The Fundamentals: Pistons’ frontcourt still finding its way with Josh Smith
• Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich might be the most overmatched starting point guard in the league now that Derrick Rose is set to miss the remainder of the season, but Bulls forward Luol Deng is doing just about everything possible to make his life easier. In the five games since Rose went down, Deng has averaged 27.4 points (on 54.8 percent shooting), 6.2 assists, six rebounds and a shocking 8.4 free-throw attempts. He’s also averaged 42.6 minutes as the Bulls have ridden his production as much as possible, including a heaving 56 minutes in Chicago’s triple-overtime loss to New Orleans on Monday.
• Memphis lost its best defensive player (Marc Gasol) to an MCL sprain, but in the meantime managed to halt its defensive slide. According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies’ makeshift starting lineup — with Kosta Koufos filling in for Gasol — has outscored opponents by 4.8 points per 100 possessions, largely because the team defense is finally locking up opponents as expected. Games against Boston (26th in points per possession) and Brooklyn (22nd) have surely helped, though Memphis also impressively held Houston to six points below its season average.
• Golden State has dropped three of its five games without Andre Iguodala, reinforcing the outright necessity of the versatile forward. For the season, the Warriors are scoring 96.6 points per 100 possessions with Iguodala out of the game and allowing 104.2 points — a miserable minus-7.6 margin for a team that was destroying its opponents when at full strength. With Iguodala on the floor, the Warriors have outscored opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions.
NOTES FROM AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
1. Paul George touches heaven
It might seem odd to call a player’s career-high scoring performance inevitable, but that’s how every point of George’s 43 against the Blazers on Monday felt. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum played George about as assertively and skillfully off the ball as possible. They were physical with him, denied him passes in scoring positions and worked their asses off to contest shots. This season, though, George seems to have ascended to a pretty special level as a scorer — a strata so untouchable that none of that defensive pressure mattered much.
That development wasn’t hinted in George’s already impressive 2012-13 performance, nor in his postseason breakout as a two-way star against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. This is something new entirely, and as someone enjoys many aspects of George’s versatile game, I have to say it suits him.
2. A lesson in basketball fundamentals from the best point guard in the world
Remember kids: Never, ever leave your feet to make a pass. Unless you’re Chris Paul, and then you can pretty much do whatever you want.
3. Celtics school for the pick-and-roll
In an impressive feat, Boston coach Brad Stevens has forged one of the better defenses in the league from a pile of mismatched parts. On a more specific level, it’s good to see how Jared Sullinger — the Celtics’ second-most-played big man, behind Brandon Bass — has picked up the particulars of covering the pick-and-roll.
This is just Sullinger’s second season, but already you can trace a pronounced progression in his defensive coverage. It’s often hard for young players to figure out exactly how long they can hang out on a pick-and-roll hedge before recovering back to their assignment, but Sullinger has done a really nice job of pinning down that difficult bit of timing.
4. A moment in praise of Tim Duncan and Al Horford, initiators of the fast break
They’re firmly in the sub-Kevin Love division as far as outlet passes go (as is the rest of the known universe), but Duncan and Horford both make quick, direct feeds to jump-start their teams’ early offense. San Antonio and Atlanta both place a priority on getting the ball up the court quickly for opportunistic scores, and those efforts begin with the pinpoint accuracy of these post-rebound distributors. This is a thing of beauty.
5. More on life without Marc Gasol
Koufos is one of the better reserve centers in the league. That left Memphis in a better position that most other teams would have been upon the injury to its best player, even though Koufos inevitably can’t match all of what Gasol does on both ends of the floor.
Among the subtler differences between them: Koufos’ complete unwillingness to shoot from outside the paint and the corresponding shifts in opposing defenses. Memphis’ offense was already a bit cramped for space, but things have gotten even tighter with Gasol — a terrific mid-range threat — out of the mix. Opponents just have no motivation to guard Koufos when he strays too far from the hoop, which increases the degree of difficulty for the rest of Memphis’ offense. That difference is felt most when Koufos is playing with the Grizzlies’ reserves, though a starting lineup already featuring Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince can be subject to the same pinch.
Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.