We’re back this week with another St8 of the NBA. The ratio is slightly different this time. Five things on the Hornets, three on the rest of the NBA.
Let’s get it.
Kemba Walker: Absurdly good at basketball
Kemba Walker is in the prime of his career, and it shows. Walker has never been better. The confidence he possesses in his game and jump shot permeates through the whole roster. Yes, Charlotte needs his playmaking and shooting, but his vibe inspires everyone else, too.
When he sits, well, things get dicey. According to NBA.com, the Hornets score 109.7 points per 100 possessions with Kemba on the floor — the rate of a top five offense. With Kemba on the bench, that falls off a cliff (Steve Clifford pun not intended): 76.2 points per 100 possession. That would rate as the worst offense in NBA history. This is roughly the difference between a championship-level offense and the scrubs you and your boys/girls clown on at the Y on Sundays.
After building a 20-plus point lead over the Nuggets Wednesday night, Kemba hit the bench, and Denver went on a run. The Nuggets cut the lead to 13 with 10:56 left. Steve Clifford called a timeout, subbed in Kemba. Over the next 8 minutes: 25-14 run for Charlotte — 1.25 points per possession.
On Kemba’s first possession back in, Charlotte ran a double high screen for him with JOB and Frank Kaminsky. The Hornets got the switch — with the middle Plumlee brother on Kemba. The ball was reversed back to Kemba, and he cooked.
A minute later, Kemba snagged a defensive rebound, dribbled up and got a drag screen from JOB. The Nuggs — a bad defensive team — weren’t ready. Plumlee is way too far back, on his heels. Wilson Chandler goes under the screen. That’s a mistake on Kemba. Bottoms and ballgame.
Sizzling Dwayne Bacon
A pleasant surprise for Charlotte early this season has been the play of second round pick Dwayne Bacon. Like most rookies, defense and turnovers are concerns, although I think he’s mostly held his own defensively. Bacon is certainly less spacey on that side of the floor than, say, Jeremy Lamb.
Dwayne Bacon is a physical rebounder (22 percent defensive rebound rate) and a ball-mover on offense that’s happy to work on the weak side of the floor — off Kemba and Dwight pick-and-rolls.
According to the fantastic Cleaning The Glass, 33 percent of Bacon’s field goal attempts are corner 3s. He’s 4-of-7 on those attempts, too. That’s the money shot for Bacon; if he can hit that reliably, then he gets to play in the NBA for a decade, and make a lot of money.
In the comeback win over Atlanta: the Hawks frequently trapped Kemba, hoping to quickly get the ball out of his hands while Dwight rolled to the hoop.
On this possession, Kemba hits Kaminsky at the top of the key, and now Charlotte gets to briefly play 4-on-3. Kent Bazemore slides up to mark Lamb, which leaves Marco Belinelli alone to defend Howard and Bacon. Kaminsky does an excellent job rotating the ball to Bacon — splash.
Hey, speaking of Corner 3s…
Before the start of the 2015-16 season, Steve Clifford revamped his offense. The presence of of stretch 4 became omnipresent. Side-to-side action is now utilized to bend defenses and get good looks. The team also started to chuck more threes. Those Hornets launched 29.4 threes per game — fourth most in the NBA.
Despite the increased volume of threes, Charlotte never focused on that juicy, hyper-efficient corner triple. That seems to have changed, though.
According to Cleaning the Glass: 10.2 percent of the team’s field goal attempts are corner 3s — third most in the NBA. Previously under Clifford, Charlotte’s high for corner 3 frequency was 5.7 percent — back in 2015-16.
The Hornets are also shooting 40 percent on those attempts, which ranks 10th in the league. This is a good thing. Dwayne Bacon, Marvin Williams and Malik Monk have really helped here.
My Buddy: Wherever I go, he goes
Dwight Howard has had an instant impact in Charlotte. The turnovers and free throw woes can be painful to endure. But he’s dominating at the rim on both ends of the floor, and controlling the glass.
Howard is now shooting 88 FG% at the rim (78 FG% after a pass from Kemba), 37% defensive rebounding rate. https://t.co/Ek6biwxPFY
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) October 24, 2017
An interesting note with Howard: It’s early, but every minute he’s played this season has come with Kemba Walker on the floor, too. Dwight Howard has played 125 minutes this season — all 122 of those have come with Kemba running point, per NBA.com. In the first three games of the season, all 98 of Dwight’s minutes game with Kemba on, too.
These sorts of minutes allow Charlotte to maximize an ace pick-and-roll combination; that’s important with Cody Zeller injured. Kemba on the floor also means opponents can’t totally pack the paint against Dwight, too — spacing remains workable.
Let’s be Frank about this
Is this a new Frank Kaminsky? Well, it’s been only a few games; we need to not let our expectations get too out of wack. However, since the comeback win over Atlanta, Kaminsky has played great ball. In particular, he’s been very good inside of the arc.
During his first two seasons in the league, Kaminsky consistently failed to punish teams for switching smaller players on him. The midrange was a dead zone; so, too, was the paint. That wasn’t the case in Uptown against Denver, though.
Frank picking up where he left off in Milwaukee. Game has slowed down for him – it’s obvious. pic.twitter.com/ZftLddhMp8
— Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer) October 25, 2017
Check the numbers — Kaminsky has been lights out, especially inside of eight feet. Look at the early jump inside the restricted area as well. If this type of play sticks, look out.
Giannis: World Domination tour
Hello, everyone say hi to your new basketball overload: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak currently leads the NBA in scoring — just under 37 points per game — and PER (40.1).
This guy was put on earth to play basketball; with that wingspan, he’s biologically perfect for this sport. Giannis has yet to land a jump shot — just 36.4 percent from the midrange, 1-of-6 from deep. But it doesn’t matter. In the paint, however, he’s unstoppable.
Giannis scores over 26 points per game in the paint alone. Inside the restricted area, he’s 44-of-56 — 78.6 percent. By the way, back in 2001-02 Shaquille O’Neal shot 73.6 percent in the restricted area. Yeah, you read the right.
Plus, he can do this.
This is where Giannis caught the pass from on the break. He didn't dribble one time and scored on a layup. pic.twitter.com/XkI6oQJICD
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) October 22, 2017
When he does figure out that three-pointer, and I bet it’s only a matter of time, it’s over for everyone else.
OKC offense: Equal-ish footing but everything still runs through Interstate-Westbrook
The Oklahoma City Thunder are off to an interesting start to the 2017-18 season. So far, the Big 3 of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George has been decent. With those three on the floor, OKC has scored and defended at league average rate — 103 points per 100 possessions.
It’s only a matter of time, though, before this time starts to get grooving. You can see the framework of a really exciting offense team here. All three of their big guns are getting the touches — everyone has a usage rate of at least 27.9 percent.
The Thunder gassed Russell Westbrook last season; OKC absolutely needed him on the floor to be a passable NBA team. His usage rate was on off the charts. This year, OKC has dialed that back…until the fourth quarter. It’s early, but so far, Westbrook is happy to let Melo and PG steer the ship while he conserves some of his nitrous-aided energy. Then in closing time, he takes over; Russ uses about 35 percent of OKC’s possessions when on the floor in the fourth quarter.
One of the reasons I was bullish on the Thunder was the ability of George and Melo to play off Russ for catch-and-shoots. OKC has a couple pet actions they will run, which put great shooters in spots to attempt good shots.
On this first possession, Westbrook sets a pindown for George. Russ demands accountability on defense, so using him as a screener makes a lot of pressure on the defense. Andrew Wiggins tries to fit over the top, but PG catches and curls hard for a layup.
A few minutes later, OKC runs another quick-hitter for PG. George runs in the direction of Russ, like he’s set to come off another pindown. Minnesota has been set up, though.
Instead of using another Westbrook screen, George slip cuts; Wiggins trails and Jimmy Butler plays over the top. The paint is wide open for a high-percentage look, thanks in part to Team USA Melo. With Carmelo playing small-ball 4, and stationed above the break, Taj Gibson is too far away to help.
Speaking of Team USA Melo, here’s another look OKC will run with regularity: flare screens for Carmelo out of Horns sets. Gibson and Butler switch the initial action, but as Jimmy tries to track Melo, Steven Adams dings him with a flare screen. The result: an easy catch-and-shoot 3.
None of this stuff is groundbreaking; however, it’s simple action that involves all parts of the team’s star-studded trio. It allows Westbrook to chill and build up his jets for money time in the fourth.
Zombie Spurs: Again and Again
These guys can’t be killed — plain and simple. The Spurs are without all-world star Kawhi Leonard, and are yet to start making three-pointers (34.2 percent). Despite that, they’re 4-0.
San Antonio continues to envelope opposing offenses — No. 4 in the league in defensive efficiency. Teams are shooting just 57 percent against the Spurs at the rim (No. 3 in the NBA). San Antonio is also rebounding the hell out of the ball, too: a defensive rebounding rate of 84.2 percent.