How to defend a superstar (Cleveland @ Boston, game 1) + long unrequested rant

This article is a quick, on-the-go analysis on Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t know whether it is a one-off piece or the first outline of a bigger picture.

Boston has devastated Cleveland at home in game-1 to the surprise of many, displaying solid defense and aggressive offense.
Well, hopefully the Cs playing well at home is no longer a shock to anyone, but I’ve heard so many people demeaning Brad Stevens’ bunch as “yeah, they play well, that’s cute, but Cavs in 5” that I’m breaking the silence in this almost dead blog to come out and remind some of the podcasters out there that playing well matters.
It isn’t cute, nor is it pointless; not even against the likes of LeBron James, for that matter.

I’m going to be honest: I probably gave up getting serious about basketball journalism a while ago now, and while the enjoyment I get in doing things that don’t concern journalism is a big part of why, the state of basketball talks especially in the broadcast spectrum concerns me a bit. I see a lot of opinions that may well be defended appropriately and accurately but often aren’t at all, motivations and arguments burned at the stake of partisanship. LeBron James wins and so he’s the GOAT, otherwise he’s a choker.
I understand the lack of depth coming from the fans: they’re paying customers. They have no obligation to understand the intricacies of basketball. But journalism is on the brink of toeing the same line, abiding by the Law of Clutch and Choke, sacrificing the tactical aspects of why players perform better in some situations compared to others at the altar of “you’re a paid athlete and a star, find a way”.
Can I ask you something? Doesn’t that “find a way” part fascinate you? Aren’t you in it for the strategic marvel of two 15-men units trying to outsmart, outmuscle, outskill each other?
While I do root for teams (not in basketball, mainly in soccer as it’s the biggest thing in Europe where I live and the strategic aspect of it is even more dramatized), I don’t believe in rooting against players.
If you don’t enjoy the stars of today’s game, it’s nobody else’s but your loss. You’re paying money for a product and electing not to enjoy it on purpose.
Ok, I’m sorry about this rant, I know it could last forever and I’m gonna stop here, but to summarize what I wanna say: ask yourself how great teams win (or lose, for that matter), what strategies elevate them and what opponents frustrate them. Yes, players matter. Yes, having superstars matters. But no great team stops short of studying where greatness sources from, and no great team hasn’t suffered strategic losses and setbacks.

LeBron James has just concluded his first rendez-vous against the Celtics’ defensive strategy, and the answers they gave to the problems his ability pose did not allow a timely retort.
The Celtics have shot better than Cleveland, a feat that may or may not come back in this series on a steady basis. Cleveland has taken relatively open shots that today just didn’t go down and some other day will drop. But LeBron James has been flustered, canceled out.
In short, the Celtics have programmed a defensive principle of accepting to be beaten.
LeBron is a star. Even when the ball screens he receives are less than ideal and the Cavs cannot concoct a defensive switch, LeBron will beat his man.
The problem is the Celtics have prepared for that occurrence to happen more often than not, and have another man ready to wall off his penetration. Ready as in “already left his man, with three teammates floating in between the remaining 4 opponents”.
When LeBron hits the post with a smaller defender on him, that help defense may turn into a double team, but only when the positioning of his teammates allows it (ergo: the incoming double team will cover one or two passing options). The Celtics look to avoid switching on every screen if the screen itself doesn’t force it, but they have the bodies to make multiple switching efforts to little effect on the offense. That isn’t exclusive to the Celtics, but the readiness for the following bit of “LeBron got the switch, what do we do?” is the difference, as even then LeBron still can’t count on his physical and technical tools to guarantee him an open lane because of the aforementioned help defense being viewed as not an emergency, but a natural prosecution of the defensive possession.
What makes this defensive effort pay off in a 48-minute game? Off-ball stillness on offense helps (defenders can focus on LeBron without fear of losing their men), LeBron posting up on a 1-man weak side helps (the double team is bound to cover up some passing lanes), Cleveland taking it easy offensively helps (many times today Cleveland has passed its way to an open shot, but has taken too long to initiate the mechanism that enabled it ending up with a shot-clock violation), Cleveland missing open shots pretty much seals the deal.
In the series I don’t count on that last predicament to occur often, and I’d be surprised if Cleveland failed to win at least one game on the account of hot shooting from deep (this convulsive defensive principle Boston displays of closing in when the ball’s close to the hoop and opening back out to defend kickouts is bound to give some shots away). I’d be just as surprised if Cleveland didn’t up their pace offensively especially at home – once the disadvantage is created the Cavs under Tyronn Lue have always been good at passing the ball around ’til the best option is found. I’m not persuaded, however, by their ability to design off-ball routes for players feeding off the post presence (which doesn’t have to be James at all times, either: Love is a good option, but hasn’t proven to score consistently when backing down smaller players and has been strongly denied a couple times by shorter opponents in this very game) now, because it’s about 9 months too late.
The lack of off-ball principles really hurts the Cavs, who virtually enact only Korver as a non-dribbling menace and are very predictable in doing so, as every secondary action is virtually shut off. Yet, as often as one anticipates the offensive strategy the consummate shooter only needs a glimmer of daylight, and “predictable” may be good enough.
LeBron, personally, hasn’t played well. The defensive strategy baffled him, but Boston played the same way with Simmons and Antetokounmpo. So many times he’s been caught mid-air or mid-penetration with no idea of what to do next, and so frequently actions to free him in favorable positions have taken too long to unfold, leading to the aforementioned shot-clock violations.
Those individual deficiencies will surely be redeemed. LeBron will be quicker, and prepare for an offensive action that doesn’t stop at “I beat my man”, but encompasses more complex plans. Tristan Thompson will be part of the action more often, as Love wasn’t ready to stop penetrations on switches to the perimeter anyway and most Celtics (Brown in primis) have a healthy habit of following up on their own shots if they suspect they weren’t accurate.
But that is pretty much all the Cavs can do, short-term fixes. The bigger picture is their lack of secondary actions and off-ball movement on offense is a problem, and when a man is beaten virtually nobody is in a position to help without leaving wide open shooters the defense hasn’t accounted for.
The Cavs haven’t accounted for a bit too many things that frequently happen in a high-stake game, for what it’s worth, and while they’re far from the only ones to indulge in this lack of detail their roster may not warrant a pass anymore. LeBron and oftentimes K-Love are great, but everybody else fits a gregarious bill.

That’s all I can think for now, but do not think this series is done.
Or that I am done ranting, for that matter.

(just kidding, I really want to be as zen as I can on rants, but listening to podcasts that literally expectorate opinions that everybody has because “if everybody thinks that it must be true or at least worth repeating” does not help.)marcus-morris-lebron-james-05122018-usnews-getty-ftr_kkeqcg5myozz1rkucpyw5wgwt

Swingman, big man. Reshaping positions in basketball.

Positionless basketball is the craze of the NBA: constant switching, offensive versatility, point guards that play off-the-ball and learn to wait for the kick out, big men that pile up assists feeding cutters are all trends that NBA coaches salivate over.
But is it really positionless basketball approaching us, or are we just changing the landscape of certain roles? Is there a revolution in store or just a minor shakeup?

We’ve grown accustomed to 5 positional labels that have more or less always been around: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center.
While labels have stayed, a modicum of flexibility has never failed to surface: even in the ’90s it was hard to encapsulate Chris Webber, Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman into a single paradigm, yet calling all of them power forwards never shook anybody’s convictions despite their radically different playing style.
To this day, had Tristan Thompson, Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge enjoyed the opportunity to play their natural position at PF we wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow at the elasticity the label would have gained.
Let’s get the first doubt out of the way: have the players changed the game? Or has the opposite been true?
We are lucky enough to be witnessing this state of flux as it unfolds before our eyes, and most of the players that incarnate today’s changing habits have entered the league before its watershed moments. Tristan Thompson was a lottery pick as a non-spacing power forward, Draymond Green played over 13 minutes per game as a rookie small forward for a playoff team and the only two second-rounders from the 2012 NBA draft that played more minutes per game than him as rookies both ended up being NBA starters just as quickly as him (Jae Crowder and Khris Middleton).
Players who have adapted to the transitioning style have stayed with different roles. Players that haven’t been able to cater to it have progressively been ostracized (and there’s more than a few names there: Kenneth Faried, Derrick Favors, Greg Monroe…).
But the fact that each and every player has had to adapt somehow leads me to believe that the game has changed on everyone, and the fittest – rather than the strongest – have survived.
How much has this changed impacted our perception of position, nonetheless, is still unclear. Brad Stevens has reduced the common theorem of the five positions to a three-headed system: handler, wing, big.
While there may be a tad too many players than fit in between those definitions without sensibly tilting one way or the other (for instance: does LeBron fit as a handler, a wing or a big? There’s reason to believe he’s all three and none of the three.), this is a convincing starting point.
We humbly suggest to take a step further: Point Guard, Shooting Guard, Swingman, Forward, Big.
There’s no doubt Stevens hit it right on the nail in suggesting that a handling position is still very much central in the Association and that almost every team plays one big man at a time. Yet, shooting guards are far from expired: they still handle the ball at times, isolate, create shots for themselves and occasionally spot up. They often get off-ball screens and benefit from plays in which they may not touch the ball for more than a few seconds. However, on the other end of the floor their defensive range goes from 1 to 2/3. They are the J.J. Redicks, the J.R. Smiths, the C.J. McCollums and the Bradley Beals of the world. Reducing basketball to three main roles may take care of the offensive end, but doesn’t fully expand on the different defensive roles of players like Bradley and Crowder, who both aptly fill the role of wings offensively (Bradley handles the ball rarely nowadays despite starting his career as a point guard) but guard very different opponents on D.
The swingmen, on the other end, are the defensive anchors, the specialists with all-including range (often 1-4). Their offensive role varies: they may present themselves in the form of the marvelously gifted Kawhi Leonard or the savvy Andre Iguodala. They almost always have to be more flexible than anybody else: whether it is Harden, Curry, Antetokounmpo, DeRozan or LeBron they’re trying to stop, it’s up to them to take the challenge.
Forwards require some further explanations: there’s pretty unanimous agreement over the death of the power forward, partly incorporated in the hybrid “big man” label and partly spread out like a small forward. Of the many players that have been slowly alienated from high-level basketball, a notable number fills that position. That disappearance has also lead to a hybrid concept of forward that does not look anything like old school power forwards, but retains no traits belonging to small forwards either: small forwards were not expected to contribute on the board and in terms of protecting the rim as much as today’s forwards are.
What a forward does in today’s basketball is spread the floor with shooting, switch out on the perimeter on defense, contribute on the boards as the second-biggest member of his on-court team, and play some sparing minutes at center if need be.
They are the LeBrons, Durants, Draymonds and Melos of the game. When their offense doesn’t warrant stardom, they are the Aminus, the Morrises, the Jamychal Greens.
They used to be stuck between 3 and 4 and labeled as “tweeners”. They are among the most sought-after commodities now.
And finally, the big man.
Both power forwards and center have always posted up extensively. The low post game has lost most of its fanbase among decision makers in the league for variously legitimate reasons (among which one of the more compelling is rule change: back in the 90’s you either double teamed or played single coverage, while today’s defenses often pick an in-between solution – often having one guy pick up the back-to-the-basket player, another shadow in case the opponent gets too close to the rim or gets a good position to take his shot and the remaining three defenders float in between their 4 perimeter opponents; before the rule changes that would have been called an illegal defense), but most teams still use the high post proficiently as a means of both creating for others and isolating against a defender perceived as a favorable matchup. Declined as such, the post-up game is regularly implemented in the Association and big men are far from the only beneficiaries, as nearly every star player with good strength and a big enough body will get multiple post-ups per game (LeBron, KD, at times even Westbrook, Leonard and so on).
But the times of Shaq, Ewing, Hakeem and Robinson are certainly gone, supplanted by a hybridized and generic big man that fulfills his team’s defensive needs, whether it be switching on pick and rolls (less than a forward), protecting the rim and covering for any form of penetration (noticeably more than a forward, who may often come as a secondary help) while attacking the paint as a roll man and being a target and a finisher on the offensive end. Some big men can shoot the basketball and spread the floor even further, which effectively makes them stretch 5s, but most playoff teams have so far been content with defense, athleticism and target potential (which is a scale that encompasses a number of sub-traits such as finishing ability, touch, vertical spacing, hands, agility and length – it is virtually impossible to find a target excelling in all or even most of these categories: DeAndre Jordan excels in vertical spacing and length, for example, but struggles at finishing when forced to use his touch or rudimentary post moves; Enes Kanter is relatively pinned to the ground in comparison, but has touch, footwork and great hands to catch every pass destined to him; Draymond Green when playing the roll man spot has good footwork, good touch and fairly good athleticism, but lacks the superior height – not length – to tower over opponents helping on him).
A good example of how broad this category can be: Marc Gasol, Tristan Thompson, Steven Adams and Robin Lopez are 4 drastically different players at varying levels of relevancy in the NBA landscape, yet they all fit the big man role.

Once having clarified the nature of each role, let’s see if we can make some sense of certain lineups we’ve seen all-so-frequently during these NBA playoffs. Let’s analyze those that jump out in terms of usage and plus-minus, first:

Washington Wizards – PG Wall, SG Beal, S/F Porter, F Morris, B Gortat (13 GP, 19.3 MPG, +\- 8.0, highest in NBA Playoffs)

It is likely that Porter would play minutes at the 4 in most teams, at 6’8″ and with all the traits of a forward. But as Beal can effectively only play as a 2 even in very small lineups (it would be interesting to see what he’d look like as a player in a different team, as he is in many aspects a combo guard more than a SG) and the only swingman in Washington, Kelly Oubre, is still a ways away from contributing – 29% from three on two and a half attempts per game in the regular season is very unsatisfactory – Brooks has to play a two-forward lineup hoping that Porter is versatile enough to be a de facto swingman. Markieff Morris is a pure modern forward in stark contrast with the not-so-long-ago days of the Nene and Gortat tandem.

Chicago Bulls – PG Rondo, SG Wade, S Butler, F Mirotic, B Lopez (2 GP, 15.6 MPG, +\- 6.5, 2nd highest in NBA playoffs among qualified lineups)

Butler is a stereotypical star swingman that started off as a 2/3 and flourished as a pure modern 3 with endless defensive range. Mirotic had a very underwhelming shooting outing in the playoffs (34% FG on 8.3 attempts, 28,6% from deep on almost 6 attempts per game) but fits the modern forward position fairly well despite not being a former SF and has played some minutes at C when needed. Lopez is exactly the pick ‘n’ roll target, hard-nosed defender most teams look for in that big man spot – perhaps with slightly less athleticism than some, but far more technique than many. The relevance players like Wade, Beal, McCollum and others still retain without being exceptionally versatile on defense (but don’t be mistaken: versatile and good are two entirely different concepts, and being good has never run out of fashion because of versatility) speaks volumes about the role of the shooting guard and how it still matters a lot.

Oklahoma City Thunder – PG Westbrook, SG Oladipo, S Roberson, F Gibson, B Adams (5 GP, 16,2 MPG, +\- 6,4, 3rd highest in NBA playoffs among qualified lineups)

Here’s the first defiance to the paradigm we just presented: is Gibson a forward or a big man? We’d be inclined to say he’s the latter, as his versatility on D really ranges from 4 to 5, he doesn’t shoot threes (neither does Roberson to be fair, but that is a different issue) and fits the pick ‘n’ roll big man mold on offense. He’d be a pretty efficient big man on most teams provided he still offers the athleticism that captured many eyes in his Bulls days. Everything else is on point: Roberson is a prototypical swingman on both ends of the floor and if only he’d possessed any touch (his deficiencies are clearly not just a shooting form issue, as his lack of touch hinders every aspect of his game: passing, tip-ins despite being an efficient rebounder, ball handling) he’d likely have been offered a max contract this offseason.
He may one day find a niche as a forward given his rebounding, but it’d be an adjustment and now that OKC has George having the former Pacer as a F makes just much more sense when Donovan plans on using smaller lineups (he’ll be a SF besides a power forward like Patterson in the starting 5, in all likelihood), which he has done frequently both in the regular season and in the postseason, with Grant and McDermott alternating as forwards (sometimes even slotted alongside each other, a move no stranger to teams like the Trail Blazers as well) and Gibson playing the big man spot (21% of his time during the last playoffs was at center despite Donovan already having Adams and Kanter).

What about the Finals contenders, then?

The Cavs’ most used lineups during these playoffs has been the starting 5: PG Irving, SG Smith, SF James, PF Love, C Thompson. No revolution here, although Thompson is easily more of a big man than a true center (in fact, he started his NBA career as a PF. But then again, he also started as a left-hander…).
Let’s dig a bit deeper, then. The second and third most used lineups by Coach Lue are: PG Irving SG Shumpert SF James PF Love C Thompson – identical but with Shumpert as SG – and PG Williams SG Korver S Shumpert F James B Frye.
There’s a familiar blueprint.
Other relatively frequent lineups that distinguish themselves in terms of plus-minus are PG Irving SG Smith S Jefferson F James B Thompson (6 GP, 5,3 MPG, +\- 2,3), PG Williams, SG Korver, S Shumpert, F James, B Love (6 GP, 2,8 MPG, +\- 3,3), PG Williams, SG Korver, S Shumpert, F Jefferson, B James (7 GP, 2,5 MPG, +\- 2,3) and many more. Lue has used 110 lineups just during the playoffs and 250 during the regular season, so it’s fair to expect a little bit of everything.
Those who expected Cleveland to spearhead the lineup revolution, of course, clash with their payroll, a luxury-tax number that features the pure PF Kevin Love and Channing Frye, a 6’11” PF/C that has averaged at least a block per game only twice in eleven seasons and regularly shoots 44% from the field for his career, making him effectively a tall perimeter player at this stage of his career.
To some extent they also clash with LeBron’s possible preference for the small forward spot for most of his career (although he seems to have come to terms with his power forward mold), a preference that would partially justify his eagerness to acquire Kevin Love at the expense of then-newly-drafted no. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, a pure SF coming from Kansas who now marvelously fits the mold of the swingman despite playing for Minnesota (although the prevalent motives behind that request are surely due to age and title readiness), where Thibodeau never really let the common PG-to-C creed go – if anything, he runs the opposite way, with stretch PF Bjelica playing minutes at the 3 and F Wiggins occupying the 2-spot.

What about the Warriors?
As for the Cavs, the most used lineup during the playoffs has been the starting 5: PG Curry, SG Thompson, SF Durant, PF Green, C Pachulia. The second most used fits our formula but has a negative plus-minus and no Curry nor Durant (a -0,6 for PG Clark, SG Thompson, S Iguodala, F Green, B West). Third time’s a charm, however, because we’re presented with the infamous Death Lineup: PG Curry, SG Thompson, S Iguodala, F Durant, B Green.
Green fits the role of the big man in this lineup, but in reality he’s the prototype for the modern day forward: a hybrid SF/PF when he entered the league, a capable stretch-5 but by no means a player who should spend time exclusively at that position, a versatile defender with unlimited switching range but preferably slotted against big men or forwards (while smaller players are usually guarded by Thompson or Iguodala).
Iguodala is the perfect swingman and his success as a post All-Star player is a testament on the seminal role of the position. Thompson is a testament himself from a positional standpoint, a caveat on not forgetting the importance of shooting guards and their unchanged nature: while players like Klay (and back in the day Kobe) have the necessary size to play SF – Kobe has late in his career – it is not always best for them to oblige: size mismatches are not about sheer height or weight, but power. Thompson has tried to face against LeBron multiple times during these Finals, but it’s always proven much more useful to have him guard Irving while Iguodala would face the 6’8″ LeBron (nb: Iguodala is one inch shorter than Thompson). Green, meanwhile, is as tall as KT but during these 3 years of Golden State dominance in the West has defended successfully against the likes of Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard.
Some of the most successful lineups for GSW have also featured Livingston as a faux-2, the young McCaw as a swingman, former PF David West as a big man (no novelty: Speights used to be a power forward before playing in the Bay), the infamous JaVale McGee as a vertical spacer at the big man spot. Almost no lineups have seen Thompson at any position other than SG nor Iguodala outside of his swingman/SF spot. No lineups feature David West at his preferred PF position he’s been an All-Star in. Even the seldom used SF Matt Barnes, a mid-season acquisition, has never played as anything but a forward (by which, in PG-to-C notation, we indicate power forward). Outside of the starting lineups and its derivations – a.k.a. lineups that retain the same structure with just one different member who is perceived as interchangeable, in this case the center – Golden State has abided by swingmen and shooting guards being two different animals, by power forwards and centers being hybridized as “big men” and by forwards being a once per lineup commodity.
These are, in short, the stepping stones of where we believe positions in basketball are heading.
Beware: this is our view. There is no indication that all coaches will at any point have to follow the lead, nor does a lineup analysis indicate that the vast majority of NBA teams use this peculiar annotation.
Coaches will tell you that in order to beat Golden State you may have to avoid playing like them at all costs, as you’re unlikely to gather the assets they have acquired over time to cater to this system.
But it is true that such a positional view is a much more plausible way to guide a basketball team through the near future of the NBA than the blunt positionless basketball label, due to the simple reason that if you’re a great player you’ll still assert yourself as a star even if you’re under 6’5″ or over 6’9″. Scoring ultimately takes all shapes and forms and can’t be denied. The Damian Lillards, Isaiah Thomases and DeMarcus Cousins’ of the world will still power and finesse their way to relevance despite all trendy labels taking place. That’s way it is desirable to encompass that unbridled talent in any scheme or set of positions and duties. They will be recognized whether you personally do or not.
The PG-to-C set is going to stay, undoubtedly, and this model doesn’t plan to supplant it. It is a post-event, possibly ad-hoc way of recognizing new trends in an Association where things happen, change your perspective and then may be recaptured in a technical report one or two months after the fact.
It is a series of generic guidelines to help summarize better what is happening to positions without claiming their disappearance as a whole when facts do not warrant it.
By all means, it’s a small tool that we – forget about the pluralis maiestatisI – encourage you to use.
Use it when they tell you about Milwaukee having a non-positional future, like being defended by Maker, Brogdon or Antetokounmpo is the same thing (Milwaukee is not even especially faithful to our model, as they regularly employ swingman Tony Snell as a 2 and forwards Antetokounmpo and Parker alongside each other).
Use it when you’re wondering what coaches and executives mean when they say “we’d like to space the floor more” and mention the “modern basketball era that’s all about switching around”.
Use it when you see Memphis go from Randolph to JaMychal Green at PF and wonder what’s gonna happen to back-to-the-basket players (n.b.: they’ll be fine).
Use it when you wonder why so many people are unconvinced by positional fits that 3 years ago would have been dubbed ideal (ex. Anthony Davis and Cousins, Taj Gibson as a PF in both OKC and Minnesota, etc.).
Use it even more when trying to portray a realistic picture of what rookies will bring to the table in this league – in order, for instance, to understand why the 6’6″ Lonzo Ball may end up playing the 2 or a faux-2 but he’ll never be a 3 because he’s not quite a swingman – without getting carried away because “oh, do positions even matter anymore?”.
Or, you know, take it all the way to the trash bin if you don’t like it. I know some coaches would.
But whenever a lineup strikes you as unusual, feel free to come back here and consult this small tool before calling it wrong or positionless, and you may find in it more sense and possibly tradition than you’d have thought. Not all we fail to recognize is automatically new or strange, after all.

The real (devastating?) impact Zhou Qi will have on the Rockets.

We’re alive and well, and back with one of the oldest columns on this blog: The real, devastating impact of…, this time coming with a distinct American flair.

Yes, it is finally official: Zhou Qi will move stateside to the Houston Rockets.

This site has covered his growth to the pro levels extensively, often with a grain of salt, and we have been privileged to see him make huge strides in terms of character, attitude, enjoyment of basketball, ability to fit in with a number of high-character teammates like Andray Blatche and Xirelijiang (a true fan favorite for almost every Chinese Basketball Association blogger). His improvement as a shooter and ability to throw his skinny body around, paired up with an athletic and coordination improvement that has made him one of the most mobile and fluid players you’ll see at 7’2″, have made him an exciting prospect Rockets fans have every right to be looking forward to. Throw in the general decrease in average body weight required for NBA big men and all of a sudden his highs look higher, and his lows not so low anymore.
It is today relatively safe to say his career in the NBA projects to be at least as long as Yi Jianlian’s, albeit without the lottery pressure that Yi was forced to endure.

But what can the lanky Chinese provide to the Rockets, specifically?

The Houston Rockets have recently acquired Chris Paul, who is a huge offensive improvement in the half court, a relative weakness of last year’s Houston team that barely ever strayed from the Harden ISO path when unable to find a shot in 7 seconds or less. It is unlikely that Paul will refuse to play off the ball (multiple sources stated his willingness to share the court with the equally ball-dominant Harden), and it is just as unlikely that he’ll be relegated to off-the-ball duties exclusively (if the Rockets had wanted another faux point guard they could have easily talked to George Hill in free agency without resorting to a 7-player trade off that sacrificed a first team All-Defense player). Rockets fans should expect some early growing pains as Harden and Paul find their balance sharing the rock, but provided that Paul is able to sustain the neck-breaking pace that characterizes D’Antoni’s teams – that, personally, is the biggest concern fans should have, as Paul often shines when he can slow the tempo down – or the Rockets prove solid enough to survive those slower tempo games that they often struggled with last season just by virtue of having CP3, the Texan squad should be fine.
Zhou Qi will be a tall target in a two-men game, one that neither Paul or Harden have quite played with (DeAndre Jordan is 6’11”, Capela is 6’10”) recently, and his length, finishing ability and shooting make him a viable option for every type of ball screen, as he can prove just as useful in the paint or fading for a mid-range (or a three, although his shooting from deep is still a work in progress). In Xinjiang he’s often been deployed as a PF/C side by side with either Andray Blatche (very much a perimeter threat on offense and an inside player on defense) or Sun Tonglin (substantially a short C on both ends), frequently sliding on to guards and forwards out to the three-point line on defense.
His switching ability and fluidity at 7’2″ will be especially intriguing in a team that is bound to make the playoff out West, where teams like the Warriors and the Jazz regularly exploit opposing big men on the perimeter (whereas teams like the Spurs are keen on searching for the other half of the mismatch, punishing smaller guards in the post with their big men).
The Rockets have drafted Isaiah Hartenstein in the second round as a PF/C prospect, but there’s no indication so far he will be moving to Texas this year. Nenê was entering free agency after having apparently made no progress on a new contract with the Rockets, but has now signed a 3-year deal and this leaves Houston with three center prospects in Nena,  Zhou and Capela, who will be the starting C.
Unless Morey provides more splashes in free agency, Zhou Qi is going to play at least some rotational minutes, and it is confirmed he will be playing Summer League basketball these days.
Rockets fans, there’s a new Chinese big man in town.

Ingram v Simmons – a psychological breakdown.

n.b. this article was originally intended as part of a bigger breakdown for SheridanHoops that ultimately was never to be completed or published. Thus, I’m sharing it here, on my very own personal space.

The talk of the Draft is, for once, centered around the lack of a consensus 1st overall pick. While this absence, per se, doesn’t amount to anything we haven’t already seen (the 2013 class had no clear-cut favorite once Noel got injured, last year Towns became an official consensus first overall pick only less than one month prior to Draft Day, when Minnesota started hinting at the fact that they were going to select him), this year we the fans are treated to a half-consensus: every major mock draft subscribes to the belief that LSU point forward Ben Simmons and Duke small forward Brandon Ingram will be selected with the first two picks.
When it comes to determining which of the two will go first, however, the dogfight begins.

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NBA Corner: the Golden State Warriors entry test

It’s been a long while since I last wrote something here in my personal space, and it’s been even longer since I last covered an NBA subject.
However, as the CBA season is far from running China’s favorite team, the Golden State Warriors, is approaching a rutilant NBA title win.
In no way can one say the eulogies haven’t been piling up for this Warriors team this season, and certainly a lack of criticism isn’t to be registered either.
But as the season slowly dies away with an uncompromising beatdown of the Cavaliers’ hopes for some gold in Ohio, the different patterns the same Golden State team has
exhibited in its bout against the Thunder probably needs some more breakdown.

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Shotsuey!’s CBA 2015/2016 regular season awards + is Shotsuey! still alive?

It’s been a wild season.
Eleven players averaging north of 30 points per game, sign of an immense improvement in terms of offensive firepower brought in by imports whilst defenses haven’t gotten any better. Seemingly every player unwilling to dwell in the cellars of the D-League is now considering the CBA as an option, and the level of talent this year has been, if we believe the numbers, the highest ever.

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He Tianju and the others: who is (or might be) NBA-ready in the Chinese Basketball Association?

I was, in all honesty, a bit shocked to hear that He Tianju will play Summer League basketball with the Pelicans. Nonetheless, this gives us CBA fans a good opportunity to discuss some young prospects’ chances to make it overseas, and meanwhile NBA fans will get to know a bit more about what’s cooking in the Middle Kingdom. Let’s start, donc, with the man who’s making the news: who is He Tianju? Continue reading

Shotsuey!’s CBA 2014-2015 season awards (+ some words on the CBA’s status).

So, yeah.
Turns out this blog is still alive and well, even after the end of the season. Quite clearly, its activity will be slowing down considerably during this off-season, and you all are aware of how long a CBA off-season is. Nevertheless, it’s certainly been a long month of absence for me, during which other aspects of my life have been temporarily taking a huge amount of my daily time. Back to our main subject, though, as the CBA season has crowned a not-so-new champion in Beijing’s team, the Ducks, and Stephon Marbury has captured Finals MVP honors once again. Anyone surprised?

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