 7.7%
    MORE: What RPM reveals about this season

    [​IMG]




    Fact or fiction: LeBron James is the best player in the league
    James won the 2020 Finals MVP after losing out in the regular-season MVP race to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Despite LeBron turning 36 in December, our panel still sees him as the best player in the association.

    • Fact: 69.2%
    • Fiction: 30.8%
     
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  3. Flight

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  4. Derek Lee

    Derek Lee #thunderup Supporter

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    Jalen Green, from Nowhere, USA, to the top of the NBA draft
    • [​IMG]
      Ramona ShelburneESPN Senior Writer
    BY THE AGE of 15, there were few places in the basketball world Jalen Green could go and retain some level of anonymity.

    Green's highlight tapes had become the stuff of internet legend. He'd been ranked the No. 1 player in the high school Class of 2020 before he ever played in a high school game. Documentary filmmakers had been following him and his family for years.

    But when Green walked into the UCLA men's gym in the summer of 2017, trying to earn his way onto the main court for the legendary summer hoops run, only a few people knew who he was.

    "I didn't know him from a can of paint," said former UCLA star Rico Hines, who helps organize the games each summer. "Everyone and their momma always texts me about different cats, telling me to bring them out."

    [​IMG]
    NBA mock draft: New projections for picks 1-60
    Hines had invited Green to drive down from his hometown in California's Central Valley on the recommendation of a mutual friend, but made no promises about how much run he'd get with the NBA players, including Kevin Durant, who were scheduled that day.

    "I remember Brandon Jennings was there that day. He knew who [Green] was," Hines said. "But Brandon was like, 'You might be the No. 1 player in the country but you gotta prove it in here.' It wasn't like trash talk. It was like, 'Let's see it.'"

    Green waited and waited on the sidelines as the pros played on what Hines called "the winners court." Sometimes he'd jump into games on the two other courts, known as the "losers court" and the "losers' losers court."

    It took hours for him to get a chance to play in the featured game. Finally, when one of the pros was done for the day and ready to tap out, Hines looked over at Green and pointed for him to go in the game and guard Durant.

    "I mean, at first you could tell he was kind of, 'Damn, I'm on the court with KD,'" said former Houston Rocket Bobby Brown, who is a regular at the UCLA game. "I'm pretty sure KD scored on him a few times at first. But then he got out on a fast break ..."

    The dunk that Green unleashed is on tape somewhere, but Brown will never forget it.

    "I'm sure it was a regular dunk for him," Brown said. "But everybody in the gym just looked at each other like, 'Ooooooh, s---!'"

    Brown was one of the only people in the gym that day who knew of Green and his reputation for highlight-reel dunks from social media. But after that day, there were a lot more believers. "A lot of guys have had their coming-out parties in that gym," Hines said of the famous summertime hoops haven, which has been a favorite of L.A.-based stars like Marquess Johnson, Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Magic Johnson.

    "It's where reputations are made. But you have to earn your spot. And Jalen definitely did that day."

    Zach LaVine (athleticism) and Bradley Beal (shooting), and been featured in several documentaries, including one called "Prodigy" on Quibi.


    A former coach nicknamed him the Unicorn, because of his unique talents. (He has since backed away from that nickname a bit because Dallas Mavericks stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were also given that nickname -- a unicorn isn't as special if there are three of them.)

    Most NBA scouts expect him to contend for the No. 1 pick in this summer's draft.

    Last summer, when he trained with NBA players like LA Clippers swingman Paul George, Green held his own and then some.
    • [​IMG]
      Ramona ShelburneESPN Senior Writer
    BY THE AGE of 15, there were few places in the basketball world Jalen Green could go and retain some level of anonymity.

    Green's highlight tapes had become the stuff of internet legend. He'd been ranked the No. 1 player in the high school Class of 2020 before he ever played in a high school game. Documentary filmmakers had been following him and his family for years.

    But when Green walked into the UCLA men's gym in the summer of 2017, trying to earn his way onto the main court for the legendary summer hoops run, only a few people knew who he was.

    "I didn't know him from a can of paint," said former UCLA star Rico Hines, who helps organize the games each summer. "Everyone and their momma always texts me about different cats, telling me to bring them out."
    Hines had invited Green to drive down from his hometown in California's Central Valley on the recommendation of a mutual friend, but made no promises about how much run he'd get with the NBA players, including Kevin Durant, who were scheduled that day.

    "I remember Brandon Jennings was there that day. He knew who [Green] was," Hines said. "But Brandon was like, 'You might be the No. 1 player in the country but you gotta prove it in here.' It wasn't like trash talk. It was like, 'Let's see it.'"

    Green waited and waited on the sidelines as the pros played on what Hines called "the winners court." Sometimes he'd jump into games on the two other courts, known as the "losers court" and the "losers' losers court."

    It took hours for him to get a chance to play in the featured game. Finally, when one of the pros was done for the day and ready to tap out, Hines looked over at Green and pointed for him to go in the game and guard Durant.

    "I mean, at first you could tell he was kind of, 'Damn, I'm on the court with KD,'" said former Houston Rocket Bobby Brown, who is a regular at the UCLA game. "I'm pretty sure KD scored on him a few times at first. But then he got out on a fast break ..."
     
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  5. Derek Lee

    Derek Lee #thunderup Supporter

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    The dunk that Green unleashed is on tape somewhere, but Brown will never forget it.

    "I'm sure it was a regular dunk for him," Brown said. "But everybody in the gym just looked at each other like, 'Ooooooh, s---!'"

    Brown was one of the only people in the gym that day who knew of Green and his reputation for highlight-reel dunks from social media. But after that day, there were a lot more believers. "A lot of guys have had their coming-out parties in that gym," Hines said of the famous summertime hoops haven, which has been a favorite of L.A.-based stars like Marquess Johnson, Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Magic Johnson.

    "It's where reputations are made. But you have to earn your spot. And Jalen definitely did that day."

    Zach LaVine (athleticism) and Bradley Beal (shooting), and been featured in several documentaries, including one called "Prodigy" on Quibi.



    A former coach nicknamed him the Unicorn, because of his unique talents. (He has since backed away from that nickname a bit because Dallas Mavericks stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were also given that nickname -- a unicorn isn't as special if there are three of them.)

    Most NBA scouts expect him to contend for the No. 1 pick in this summer's draft.

    Last summer, when he trained with NBA players like LA Clippers swingman Paul George, Green held his own and then some.
    "I love him. I love his game," George said. "I think he's got a mix and a combo of almost every elite guard in the league. He can shoot the ball, he's explosive, he can handle it. At his size, he can play both guard positions. I think his athleticism is really what stands out so much about his game.

    "He just explodes off the floor. It's legit like a trampoline."

    So why isn't Green a household name or making the SportsCenter Top 10 like other Class of 2020 stars like Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State), Evan Mobley (USC) or Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga)?

    Because he's still waiting to play his first official game in nearly a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Last spring Green decided to forgo college and become the first elite prospect to join the G League as part of a new initiative to create an alternative to both college and international leagues, where prospects can earn a six-figure salary, sign endorsement deals and receive NBA-level coaching and experience right out of high school.

    "When you think about some of the larger conversations of what's happening in the high school space and the college space, I think we all understood this is something we needed to do," said G League commissioner Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

    "And if there's one guy you'd want to start something like this with, it'd be a guy like Jalen. His skill level, his athleticism, his maturity ... He has that thing, however you define it, but you know it when you see it."

    The only problem is no one has been able to see much of Green since last spring, when the remainder of his high school season was canceled -- along with the rest of the sports calendar -- due to the global pandemic.

    Instead of playing in the McDonald's All American Game and other showcases, Green went into lockdown. But unlike the rest of his high school class, Green didn't get to pick things up in the fall with the start of the college basketball season. He and the rest of the G League had to wait while the NBA figured out what to do with them and their season.

    "Like I tell the guys, 'The pandemic is the boss. It's in charge of the direction that everything goes in,'" said former Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw, who coaches Green on the G League's Ignite team. "So obviously it's not exactly the way we envisioned it being, but you've just got to roll with the punches because everybody in every industry is having to pivot whenever you need to pivot to continue to work and make things work."

    Instead of traveling around the country, matching up with other G League teams and playing on national television, Green and the Ignite team have been training in Walnut Creek, California, for the past six months in relative obscurity.

    Shaw made a point of closing practices to family, friends and scouts so the players could focus on training without any distractions. The G League's health and safety protocols made things even more isolating.

    Then in the fall, when college basketball started, the pangs of the road not taken started kicking in.

    "I'm sure there was this feeling of, 'Did I make the right choice? Because nobody's talking about me now because they haven't seen me,'" Shaw said. "But I keep reminding him -- in the meantime, you've been putting in the work every day."

    And now, with the G League getting ready to start play this week at the same Walt Disney World campus where the NBA finished its season last fall, Green will finally get a chance to show what he can do.

    "I'm ready," Green said. "We haven't played in so long, and I'm just excited to get games going. It's going to be televised -- so I'm just ready to show out."

    Back when fans could witness dunks, Jalen Green awed onlookers. Photo by Ernie Sarmiento ESPN5, Philippines
    THIS SOUNDS A bit like the wait Green experienced before getting on the winners court at UCLA, before he could prove he belonged. But those hours he stood on the sidelines weren't nearly as productive as these past few months have been.

    As comfortable as Green is in the spotlight -- he already has a following of over 1.1 million on Instagram and 80,000 on Twitter -- this time of under-the-radar preparation has done wonders for his game.

    "He was pretty quiet at first," Shaw said. "But what I've come to find is that he really wants to watch a lot of film. He wants to watch film of himself, but we haven't had, other than practices, there is no content for him to watch of himself.

    "So I've just been showing him different things on different players that I want him to pick up from those players. Like I've sent him video of Penny Hardaway, of Kobe, of PG, of Bradley Beal. And he loves watching film."

    Shaw has also made a point of teaching Green and his fellow elite prospects, like swingman Jonathan Kuminga, the nuances and lingo they'll need to understand once they get to the NBA.

    "They all know how to play with the ball in their hands in the style that they played in high school or AAU," Shaw said. "But it's a different ballgame when you add some structure, when you're not the best guy anymore and you have to play a different role and learn how to play without the ball in your hands.

    "So my goal is to help these guys improve and prepare for what's next and what it takes to be a pro on and off the court, how to develop a routine so that you can sustain and remain consistent. I want whoever coaches them next to be like, 'This guy is a lot more prepared than the last five or six batches of guys that I've had over that period of time that entered the league.'"

    That's also the job of Brown and the veterans on Ignite like Jarrett Jack, Amir Johnson and Reggie Hearn.

    "What I love about him, is he just wants to play basketball all day, every day," Brown said. "It's not always like that. You see kids like Jalen with all the hype and they get too caught up in it. But he's really all about basketball."

    Jalen Green arrives in Orlando for the G League bubble on Jan. 31. Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images
    THAT SIMPLICITY OF purpose is how Green's basketball story began, too. He grew up in an agricultural community in Central California, learning to play on the same cracked-pavement court where his mother, Bree Purganan, had learned the game from her father, Jamie.

    "It wasn't really a court," Purganan said. " It was just a driveway with cracks in the cement. The ball was always bouncing off the cracks, but we made it work."

    Their family had lived on this farm near the almond orchards in Livingston, California, since her grandfather immigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. a generation earlier.
    "It's all country out there," she said. "So our nearest neighbor was probably like a mile away. There was not a lot of traffic there, so we were able to just play in the street without a car coming by."

    Green learned the game on that ragged court out by the almond orchards. He played around the clock. And by the beginning of eighth grade, he was getting really good.

    The famous story -- for those who have watched one of the documentaries on Green or read stories on his rise -- is that he taught himself to dunk that summer before eighth grade because his stepfather, Marcus Greene, had promised to buy him a pair of Jordans once he was able to.

    But the story Green likes to tell about that period in his life, when the dream of playing basketball in the NBA one day started to come into focus, is wholly different. He'd been invited to the Pangos Junior All-American Camp in February of 2016, before he'd played a minute of high school ball, when a bout of imposter syndrome set in.

    "I was just like a random dude there, and everybody else knew each other," Green said. He was homesick and unsure of his talent. But he played well, even if he didn't realize it, himself.

    "Right after that camp," Green remembers. "The rankings came out and I was No. 1. It was shocking."

    From that point on, Green and his family dedicated themselves to fulfilling his basketball promise. They moved from the farm in Livingston to Fresno, so he could attend area powerhouse San Joaquin Memorial High. When Green was a senior, in search of even better competition, he transferred to Prolific Prep in Napa.

    Purganan left her job as a nurse to work remotely from a small apartment in Napa, which is three hours from Fresno.

    "It was a sacrifice, but we wanted the best for Jalen," she said. "We wanted to make sure that he is prepared in all aspects, making sure that he got the competition, making sure that this is what he really wants to do.

    "He left all his friends, but he loves the game and he knew he could visit his friends anytime." That was the same thinking behind his jump from high school to the G League.

    "My ultimate goal is to get to the league," Green said. "So when the G League came up, it was a great option because it puts you one step ahead of everybody in college. You're more on NBA terms, you're learning a lifestyle, the business of basketball. So it's like an advanced step above college."

    That was the plan, anyway. Before the pandemic. Before the world turned upside down.

    But the long wait is over now, and the task before Green is the same as it was as he waited to get on the court at UCLA.

    "I'm ready," Green said. "I'm ready. I've got a lot of work to do. I'm just trying to stay locked in on what I've got going now, and get better every day."
     
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  6. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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  8. Da_Eggman

    Da_Eggman Can't trust every face you gotta watch em

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  9. Skooby

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    NBA playoff projections: Locks, tiers and most likely play-in teams


    One-third of the way through one of the strangest seasons in NBA history, the playoff picture remains murky at best. That's especially true considering the postseason now includes a play-in round that only expands the amount of potential outcomes, while increasing the importance of the final standings in fascinating new ways.

    The rules have changed. The race for the No. 6 seed in both conferences is now vital. Same with the race for No. 10.

    With Thursday's release of ESPN's revamped Basketball Power Index (BPI), let's explore the latest in the playoff picture. Who are the locks in each conference? Which teams are on the play-in bubble? And which teams will ultimately make it in?



    How BPI works


    This new, enhanced version of BPI is the latest projection system from ESPN Analytics. Now utilizing real plus-minus and player availability data, BPI can properly account for who's playing in each game and how much their individual efforts contribute to team success on the court.

    This lets BPI immediately give precise projections throughout each game day whenever a player is traded, returns from injury or has to sit out.

    You can find the team-by-team BPI ratings here and BPI-based playoff and lottery projections here, both of which will be updated daily.

    Now, onto the playoff groupings ...




    Group 1: Top contenders


    The West | Top-3 seed odds
    Los Angeles Lakers: 98.6%
    Utah Jazz: 94.8%
    LA Clippers: 77.5%

    BPI gives the defending champion Lakers a 70% chance to make the conference finals and better than a 50% chance to win the West outright. Considering LeBron James has been to 90% of the past 10 Finals, that estimate might be conservative.

    The Lakers remain one of the most ferocious two-way teams in the NBA. Their defense currently ranks first in the NBA, and well, any squad with James and Anthony Davis will be fine on offense. It's also no shock that the Clippers make an appearance here. But there's a surprising new top-tier threat out West -- Utah enters Thursday's games with a 30.4% chance at claiming the No. 1 seed.

    Yep, Utah. The Jazz have inserted themselves into the conversation by winning 16 of their past 17 games. That's their best 17-game stretch since the Karl Malone-John Stockton era in 1997-98, which is also the last time they reached the NBA Finals.

    After finishing No. 6 last season and exiting in the first round, Utah is emerging as a legit contender for one simple reason: offense. The Jazz rank No. 2 in the league in both 3-point attempts per game and 3-point efficiency.





    The East | Top-3 seed odds
    Milwaukee Bucks: 96.8%
    Philadelphia 76ers: 78.5%
    Brooklyn Nets: 53.5%

    In the East, BPI loves Milwaukee. The model gives the Bucks a 72% chance of earning the No. 1 overall seed despite the fact they currently sit two games behind the Sixers in the standings.

    BPI is in part fueled by prior performances via the predictive version of RPM. That means it's driven by inputs from the previous seasons featuring domination from Milwaukee's players and uneven contributions from these Sixers. Add in that Philly has played the easiest schedule in the league thus far and Milwaukee currently has the league's best net rating ... and here we are.

    Still, the fancy BPI model doesn't factor in vibes, folks, and right now Joel Embiid is currently giving off legitimate MVP vibes. Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers have changed the entire culture in Philly. This team has both swagger and shooting on the edges, things that were sorely missing in the brief Al Horford era last season. If Embiid stays healthy and the Sixers can keep posting the best defensive numbers in the East, they can stay on top.

    And any conversation about East favorites has to include the new superteam in Brooklyn, right? The Nets are clearly a factor here, but it's complicated. The model currently gives the Nets less than a 6% chance of claiming the top seed and a 20% chance of grabbing No. 2. This group just hasn't demonstrated greatness yet, going 8-6 since James Harden's debut.

    BPI still gives the Nets a 37% chance of making the Eastern Conference finals -- second only to the Bucks -- due to projections that have them as the fourth-best playoff squad in the league (behind the Bucks, Lakers and Jazz). Still, those are dicey odds. If the super-shiny Nets flame out in the first two rounds, there's a 100% chance of some major finger pointing. You don't empty your draft cupboards and pay a massive luxury-tax bill to end that far from the NBA Finals.





    Group 2: Solid playoff candidates


    The West: Chances to finish No. 6 or better
    Phoenix Suns: 78.7%
    Denver Nuggets: 76.4%
    Golden State Warriors: 56.2%

    The race for the last three guaranteed playoff spots in the West is downright messy in a great way. Remember, teams that finish No. 7, No. 8, No. 9 or No. 10 have to play their ways into the postseason bracket ... before they face one of the top squads. No, thanks. Staying out of that bloodbath is essential positioning.

    BPI currently gives the Suns, Nuggets and Warriors a majority chance of grabbing one of these guaranteed playoff slots. The Dallas Mavericks (30.6%), Portland Trail Blazers (21.1%) and New Orleans Pelicans (20.9%) lead a secondary tier of hopefuls.

    A few things are helping those top three teams:

    • Net rating: Denver and Phoenix are both in the top 10, while Golden State's No. 11 mark is better than the other challengers.
    • Reliable, available superstars: The Warriors have Stephen Curry and his massive plus-7.64 predictive RPM. The Nuggets have their own MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic (plus-4.87). The Suns have Chris Paul (plus-3.92) and Devin Booker (plus-1.66) plus a deep group of positive contributors.
    The other squads are facing on-court inconsistency, COVID-19 complications and/or injuries. But there's still plenty of time for this tier to get a massive shake-up.





    The East: Chances to finish No. 6 or better
    Toronto Raptors: 94.7%
    Boston Celtics: 91.3%
    Miami Heat: 65.9%

    This crew is mostly looming in the shadows right now. But check this out: If the Nets land at No. 3 as projected, there is a very good chance they will face one of these scary teams early in the postseason. BPI gives Brooklyn a 59.4% chance of seeing Boston, Toronto or Miami in Round 1. Yikes.

    Sure, all three have had disappointing starts, but they all have the potential to turn it around.

    BPI likes Toronto the most. The model gives the Raptors a 24% chance of reaching the conference finals, just a few points lower than Philly's estimated chances. The Raps are trending up and deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, they're the only team in the league on a never-ending road trip and they've won at least 50 games in each of the past five seasons. It's reasonable to expect them to snap back into form as we approach the postseason.

    At 12-11, Boston is also a juicy threat. Jaylen Brown has been awesome so far, and along with Jayson Tatum he provides the Celtics with the best wing combination this side of Clipperland. But the Celtics have not consistently been playing like a true contender. Their issues appear to be the most concerning whenever their star point guard is in the game.

    The Celtics are 9-4 in games without Kemba Walker and just 3-7 in the games Walker has played. They are struggling on both ends with Walker on the court, posting a scary net rating of minus-7.6 in his 274 minutes. Boston has built a reputation for sturdy defense in the Brad Stevens era, but that hasn't been the case this season, especially with Walker and Tristan Thompson on the floor. If these indicators don't improve before the deadline, Boston might need to look at importing new talent for the stretch run.

    Miami would be tied for 10th if the season ended today, but the team is also just 2.5 games back of fourth-place Boston. It's too early to worry about these guys given their historically short offseason and roster issues to start the season. BPI projects that the Heat have a 33.6% chance of finishing in the play-in. Given how cursed this team looked to start the year, that's actually pretty low. And you know Milwaukee still wants nothing to do with these dudes in Round 1.




    Group 3: The play-in bubble


    Reminder on the new play-in format: No. 7 plays No. 8, and No. 9 plays No. 10. The winner of the 7/8 matchup gets the No. 7 seed in the playoff bracket. The loser of the 7/8 game plays the winner of the 9/10 game, and the winner there gets the final postseason spot as the No. 8 seed.

    So while you want to make it all the way up to No. 6 to avoid this scenario entirely, finishing seventh or eighth has a real advantage over ending up ninth or 10th, because you'd need to win only once to advance beyond the play-in.

    Now, on to the BPI projections. Let's just hit both conferences together here, because there's a big clump of teams in the mix. Even when excluding the Group 2 teams with solid play-in odds -- such as Golden State (39.5%) and Miami (33.6%) -- there are 12 squads with at least a 25% chance of ending up in the bonus round.

    Note: These projections don't include a team's chances of making the final playoff bracket. This is each team's chances of finishing Nos. 7-10 in the regular-season standings, leading to a play-in appearance..

    The West: Chances to make the play-in
    • Portland Trail Blazers: 58%
    • New Orleans Pelicans: 57%
    • Dallas Mavericks: 56%
    San Antonio Spurs: 47%
    Sacramento Kings: 44%
    • Memphis Grizzlies: 27%
    Houston Rockets: 26%

    The East: Chances to make the play-in
    Atlanta Hawks: 80%
    Charlotte Hornets: 77%
    Indiana Pacers: 74%
    Chicago Bulls: 44%
    New York Knicks: 25%

    There are some fascinating combinations here. Among the most exciting: Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic ending up in a win-or-go-home game before facing the Lakers or Jazz in Round 1. Same goes for Trae Young vs. LaMelo Ball in the East. Bring it on.

    Of course, the it's-still-early caveat is important. BPI likes the 13th-place Mavs to eventually make the final playoff bracket with a 64% chance. That tops both the Pelicans (52%) and the Blazers (51%). One surprise hot streak could seriously alter this landscape by the time we even see the NBA's second-half schedule.

    But one of the perks of the new format is that more teams stay relevant deeper into the season. If all 12 of these teams enter the final stretch with decent play-in odds, the last few weeks of games will be fascinating.
     
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  11. Jplaya2023

    Jplaya2023 Veteran Supporter

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  12. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    Five big trades we want to see at the 2021 NBA trade deadline


    The calendar has turned to March, which means -- for this season at least -- it's time for trades.

    There have been only three in-season trades so far in 2021: the move that sent Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, the Houston Rockets' acquisition of Kevin Porter Jr. from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and, of course, the four-team megadeal that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

    The NBA trade deadline is a little more than three weeks away, and while league insiders are predicting a quiet deadline, there is still plenty of time between now and March 25 for things to change.

    Teams that are on the fringes of the playoff race could slide in the standings, turning them into deadline sellers. Contenders could decide they need to make one big move to chase a championship. Players such as Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, who've been held out by their teams in advance of the deadline, could suddenly find themselves in demand.

    With that in mind, our NBA experts took a swing at playing GM, setting up five big trades they'd like to see go down this month, starting with a shake-up at the top of the Eastern Conference.


    Kyle Lowry's homecoming


    Philadelphia 76ers get: Kyle Lowry

    Toronto Raptors get: Andre Drummond, Tyrese Maxey, 2021 first-round pick from Philadelphia (unprotected), 2023 first-round pick from Philadelphia (lottery protected, becomes two second-round picks if not conveyed)

    Cleveland Cavaliers get: Danny Green, Mike Scott, Terrance Ferguson, 2024 second-round pick from Miami (via Philadelphia)

    The details: In an Eastern Conference race that is wide open, the 76ers could desperately use another dynamic two-way player. Bringing Lowry, a North Philadelphia native, back home could be the difference-making move that results in the 76ers' return to the NBA Finals for the first time in 20 years.

    Yes, Lowry, a pending free agent, is going to turn 35 the day of the NBA trade deadline. And yes, giving up multiple first-round picks and a young player in Maxey would be difficult.

    But it's a move Philadelphia should make. The 76ers add a proven playoff performer who would give coach Doc Rivers flexibility in how he deploys Ben Simmons. With Lowry's Bird rights, the Sixers could either extend him before the season ends or re-sign him this summer.

    For other contenders, like the LA Clippers, the difficulty in trading for Lowry comes with both making the cap math work (Lowry makes $30.5 million this season) and giving Toronto something it needs in return. This trade accomplishes both.

    Maxey and the picks will help Toronto add to its core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby moving forward. Green, Scott and Ferguson all have expiring deals that can be rerouted to Cleveland so the Raptors can add Drummond, shoring up their center position without taking on long-term money.

    The Cavaliers would recoup the second-round pick they gave up to acquire Drummond last season.

    -- Tim Bontemps




    Brooklyn nets a shooter

    Brooklyn Nets get: JJ Redikk

    New Orleans Pelicans get: Spencer Dinwiddie, Atlanta's 2021 second-round pick

    The details: OK, that previous trade was complicated. This one is simple.

    It boils down to Brooklyn pushing to go all-in for a championship run.

    The deal would put Redikk on a roster designed to compete for a championship this season and get him closer to his family, who are living in Brooklyn and are not with him in New Orleans this season.

    After a slow start to the season, in which he shot below 30% from 3-point range, Redikk has bounced back. He was held out for three games as the Pelicans tried to trade him before the reaggregation deadline last month. Since returning to the lineup after a move didn't come together, the veteran has looked more like himself, shooting nearly 47% on 3s in his past 13 games.

    Still, Redikk's minutes (18.2) and shot attempts per game (6.6) are the lowest they've been since 2008-09, his third year in the league, because of the Pelicans' crowded backcourt situation. This move would free up minutes for rookie Kira Lewis and second-year man Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

    As for Dinwiddie, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in December, the Pelicans would retain his Bird rights if he decided to decline his $12.3 million player option for next season. If he opted in, New Orleans could work him into next year's lineup or use him as another piece in a bigger trade this summer.

    -- Andrew Lopez



    Magic move on from Gordon


    Charlotte Hornets get: Jake Layman, 2025 second-round pick (from Minnesota)

    Minnesota Timberwolves get: Aaron Gordon

    Orlando Magic get: Jarrett Culver, Juancho Hernangomez


    The details: This trade is more about the 2021-22 season and less about now, considering Orlando and Minnesota sit at the bottom of the standings in their respective conferences.

    The addition of Gordon gives Minnesota a legitimate power forward to pair next to Karl-Anthony Towns. Although he has struggled this season with injuries, Gordon has still managed to shoot a career-high 36.9% from 3 and average 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds.

    The downside to this type of trade is that it puts Minnesota in the luxury tax for a second consecutive season (a scenario a lottery team should not be in) and close to the tax in 2021-22.

    Gordon would also be on an expiring contract next season. Although he is eligible for an extension in the offseason, he is projected to be one of the top free agents in 2022 and would likely be in line for more money by waiting, bringing in the risk that Minnesota would lose him for nothing after next season.

    Minnesota would also be waving the white flag on a player selected sixth overall in the 2019 draft. The selection of Culver was the first big move for head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas. Culver and Hernangomez are on team-friendly contracts (both will earn less than $7 million next season) and would give the Magic much-needed depth.

    The Hornets enter the picture as the third team because Orlando cannot do a three-for-one type of trade because of roster restrictions (the Magic would still need to waive a player for this trade to work). Layman fits into the Hornets' $4 million cap space and gives them scoring off the bench. The Hornets would also pick up a future second-round pick from the Timberwolves (one that could be high in the round if Minnesota's playoff drought continues).

    -- Bobby Marks
     
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  13. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    Changing of the guard for contenders


    Charlotte Hornets get: Terrance Ferguson, cash (from Philadelphia)

    LA Clippers get: George Hill

    Oklahoma City Thunder get: Tony Bradley, Mfiondu Kabengele, Mike Scott, 2021 first-round pick (from Philadelphia)

    Philadelphia 76ers get: Lou Williams, Mike Muscala

    The details: The crux of this four-team trade is the Clippers adding more of an organizer type at point guard and the 76ers upgrading their second-unit scoring.

    I've been enamored of the idea of the Clippers dealing for Hill since he landed in Oklahoma City. The veteran guard, who has NBA Finals experience, would be able to get the team into its offense without sacrificing spot-up shooting. Because the Clippers can't trade a future first-round pick, having already sent them all to the Thunder, I think they'd have to give up Williams to get a player of Hill's caliber. That necessitates involving a third team.

    A return to Philadelphia for Williams could be a fit if a bigger deal for Lowry doesn't work out. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year would help carry the Sixers' offense with Joel Embiid on the bench and is capable of being a late-game playmaker, too.

    Dealing Kabengele creates enough flexibility for the Clippers to fill that roster spot with a buyout candidate, while Philadelphia cuts its luxury-tax bill and gets a stretch 5 option off the bench by bringing back Muscala. Since Oklahoma City can't reacquire Ferguson, he heads to the Hornets, who would be paid off to take his salary into their cap space.

    -- Kevin Pelton




    Warriors cash in on Wolves' pick


    Golden State Warriors get: John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and 2021 first-round pick (from Hawks)

    Atlanta Hawks get: Eric Paschall, Kent Bazemore, Damion Lee, Jordan Poole, Marquese Chriss, Mychal Mulder, 2021 top-three protected first-round pick (from Timberwolves)

    The past two seasons have shown us that the Warriors have a strong need for young talent and quality depth to supplement their aging championship core. Collins is a young, starting-caliber and potentially impact big man capable of volume scoring, solid rebounding and stretching the floor from the perimeter. He fits in lineups next to either Draymond Green or James Wiseman, could help the Warriors get into the playoffs this season and could be a major contributor on a team with championship aspirations once Klay Thompson returns next season.

    Collins is set to be a restricted free agent this summer, but the Warriors would have the ability to match any offer he receives if they decide he's a cornerstone piece for their future. Reddish and Huerter are both long, young wings drafted in the first round of recent drafts who fit the mold of the off-ball shooters who thrive in the Warriors' system. The Hawks' pick looks to be a mid-first-rounder, which could provide more young depth moving forward.

    The Hawks are rumored to not have Collins in their future plans after this season, and are said to be looking for a first-rounder/potential lottery pick in exchange for him. The Timberwolves currently have the worst record in the NBA, after having the third-worst record last season, yielding a very real possibility that the pick lands in the top five.

    The pick is top-three protected, so if it didn't convey this season, it would still be a valuable piece moving forward as an unprotected first rounder in 2022. The Hawks have a lot of young talent on the wing, including big free-agent signee Bogdan Bogdanovic and 2019 No. 4 overall pick De'Andre Hunter, making Reddish and Huerter movable in this type of deal. The players they'd receive back are a mixture of young players on rookie deals and contributing veterans on expiring contracts, but it's the Minnesota pick that makes this deal worth doing for Atlanta.

    -- Andre' Snellings
     
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    SpursFanSinceNovember2017 Superstar

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  15. Skooby

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    NBA insiders say all these 3s are reaching a critical mass

    A COUPLE OF WEEKS back, the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves squared off in a game that only a few years ago would have been historic but in 2021 is just another Tuesday night. In a sparsely filled Fiserv Forum, the two teams attempted 96 3-point shots -- one every 30 seconds.

    Of the 22 players who took the floor, 19 of them took at least one 3. Wolves rookie Anthony Edwards is a marvel leaping off two feet, as witnessed by his recent dunk of the year spectacular -- though you wouldn't know it from this performance. The 31.4% 3-point shooter jacked up two attempts in the third quarter off the dribble from 26 feet, with 16 and 14 seconds remaining on the shot clock, respectively. Likewise, two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league's most devastating finisher and still trying to cultivate an outside game, twice breezed across half court and launched an early triple.

    It was hard to argue with the results: Nine of the 10 Bucks who logged minutes attempted a 3-pointer, and only Antetokounmpo (1-for-3) and Pat Connaughton (1-for-4) hit at worse than a 40% rate for the game. And Minnesota's performance wasn't awful -- a 35.2% clip that is comfortably above the NBA's Mendoza Line.

    For a growing number of NBA executives and coaches, the problem isn't that NBA offenses are wrong for firing up an average of 35 attempts per game from long distance. The problem is that they're right. It would be tactical malpractice for any team to swear off the 3-pointer. There are a handful of players whose midrange 2-point attempt represents a high-percentage shot, but for the vast majority of players, the best shot is one from behind the 3-point line or at the rim.

    Recent conversations with multiple league insiders about the state of the game reveal a consistent theme: As the rate of 3-pointers has exploded, the NBA might finally be reaching a critical mass. Some raise concerns because they believe the 3-ball has created a monotonous rhythm to each game, while others believe it has distorted the scoring system that determines wins and losses.

    "You can go overboard -- those nights you get 45 and 50 [attempts]," said Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey, whose team ranks 11th in percentage of field goals attempted that are 3-pointers. "Your quality of shots is going down, and there's going to be quick possessions. It kind of dilutes the spirit of the game and the soul of the game. It's about moving the ball from side to side, not just coming down and jacking up quick 3s."

    Measures that have been implemented over the past 20 years to help jump-start scoring are approaching an age of overcorrection. In an effort to lift the game out of the '90s mud -- "The poster-child image of that period is Mark Jackson posting up Charlie Ward," said Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle -- the NBA might have created too much of a good thing.

    THERE'S LITTLE DESIRE across the league to return to Patrick Ewing vs. Alonzo Mourning, but there's also a sense that the game is losing diversity of identity, at least offensively. This school of thought maintains that a stylistic conformity has overtaken the game. One of the more appealing characteristics of basketball is the number of ways a player can score, but a 3-pointer every 30 to 45 seconds introduces a repetition that isn't so appealing.

    "With all sports or competitive endeavors, you want there to be a strategic dynamic where there are multiple paths to victory," said Daryl Morey, Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations. "You want measures and countermeasures that are pretty well-balanced, so that you can go down any one of those paths and get a victory if the path is chosen well and executed well. But the NBA right now appears to be somewhat unbalanced, in large part because the reward given for the 3 being worth 50% more than a 2 is out of balance."

    Morey is anything but a back-in-the-day purist, and the Houston Rockets teams he previously presided over helped to fashion the trend of launching 3s with impunity. Today, there is only one ideological school in the NBA regarding these shots: pro. Everyone takes them, which has rendered them anything but special and largely unworthy of extra-credit points. In a dynamic market where a bucket could be worth a fraction of a point, the NBA could reset the value of a 3-pointer to bring it into balance. But "Curry for 2⅝!" would probably doom the game -- deservedly.

    There's also the compounding effect of all these deep looks. Just the consistent threat of a 3-pointer allows the spacing for creators to find the other hyperefficient way to score -- a shot at the basket. As offenses now field four or even five shooters on the floor, and dynamos such as Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard must be accounted for at 30 feet or beyond, defenses simply have too much ground to cover to properly challenge the barrage of long-range shots. Efficiency begets efficiency.

    "It often looks like no defense is being played," Casey said. "But when there are four shooters on the floor and a big man at the dunker [spot], spacing is inflated and a defense is stretched to its limit. Guys are working, but it's impossible to cover that much ground against NBA speed, quickness and power."

    Including the playoffs, 61 games in NBA history have featured at least 90 3-point attempts -- and 45 of the 61 have occurred since the start of last season, according to ESPN Sports & Information. The 3-pointer now represents 39.4% of all field goal attempts -- that's up 61% from the 2011-12 season. For those who welcome or accept the ascendance of the 3, this is a feature not a bug. Carlisle, who has served as the president of the NBA Coaches Association for more than 15 years, believes that change is a defining characteristic of basketball, as is adaptation to the new reality by players and coaches at every level.

    Changes to the way the NBA was officiated -- first with regard to illegal defense in the early 2000s, then by severely limiting contact between a defender and a ball handler -- liberated perimeter players and put a newfound premium on outside shooting. The result was a generation of players, irrespective of size, who had to expand their games if they wanted to achieve at the next level.

    "I don't think we can call it a bad thing when players are highly skilled, which is what the game should be about," Carlisle said. "The 3-point shot has revolutionized our game. Taking a dribble-up 3 six or seven years ago was a cardinal sin. And now we're all doing drills where guys shoot dribble-up 3s -- and we include our 7-3 center in those drills. The value of this sort of 3-point shot is big. So this may become a shifting conversation to, 'How do we fortify our teams with the right kind of defenders who can still shoot the ball, drive it and make plays?'"

    While offenses appear increasingly alike, their firepower has inspired more defensive diversity than ever. The variety of pick-and-roll coverages continues to metastasize, as switching has evolved from a novelty to standard over the last decade. All the while, we've seen everything from the box-and-one to the kind of hybrid zone that Casey cooked up when he presided over the defense a decade ago in Dallas under Carlisle.

    Casey says that the volume of 3-point shots is, in large part, a result of those well-intentioned efforts to create more space on the floor for a free-flowing game. The deluge of 3-pointers that has followed isn't entirely a product of kids trying to imitate Curry but a consequence of a game when those kids are often wide open because spacing has been inflated.

    "One primary thing that triggers all those 3-point shots is penetration," Casey said. "When you can't touch anybody, you are going to give up penetration. But these are hard conversations."

    WHERE AND WHEN the trajectory levels out and 3-pointers are no longer a growth commodity in the NBA is unknown. The league could soon see a day when more than 50% of attempted shots are fired from beyond the arc, or it could see the advent of creative defenses led by a generation of players who can stem the tide. Just as likely, those who govern the NBA may believe that reining in the 3-pointer is a solution in search of a problem.

    Given the 50% premium for a shot that's rarely 50% more difficult, getting players to wean themselves off 3-pointers wouldn't come without some significant changes to the incentive structure.


    If it wanted to, the NBA could afford defenders more latitude in impeding penetration. At the beginning of the 2018 season, "freedom of movement" was a point of emphasis for game officials, with the intention of almost eliminating any hint of grabbing and arm wraps. The return of handchecking is a non-starter, but finding a happy medium between aggravated assault and a spa day could give NBA defenses a fighting chance to impede today's shot creators. Fans would still be treated to Luka Doncic's unconscionable crossover and step-back 3, but they would also be spared more than five breezy attempts per night from Darius Bazley.

    Freeing up big men to zone up however they see fit would add another speed bump in front of drivers and slashers. If the center wants to patrol the paint in a "perma-drop" scheme, that's the defense's prerogative. My ESPN colleague Kirk Goldsberry has a bevy of interesting suggestions, ranging from custom lines to getting rid of the short corner 3.

    A more radical proposal from a longtime league power broker who wishes to remain anonymous (unless the idea gains traction) would curb inflation by limiting supply: Cap the amount of 3-pointers a team can take over the course of a game.

    Over the first 42 minutes of the game, each team would have the chance to attempt 20 shots from beyond the arc that would count for three points. Once an offense runs out of those 20 attempts, it can keep shooting from behind the line, but each subsequent make would count for only two points -- until the 6:00 mark of the fourth quarter, when attempts would once again worth three points until the game is over. The 3-ball is still the most reliable and entertaining way for teams to mount comebacks at all levels of basketball, so it's smart to showcase them at the game's most dramatic moments.

    Under these rules, an offense would need to be strategic and selective with its 3s. Use up all your attempts before halftime and you'll have trouble keeping the opposing defense honest. Leaving a shooter open in the corner is far less punitive when it costs only two points. Every impulse attempt used by Antetokounmpo is one fewer for Bryn Forbes (45.6%) or Khris Middleton (43.6%). For the first time in years, offenses would be forced to truly discriminate between good, average and bad 3-point looks.

    The reform would also encourage every kind of player to broaden his skill set. For the past 15 years, big men have been told they need to learn to expand their range. Under the new rule, unidimensional shooters would need to pick up some new tricks to stay on the floor. No one should want to see less of the Damian Lillard and Steph Curry half-court show from Sunday's All-Star Game. But the value of parking a 35% 3-point shooter in the corner to maximize a middle pick-and-roll would plummet, as offenses would have to grow more creative if they want to truly stretch a defense or force a rotation.

    A successful league remains in a constant state of vigilance about the character of its product and the path of its trends. Scoring, and the 3-pointer in particular, revitalized NBA basketball at some of its most precarious moments when it threatened to fall behind the NHL, then again two decades later when it lost its aesthetic appeal. But uniformity presents its own risk. The more times you witness a phenomenon, the less phenomenal it is.
     
    SpursFanSinceNovember2017 and FTBS dapped this.

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