But what about the really good ones?
For them, we’ll need a different maxim. One that reads:
Styles make fights.
In the right matchup, a player may dominate to the point where
you wonder why he or she wasn't garnering more praise and
recognition in the first place. Catch that individual in the wrong
matchup, and you may feel the need to hang missing person posters with
his or her image and likeness plastered all over them.
Such is the story of Desmond Bane in the 2022 playoffs – except,
fortunately for him, Memphis fans have refrained from doing him as
dirty as Brooklyn did D-Will (there’s still time
I hinted at this a bit in my recent article for
SB Nation, but Bane was the primary beneficiary of the
Minnesota Timberwolves’ blitzkrieg initiative for defanging Ja
Minnesota regularly sent two at the ball on ball-screens
featuring Morant (an alignment commonly referred to as a
blitz/hedge). This led to the low-man defender constantly rotating
over to tag the roller. And as a result, it created an open
opportunity for Bane (a.k.a. the almighty conqueror of the
Bane was electric against Timberwolves, shredding nylons to the
tune of 23.5 points per game on 67.3% True Shooting — a performance
that powered many to call him the Grizzlies’ best player in that
Now, here we are against Golden State, and, as
The Dunker Spot crew likes to say, the math has changed (and,
unfortunately, the physical integrity of his back).
First vs. Second Round Stats
|Points Per Game*
*Data Provided by Basketball-Reference
The Warriors have opted to switch or go under on screens, sag
off Morant when he's got the ball and contest Ja's pull-up attempts softly. This is
all in order to avoid conceding interior looks to the league leader
in points in the paint. (Hint: It hasn’t worked
The theoretical benefit of this for the Warriors is that they
aren’t putting their defense in a state of automatic rotation,
which negates a good portion of Bane’s offensive value (he’s made a
killing this season capitalizing off the bent floors that Morant
materializes for him).
This change in hardwood climate for Bane has coerced an
adjustment in his shot diet. According to NBA.com shot-tracking
data, Bane has gone from taking 6.2 catch-and-shoot jumpers against
the Wolves to a mere 3.5 against the Warriors. With his off-ball
volume being down, he’s been forced to resort to multi-dribble
looks to try and get himself going. And at this point in his
development, these situations are just not optimal.
With all this said, Golden State has still been showing help at
the nail on Morant’s drives, but every defensive scheme has its own
idiosyncratic help principles for different players/matchups.
While Golden State's off-ball defenders may sag off and offer
supplementary aid to whoever is tasked with point-of-attack duties,
they are hesitant to overhelp off of Bane (which is great for the
Also, to their credit, the Warriors have been particularly stout
in navigating screens when the Grizzlies attempt to feature Bane in
his usual off-ball sets; Steph Curry has been especially
diligent in these spots.
This situation reminds me of a Mike Prada tweet I often ponder
over internally in the doldrums of my mind. (Congrats on the new
position, by the way!)
Don’t get me wrong. Bane is a better basketball player than
Patrick Beverley (I have him in the top 50), but the former's
current struggles are parallel with the ones the latter experienced
Beverley went from starting in Games 1 and 2 against Dallas, to
coming off the bench in Games 3 through 5, to never taking off his
warmups in Games 6 and 7. In the following round, he was in the
rotations, but only garnering 16-to-20 minutes with the second unit
against the Utah Jazz.
However, Beverley would find his way back into the starting
lineup against the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals,
and administered a
9-of-31 shooting chokehold on Devin Booker in the 35-plus
minutes he shadowed the All-Star guard.
Another example of this trend of matchups dictating production
can be illustrated through Fred VanVleet, the guy many now call
In 2019, the smaller guard had no place against the Philadelphia
76ers’ lengthy backcourt duo of Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons, and
so, he was relegated to 16.9 minutes per game and posted an awful
However, VanVleet's math changed when he was gifted a newborn child and a more
formulaic backcourt dynamic against the Milwaukee Bucks. In that
series, he averaged 27.3 minutes and sizzled his way to an
excellent 64.4% TS efficiency.
And then, in the following round, VanVleet's penchant for screen
navigation and chasing Curry around off-ball made him an essential
ingredient in the Toronto Raptors’ title-clinching
Even looking at the opposite side of this series, Jonathan
Kuminga went from playing ~5 minutes per game against the
craft-based Denver Nuggets to requiring ~15 per game against this
more athletic Grizzlies unit.
We could do this all day, but for the sake of time (although it
is a flat circle), we will not be doing
The intent of this written soliloquy isn’t to argue for less
Bane in this series. He’s so good that his defensive intensity, and
the threat of his marksmanship, is enough to warrant a high-minute
load (if he’s healthy).
The point of this is to offer an explanation for his recent dip
in play, and provide some solace for concerned fans who may fear
that his recent slump hampers his long-term potential.
Unless you are a superstar-caliber player — or possess an
incredibly versatile skil lset — your production on a
series-to-series basis is likely to vary quite a bit based on your
Such is the truth about the NBA playoffs.