Roaming the Baseline: Paul George, Jonas Valanciunas, T.J. McConnell, more
Hi, hello, and welcome to yet another edition of Roaming The Baseline! This will be a weekly endeavor where I point out some things that caught my eye: a hot or cold streak from a player, a developmental flash, a well-run play, a funny tweet, who knows? There will be film -- it’s me, so of course there will be film -- but this will also be a bit looser. It’s an extension of my Twitter feed, if you will.
With that said, let’s roam the baseline.
PAUL GEORGE, IN ATTACK MODE
Don't look now, but the Clippers have won six in a row, and 12 of their last 14 games. They're getting a little bit of everything from everyone, though we should probably be paying more attention to Paul George's recent run.
He's tossing flames, averaging 28.3 points with a 51/54/97 shooting split. A 54 percent clip from deep on nearly seven attempts is absurd; the 5.2 free throw attempts in that stretch, as modest as that number looks on the surface, is the more important number to note.
We know what George can do as a shooter. He can kill drop coverage with pull-up triples. He's a monster off of corner pindowns or free-throw-line curls. Any semblance of space is an invitation to be picked apart with his quick trigger and high release point.
What's more encouraging is that George has tuned his attack method. The volume of his drives hasn't changed much -- breaking it down monthly, he's been floating between 12.2 and 13.1 drives per game since the turn of the year, per Second Spectrum tracking. George has been more forceful and more intentional with those looks.
The number of drives may not have risen, but his shot attempts have. He's putting up nearly seven shots on drives in April, and converting those at a 56.1 percent clip. The free throw attempts have risen in tandem with his aggressiveness.
While the Clippers have been an elite offense all year long, the lack of rim pressure has been a question mark with serious playoff implications. That's gotten better as of late -- the Clippers rank 12th in the percentage of shots at the rim (33.6) since March 17, per Cleaning The Glass -- and George has been a major reason for that.
THE MONSTER MASH
"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
- Mark Twain, allegedly
- Kim Jung Un, allegedly
- Post-up offense
The post-up ain't dead; the bar for success is just higher. The increase in weak side zoning, the added length and athleticism of digging defenders and a shift in developmental priorities for young big men have been key factors in the rate of post-ups going down across the league. That doesn't mean we don't still have practitioners.
Jonas Valanciunas is one of my favorite players to watch on the block. It's akin to a bear doing ballet -- a grizzly bear, if you will. He's a massive human, but a massive human with superb footwork and a slow-but-effective over-the-head fake that helps him get defenders off balance. The way he can dislodge dudes with his shoulder is high comedy, and a welcomed change-up from the Memphis floaterfest.
Valanciunas has been on fire as of late, averaging 22 points on 68.4 percent shooting from the floor in April. He's converted 12 of 22 shots (54.5 percent) on post-ups this month per Synergy, identical to his season average. Among 33 players that have logged at least 75 post-up possessions this season, Valanciunas ranks seventh in field goal percentage.
HE CAN'T KEEP GETTING AWAY WITH IT
T.J. McConnell just keeps doing it. He can't keep doing it.
Allowing McConnell to get to the baseline is a cardinal sin at this point. He's become one of the NBA's best Nashers, circling around the baseline to hunt dump-offs, kick-outs or quick-hitting turnaround jumpers.
It's especially criminal to toss lazy passes in the backcourt against him. After going through all of McConnell's steals this season, he's racked up 14 steals in the backcourt after dead balls this season -- 15 if you count this one.
Whether it's 14 or 15, I'm just going to assume that mark leads the NBA by a wide margin.
A question to ponder: Is there a player better at an obscure skill than McConnell is at pilfering after the inbound?
I'm open to hearing your suggestions.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO "HMMMM"
- 155 players have logged at least 100 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball handler (passes included), per Syngery. Pascal Siakam ranks No. 6 (!) in points per possession generated (1.13 PPP). Pick-and-rolls only account for 17.1 percent of his offensive possessions. If you're looking for a way to unlock a next level for him offensively, maybe it's leaning into more of that? Inverted ball screens since the guard room (Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet) is so good at setting them? Just spit-balling.
- More Synergy fun: the NBA's most efficient isolation player (including passes, min. 100 possessions) is, you guessed it, Andrew Wiggins (1.27 PPP). Zach LaVine (1.23), Paul George (1.18), Giannis Antetokounmpo (1.15; come back, king) and Kyrie Irving (1.15) round out the top five. Do with that information as you will.
- There are 11 players averaging at least 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks. Eight bigs, two forwards and Matisse Thybulle, who is the only player on the list doing so in fewer than 20 minutes per game. Just a ridiculous event creator, and his work off the bench might skew the on-off numbers enough to kill Ben Simmons' DPOY case.
- Very quietly, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is on a heater: 42.7 percent from deep since the beginning of March, and a 51.2 percent clip on nearly six attempts in April. The Lakers have struggled to shoot all year long; getting KCP going, especially on the type of movement looks he feasts on, is wildly important as they get closer to the postseason.
- I know I mentioned him last week, but Clint Capela is averaging 20 & 15 with nearly three blocks per game in April (7-0 with him). Him good, him real good.
PLAYS I LIKED
Karl-Anthony Towns has been unleashed since the hiring of Chris Finch -- higher usage, more elbow touches, better numbers almost across the board. The high-post touches are key, as they allow the Wolves to maximize his scoring gravity and passing ability to unlock opportunities for others.
This is a beautiful switch-beater from the Wolves. After the pitch to Towns, D'Angelo Russell gives the illusion of screen setting. Jaden McDaniels instead ghosts the screen -- the best way to beat a switch is with a slip, folks! -- and jets to the basket. This puts Marcus Smart behind the play and causes Grant Williams to offer some help. The sink from Williams ultimately opens up a wider window for another cut, this time for Anthony Edwards.
If you're looking to find some fun in Magic games, as a fan or a neutral observer, try to track the way they generate looks for Terrence Ross. Always a gunner, he's become even more important to their offense due to his ability to bend defenses with movement.
We get some Iverson action at the beginning of the play (Ross running off the two elbow-area screens), though he cuts it short to set up a pick-and-roll...or so we think. A cross-screen underneath the basket frees Chuma Okeke (he's fun and good!) for a low-post touch. Mo Bamba then flips his screen to free Ross for a corner look.
It would've been nice if the Bamba screen was better -- a theme for him at this stage -- but it's essentially an empty corner with built-in counters depending on the way it's defended. I like the design.
The Power of Gravity
There are players that force extra attention due to their on-ball prowess. There are players that strike fear in the heart of defenders off the ball because of their shooting ability. Then, there are guys like Damian LIllard, who can fill both roles at an elite level.
A double-stagger look for Lillard ends with an Enes Kanter layup. How?
It all boils down to the Heat being terrified of what Lillard can do with the ball in his hands. As he begins to come off the first screen, he cuts his path short to screen for Robert Covington. Against normal humans, the Heat would simply switch it. But because Lillard is the screener, Jimmy Butler outright refuses to give up the assignment to Duncan Robinson.
This kicks off the chain of events. Covington comes off the screen, forcing Bam Adebayo to leap out to prevent an open triple. Kanter slips to the rim and gets a layup because Butler is behind the play. Despite not touching the ball, the two points scored are a direct result of Lillard.
THE READING LIST
There is plenty of high-level basketball content out here if you know where to look. I wouldn’t be where I am as a writer without reading a ton of Zach Lowe or Chris Herring or Caitlin Cooper or Mirin Fader or, well, you get the point.
Anyway, here are some -- not all, but some! -- of the stories I’ve read this week (since April 7) that I think you should check out. Their Twitter handles will be linked under their names, so click and follow if you don’t already.