The Wizards 101-99 Friday night win against the Oklahoma City Thunder was a sigh of relief for The District, but the win shows the team still has a mountain to climb to return to the form they displayed early in the season.
The Wizards are 2-4 in their last six games, and their two wins in that stretch are by a combined five points. A close call to the Miami Heat is understandable, but a close call to the Thunder following a blowout loss to the New Orleans Pelicans is a sign of concern.
Even with Bertans’ return last Wednesday, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shooting 4-of-7 from deep Friday, the Wizards still have question marks surrounding their offensive production and outside shooting.
Costly turnovers and Spencer Dinwiddie’s slow start to the season are more problems that Wes Unseld Jr. has to solve, but the Wizards have the talent to right their offensive woes.
On the bright side, Washington defends well and is currently 6th in NBA in rebounds per game (46.8) and tied for 1st in defensive rebounds per game (37.6).
Individually, Daniel Gafford’s 8 block game against the Thunder is the best Wizard performance of the last six games, and his 8 blocks are the most by a Wizard since JaVale McGee had 12 blocks against the Chicago Bulls in 2011.
As mentioned in my last post, intensity on defense will keep this team competitive, and outside of the Pelicans game on Thanksgiving eve, that intensity is here to stay.
Time to Panic?
With Rui Hachimura spotted in the team facility last week for the first time publicly and Thomas Bryant still recovering from his ACL injury from last season, the Wizards can’t wait until returning to full strength to fix their offense.
It is still too early to panic, but Washington desperately needs a “get right” game against a good team, and Saturday night against the 4th seeded Mavericks is just that. A convincing win versus a team playing solid basketball of late is just what the Wizards need to prove to themselves that their early start is much more than a flash in the pan.
A 10-3 start—the best start to a Wizards/Bullets season since 1974—shows the Wizards are competing nightly as one of the best teams in the NBA.
However, the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint.
A few things need to go Washington’s way to continue the high level of play we’ve seen thus far.
Saying a team needs to stay healthy is a cliché, but for a team that thrives off depth, it is imperative the links in the chain they’ve built hold strong.
The Wizards are proving their depth can win.
Bradley Beal missed the last two contests due to personal reasons, and every player on the floor stepped up to bring two W’s to The District.
With an already deep roster, the Wizards are still missing a few key pieces that can bring the rotation to one-hundred percent.
Center Thomas Bryant seeks a December return to action after his knee injury last season. Davis Bertans is Week-to-Week with an ankle injury, and Rui Hachimura is currently out of game action (personal reasons).
For a team that thrives off of the ability to throw a variety of matchups at opponents, Washington will have to hope for a healthy season to maximize the potential we’ve seen through the first 13 games.
Sustained Defensive Intensity
The most dramatic change this season in DC is on the defensive end of the court. Wes Unseld jr. has his team communicating well and stifling opponents en route to the 4th best defensive rating in the league (102.7).
The key to success through the marathon of the season is to have motivated players every night.
Daniel Gafford, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are a few names expected to bring intensity to every game but, the emergence of Deni Avdija and his activity and execution in every individual matchup is a key component of the fast start this season.
Deni has the size and athleticism to stick with most players in the league and is showing this season the anticipation and composure to hang with superstars down the stretch. I’ve watched Deni force turnovers on Giannis in crunch time, along with a sound 4th quarter against Brandon Ingram that fueled a Wizards comeback from a 19-point deficit Monday night.
The team rallies around intensity, and as the NBA season continues, it can be hard to get excited about every matchup. Bringing the same energy regardless of opponent eluded Wizards teams in recent history, so a reversal of history is necessary for continued success this season.
Another All-NBA Bradley Beal Season
He’s the true number one option in the Wizards offensive attack, and to keep his team around the top of the standings, Bradley Beal has to play like the All-NBA talent he is.
Despite a slow scoring start for Beal this year, the Wizards are winning, but you can see the offense go flat during stretches without him on the floor.
In a half-court setting, every basketball team needs a guy like Beal who can score when the game slows down. The Wizards are lucky to also have Spencer Dinwiddie in the backcourt, but if Beal can play at an All-NBA level, Dinwiddie will also soar to new heights.
Through 13 games, the team has shown us they have what it takes to be good. To go from good to great and sustain a spot at the top of the East through the season, this team has to constantly improve, stay healthy, and bring the fight to opponents every night.
The United States women’s basketball team is a historical bastion of success on the hardwood.
The USA women are the reigning gold medalists and have yet to miss out on gold in the last six Olympic games.
This rendition of the team is absent a few big names like Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne, but basketball talent runs deep in this country, and the group assembled has its fair share of walking buckets.
The hoopers playing in Tokyo are a combination of fresh faces of the WNBA, experienced vets, and a few basketball legends.
Team USA suffered back-to-back exhibition losses against the WNBA All-Star team and the Australian Opals but bounced back against Nigeria in a 93-62 win.
Despite the hiccups in friendly play, Team USA has everything it takes to win the gold in 2021.
The Milwaukee Bucks took game 3 of the NBA Finals at home in a 120-100 beat down of the Phoenix Suns to bring the series score to 2-1.
In a pivotal game 4, both teams need to make adjustments and play at the peak of their abilities to win a game that will be an absolute dogfight.
Featured image of the Larry O’Brien trophy courtesy of NBA.com
Key #1: Deandre Ayton Avoiding Foul Trouble
On paper, Deandre Ayton had a solid game. Ayton scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting.
Twelve of his 18 points came in the first quarter due to early fouls that pushed him to the bench.
Without Ayton on the floor, the Suns run a small lineup, or they play Frank Kaminsky.
In a smaller lineup and against Kaminsky, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks supporting cast have an easier time scoring in the paint.
Antetokounmpo punished the Suns in the paint in back-to-back games.
After a 41-point 13-rebound performance in game 3, the Greek Freak is forever linked with Shaquille O’Neal as the only other player in NBA Finals history to post back-to-back 40-point, 10-rebound games.
The Suns also lose significant offensive production when their best screener and post scorer goes to the bench.
Ayton-less lineups lack scoring prowess at the center position. So in pick-and-roll situations, the Bucks can commit more defensive energy to Suns’ guards and wings.
At this stage of basketball, Ayton is aware of his importance. Look to see if Ayton is conservative when contesting shots in game 4.
Key#2: Bounce Back Booker
Devin Booker needs to have his shots fall if the Suns want to put the Bucks in a 3-1 series chokehold.
Booker is a talented tough-shot maker, and the Bucks are doing everything in their power to make each possession difficult for him.
However, Booker is settling for jump shots often in this series. He needs to find a way to score more points around the basket despite the tenacious Bucks perimeter defense.
In game 3, Booker scored just 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting from the field, 1-of-7 from three, and 3-of-5 from the foul line.
Booker has taken a total of five free throws in the last two games. A stark contrast to the 10 he attempted in game 1.
He doesn’t need to slash all game to get more calls, but seeing a close layup or floater go in the basket is beneficial to anyone in a shooting slump.
I’m taking the Bucks in game 4. However, I do not think they win in a blowout.
Phoenix’s mistakes from game 3 are easily correctable, and they’re too talented to not put up a fight in back-to-back games.
Game 4 should easily be the most competitive in the series so far, and I’m looking for the contest to be decided by three points when the clock hits 0:00.
NBA Finals Game 4: Wednesday, July 14th 9:00 p.m EST.
It is finally time for the annual meeting of the NBA’s best from east and west. The 2021 Finals will deliver fans an entertaining fight for NBA immortality.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns tip-off the 2021 NBA Finals Tuesday night, so here is DoB’s preview to get you ready for the series.
The Milwaukee Bucks
The Eastern conference representative in the NBA Finals dealt with a fair amount of doubt, criticism, and adversity this season. Adversity only strengthened this team, and they are more than ready to fight in a seven-game series for the NBA’s top prize.
The Bucks(46-26) finished the regular season as the 3rd seed in the East. Milwaukee’s playoff run includes series victories over the Miami Heat (4-0), The Brooklyn Nets (4-3), and the Atlanta Hawks (4-2).
Key Stars: Milwaukee
The engine of the Mike Budenholzer coached Milwaukee Bucks is two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis this postseason has seen his fair share of tests. Skill-wise, his free-throw and jump shooting issues are highlighted by opposing defenses. Physically, the Bucks star is dealing with pain stemming from a hyperextended knee suffered during the Atlanta Hawks series.
I fully expect to see Giannis early in this series, and even though he’s questionable for game one, I would confidently say that if he doesn’t suit up and the first game goes in Phoenix’s favor, we should expect to see Giannis in game two.
With Giannis ailing, we’ve seen the other talented Bucks step up and do what they do best. Two-time NBA All-Star Khris Middleton has strung together a few impressive playoff series’ and has scored 30+ points three times in his last eight games.
Jrue Holiday is one of the most underrated two-way guards in the league. Jrue has more than done his part to propel the Bucks to their first Finals appearance since 1974. The underrated aspect of Holiday’s game is his offensive contribution. Forever known as a defensive stalwart, Jrue’s offensive game is an afterthought amongst many casual fans. Jrue showed in the Eastern Conference Finals (22 points and ten assists per game vs. ATL) that his offensive game is as good as any guard in the league.
Holiday will be depended on to help the Bucks thrive with a hobbled Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Matchups I’d Love to See: Milwaukee
Jrue Holiday vs CP3/Devin Booker:
I expect Holiday to be primarily matched up on Chris Paul, so it will be interesting to see how he fairs against the ‘Point God’ but I also expect that there will be instances when the Bucks will throw him on Devin Booker. Both matchups will be tough for Holiday, as CP3 and Booker are easily one of the most talented backcourts in the NBA. Offensively, I expect Jrue Holiday to take advantage of his size over Chris Paul and his strength over Booker to effectively score and navigate through the Phoenix defense to make plays all series.
Brook Lopez defending the pick and roll:
Lopez has done a great job defending all postseason, and his effectiveness at defending the rim is one of the key reasons Milwaukee is in the finals. Lopez’s deficiency on defense is his lateral quickness. To avoid exploitation of that deficiency, the Bucks will have Lopez play a drop coverage.
Drop coverage in the pick-and-roll is when the defender of the screener (Lopez in this example) “drops” away from the action to defend the roll and a potential drive. Simultaneously, the on-ball defender fights through the screen to stay with his man.
The issue with drop coverage in this series is that CP3 and Booker have three-level scoring abilities. Scorers who can attack the rim, mid-range, and shoot from deep, challenge the drop defender in so many different ways. This series should be difficult for Lopez, but he is more than able to compete.
Note: CP3 this season shoots 51.6% from mid-range and that’s where Lopez’ coverage will be tested.
Mike Budenholzer vs. playing Bobby Portis:
This is as simple as it gets, the Bucks have enjoyed Bobby Portis’ versatility, but sometimes throughout the playoffs, his minutes have been hard to come by. I’m watching to see if he gets around 15 mins per game minimum as the Bucks seem to be more successful the more he plays.
The Phoenix Suns
Almost a year removed their 8-0 2020 NBA Bubble finish to an otherwise disappointing season the Phoenix Suns are now the NBA Finals representative for the western conference.
The Phoenix Suns turnaround has many leaders. The media rightfully gives Chris Paul plenty of attention but, general manager James Jones, head coach Monty Williams, and franchise scorer Devin Booker have changed the culture over the past few seasons. A culture change so strong it seems like CP3 changed it overnight.
The Suns (51-21) finished the regular season as the 2nd seed in the West. Phoenix’s playoff run includes series victories over the Lakers (4-2), the Denver Nuggets (4-0), and the Clippers (4-2). The Suns’ regular-season record gives them a home-court advantage in the Finals.
Key Stars: Phoenix
In their first Finals appearance since 1993, The Phoenix Suns will rely on 24-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker to lead the way. Booker is averaging 27 points per game in the playoffs and takes the lion’s share of the offensive responsibility for the Suns. Booker has a mid-2000’s scoring mentality (he can score on all three levels and isn’t afraid of the mid-range) and will once again be put to the test against Milwaukee’s defense.
In the Western Conference Finals, Booker shot 38.2 percent from the field while playing through a broken nose. In the Finals and despite Milwaukee’s defense, I fully expect Booker to progress to somewhere around his average playoff field goal percentage of 44.4 percent in this series.
Suns’ maestro “Point God” Chris Paul will play in his first NBA Finals in his 16-year career. CP3 has done a great job commanding the Suns since his return from a shoulder injury he suffered in the first-round matchup against the Lakers. Chris Paul will have his hands full with Jrue Holiday on both ends of the floor.
The third key star for Phoenix in this series is big man Deandre Ayton. Ayton has grown before our eyes this season, and is a walking double-double. Ayton’s performance will be the X-factor for the Suns as he will see plenty of time guarding Giannis and the Bucks’ size on the defensive end.
Matchups I’d Love to See: Phoenix
Suns wings on Khris Middleton:
Khris Middleton is the type of player who, once he sees a few shots go in, becomes incredibly hard to stop. However, Phoenix has the athleticism and length between guys like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder to make things difficult for the Bucks All-Star. If the Suns can neutralize Middleton, the scoring pressure on the rest of the Bucks rises.
Booker vs. P.J Tucker:
I’m unsure of the amount of time we will see these two directly match up, but if there are moments that pit Tucker against Booker, keep an eye out for any extra agitation and physicality. After seeing Patrick Beverley get under Booker’s skin—outside of actually breaking his nose—it will be fun to see tenacious defender P.J Tucker attempt to get in the mind of the young star.
Overall, this NBA Finals matchup is one of the most interesting in recent history as only one player (Jae Crowder PHX) has previous NBA Finals experience.
With the offseason in full swing for 26 of the NBA’s teams, the search to fill coaching vacancies is heating up.
Every year, a few interesting—and on the flip side—disappointing names are mentioned every coaching cycle. Hiring practices that people experience in daily life mirror themselves every offseason in the NBA.
Today, I’m analyzing a few of the candidates across the league and why teams may be hesitant to bring in new, unproven talent at the NBA head coaching level, along with several reasons they should take a flyer on a new name.
The Devil You Know
A factor of NBA hiring, also a factor in any recruitment hunt, is how experience in the current role can sometimes trump a qualified applicant looking to prove themselves.
As a fan who loves change, the movement by mediocre coaches to head coaching spots across the league can be disheartening. However, from the ownership perspective bringing in a name with NBA experience in the head coaching spot allows the brass to give an underperforming roster a new look before risking a rebuild.
For example, all four of the remaining coaches in the playoffs (Ty Lue, Mike Budenholzer, Nate McMillan (interim HC), and Monty Williams) have proven track records leading a team and have their new squads on the cusp of glory in this current postseason.
However, picking a coach for the pedigree can backfire.
Boston Celtics NBA Finals winning coach Doc Rivers in 2013 was traded from Boston to the LA Clippers for a first-round pick. After his time in LA came to a close, Doc advanced his way to becoming the Sixers coach.
Even though injuries hampered his success in a few playoff series, we’ve seen a few of his playoff losses include a lack of adjustments expected from a title-winning coach.
I’m not giving league management excuses for recycling talent, but I can understand how the threat of a full-rebuild is bad for business. Hiring a familiar name signals to fans their team is moving in the right direction.
Some of the big names that fit this description in the coaching pool and are either rumored to have interviews with teams or are actively interviewing are:
The other side of the coaching hire coin is to pick a talented individual without NBA head coaching experience.
There are plenty of great coaches waiting in the wings for their chance to run a team, and picking a new name and face is a great for teams attempting to invigorate their fanbase and take the team in a fresh direction.
An advantage to selecting a coach with an unproven track record is that a team has a chance to uncover a guru. Every great coach had someone believe in them for the first time, and comparable to the emergence of new player talent in the NBA, we are overdue for someone to emerge as the next Phil Jackson, Erik Spoelstra, or Gregg Popovich.
A personal reason I have for favoring this method is I would love to see an increase in the diversity of coaches in the league. For as long as the league has allowed POC and women on the bench, we’ve seen talented names passed over for the big jobs.
Hiring a coach is a tough process, but expanding the hiring pool instead of picking up the same few names allows the game to progress and influences a potential spread of new ideas that can take basketball to heights never seen before.
Some names I’m watching in this current coaching cycle:
Becky Hammon patiently waited in the wings for the San Antonio Spurs since she joined the team in 2014 as an assistant after her lengthy professional playing career. Hammon has gained plenty of notoriety as of late, as the Portland Trail Blazers fittingly selected her as the first female finalist for an NBA head coaching job.
Hammon holds a fair share of firsts during her tenure as an assistant in San Antonio. She is the first woman to assume the role of head coach for an NBA Summer League team, a Spurs team she led to the summer league title in 2015.
Hammon also became the first woman to coach a regular-season NBA game when she stepped in for Gregg Popovich after an ejection in the 2020-2021 season.
To couple with her accolades, we’ve seen players give Hammon the utmost respect when commanding a team.
One day, hopefully soon, Becky Hammon will get her chance to be a head coach, and the world will see her basketball mind on a nightly basis in the league.
Chauncey ‘Mr. Big Shot’ Billups is a name circling coaching interview talk. Billups would be a great candidate for a team to hand the reigns to in the future.
Billups has one of the most extensive and impressive NBA careers a point guard could have. In 1,043 games, he averaged 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He also quarterbacked the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA Championship, upsetting the heavily favored Lakers in a gentleman’s sweep 4-1.
Billups’ expertise during his playing days transfers over to his young NBA coaching career. Currently, he is a lead assistant on a Clippers team that has shown in the playoffs they can adjust to almost anything an opposing team throws at them, something I would love to see him elicit from his own squad.
Hopefully, you learned a bit about the current head coaching carousel in the NBA and now are thinking about the motivations that teams could have going into one of the most important processes for team success in the NBA.
District of Buckets plans to revisit this topic and also add a few coaching prospect names to your radar:
Ime Udoka, Dawn Staley, Rick Carlisle and more to come in the future.
In a world of increased specialization for youth athletes, it is refreshing to see multi-sport athletes thrive at the highest level of competition.
In the NFL, there are stories about pass-catchers translating basketball-style movement to success in football. The NFL has seen players such as Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Julius Thomas make the jump from collegiate basketball to professional football using skills from the hardwood. Former Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was an avid basketball player in high school, and Arizona Cardinals wideout Deandre Hopkins was a four-year high school varsity hooper.
The marriage between basketball-style movement and football can produce some impressive results. Much of the positioning and footwork from basketball can pay big dividends when running routes on the gridiron, as many of the translated movements are great for separation.
Doug Baldwin: Seattle Seahawks
Doug Baldwin has gone on the record saying basketball was his “first love.” Some of his route running footwork and releases have basketball crossover roots. It is safe to say his use of basketball-style movement was successful as Baldwin amassed 493 catches, 6563 yards, and 49 touchdowns over his eight-year NFL career.
Packers Pro-Bowl receiver Davante Adams also credits his release off the line of scrimmage to footwork and positioning he learned while playing basketball.
Adams is known for having one of the best releases in the game. His signature hops at the beginning of his routes allow him to react to the cornerback’s positioning and always keep them off balance. Adams’ route running basketball ties go beyond footwork and positioning. Adams also credits reactionary basketball skills as a tool he uses to recognize how a defensive back is trying to play him, and he adjusts based on the situation.
In the 2020-2021 season, football fans witnessed the effectiveness of this route running style for Adams every week, as he shredded defensive backs to the tune of 115 catches, 1,374 yards, and 18 touchdowns.
There are always benefits to playing multiple sports in developmental years, as many skills can overlap. As evidenced by the pass-catchers mentioned in this article, the overlapping skills may provide situational advantages that a player without the multi-sport experience won’t have in their repertoire.
It was eye-opening to see how basketball skills can impact a football field, and I can’t wait to see how Davante Adams displays his mastery off the line of scrimmage next season for the Packers.
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Last week, my focus was on Sixth Man of the Year front-runner Jordan Clarkson who has done nothing but push his lead for the award further since my last post.
This week, my focus shifts to players who may thin the gap of Clarkson’s lead if the opportunity presents itself.
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon is a player who, when healthy, can catch Clarkson’s production.
This season, as of February 17th, 2020 (7:00 pm EST), Gordon is averaging 18.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. These raw numbers plus his shooting splits of 46.5 percent from the field, 35.2 percent from three, 84.4 percent from the line, and most impressively, 61.7 percent on two-point attempts.
Statistically, if the numbers stand, this season would land somewhere around Gordon’s third most productive in his career, an impressive feat for a vet who has played in the league since 2008.
These numbers place the 2017 Sixth Man award winner in striking distance if Clarkson ever slows down this season. Aside from the numbers, it is always important to look at how Gordon impacts a game.
Gordon has all the tools to be an effective scoring guard at 6’3, but what puts him on another level of bucket-getting, in my opinion, is the way he uses his frame to attack the basket. Plenty of players can use raw strength to bully their way from time to time, but Gordon has an innate ability to know when to initiate contact. Initiating contact with a defender at the right time and with the proper amount of force to avoid offensive fouls can ruin defensive timing and create space in any part of the court.
Combining his ability to create space using his body and masterful guard skills is what makes Gordon one of the most difficult players to guard in the NBA, and he’s easily one of the players who can make a legit run at the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2021.
Check back next week for another player firmly in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year race.
To tip-off this mini-series, I had to start with Utah Jazz combo guard Jordan Clarkson.
Jordan Clarkson has been an NBA journeyman since his selection out of the University of Missouri in 2014. Despite his frequent change of scenery, Clarkson demonstrates nightly that the one constant in his career is his ability to put the ball in the peach basket.
Clarkson has a wide variety of moves in his bag, a respectable jumper, and the athleticism to mesh with his skill and create a lethal assassin when the ball is in his hands.
Clarkson is a piece that makes the 20-win, 5-loss Utah Jazz a force to be reckoned with and a legitimate threat to the Lakers’ repeat.
What’s changed? And what value does he add to his team?
So, you may be wondering, if Clarkson possessed this ability for so long, why did it take until now for him to finally become a front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year?
Opportunity and fit.
The current setup of the Utah Jazz is a glass slipper that fits on Clarkson’s game.
Clarkson gives you instant scoring, and the Jazz desperately need shot creation on their second unit.
Also, Clarkson’s athleticism and commitment to the game allowed him to grow substantially on defense, and because of that growth, he’s seen high value minutes in the rotation.
Receiving a golden opportunity to play within the comforts of his game has taken Clarkson to new heights.
Clarkson is averaging a career-best 17.5 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game on 46.3 percent from the field, 38.7 percent from three, and a blistering 97.2 percent from the line.
This level of production should garner him All-Star consideration. Remember, I said “consideration.” not an All-Star spot.
Clarkson is playing at an All-Star level—and I plan to start the Jordan Clarkson #NBAAllStar movement with this post— but, due to external factors such as fan and player voting, and the productive seasons of other guards in the west, I don’t think he will get the nod.
If Clarkson’s production withstands the marathon of the NBA season, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be the Sixth Man of the Year for the—currently—first-seeded Jazz.
Clarkson is the top dog in the Sixth Man of the Year award race, but that doesn’t mean he’s running unopposed.
Stay locked into District of Buckets for more on the Sixth Man award race, and take a look at the latest episode of Fantasy Basketball – This Week for more updates around the NBA.