Court Vision: Lakers’ Steve Nash plays on
• There are certain combinations of basketball writer and subject that are just a joy to read, even in unfortunate circumstances. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein on Steve Nash:
The reason he wants to play on is because he can’t bear to have returned so little on the Lakers’ investment. He wants to play on because that’s Nash’s natural instinct, going all the way to his teens, whenever the so-called basketball experts have told him you can’t or you won’t. He wants to play on because Nash loves just being on the team, in the heart of the locker-room action, more than any other Hall of Famer I’ve ever encountered.
And it’s mostly because the oldest player in the league is smart enough to understand that retirement is going to last a long, long time. Whenever it comes.
Better, then, to try — in trademark Stevie style — to see if he can beat the odds one last time and rewrite this unhappy Hollywood ending until the doctors make him stop.
• Some worthy consideration from SB Nation’s Tom Ziller of how Phoenix’s plans are complicated by Eric Bledsoe arriving ahead of schedule.
• Julius Erving, half-jokingly, in discussing his first shoe deal with Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck: “Converse owes me money.”
• For those wanting to know a bit more about the specific choreography of team defense, check out this piece-by-piece breakdown of Brooklyn’s side screen-and-roll coverage. The tactic the Nets use — ICE-ing, also called downing or blue-ing, depending on the team lexicon — can be seen all around the league, making this specific case study good for broader learning.
• In a larger piece on the growth and progress of Blake Griffin, Kevin Arnovitz succinctly captures what separates the Clippers’ defense — and that all of all teams reliant on Tom Thibodeauian systems — from others around the league:
The aforementioned “beautiful thing” Griffin experienced in practice is the fluid, almost balletic way Rivers’ Tom Thibodeau-influenced strong-side pressure defense appears when it’s firing on all cylinders. Most NBA defenses look to avoid rotations — think San Antonio, Memphis, Indiana to a great extent — because many open looks in the half court are the result of rotations.
In contrast, Rivers’ defense aims to exert more pressure on the strong side of the court, and is willing to absorb rotations to do it. This can be risky because it introduces another layer of decision-making into the defensive process. Applying pressure requires a guy to leave his primary assignment to overload, which means someone has to account for his man.
“If we overload one side and the ball gets swung, someone has to take off running,” Griffin said. “Then somebody else has to be there to contest the shot. A team might get a shot, but it’s hurried and they don’t get the shot they want. That’s what we’re going for.”
• The Bobcats’ players and coaches discuss the world of difference in running an offense built around Al Jefferson, a post-up threat who acts as a magnet for double teams.
• Andrew Lynch has set up the NBA’s top passers’ ratio of assists to assist opportunities (a new gem from the SportVU data set) as a percentage, quantifying the proportion of a player’s potential assists that go completed. It’s a fascinating launch pad for further analysis. Would John Wall or Tony Parker’s successful assist percentage be markedly higher were they not kicking the ball out for so many three-pointers? Are the Kings such a dreadful shooting team that they’re sand-bagging the successful assist percentage of Isaiah Thomas and Greivis Vasquez, or are the two ball handlers not able to put their teammates in beneficial positions on a consistent basis? The questions go on and on, as they do with any quantifiable output.
• Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum interviews NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, just for kicks.
• This story is specific to college basketball, but the general question it poses applies just as much to the NBA.
• If the clearly rebuilding but better-than-expected Celtics have anything resembling an identity at this point, it likely comes from the even keel of head coach Brad Stevens. From Paul Flannery of SB Nation:
If equilibrium had a face, it would look a lot like Stevens. As advertised, his steady demeanor has been evident since the moment he took over. He may be the first coach in NBA history to go through a season without getting a technical.
“We just focus on what you can control, don’t get too high,” Stevens said. “I haven’t seen like these unbelievable celebrations in the locker room or anything else. They’re just pretty matter-of-fact, move on to what’s next, and the better teams that I’ve coached have been that way.”
• In parsing the league at large, Aaron McGuire picks out an interesting trend: Despite his terrific start to the season, Damian Lillard is having terrible trouble finishing around the rim.