The Fundamentals: Suns blowing past expectations, but just how good are they?
• By now, word has made the rounds that second-year Blazers guard Damian Lillard has gone 15-of-19 from the field in overtime during his career. That in itself is jaw-dropping, but made all the more amazing when accounting for context. Not only was Lillard hyper-efficient in those overtime situations after all, but hyper-efficient in a high-usage role after playing big minutes. Lillard was tops in the league last season in minutes played, largely due to the fact that Portland could rarely afford to take him off the floor. Things have eased up a bit this year, but on the whole Lillard has averaged 37 minutes in regulation prior to overtime periods, a full night’s work — in close games, no less — that would leave most exhausted.
• It’s been a rough month for the Pacers guard Orlando Johnson, who has gradually let a prime opportunity as a reserve for one of the best teams in the league slip away. The reason? Johnson’s once-decent scoring contributions collapsed entirely. In Indiana’s last 13 games, Johnson has converted just 20.5 percent of his attempts from the field and 14.3 percent of his long-range attempts, thus grinding Frank Vogel’s patience to dust. Johnson logged a season-low four minutes of action during the Pacers’ loss to the Pistons on Monday, and one can imagine that such meager minute totals might be Johnson’s new norm. Danny Granger can’t get back into the lineup soon enough.
• Elsewhere, in shooting slumps: Memphis’ Jerryd Bayless seems to finally be climbing out of his season-long muck, having converted 45.6 percent of his shots from the field over his last four games. That might seem like a modest percentage, but considering that Bayless went 0-for-11 from the field in the game before this recent surge and flat-lined at 30.8 percent in the first 17 games of the season overall, Memphis will surely take any kind of bounce-back graciously.
NOTES FROM AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
1. A word on DeMar DeRozan
When Rudy Gay left town with his 18.6 field goal attempts per game, I somewhat expected DeRozan to reluctantly take up the mantle, hoisting up shots if only because few other Raptors would. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that to be anything but the case, as DeRozan has by all accounts carried on business as usual, which in this season has made for some solid basketball. Toronto is at the very least much more fun to watch — between Jonas Valanciunas seeing more minutes, Amir Johnson getting more touches, Terrence Ross stepping up in the rotation, and the new guys filling in on the fly — than they were previously, if not more altogether more conducive to helpful ball movement. For that DeRozan deserves credit. It’s been a year of small gains for the 24-year-old shooting guard, but the willingness to merely play a role in a scrambling, stilted offense bodes well for his adaptability in the long term.
2. Lance Stephenson, growing up a bit
One can find dozens of micro-examples of how Lance Stephenson has matured as a basketball player, but this decision on the break stuck out to me:
The old Lance bulls his way to the basket, likely drawing an offensive foul in the process or forcing up a wild shot. The new Lance still makes a jump pass and perhaps takes a bit too much time off the clock, though ultimately makes a wise decision in veering the ball back out rather than sling up an attempts between four Spurs.
3. The curious depth of the Celtics
Platoon-style substitution patterns are alive and well in Boston. It’s not often that you’ll see middling teams roll out entire lineups of reserves, but Brad Stevens has done so to start the second and fourth quarters this season to consistent success. Five-man units featuring Gerald Wallace, Courtney Lee, Phil Pressey, and two of Vitor Faverani/Kelly Olynyk/Kris Humphries have been completely locking down opponents this season, while scoring well enough to build up leads or cut deficits.
That’s a hell of a trick, considering, and a nice boost for a Celtics team that would seem limited in its bench resources. In all, this Boston team goes 10 or 11 deep; 11 players have averaged 10 minutes or more this season, with seven topping 20 a night. That’s some Spurs-level depth, albeit without the Spurs-level results.
4. Wonder Twin powers, activate
More Phoenix fun, as Marcus and Markieff Morris team up for a lob on a short pick-and-roll:
Hornacek has done a terrific job of working in all kinds of quick, flexible actions like this into Phoenix’s offense, giving the Suns an opportunity to make a play and time still to work the ball back out and try again.
On a semi-related note: Doesn’t it seem odd to force a “Slash Bros.” nickname on Dragic and Bledsoe when the Suns have two actual brothers on their roster?
5. An important announcement
In case you were somehow unaware, we now exist in a plane of reality where teams voluntarily elect to double-team Andray Blatche in the post. Proceed with caution; who’s to say what other rules of the universe are now bent beyond comprehension?