Welcome to Around the Arc — a weekly series where I share my thoughts, highlight some key games, breakdown some film, and whatever I thought was fun, exciting, or interesting.
Side note: from now on, this is going to be posted on Saturdays
- Milwaukee Bucks' defense
- Luka Doncic in the post
- Dallas Mavericks' defense
- Dyson Daniels!
We’ve only just had a full week of basketball, so at this time, it’s funny looking at the standings. There are some teams where you’d expect them to be — the Milwaukee Bucks are the only undefeated team left, the Boston Celtics are third with a 4-2 record, and the Phoenix Suns are second with a 5-1 record.
Then, there are teams that are doing pretty well that it’s kinda surprising, but at the same time, it was still possible. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 5-1, and both the Atlanta Hawks and the New Orleans Pelicans are 4-2.
But then, you also have the wild ones — the, “how on earth are they in that position?” — The Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs having the same record was expected. But who would have thought that the record would be 5-2?
It’s so early into the season that it’s so hard to take anything from it, but there are still some interesting takeaways.
The Buck’s defense is absurd. Per Cleaning the Glass, their defensive rating is 103.3 — that’s almost 10 points better than average. And one could point to Brook Lopez playing like his old self.
You can make a case that he’s been the best rim-protecting big this year. Per PBP, with Lopez on, the opponent's rim frequency is 25.5% and they shoot 55.2% at the rim — this would be 2% better than best. You take him off, the frequency slightly increases to 26.4% but the FG% skyrockets to 67.5%(6th)
You may also point to Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the opponents shoot 68.5% when he plays without Lopez. Whereas, when you have Lopez without him, they only shoot 60.0%.
The real story is when you have them both on. The rim frequency is 21.05% and they shoot 51.2%. That is insane — this is also how their defense was in 2020.
On the other end of that spectrum, we have the Brooklyn Nets with the worst defense of all time. They are almost 10 points worse than average.
The Ben Simmons experiment hasn’t been working so far and it hasn’t worked on either end of the floor. On offense, it feels like they’re playing 4v5 and I haven’t seen him do well on defense either. Their offense goes from 123.0 to 110.0. And maybe that would have worked out if their defense got significantly better but their defense is slightly worse with him on than off.
It will be interesting to see how they will just try to improve the offense because right now it isn’t looking good.
Luka Working in the Post
In the past three seasons, Luka Doncic has steadily increased the number of possessions in the post:
- 1.8 possessions → 2.6 → 5.2
That’s right. He’s averaging 5.2 possessions in the post — more than Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam, and Nikola Vucevic. He ranks fourth this year. For comparison, this is the same as Dirk Nowitzki in 2016.
His points per possession is also wild. Amongst the high-usage post players with at least 3.0 possessions per game, he’s tied first with Jokic with 1.15. Even if you don’t include the high usage, he’s tied for third amongst everyone!
This development has been key for the Dallas Mavericks, as they rank second in post-up frequency and score a league-best 1.3 PPP. This was emphasised in the game against the Nets — pretty much all of their half-court possessions started with Doncic in the post.
Everything revolved around him getting a mismatch in the post. Doncic against a smaller defender is light work. Did you know he’s shooting 70.7% inside the restricted area and 64.0% inside the paint?
But the above numbers undervalue what Doncic does in the post. That 5.2 number only includes shots, turnovers, and fouls drawn. Most of the time, the defense will send extra help because who wants to let someone cook one-on-one for easy points. And once that help comes, there’s no read that he can’t make
That’s why the offense around Doncic in the post works. This is the same with Jokic, too. If you let them go to work against a mismatch, then you’re letting a guy that shoots over 60% inside the paint score. If you rotate early or send a double, he will find open 3s, lobs, or cutters.
Another way to prevent this is to not give up a switch in the first place.
The Nets did try to show on the pick-and-roll, and that resulted in finding the open guy on the short roll. But with Doncic, even if you’re early to tag the roll, he will make the skip pass.
Right now, he’s leading the league with 36.7 points per game(37.6 per 75 possessions) and he’s doing it with only 7.8% of his buckets assisted — even less than 2019 James Harden.
Mavs vs Pels
More Mavericks words! They’ve been very fun to watch this week. Here, however, it’s to do with their defense. The start of this game against the Pelicans was the worst defensive effort I’ve seen.
Do you know how ridiculous it is to give up 2.1 PPP in almost five minutes!? The Pelicans got any and every shot they wanted — they couldn’t have asked for any better shot either.
The main reason for that was JaVale McGee playing. He was getting cooked worse than Dewayne Dedmon, and I didn’t think that was possible.
On this note, the minutes with McGee have terrible. Per CTG, in 126 possessions with McGee on, the Mavericks are minus 20.1 with a 94.4 offensive rating, and a 114.5 defensive rating. Take him off and those numbers jump to plus 13.5 with a 126.0 off RTG, and 112.6 def RTG.
Once he was subbed out in the game, this happened:
The Pelicans went to Valanciunas and that worked. The Mavericks had to send doubles, which forced rotations or he just cooked inside.
One surprise was watching Dyson Daniels, who played pretty good basketball. He finished with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block — not a statline that might scream “WOW!” but he did all the little things so well.
Things That Caught My Eye
- The Los Angeles Lakers finally got their first win. I didn’t think that the Lakers would have this bad of a start
- Donovan Mitchell is hooping right now in Cleveland. His 42 points against the Celtics and him getting to the paint with ease was fun to watch
- Giannis Antetokounmpo is a mad man. He’s not that far behind Doncic in scoring with 34.4 and he’s shooting 82.0% in the restricted area, LOL!
- The Denver Nuggets aren’t having the start that I thought they would have