What We’re Reading: Road to the Finals

From Flickr via NSNewsflash

From Flickr via NSNewsflash

 

We at Bulls by the Horns realize that you’re busy and don’t have the time to go searching through website after website for some interesting, NBA related reads. So, every Saturday, we’ll gather the articles we’ve found interesting and put them together for you in one place.

One week of conference finals action has provided more questions than answers going forward, so let’s get into this week’s best reads.  The Heat looked lost in Game 1 of the Finals defensively and Hickory High’s Seth Partnow took a look at why their defense looked so much better in their second game against the Pacers.  Partnow did a masterful job showing how the Heat’s less aggressive schemes allowed their individual players to become more aggressive defensively.  With the help of some great graphics, Partnow diagrammed how the Heat were able to attack Indiana ball-handlers by simply changing the location of their traps.

Also at Hickory High, Andy Liu examined how LeBron James was able to take over down the stretch of the Heat’s Game 2 victory despite suffering from what looked like extreme fatigue.  Though only two games into the Eastern Conference Finals, it looked as though James was physically exhausted and was forced to dig deep in playing all 24 minutes of the second half.  In the face of a two game deficit, James dialed it up and Liu broke down the plays that won the Heat the game down the stretch.  Liu observed that James “combines the skillset of a role player with the superstar’s understanding of his surroundings”, which might be the most impressive thing about James as a basketball player.

On the other side, the Spurs have dominated the Thunder in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals mainly due to Serge Ibaka’s injury.  While many have focused on the Spurs’ domination, Grantland’s Brian Phillips examined the career of the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook.  Westbrook is one of the league’s most fascinating players and the story of his development into an NBA superstar is no less fascinating.  Phillips dug deep and found some great anecdotes about Westbrook’s first dunk (in his final HS game), his high school fashion, and early comparisons to Leandro Barbosa.  Westbrook has taken quite a journey on his way to stardom.

While Phillips looked at the development of Westbrook, SBNation’s Doug Eberhardt took a look at the development of screens in the NBA.  A popular notion among the casual fan is that the NBA is deteriorating because of the lack of fundamentals and players that grow up playing AAU basketball where they’re not learning how to play team basketball and set good hard screens.  Eberhardt did his best to show that this simply isn’t true as NBA screening has significantly changed in the last decade.  In his breakdown, Eberhardt used GIFs to illustrate the different types of screens that get set in the NBA and used Tim Duncan and the Spurs to show just how nuanced screen setting has become.

Also, in San Antonio, a new star is beginning to be born.  Not Kawhi Leonard, but rather Kawhi Leonard’s hands.  Game after game, broadcasters have fawned over the size of Leonard’s hands and the ease with which he can palm the basketball and make basketball plays.  The New York Times’ Scott Cacciola took a look at the enormous size of Leonard’s hands and some of the reactions he’s received from players and coaches around the league.  In examining Leonard, Cacciola also mentioned that the success of players with large hands like Leonard and Dwyane Wade has led to some scouts fetishizing the size of NBA prospects’ hands at the combine.

Speaking of NBA prospects, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated interviewed a number of the draft’s potential lottery picks to get a better idea of their thoughts going into the draft process.  Some of the most interesting answers came from Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, who mentioned a complete overhaul of his free throw shot and his ability to play whatever position his coach needs in the NBA.  Many NBA scouts also questioned the position UCLA’s Kyle Anderson will play in the NBA and Mannix talked to him about that as well.  Lots of interesting quotes from a lot of prospects with unique draft prospectives.

Finally, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight broke down an issue very important to executives drafting in the lottery (as well as the Bulls this summer): when to sign an NBA player to a max level deal.  In this breakdown, Silver analyzed the value produced by NBA players and how much value is necessary to necessitate signing a player to that type of contract.  In his analysis, Silver found that a very small percentage of NBA players are actually worth a maximum level contract.  In fact, he reasons that only players within the top 95-99% of NBA players deserve a max contract with the top 90-94% being the only other part of the league deserving of consideration.

Before we go, take a look at the GIF that perfectly combines two of my loves (Rocky IV and the NBA) and perfectly sums up the Thunder-Spurs series thus far.

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