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.
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO IS EVOLVING
Back-to-back games against the Brooklyn Nets. Back-to-back wins against the Brooklyn Nets. Back-to-back eye-opening performances from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The first game was dominant. The Nets once again went with DeAndre Jordan as their Giannis stopper of sorts, tasking him with hanging back at the rim and absorbing blows whenever Giannis touched the paint.
Giannis straight up gave it to him. Body blows into jump hooks. Fadeaways. Stepbacks. Face-up jumpers.
The three-ball was going for him as well. When doubles came, Giannis calmly passed out of them. He sprung guys free with screens. The Nets simply had no good answer for any possession that involved Giannis. Hard to sneeze on 49-8-4 plus the W, amirite?
If the first game was dominant, the second one was resilient. Giannis dropped 36-12-4, but it certainly wasn't as smooth as the outing on Sunday. An 11-of-30 shooting clip ain't pretty, though the 4-of-12 clip from deep was intriguing.
The Nets didn't change their coverage. They were more than willing to concede above-the-break triples. Giannis obliged to keep things honest, but still found room to be aggressive (seven shots at the rim, 12 free-throw attempts).
These two games aren't entirely instructive of a future playoff matchup; James Harden's absence is a pretty big variable. What the games did reinforce, however, is that Giannis can dictate terms whenever he wants to. There's no true answer for him.
The hang-back-and-wait plan only goes so far if Giannis is gonna bring the funk anyway. Living with jumpers is cool until he catches a rhythm. It's especially tough if Giannis flows effortlessly into pick-and-rolls or dribble handoffs with either of his All-Star running mates.
In short: good freakin' luck.
MATISSE THYBULLE'S HOUSE OF TERROR
One of my favorite bits of this god forsaken regular season has been my friend, a born-again Sixers fan, hitting me up on Twitter to tell me how quickly Matisse Thybulle racks up a steal or block whenever he checks in.
Sometimes it's a minute. Sometimes it's 30 seconds. It could be even less than that. Thybulle checked in for Danny Green at the 7:17 mark of the quarter, by the way.
It can be a bit cliche to describe a defensive player as being able to be multiple places at once. It's pretty freaking accurate in the case of Thybulle.
There's almost no way to accurately describe how rangy Thybulle is. Stuff like this is routine for him.
That's Thybulle dropping to the left block in anticipation of a cut. He finds himself behind the play as Lauri Markkanen lefts to the wing, but is able to block the shot anyway. Seth Curry drops down to the "nail" to pick up Markkanen; Thybulle then rotates over to Garrett Temple, picking off the pass in the process.
Thybulle leads the NBA in blocks on above-the-break threes (16), per PBP Stats. Overall, Thybulle is one of four players to have at least 75 steals and 50 blocks this season. This may shock you, but he's logged the least amount of minutes of that group by a pretty wide margin.
I don't think there's a (public) site that tracks it, but my bet is that Thybulle leads the NBA in rearview contests/blocks. As pesky as he is at the point of attack, he still has a tendency to get snagged on screens. What makes him so special is his ability to recover from behind.
I am literally begging for the three-ball to become a passable weapon for him so we can see more of him.
DEATH, TAXES, AND ISO MELO
The Blazers aren't far removed from a five-game losing streak, capped off by a pair of disappointing showings against the Memphis Grizzlies. Damian Lillard was laboring; CJ McCollum was slumping a bit; the defense was as bad as it's been all season.
So, in typical Blazers fashion, they've won four of their last five.
The stars have bounced back, and the starting lineup (Lillard, McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic) has flourished because of it. Their staggered second unit, with Carmelo Anthony operating as the Robin to Lillard's Batman, has blitzed teams over the past five games.
Anthony's been on a heater, averaging a little under 15 points off the bench with a 56/57/100 shooting split over his last five. He's been able to capitalize on catch-and-shoot looks when the defense is scrambled elsewhere. His mid-post play is popping right now; smaller defenders just can't keep Melo from getting to his spots. The fadeaway is still money, and the release point is impossible to bother.
Anthony grades out as a plus contributor in isolation (80th percentile) and post-up (52nd percentile) possessions this season, per Synergy. He's run even hotter over the past five.
Enjoy the run.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO "HMMMM"
- Who is the Mavericks' third best player behind Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis? Tim Hardaway Jr. is making a strong push, averaging 31.3 points over his last three games. He's fresh off a night where he drained 10 threes in a blow-out win against Miami. Just as a quick aside: sign me up for any player with a sway on their jumper.
- I don't think enough has been made of the fact that Kevin Durant is shooting nearly 58 percent from two, almost 48 percent from three, and 88 percent from the line. I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with that.
- There are 13 players generating at least 1.00 PPP when coming off of screens (min. 75 possessions). Nikola Jokic (1.13 PPP) is the only center on the list. It is absolutely wild watching a man that big (and slow) coming off pindowns for middies.
- Another Chris Paul update, because I can't get enough of these: he's now up to 16 games with 10+ assists with two or fewer turnovers this season.
- There are 43 players who have logged at least 500 pick-and-roll possessions (passes included) this season, per Synergy. Your most efficient initiator? Kawhi Leonard (1.15 PPP). Second? DeMar DeRozan (1.12). Shoutout to 2019.
PLAYS I LIKED
Watching the Jazz fly around during one of their intricate sets are one of my niche joys. Call me a nerd, I don't care.
We get the illusion of HORNS Flare to start, but it's a decoy. Joe Ingles "ghosts" the Rudy Gobert screen as the big fella "chases" Mike Conley on the left wing. Instead of stepping up, Royce O'Neale clears the left corner to set up an empty side pick-and-roll between Conley and Gobert.
Even that's a decoy.
Instead of running the pick-and-roll, Conley pitches the ball to Ingles. O'Neale, after clearing the left side, sets a pin-in screen on an unsuspecting Jaden McDaniels, freeing Bojan Bogdanovic for a triple.
Bucks clearing a side
Another opening set, another empty corner look, this time from the Milwaukee Bucks.
I like the moving parts here. Donte DiVincenzo loops around Giannis before petering out to the dunker spot. Giannis comes off a Brook Lopez screen, receives the pass, fakes a handoff with Jrue Holiday, then flows into a two-man action with Khris Middleton.
The Nets attempt to switch, but Giannis does a fantastic job of sealing Kevin Durant off. Middleton recognizes Giannis has inside leverage, and floats in a pinpoint lob.
Slicing for Sabonis
Domantas Sabonis handles the ball a lot. And I mean a lot. He'll grab and go after defensive rebounds. He'll initiate the offense in Delay sets above the break. Pitches to the elbow lead to split action, in which he's the conductor of it all. It's nice to see the Pacers work to get him open sometimes.
A wing pitch that flows into Double Drag is fancy enough to catch my eye. Having a guard screen for Sabonis at the same time just adds to the funk. The inverted screen is key; it dislodges Alex Len long enough to throw him behind the play. He recovers decently enough, but his front foot is exposed. Sabonis attacks almost immediately, gaining inside leverage on the drive before finishing through contact for the and-one.
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 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.
Logan Murdock with a tremendous feature on Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton.
Jackson Frank on the budding stardom of Darius Garland.
Seerat Sohi slams the door on the MVP conversation.
Will Aldrich on Indiana Fever rookie Kysre Gondrezick looking to break barriers on and off the court.
Zach Lowe with a fantastic feature on Hawks center Clint Capela.