Lowe's 10 things in the NBA Luka Doncic, NBA card counters, is an active volcano

For our first 10 things of 2023, we talk about Luka's volcano-like shot, Herro-ics in Miami, LaMelo Ball's lack of direction, and Nikola Jokic's new invention. We also give a useless finger-wag to annoying in-game ads.


Lowe's 10 things in the NBA is an active volcano


Lowe's 10 things in the NBA Luka Doncic, NBA card counters, is an active volcano


1. Luka Doncic isn't going to settle 



It's hard to keep track of every single scoring explosion, but Doncic had 44 points on 53% shooting, including 43% from deep, in his last six games before a semi-dud against the Boston Celtics on Thursday. That doesn't even look real. 



All the talk about how good Doncic is at controlling the ball has (a little) hidden the fact that he has reached a new level of efficiency. Doncic is now 35% from deep after a slow start with his trademark step-backs. 

 


He has made 75% of his shots from the rim and 55% from the floater range, which is crazy. With Doncic on the court, the Mavs have scored 118.7 points per 100 possessions, which is just above Boston, which has the best offence in the league. This drops to 104 when he takes a break, which shows how good Doncic is and how bad the rest of the team is. 


The Mavs are set up to shoot 3-pointers off Doncic's passes, but Doncic knows that a shot at the basket is the best shot. Because of his height, creativity, and courage, he can get into places that almost no one else can: 



If two people are guarding Doncic, it's usually an open three-point shot for someone else, even if his screener, Christian Wood, is rolling to the basket in this case. (Lineups with Wood as the only big player, like the Mavs' starting five right now, have been as hard to defend as expected. Cleaning the Glass says that teams with Doncic in them have won by four points per 100 possessions.) 


Doncic figures out that this is not a permanent trap. Instead, it's a delayed switch, with Doncic's defender going after Wood while other defenders stay with Dallas' shooters. 


Wood is a wide receiver who is open and needs a lead pass. Any chance comes from a pass with the right speed, height, and touch. Even then, the window between space and time might be too small. Doncic makes that window bigger with an eye fake that freezes the key help defender, Romeo Langford, who is hiding in the corner on the left. 


There aren't many more exciting seconds in the NBA than when Doncic dribbles around a pick and stops while still moving. No one makes more intense drama out of stillness than this person. So many things can happen in that second. Doncic is in control of the game. Defenders fret. Will one of them get scared and run into the paint, leaving a shooter open? Will Doncic's one look be enough to throw off the whole defence? 


This time, Doncic's backup plan is easier: he just has to wait for his screener, Dwight Powell, to catch up and block Zach Collins on one side of the basket. This is something that Doncic, Maxi Kleber, and Powell have mastered. 


The Mavs lost Jalen Brunson for nothing, couldn't make 3s for two months, are missing Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Josh Green, and are now No. 4 in the West with a 22-17 record after Boston ended their seven-game winning streak. Doncic should be at the top of or close to the top of any MVP list.




2. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are carrying the Heat 



The Heat are finally getting healthy, going 8-4 in their last 12 games. Adebayo and Herro have been solid for Miami while Jimmy Butler's knee problems keep him in and out of the lineup. Adebayo should be picked for the All-Star team for the second time, and Herro should also be mentioned. 


Adebayo's average number of points has gone up from 19.1 to 21.8. He is scoring more, but he hasn't forgotten his role as a creative fulcrum. He is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and is a destroyer all over the court. 


According to data from Second Spectrum, Adebayo is averaging 9 isolations per 100 possessions, which is up from 5.5 in previous seasons. He is scoring 1.06 points per isolation, which ranks him 64th out of 207 players with at least 20 isolations. He's doing more post-ups than that well. 


He looks more stable when he's standing up, jabbing into a rhythm, and floating: 


Herro is having his best season all around, even if you don't count the clutch game-winners. He is even rebounding like a power forwards. Herro is doing more pick-and-rolls, and they are working: Miami has scored 1.1 points per possession right after a Herro pick-and-roll, which is 19th out of 166 ball handlers who have done at least 100 of these. 


I wrote during the offseason that Herro should take more 3-point shots like Klay Thompson. Herro's 3-point shooting percentage had dropped for two straight seasons, and he was passing up opportunities. 


Now, no longer. More than half of Herro's shots have been 3s, which is up from 39% last season. He's looking for them and getting up as soon as it gets light: 


Herro slams on the brakes to see if Marcus Morris Sr. passes quickly. Check. A year ago, Herro might have switched to his two-man game with Adebayo or walked into a midranger. 


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Herro's first look is blocked by a close-out, but he and Adebayo make up a hand-off to open another. 


The Heat don't believe that their chance to win the title is over. Even if they're wrong and have to rebuild without trading a star player, starting with Herro and Adebayo is not a bad place to begin. 




3. Marcus Smart, true point guard 



Smart has become almost the perfect point guard for the Celtics as he has grown. Smart can start possessions, but he doesn't have to. He's happy working off the ball or setting screens for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. 


Second Spectrum data shows that Smart does 18 pick-and-rolls for every 100 possessions. This is one more than Brown and three less than Tatum. This is a good balance. 


When Smart starts a game, he doesn't keep all the possessions for himself. He gets off the ball early and is happy to work as a link from there: 


Smart's passing is at its best when he makes touches in the middle of a possession. These touches keep the machine moving, keep the defence on its toes, and get the ball back to Boston's best players. Smart people know that Tatum will move to that corner. He doesn't waste a single millisecond when he gives the ball back to Tatum. Tatum catches Smart's pass while Joe Ingles is still coming at him, making him an easy target for that blow-by. 


When Smart takes a break, Boston's number of assists goes down. 


Smart is putting up more and becoming a better inside-out distributor as a result. Second Spectrum tracking shows that when Smart shoots or passes to a teammate who shoots from the post, Boston averages almost 1.25 points. This puts him eighth out of 81 players with at least 20 post touches. Out of post-ups, only four players have a higher percentage of assists. 


The "almost" in "almost perfect" comes from the fact that Smart can only make about 33% of his 3-point shots. 




4. Josh Giddey, who always gets what he wants 


I don't know what will happen to Giddey in five years. He's 20. Without a reliable jump shot, it will be hard for him to be the main creator on a good team. Giddey shoots 33.7% on 3s and 38% on midrange shots. He doesn't try long 2s very often. 


But there is a huge middle ground for average shooters between "No. 1 ball handler" and "stand-still spot-up guy." This is a grey area where tall passers who can rebound, cut, and defend can do well as connectors. 


Giddey is 6 feet 8 inches tall, and he can see every pass from anywhere. He is already a great rebounder and a good defender. (Keep an eye on the Thunder as they try to get big wing players who are the same size and can switch roles on defence and offence.) He makes 34.5% of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. If he can make more of them and get his percentage up into the high 30s, that will change his career. 


Giddey knows that defenders will go under his screens to block the paint. He has already learned a number of cures


Instead of the usual pick-and-roll, Giddey throws the ball ahead to his screener and sprints into a handoff. So, if his defender, Jaden McDaniels, slides under the pick, he has a chance to beat him to the spot. McDaniels wins that race, but he is quickly going backwards, leaving him open to Giddey's change-of-direction move. 


Giddey is a big player who likes to play one-on-one in tight spaces. He is sneaky and uses his size to shoot over defenders. He fools defenders with clever "Smitty" fake half-spins and other tricks. On pick-and-rolls, Giddey is smart enough to have his screeners set two or three picks, changing the angle and moving down one step each time, until his defender gets stuck or he gets close enough to shoot a floater. 


There's a long way to go: Second Spectrum data shows that Giddey is not very good at pick-and-roll. But I'm excited to see how Giddey and his teammates grow as a team. 




5. LaMelo Ball's defence is all over the place 



It is 21. His season has been ruined by ankle injuries and a real-life Curb Your Enthusiasm plot. The Charlotte Hornets are going down because of a mistake. I wouldn't put too much stock in signs that worry me. 



But Ball's defence is a problem. There are two types of gamblers in the NBA: geniuses who are so far ahead of the game and know so much about the other team's playbook that their bets aren't really bets at all. This is a way to count cards: Manu Ginobili, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. 


Type 2 is the guy who does nothing but run around. That's awesome. Some of Ball's risky bets pay off because he's smart, can plan ahead, and has quick hands. He can learn to count cards. But too many are random, tried when the person is weak, and done without much thought. If they fail, Charlotte will never be able to get back on her feet. 


Ball makes mistakes that are typical of young players, but he does it more often. For example, he goes under screens set up by top shooters and falls asleep off the ball. When a sudden rotation is needed because of an emergency, Ball is often the one who pulls the trigger: 


Charlotte has given up 113 points per 100 possessions when Ball isn't playing, but a horrifying 119 points per 100 possessions when he is. That would put them at the bottom of the list, and it's not just a coincidence. 


According to data from Basketball-Reference, Ball is one of only two players who take at least 20 shots per 36 minutes and less than 3.5 free throws. (The other is Klay Thompson.) Only 15 players get to 20 shots, and those 15 are mostly the best players in the league, plus Ball. He takes a lot of shots. 


Ball won't be hurt. He's young, tall for his job, and has vision that can't be taught. He can shoot well. Right now, his game is just out of whack.



6. Nikola Jokic is always coming up with new ideas



Just when I thought Jokic couldn't do any more tricks within tricks, I saw him start this one with a big jump under the rim, with his back to the basket, eyes wide, and arms up as if he were going to "catch" a pass that never came: 


Jokic doesn't jump. He doesn't think Jamal Murray will throw an entry that goes 28 feet. He wants Adebayo to jump, so that when Jokic runs up to block for Murray, Adebayo will be behind. It's true! Adebayo catches up because he is quick and determined, but Jokic gets points for being creative. (Nuggets employees agreed that this was a real hoax, though they never really know what Jokic is up to.) 


We need to learn more about this guy's mind. No one else thinks about the game the way you do. 


With Michael Porter Jr. back, the Nuggets have won 11 of their last 14 games. Murray is bobbing and weaving with more speed. Porter is pushing off rebounds, which adds to the fact that he can shoot from anywhere on the court without being stopped. 


Aaron Gordon is in his best season ever. Bruce Brown is just what Denver was looking for. Bones Hyland wants to improve his defence, and the first step is to admit where you're weak. Michael Malone is giving more minutes in the bench to players like Christian Braun, Vlatko Cancar, and Zeke Nnaji who put defence first and have a lot of energy. (Braun didn't play until Thursday night's trash time. He needs to be on the team all the time.) 


The Nuggets don't have any first-round picks to trade, but they will look for one more option in the trade and buyout markets. They are sure they have what it takes to get to the Finals.


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7. When the Clippers don't attack the gaps with five outs



Even though the Nuggets beat them badly Thursday night, the Clippers are still 28th in points per possession, which is not good. (Denver is really happy with that matchup, which goes back to the bubble playoffs in 2020. (Something to remember.) Before that loss, there were signs that LA's offence would be fine (eventually), especially as Kawhi Leonard played more and Tyronn Lue settled on his core lineups, which included his best five-out lineups without a centre. 


But for these smaller lineups to score enough, the Clippers have to attack every touch with force. If you don't use the gaps you make, there's no point in making them. 


Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson both catch the ball with clear lanes to drive. Jackson gets the ball from Morris. OK. Jackson is faster, and a big diagonal alley is coming up. He also makes 44% of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, and he has a chance here if he seizes the moment. (Jackson only did 6 of 44 pull-up 3s, which is terrible. Yikes.) 


Jackson says no and sends the ball back to Morris. After two passes that lead to nothing, the Philadelphia 76ers change their defence. 


When the Clippers aren't trying hard, they just tap the ball around the arc. The Clippers are built to be a 3-point shooting machine, but they reach a higher level when they mix in more north-south drives, some of which lead to open catch-and-shoot 3s. 


Norman Powell has that pep, and he's making a big push to be the Sixth Man of the Year. Terance Mann goes all out to find the tin. Luke Kennard's roving gravity opens lanes for everyone else. A lot of LA fans want Morris and Jackson to get more time on the court. That's probably a good idea, but Lue shouldn't go too far; a few minutes should be enough. Morris has done well and adds size to the team. 


The Clippers are 22nd in drives per 100 possessions and 23rd in shots inside the restricted area. (Their free throw rate is 13th, which is good news.) 


LA's offence needs to be more varied if it wants to get to the conference finals and further.




8. The show with Davion Mitchell 



Mitchell feels a little lost in his second season after averaging 18 points and 8 assists in the last 14 games of his first season with Sacramento. Most of those games were played without De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. 


Mitchell's minutes and number of pick-and-rolls have dropped by a lot. Mitchell often fills in for Fox when he plays without him, while Malik Monk runs the show. That's not the right job for him; he's only hitting 29.8% from deep, down from 31.6% last year. Defenses ignore him so that he can mess up the paint: 


Mitchell and Sabonis don't have the same handoff chemistry as Monk and Kevin Huerter do because Mitchell doesn't have a reliable 3-point shot. 


Even the things that happen on the field aren't going well. According to tracking by Second Spectrum, the Kings score 0.78 points per possession right after a Mitchell pick-and-roll. This ranks 160th out of 166 players who have run at least 100 of these kinds of plays. The defenders avoid picking Mitchell, block the paint, and stick close to the shooters. Only eight of the 165 players in the sample got less shooting fouls than Mitchell. In 36 games, he has tried to make 17 free throws. 


But since Mitchell has less to do on offence, he has thrown himself into his role as an in-your-jersey threat on defence. As soon as he walks in, the energy changes. Nine guys are playing at a normal pace, and then there's Mitchell, who runs around picks, blocks ball handlers, and spreads his arms to make driving lanes harder to use. Mitchell's mark will notice if he has bad breath. Rarely do people have speed, agility, and strength all at the same time. 


Mitchell's defence against a single opponent is a show in itself. When the Utah Jazz came to see the Kings last week, he seemed eager to ruin Collin Sexton's night. When some guards on the other team see that Mitchell is going to defend them, they slouch and say, "I have to deal with this?" 


Some guards look forwards to the challenge. Ja Morant laughed as he used Mitchell's physicality against him and got him to commit quick shooting fouls when they played on January 1. 


Mitchell is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and has a short wingspan, so he will never be a great all-around defender. There are some guys he can't protect. He doesn't get rebounds or steals. He's kind of like Avery Bradley, but stronger. 


But that type of player can help in certain situations. When Mitchell is on the court, the Kings give up 109.7 points for every 100 possessions, but when he isn't, they give up 13.7 points. Some of that is random, like Mitchell's shooting luck and the fact that he mostly plays against teams with a lot of reserves. But he does help. 


"Low-usage defensive backup" seems like a bad choice for the ninth pick, but this could be Mitchell's water level. Considering how well No. 9 picks usually do, that's not bad. 



9. Tyrese Haliburton can also meet someone one-on-one



Halliburton is 6 feet 5 inches, which is taller than most point guards. Some playoff teams won't use any players who are about the size of a typical point guard. Those who do will hide them on Buddy Hield, Andrew Nembhard, or Aaron Nesmith. But sometimes they'll be stuck on Haliburton, and when that happens, Haliburton has another option: they can shoot over those guys. 


This is a great backup plan for when the defence takes away the pretty things and the shot clock is running out. Because of his step-back triple, Haliburton's one-on-one game is quick, hard to understand, and dangerous going forwards or backwards. Just the thought of that shot throws defenders off balance. He does this with a raise-up hesitation dribble or a fake eyebrow (Haliburton has expressive eyes, which sounds weird but is useful for a pass-first guard). Even though Haliburton is not a very good athlete, this has helped him burn switching defences. 


According to data from Second Spectrum, the Pacers have scored 1.18 points when Haliburton shoots out of an isolation or passes to a teammate who shoots. This puts Haliburton at number 21 out of 207 players who have at least 20 isos. 


Indiana was 12-11 going into what might have been its toughest month. If the Pacers were weak, it would be clear. Since, they are 9-7. They are good, full stop. They can only fall into the mid-lottery range if they get hurt or hurt themselves on the job.



10. Ads in games have to go

After getting rid of take fouls, my next goal is to get rid of ads that take up large parts of the screen during games. (I know this protest won't change anything.)


This is the version that is least offensive, but it is still annoying


The only time these half-court shots should be allowed is during free throws or other dead time. If not, show me the game for crying out loud. 


But what happened in the fourth quarter of Donovan Mitchell's 71-point avalanche was unforgivable—I repeat, unforgivable! 


The guy is about to score 71 points, but I can't see the pick-and-roll he's running because an ad is covering parts of four players. Bally Sports Cleveland, don't make me start writing angry letters by hand.




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