Wednesday Night: 3 Game Musings, Rookie Watch & McCollum

Minnesota at LA Lakers

  • Towns offered up a diverse preview of his advanced offensive repertoire. He scored on a plethora of moves including a post up hook shot over Randle, an insane step back jumper off of a pick and pop and another smooth fadeaway on the left block. Towns has an advanced offensive understanding already, being able to immediately survey the court in pick and pop situations especially (also the post) and move the ball. Defensively, he had some lapses and bad fouls, not to mention his timing as a shot-blocker was slightly off. But he’s an immediate impact player, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.
  • The surprise player of the night was obviously Rubio, and more specifically Rubio’s shooting, putting up 28-14 on 10-17 from the floor. Rubio’s shooting and finishing woes are well documented, but he looked incredibly confident as a shooter, hitting pull-up mid range shots and an off-balance catch and shoot three. Rubio is already an outstanding defender and passer. If he rounds out his game with an improved shot the Timberwolves just became infinitely more interesting than they already were (and they were already very interesting).
  • Two major questions with the T-Wolves: why is Prince starting/playing and why is LaVine playing point guard? Muhammad and Wiggins punished opposing wings last year in the post based on whoever drew the smaller wing (usually Wiggins). No idea why Prince is starting and stunting the developmental growth of those two. LaVine is a great transition finisher and a capable secondary ball-handler, but he’s not a PG. That needs to stop. Also don’t like the Wolves playing 12 guys in the rotation.
  • As for LA, if Russell’s game one usage and the Lakers’ style of play was an indication of what is to come it’s a complete indictment of the #2 overall pick. Russell is an NBA ready middle pick and roll guard who thrives off pull-up jumpers (ideally threes with the screen set farther out) and swinging the ball on cross-court lasers to open shooters when given space. He’s also an expert transition passer in the open court and could be devastating with early drag screens to dissect the defense before it gets set. Instead, the Lakers played him predominately off-ball, the result being only one touch in his first stint of action in the first quarter off an offensive rebound. Nearly every time LA got Russell in middle pick and roll they got a high percentage, sustainable quality look. Instead, Scott ran predominately wing post up isos for Kobe where everyone just stood around and spectated, and Kobe, as well as Williams and Young, finally fizzled out shooting contested jumpers. If the Lakers were just going to run halfcourt post isos they should have taken Okafor. It’s only one game, but Russell’s skill-set was mismanaged more than any other rookie by far last night. If you aren’t going to let Russell instigate the offense, run middle P&R and get him out with the ball in transition you’re wasting his skill-set. He needs to be working on skills that will translate to future success. That was the precise opposite last night.
  • Randle really needs to develop a right hand finish. He has a very deceptive first step and can create space in face up situations pretty consistently, but the space he creates is nullified going right when he comes back to his left hand, allowing the defender to make up ground and contest. His coast to coast transition finish last night was something I hope we see consistently this year. Such a rare dynamic.

San Antonio at Oklahoma City

  • My biggest takeaway from this game is what most already suspected: these teams are essentially dead even, and one play or two will likely decide any playoff series. Last night it was Green’s inexplicable pull-up “three” (really just lost control of the ball) in the waning seconds that decided it in favor of OKC (the play was designed for Kawhi but never got that far).
  • Adams really surprised me as roll-man with a combination of soft finishes moving towards the basket and finishes above the rim. He looks more skilled offensively this year, which is huge for the Thunder as he’s the more complete player than Kanter. Speaking of the latter, he had a typical Kanter game, bullying the Spurs in the paint and on the glass, but suffering from his usual defensive lapses.
  • Everyone is watching Parker as his play is probably the biggest x-factor in the Western Conference. Mixed reviews after game one. He got into the lane several times offensively showing good burst for his patented lightning quick running finishes, but he wasn’t quite the same. Defensively, he got picked on by Westbrook and even Waiters isos late in the game (two long range pull-up twos). The Waiters shots are not sustainable, but it shows teams as per usual will try to single out Parker trying to hide on inferior players. Parker also got torched by Augustin off the bounce. For the most part Pop stuck to conventional defensive assignments and did not play Green on Westbrook much, which he’d clearly do more in the playoffs.
  • Kawhi is a freaking monster. He’s easily a top 9 player in the league, and you could probably argue top 6. His defense has been there. What he did shadowing KD slithering around screens, contesting (and even blocking KD’s shot) and stripping the ball nearly every time Durant brought it down no one else on this planet can do. It’s his expanded offensive game that elevates him to star caliber. He scored on post-ups, face-up blow-bys and coming off screens. He is playing with so much more offensive confidence. The only element to his game left is creating for others off the dribble, and there’s no reason to suspect he wont get there.
  • I’m not worried about Aldridge’s fit in terms of ball movement. Several times SA broke rank and just isolated him in the post, but you live with that. He’s a nice bail out option when the initial actions break down. Serge played incredible post D on LA in this game. The fit transition will just take some time.

LA Clippers at Sacramento

  • The biggest revelation here is Cousins making 4 threes, predominately converting as a trailer. The Kings have shotty spacing as expected when Cousins is paired with Koufos (he didn’t play at all with WCS last night), relegating Cousins to a stretch 4/5. Basically if Cousins starts making threes it becomes absolutely terrifying. He attacked several closeouts last night after his threes presented that threat, and his combination of strength, body control and handle going full-speed towards the rim is just unfair.  Cousins was also incredibly sloppy with the ball last night whipping around several errant passes out of bounds and late to cutters, which you come to expect from him.
  • The Kings best lineup looks to be Collison/Belinelli/Casspi/Gay/Cousins and just pushing the pace in those instances. Cousins is best utilized with optimal spacing, and smart defenders just wont afford him that with Koufos clogging the lane and Rondo being ignored. Paul guarded Rondo last night and essentially just roamed off him to double Boogie. Collison is below average, especially as a passer in pick and roll, but he’s outstanding in transition and his shot at least has to be respected. The Kings have an odd assortment of players, but favoring offensive spacing and shooting looks to be the move.
  • Cauley-Stein only played 8 minutes, but flashed several times. He made a great play retreating for a deflection in P&Rshowing his mobility. The Kings also had him switch every screen on the perimeter like a wing, which I haven’t seen a center do ever (he started on Pierce and switched to Rivers). WCS is obviously atypical moving laterally, and it seems the Kings realize that. Optimally used offensively as a P&R diver & explosive finisher, there really isn’t an ideal P&R partner on this Kings team, so he’s unlikely to meet his offensive ceiling with this current roster. He’ll be a pleasure to watch on defense though.
  • I’m still not sure what exactly Ben McLemore does on a basketball court if he isn’t a 38%+ 3pt shooter. He has a supreme lack of ball skills and has not improved his handle at all. He’s basically an average catch and shoot player and straight line driver. Being virtually invisible on the court last night outside of showing nice athleticism chasing JJ around screens, the Kings definitely need more from him.
  • Not really any takeaways from the Clippers side that we didn’t already know.

Rookies

Justise Winslow

  • Seldom does +/- tell a precisely accurate story, but Winslow’s +26 in 26 minutes paints a damn accurate representation here. I’ve never seen a rookie wing defend like him last night. He was constantly communicating, didn’t miss a single rotation that I saw and always kept track of his man off the ball. He consistently tagged the roll-man weak-side and recovered to his man with ease defending off the ball, having the look of a savvy vet.  He has a great feel for when to crash the glass leaving his man on the perimeter. On ball he defended multiple positions ranging from Lin to Batum, and only over-extended once, getting beat and resulting in a Whiteside rim contest. Winslow also navigates screens incredibly well and almost never makes contact with the screener. Offensively, Winslow was mostly relegated to spotting up in the corner, but he flashed multiple times. His most impressive play was attacking a closeout and whipping the ball crosscourt to Chalmers in the weakside corner for a three on a LeBron like skip pass. He also had the notable dunk off a closeout from the corner and a hit a wide open transition three. Miami did let him advance the ball off of defensive rebounds, and the ball never stuck with him in the halfcourt. Overall, Winslow predictably played within himself, and showed he’ll have an impact role in Miami immediately. I had him third overall in the draft for the very reasons he exhibited last night. Miami got a steal.

Jahlil Okafor

  • Only caught the highlights here so I can’t go in depth about overall game flow, but Okafor definitely looked impressive. Mind you, he whipped Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger in the post, which is about the softest interior defensive duo you’ll find.  I’m far from shocked that the best pure post player since Duncan killed that duo. Still, he exhibited excellent touch on a transition floater and a pull up jumper to go along with his normal wicked spin move in the post. I want to see Okafor against a better defensive interior. The Okafor is > Russell pundits based on a one game sample size considering Russell’s usage are entertaining though.

Mario Hezonja

  • Got a chance to watch about half of this game. Hezo has two things going for him that permit him to have an immediate impact outside of his general athleticism: shooting and zero hesitancy. His high, quick three-point release immediately translates and he’s already the best shooter on the Magic (Orlando players not named Hezo shot 2-21 from three against Washington). Hezo also doesn’t fear the moment, burying a huge three down the stretch of the game. His confidence is also a minus in some areas though. He tries to create for others off the dribble and just doesn’t have the ball skills or awareness to do so yet. He threw numerous poor passes last night and will be a liability as a playmaker until he develops his handle and understanding.

Emmanuel Mudiay

  • Only caught the personalized highlights here but Mudiay’s jumper stuck out in a positive way. He hit a step back three and 3 threes overall. If he does that consistently he’s obviously an all-star. Denver, unlike LA with Russell, is putting Mudiay in a system to succeed: uptempo and heavy pick and roll (Mudiay is incredible at setting up spacing in P&R with his dribble). Looking forward to seeing more of him.

C.J. McCollum

  • This guy can play, folks. A testament to how important handle, change of direction, and the ability to shoot off the dribble can be offensively (overcompensating for a lack of straight line speed and athlecisim), McCollum is a balanced all-around offensive force. He’ll never be more than an average defender because of size limitations, but he is a monster offensively. That dribble move last night on the wing and pull-up was absurd. He also hit 6 threes. I had CJ as a top 3 player in his draft class, and I’m absolutely buying his emergence getting consistent minutes and being healthy for a sustained period after his injury-plagued rookie year. His skill-level is absurd, and his vision and court awareness are catching up with the former rapidly. Portland is fun.
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