Fixes Clips, Grizz must make.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
All of the Game 1s are now in the books, and for many fans (and some players), it seems like their series will be over quickly. However, no matter how lopsided a victory, both winning and losing coaching staffs are immediately breaking down film of what happened and making adjustments accordingly.
It is this chess match that makes playoff basketball so different from the regular season. Because teams have more time on their hands and only one opponent in their crosshairs, they can adjust and anticipate adjustments and readjust again in an endless ballroom dance of X's and O's.
Here are some adjustments we might see from the Clippers and Grizzlies, both Game 1 losers in their respective series.
Los Angeles Clippers: Make Curry exclusively a scorer
Los Angeles is rightfully worried about Stephen Curry's shooting ability, so they've made it a priority to force the ball out of his hands. The Warriors anticipated the Clippers' aggressive trapping of Curry in pick-and-roll situations and managed to exploit it by taking advantage of the other passers on the roster.
In the screenshot above, the Warriors are running a variation of a play we ran with great success when I was in Phoenix called "Fist Up Short." It's a high pick and roll in which the ball handler comes off and hits a third player on the lane line, who then hits the rolling screen setter. Notice how high this pick is set (almost half court), and yet Griffin still is aggressively hedging the screen; that's a testament to Curry's range. Curry finds Harrison Barnes as he comes off the screen, who then hits the rolling David Lee, who has a ton of space (thanks to the high hedge) to drive in for the layup.
This play is made possible by three things: the Clippers' respect for Curry, Barnes' ability to make a simple bounce pass into space and Lee's ability to catch, put the ball on the floor and make a play. If Jordan overcommits to Lee, then Jermaine O'Neal is wide open for a point-blank shot. If J.J. Redick cracks back to prevent that, then Klay Thompson is wide open in the corner for a 3. It is the truest form of "pick your poison."
As counterintuitive as this might sound, the Clippers might have to live with allowing Curry to shoot more. By hedging hard on such a high pick, they leave themselves extremely vulnerable by giving Golden State too much space. Even with perfect secondary and tertiary rotations, the Clippers are most likely conceding a wide-open layup or 3 so long as the Warriors have the personnel to execute. These breakdowns not only give confidence to the opponents' offense ("everyone has it going" vs. just Curry), but they shake the defense's confidence in its own schemes. You start to see more freelancing and gambling, as players take it upon themselves to stop what's happening, but that just leads to more breakdowns and more open shots.
By hedging less aggressively, you are opening yourself up to Curry getting some "looks" (I use the quotations because for a normal human being, these still aren't wide-open looks) and heating up, but if you can keep everyone else in check, it might be worth it. I've often cited the Warriors' amazing win percentage whenever Curry posts 10-plus assists (55-17 lifetime, .763), but even when he doesn't get credit for the assist (like the play above), Golden State is tough to beat.
Meanwhile, over the last two seasons (playoffs included), the Warriors are 75-35 (.682) when Curry attempts fewer than 20 field goal attempts and only 27-32 (.458) when he attempts 20 or more. We used to see teams take this same strategy against Steve Nash: take away his playmaking, make him exclusively a scorer.
Memphis Grizzlies: Attack OKC's size disadvantage
When the Thunder go small, with Serge Ibaka at center and Kevin Durant, Caron Butler or even Nick Collison at power forward, they flourish. Yet for some reason, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has an affinity for running a traditional lineup with Kendrick Perkins at center.
Much of Oklahoma City's fourth quarter (including its decisive 13-1 run) featured Butler, Durant and Ibaka along the front line. Memphis, in turn, responded by fielding its own small lineup, which of course plays to OKC's strength and Memphis' weakness. In Game 2, the Grizzlies need to force OKC out of small lineups by punishing them under the boards.
In the above screenshot, Collison is attempting to defend a Zach Randolph post-up, while Durant is matched up against Kosta Koufos. Randolph's prowess on the block, along with his marked size advantage on Collison, attracts the attention of all five OKC players (notice how open Beno Udrih is in the corner and how easily Tony Allen can screen off Butler, who has lost track of Mike Miller). Koufos has a height and weight advantage on Durant, but he has something else that Durant doesn't: the instincts of a big.
Although you can critique his timing, by aggressively ducking in on Durant, Koufos has done two things: he's sealed excellent position in the paint for a drop-off, and he's screened off the help defense from the baseline (you can also argue that because of Reggie Jackson's gamble, he's also created the open look for Udrih). Durant's slender frame makes it tough for him to prevent this sort of cut by Koufos, but more importantly, his reaction time is slower because, as a wing, he's not as accustomed to having to fight that cut. It's a small adjustment, but it changes the tenor of the big vs. small lineup matchup.
In this screenshot, Collison is matched up against Randolph again and the rookie Steven Adams is defending Marc Gasol. While this isn't technically a small lineup, it serves as a great illustration of how Memphis can take advantage of the size differences. As Randolph drives, Adams sags to the front of the rim to help. Gasol knows this and gives a well-timed shove, thrusting Adams under the basket, preventing him from effectively contesting Randolph's shot, but also removing him as a rebounding threat. Gasol obviously profited from the inexperience of Adams, but this is something that can easily be done against smaller, more alert opponents.
Both of these examples show how Memphis can punish OKC for going small, and force Brooks to make the type of substitution he's already pining for: to put Perkins back in the game, even though that plays in the Grizzlies' favor.
Kerr makes most sense for Knicks.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There was little about the Knicks this season that suggested a well-coached squad, and clearly a fresh start was needed. Now that Phil Jackson has sent Mike Woodson and his staff packing, there's already a name being floated that should have Knicks fans excited: Steve Kerr.
On the whole, Woodson wasn't a demonstrably bad coach. According to the coaching plus-minus figures put out by Jeremias Engelmann -- one of the guys behind real plus-minus (RPM) -- Woodson had more or less a neutral impact on the Knicks' on-court fortunes. That falls in line with Woodson's performance against his team's point differentials: Not counting his partial season, Woodson's Knicks clubs should have won 298 games according to their scoring margin. They've won 297.
The problem is that on a roster such as New York's, where the resources have been heavily tilted toward the three frontcourt players -- two of whom (Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler) have availability issues -- it's not the steady hand of a neutral coach that's needed. A creative thinker who knows how to maximize Carmelo Anthony's impact is essential. That's where we look at the success of New York's small-ball lineup from last season to guide us toward Woodson's successor.
We all know how the formula worked: Anthony spent most of his court time at power forward, the Knicks spread the floor around him, the supporting cast bombed away at a record clip from 3-point range and Chandler was tasked to prop up the defense as best he could. The formula is a typical one for success in the NBA, circa 2014. Yet the lessons of last season seemed to escape Woodson, who was most comfortable falling back on his preferred schemes.
That brings us to Kerr, who has made no secret of the fact that if he jumps back into the league from the relative safety of the broadcaster's table, it would be as a coach, not an executive. An endorsement of Kerr might seem like an odd thing, because in a sense it smacks of typical Knicks. After all, if Jackson hires Kerr, we'd have two former title-winning role players in role reversals. One is a coach who has never run a front office, while the other is a former general manager who has never coached. Still, I think it would work.
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Kerr has learned from some of the brightest NBA minds including Mike D'Antoni, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson.
As one of the league's top television analysts, Kerr has been engaged in an ongoing job interview in recent years that we all got to eavesdrop on, not to mention his ubiquitous presence at the recent MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. There, Kerr not only espoused his philosophies on stage as a panelist, but sat in on some of the nuts-and-bolts presentations given by the math wizards on hand.
Kerr has spoken eloquently on the role of the coach, in terms of managing personalities and building locker-room chemistry. But on every broadcast, Kerr make sensible points, whether about a team's rotation preferences, general schematic traits or something else, and he often backs up those thoughts with at least basic analytics. It's one thing to pay lip service to these progressive notions, but it's another to be able to tie them into the action as it unfolds on the floor. Whereas the lessons of last season might have been lost on Woodson, it's likely that Kerr has been well aware of them.
There are other reasons to like Kerr. Unlike some of the other candidates who have already been bandied about, such Jim Cleamons, Kurt Rambis and maybe even Mark Jackson, Kerr doesn't have the baggage of a past failure. He's also been exposed to some of the NBA's greatest minds. Some might see his hire as a Jackson mandate to recreate the recent Bulls/Lakers dynasties, triangle offense and all, but Kerr could blend the best of what he learned from Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Mike D'Antoni.
When you think about it, if someone could meld Jackson's ability to motivate with Popovich's defensive genius and D'Antoni's high-powered offense, you'd have a dynamic coach. Kerr's experience as an executive in Phoenix is not only another reason why he'd be an ideal complement for Jackson, but it also sets up the possibility that he could move into a Popovich-like role for the Knicks when Jackson is ready to retire for good.
Monday's move was the beginning of a crucial summer for the Knicks. Anthony will likely opt out, and he has pledged to value championship probability ahead of maximizing income. As Jackson seeks to establish a new culture while setting New York up for the summer of 2015, he has to sell Anthony on the potential of his rapid rebuild. Bringing in a progressive thinker and high-profile communicator such as Kerr would be the first step toward setting Jackson's plans into high gear.