Court Vision: Appreciating the intricacies of Andre Miller
By Rob Mahoney
• Zach Lowe’s insights are always worth reading, but they’re particularly worthwhile when he broaches a topic he clearly enjoys. In his latest column, he covers 12 such topics in naming an All-Star team filled with his favorite players to watch — among them the inimitable Andre Miller:
Miller is the reason every NBA fan needs to invest in DVR — and not even because of the lob passes, long the best in the business, and propping up JaVale McGee’s career for the last year. It is astonishing what Professor Miller can see in real time, with nine other guys darting around a crowded court.
He is always two steps ahead of opponents and teammates, in ways that are easy to miss on first watch. But when you slow down the tape, you can see Miller doing this kind of calculation: “If I pause mid-dribble, hesitate, and then take one extra dribble into the paint, Defender A will shift to Spot X, which allows Teammate B to get open in Spot Y, which in turn will draw Defender B, which in turn will free Teammate C who likely has no idea what is about to happen.” It is like a perfect geometric proof during an NBA game.
Toss in one of the best little guy, pass-first post games, and I’m sold. Miller can’t really defend anymore, and Denver has to hide him on the weakest offensive player at all times, but this list is about pure entertainment.
• A terrific read from James Herbert on the unique and lasting relationship between Baylor alumni Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy.
• Every Knicks player has a van, apparently.
• Bradford Doolittle has combined a handful of different statistical measures to create a multifaceted look at individual perimeter defense. The most interesting — and thoughtful — statistical inclusion: the number of times than opposing offenses isolate against a particular player. Doolittle considers all kinds of metrics that evaluate performance, but how willing an opponent is to go to work against a specific defender actually says quite a bit regarding how universally that player matches up with opponents and how they’re considered around the league. The leaders in Doolittle’s joint measures are largely the expected (Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen, etc.), but there’s one notable inclusion that may seem surprising to those who haven’t watched Dallas all that closely over the last two seasons:
Vince Carter. This is easily the most surprising name on the list. Carter didn’t have a good defensive reputation when he was at his athletic peak, and he just turned 36 a few days ago. He doesn’t have a standout category, but ranks in the top 40 in each of the five individual factors. The Mavericks haven’t been great against perimeter players in general, ranking 25th in opponent PER. Carter, for what it’s worth, has improved his teams’ defense by 2.1 points per 100 possessions over the course of his long career. This season, the Mavericks are three points better on defense when Carter is on the floor.
• Arron Afflalo has conquered the land of the left wing, once ruled by the sovereign Dirk Nowitzki. Kirk Goldsberry checks in with a great look at which players are dominating which areas of the shot chart.
• Kevin Arnovitz compiles a list of the questions that will come to define the 2012-13 NBA season.
• Andrew Bogut’s return to the court on Monday was the best of surprises. Ethan Sherwood Strauss dives into the implications of a Bogut-injected Warriors team:
Andrew Bogut represents an upgrade at GSW’s weakest position, and the Warriors are already good. Does that mean this playoff-probable team could actually win a playoff series? What about two? Three? A (gasp!) championship? Bogut was just so, so good in his first game back.
That’s fun to dream about, but it’s so difficult to envision that I’d rather ruminate on Golden State’s cool, immediate aesthetic potential. This is an elite three-point shooting team that does it while rarely spreading the floor or slashing. It’s a theoretically impossible feat, but Golden State pulls it off due to Steph Curry’s space-creating DEFCON 1 shot threat, and David Lee’s exterior passing.
Golden State has now added another dimension to this mix. Like David Lee, Andrew Bogut possesses some wide-eyed court vision, especially for a big man. The two are already dotting the ball to each other in the paint like a regular Marc and Z-Bo.
• One of the most difficult factors to weigh as the Celtics entertain the possibility of trading Paul Pierce: Sentimentality.
• It’s hard to know what to make of this information, but Brandon Jennings has been pretty atrocious in February throughout his career.
• Things haven’t quite come together this season for the New Orleans Hornets, a team that thanks to some injuries and growing pains now ranks 14th in the Western Conference. Yet for a team with such a grimy record, the future Pelicans have a lot to look forward to. Ryan Anderson has had a terrific first season with the team, and has acclimated himself wonderfully to a system that doesn’t rely on a Dwight Howard-sized interior threat. Anthony Davis is a spectacular work in progress. And Eric Gordon, as Rohan Cruyff notes in a post for At the Hive, has been put in optimal positions by a head coach who seems to understand Gordon’s value:
When the Hornets first acquired Gordon, I wrote that the team should look into emphasizing Gordon in the pick and roll. In his last season as a Clipper, 13% of his offensive possessions were isolations (where he ranked 164th in league efficiency) and 27% were pick and rolls (where he ranked 14th).
Last year, the pick and roll count rose to 33% (where he ranked 1st overall in efficiency). So far this year, 16% of his possessions are isolations and 36% are in the pick and roll. The efficiency in P&R hasn’t been fantastic yet — he ranks 50th thus far — but it’s a fairly similar situation to his three point shooting; it’s something he’s really, really good at, has been really, really good at in the past, and will be really, really good at again in the near future.
The fact that the Hornets have significantly forwarded his P&R game while also depressing his total number of catch-and-shoots and off-screen looks (two areas he strangely struggles with) is encouraging. This is an area where Monty Williams clearly knows what he’s doing. Even if the overall possession count needs to drop, the ratios are just about perfect.
• Tim Duncan’s outlet passes are looking sexier than ever.