Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dual Shot-Blockers: Intimidating or Inefficient?

Dual Shot-Blockers: Intimidating or Inefficient?

Kentucky's freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein has been a shot-blocking machine of late. In five games since fellow Wildcat freshman Nerlens Noel went down with a torn ACL, Cauley-Stein has averaged a whopping 3.8 blocks. The 7-foot, 244 lb. big man swatted just 2.1 blocks per game in 20 games while his teammate Noel was still in the lineup. So, why the uptick?

On the surface, Cauley-Stein looks significantly more comfortable roaming the paint without having to share the defensive duties with the tallest flat-top in basketball. This got us thinking: is it really advantageous to have two shot-blockers on the court at the same time?

SnapCall polled the TV audience during Kentucky's game against Georgia to measure the popular opinion.

To begin breaking this question down, we need to look at it from a basic strategic perspective. If a team has a lone shot-blocker on the court, that player will generally know exactly when he needs to slide in front of the rim to help guards with penetration.

However, when there are two trees on the court together, it can create confusing overlap in roles, and with that, hesitation. Let's imagine that you're a 7-footer who is expected to protect the rim at all costs. Next, throw in the fact that your front-court teammate is another high-flying seven-footer who also camps out in the paint on a regular basis.

Now, picture the game being on the line with the clock running down. As the play develops, your point guard breaks down on defense and allows his man to penetrate the lane. It's time to make a snap decision. If you were alone on the block, there would be nothing to think about. You would immediately leave your man to stop the ball from getting to the rim. But you are not alone. Your teammate is standing on the opposite block. Pause the play right there.

This is the exact situation that defines the inefficiency of having two shot-blockers on the court together. Instead of simply letting instincts take over, there is an instantaneous communication  required between the two big-men, creating opportunity for mistakes. If both men mistakenly help at the rim, two different passing lanes are opened for the driving guard to choose, often resulting in an easy bucket. On the other hand, both may assume that the other will go to help, leaving an easy finish at the rim.

Since dribble penetration occurs often throughout a game, it seems logical that it would be easier to defend with a lone shot-blocker in the paint.

For the quants out there in SnapCall Land, here's our best shot:

Less confusion + Less hesitation = Fewer mistakes = Better defense

Put it another way, having two Dikembe Mutombos on the court together sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, such a lineup may produce some nice TV highlights, but not necessarily more wins.

Want to weigh in on the debate? Download SnapCall Sports from the iTunes App Store to make your opinion heard.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Viva La Ukraine!

During the NBA lockout in 2011, pro teams from China to Turkey and all places between pursued American players such as Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams, and J.R. Smith. Basketball has truly become a global phenomenon.

While globalization has shipped American jobs offshore, not so for the NBA where a flood of talent has come to the United States. It may surprise Americans who still see the game as exclusively theirs, but recent NBA All-Stars have hailed from six different continents. Surprisingly however, only 3 foreign-born players have played NCAA ball and were subsequently drafted in the top 10: Andrew Bogut, Enes Kanter, and Luol Deng.

With March Madness upon us and the NBA draft not far off, The University of Maryland has its own international phenom in Alex Len, a Ukrainian who possesses both size and athleticism. Len's dazzling array of post moves and shooting range could enable him to emerge as an offensive star at the next level, and his 7'3'' wingspan inside the paint may provide a bulwark defensively. Len compares most favorably to centers Bogut and Kanter, but seems to have a more complete offensive game.

The foreign invasion has not always produced positive results. Recent busts such as Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Frederic Weis, Darko Milicic and Rafael Araujo raise questions about how basketball talent translates nation to nation.
Alex Len: Future top draft pick?

It's been said the only sure things in life are death and taxes. That axiom is especially true when it comes to the NBA draft. The right organization, coaching and team are important factors impacting whether a talent like Len ultimately succeeds.

With a dearth of elite talent in this year's draft, every pick is a crapshoot. That's not comforting to GMs since history is already replete with draft day gaffes: Bowie over Jordan, Oden over Durant, and Darko over Carmelo.

Even so, Len remains a top 5 prospect. Viva La Ukraine!

Let's hear what you have to say. Do you see Alex Len emerging as a top player at the next level?

Download SnapCall from the iTunes App Store and make your opinion known.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Celtic Pride: One Step Back, Two Forward

Since losing NBA assist-leader Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL on January 27th, the Boston Celtics have dramatically improved their level of play.

Prior to Rondo’s injury, Boston stood at 20-23 and out of the playoff picture. Since then, the Celtics have won 11 of 15 games and currently stand as the 7th seed in the East. With an 8 game advantage over tonight’s opponent, the 9th place Philadelphia 76ers, the Celts have a playoff berth nearly locked up with a quarter of the season left to play.

In fact, the Celtics are just 2 games behind the Chicago Bulls who currently hold the 4th seed.

Tonight we asked the SnapCall audience: Why have the Celtics improved without their star point guard?

Keeping Kevin Garnett in a Celtic uniform has been key to Boston’s resurgence. As the trade deadline approached, rumors swirled that KG would be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Garnett even received personal pleas from Chris Paul, but refused to waive his no-trade clause. As the emotional soul of the Celtics, loyalty meant more than limelight -- Garnett has played inspired ball ever since.

In the month since Rondo went down, Garnett and Paul Pierce have reclaimed the leadership role that was seemingly passed on to the surly little point guard. In February, Garnett averaged 15.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Pierce scored 17.8 PPG and dished 6.3 APG. Both played well above their season averages. The future Hall of Famers saved the Celtics season with All Star caliber play.

The Celtics have also picked up their game on the defensive end. Avery Bradley had big shoes to fill when taking over for Rondo as starting point guard. While the Texas alum averages only 9.2 PPG, Bradley has emerged as one of the NBA’s best defensive guards. As Kevin Garnett recently remarked, Avery Bradley “is everything to our defense”.

The Celtics have improved from the NBA’s 25th ranked defense to the 9th best, allowing under 96 points per game. They’ve allowed 100 points just 6 times since losing Rondo.

Rajon Rondo is likely to remain a fixture in the Boston Celtics lineup for years to come. He’s a star with unparalleled court vision, but the facts clearly state that the 2012-13 Celtics are a better team without him. Go figure.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cincinnati Limps to the Finish Line

BLAME GAME: Cincinnati
Believe it or not, earlier this season college basketball analysts were gushing over the Bearcats. Cincinnati won 12 straight games to start the season. Junior sharpshooter Sean Kilpatrick couldn't miss from long range, and was getting early recognition for the Big East Player of the Year Award.

That was December.

Since then, Cincinnati is just 8-9 with their best win coming against then-24th ranked Pittsburgh. We polled our SnapCall audience to find out what has caused Cincinnati's inconsistent play.

For all of you new players: “Blame Game” questions offer our audience a chance to pick a scapegoat. You get to put your analyst hat on and tell the world why this team is underperforming. Then we broadcast the audience response percentages for each choice.

Starting from the top, we've got a tricky one to select. In the always tough but soon to be dissolved Big East Conference, Cincinnati is forced to square off against elite competition on a nightly basis. Their most recent five losses, in chronological order, came at Providence, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Georgetown, at Connecticut and at Notre Dame.

Sure, there's an argument to be made that Syracuse and Georgetown were close losses, but UC fans expected different results from this veteran squad. One or two of these wins may have cured Cincinnati's Bracketology ills.

Next, let's look at Cashmere Wright. There's no way around it: Wright has been wrong. Entering Monday night, Wright is 25-of-109 (23%) in his last 10 games since suffering a knee injury vs. DePaul. 

Wright's struggles bring us to our next option: Lack of scoring options. Sean Kilpatrick scores 17.7 points per game, but has proven that he can't carry the team on his back. He doesn't get much help either, as Cincinnati's top three scorers provide over 60% of their total points.

Also, the Bearcats assist on only 13 baskets per game, therefore UC can't rely on ball movement to get easy looks, and are often forced to resort to isolation scoring. When Kilpatrick is off his game, they're in trouble.

Lastly, there's always the option that Cincinnati just isn't as good as analysts predicted. The eye test never fails, and this doesn't appear to be a team that can win six straight games come tournament time. Maybe we're reading too much into their play when really, they're just not all that talented.

Have your own opinion? Download SnapCall Sports on the iTunes App Store to play along!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ryan Kelly Back in Blue

Coming into Saturday's game against Miami, Duke was still searching for the team that had started 15-0. They had gone 9-4 against the ACC since that hot start, and had done so without Ryan Kelly. The senior swingman had been the catalyst for the Blue Devils, shooting 50+% from three-point land, and stretching his 6'10'' length to guard bigs and wingmen.

Nobody knew how Kelly would contribute in Duke's rematch with the Hurricanes, let alone how many minutes he would play. The mystery surrounding his foot injury had Blue Devil fans in a panic. They recalled how Kyrie Irving missed much of the 2010-2011 season and buried Duke's title hopes.

After missing his first shot early in the first half, this situational SnapCall asked users to make the call on how he responds over the rest of the half. Would he only be able to play 7-10 minutes? How much rust would his jumper have on it? Or would he catch fire and carry the Blue Devils?

Few could have predicted the shooting clinic to unfold, so of course we rewarded 10+ with top points for this question. After his initial miss, Kelly finished the half 7 for 9 from the field and an astounding 5 for 6 from three-point range. He scored 20 of Duke's 34 points in the frame, keeping them in the game when Miami looked like they were taking control in the first half.

Ryan Kelly is the ultimate X-factor. The verdict is still out if his foot will hold up, but his return could make Duke co-favorites with Indiana to cut the nets in early April.

Keeping up on what Ryan Kelly is capable of doing may give you the edge as SnapCall heats up in March.

Download SnapCall at the iTunes App Store and let us know if you predicted Kelly's big performance.