Sacramento’s Mike Brown has coached LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and he was an assistant on the Warriors staff the past five years with the brilliant Stephen Curry. The primary reason the Kings hired Brown to resurrect the franchise is because of his offensive acumen.
The Kings entered Friday’s showdown with the Celtics as the high-scoring team in the NBA. The Kings have offensive weapons such as De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, but the difference between this season’s Kings and past editions is depth and shooting.
Brown offered an astute response as to why NBA offenses are soaring. They play positionless basketball, which makes them more versatile, and a majority of the players can shoot 3-pointers.
Al Horford of the Celtics is a perfect example of a player who was strictly a post player when he entered the league 15 years ago but is now a forward/center who can shoot 3-pointers, score in the paint, and bring the ball up the floor and make plays.
“I still can’t really grasp my mind around it,” Brown said. “You can just see it in the development of young players. Before, everybody was like, ‘OK, you’re in 10th grade and you’re [6 feet 9 inches], you’re going to go down on that block and work on your righthand jump hook and lefthand jump hook.
“Because of what guys have been able to do and guys who have been able to change the game, like Steph and LeBron and [Kevin Durant], these guys do things out there on the floor for their size that you can’t even imagine. It gets translated now to guys watching on TV, and you’ve got guys that are 6-9 and 6-10 and they’re playing like guards were 30 or 40 years ago.”
With most players able to shoot 3-pointers and with the deemphasis of post play, the floor is more difficult to cover because players can shoot from 25-plus feet. And if you cheat and defend all shooters at the 3-point line, they will backcut to the basket for layups.
The Warriors discovered that three shooters, one handyman, and a quality defensive center can be wildly successful, and the rest of the league has been copying that formula for the past decade.
“Everybody can shoot. Everybody can pass. Everybody can dribble, and when you space the floor with players like that it just makes it so tough to try to stop a talented player because he’s kicking it to a guy that might be 6-8 but can knock down a three,” Brown said. “So when you’re flying at him, at 6-8, you’re not going to block their shot. Everyone wants to play faster because of the Warriors and the body movement and the ball movement, it’s unbelievable. I don’t understand how it’s like this now. I don’t know if it can stay like this, but I’m sure it’s fun to watch, especially from a fan’s standpoint.”
Some teams are unsuccessful because they can’t amass enough shooting talent. The Celtics are winning this season with offense because they added enough capable shooters to ensure someone will be open with proper ball movement.
“You have to have the shooters and the playmakers that can handle that type of freedom,” Brown said. “There comes a responsibility with freedom that you’re getting when you’re playing this way. You’re looking for good, quick shots. Are you willing to as a team embrace whatever role that your team needs you to do? If you have 17 guys that embrace their role, you’re going to have a chance just because individuals are so talented in today’s game compared to even 10 years ago. You have a chance to do some pretty special things if that occurs.”
Brown’s final recipe for offensive success is getting quicker shots, before defenses get set. That’s why some of the best teams play with tempo, because they want to create mismatches against defenses that are scrambling. These offensive formulas are not all that sophisticated. Teams have been trying to mimic the Warriors’ strategy for years, and that type of offense changed the face of basketball and boosted scoring.
“Defenses are still pretty good, but they’re best when they’re set,” Brown said. “If you can get [shots] up when defenses are retreating and trying to find bodies to match up with, it makes it a little easier because now guys may not want to rotate because they’re still trying to locate the most dangerous guy. That’s why it’s extremely important to try to get a look as early as possible. It’s something that we stressed during our Finals run [last season with the Warriors]. The Celtics had a great defense, especially with [Robert] Williams back there. We worked as best we could to push the pace, and if somebody got a look, let it fly.”
NO ROAD WORRIER
Hostile environments motivate Tatum
When a Detroit fan launched and then rattled in a half-court shot at halftime of the Celtics’ win against the Pistons on Nov. 12, Jayson Tatum turned around and smiled. A week before in New York, a Knicks fan also swished a half-court shot to win a big prize.
Tatum said he enjoys those road moments, being jeered by opposing fans, watching the contests. He said he tries to enjoy all aspects of the experience, trying to avoid treating games as just another work day.
“Seeing that twice in a week was pretty cool,” Tatum said of the half-court shots. “I like playing on the road more than I like playing at home.”
It’s not that Tatum doesn’t love the home cooking at TD Garden, but the adversity he faces and the togetherness required to win away from home is motivating.
“Different arenas, different experiences, some fans that like you and some fans that try to get under your skin,” he said. “I don’t get that at home. So I think that plays into it, I kind of like playing on the road just because it’s different, night in and night out.”
Tatum said he has heard his share of insults and heckles on the road.
“They always talk about Deuce in a good way,” Tatum said of his son. “They talk about my hair, call me ‘pretty boy,’ things like that. But I take that as a compliment, I guess. But those are the kind of things I heard the most, about Deuce, me being light-skinned, and my hair.”
And there is satisfaction that comes with flourishing in that road environment, when hitting shots causes silence.
“That’s the best part, coming into somebody else’s building and getting the win,” Tatum said. “Especially after having a big night, you come back and win. Looking at the same fans that was talking [expletive] as you walk off the court. That plays a part into it, why I like playing on the road. Because it’s something about going to somebody else’s house and getting a win that just feels a little bit better.”
Mavericks not whole without Brunson
The Mavericks could have signed Jalen Brunson to a contract extension during his final season with the club, but instead they waited. And as Brunson continued to produce and become a reliable second option behind Luka Doncic, his value rose. By the time last season ended, the Knicks made plans to sign Brunson, hiring his father Rick, a former NBA player, to their coaching staff.
Not only did the Mavericks lose Brunson, they received zero compensation. Dallas coach Jason Kidd continues to lament that loss because the Mavericks weren’t truly able to replace Brunson.
“When you look at what JB brought to us, just a true pro, loved to play the game, was a winner,” Kidd said. “You talk about things, the chemistry, the environment, he was a grown up and those are things he brought to the table every day. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to keep him, but when we had him those were the things we saw on a daily basis. He worked hard.”
Kidd said Brunson worked extensively with former first-round pick Josh Green, whose playing time has increased.
“[Brunson] took Josh under his wing as a vet to help bring Josh along to show Josh what it means to work and what he has to do,” Kidd said. “[Brunson] did a lot of things that went unnoticed in the stat sheet and those things are hard to find in this league.”
It’s apparent after Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics that the Mavericks need a dependable No. 2 scorer. Their roster contains a bunch of solid but not spectacular players who fill their roles behind Doncic. But the Mavericks have lacked shooting for years.
Despite Doncic averaging 34 points, the Mavericks are 24th in scoring, 18th in field goal percentage, and 20th in 3-point percentage. ”We’ve had a lot of good looks, we just haven’t knocked them down,” Kidd said. “Shooters are shooting at a high clip right now. We’ve got guys not shooting the ball well. Maybe we can [shake up] the starting lineup and give them a different look and maybe we can help them make shots.”
The Mavericks were a better offensive team Wednesday with Christian Wood on the floor than with Dwight Powell. Wood was an offseason acquisition expected to start at center, but Kidd has stuck with the offensively challenged Powell. Wood is Dallas’s second-leading scorer despite averaging just 25.3 minutes.
Wood also is shooting a career-best 44.7 percent from the 3-point line. Those two threes he knocked down against the Celtics were no fluke. Kidd would not commit to placing Wood in the starting lineup and the Mavericks’ offensive rating is 130 with Powell on the floor, so Kidd has to determine whether he can afford to play Wood more and Powell less.
“I’m not hard and fast on anything; this is a dress rehearsal,” Kidd said in reference to the starting lineup. “We’ve got to get all the answers to the test before [the playoffs] if you’re lucky enough. You’ve got to look at all the combinations. You’ve got to see who’s playing well. And just understand that sometimes change has to happen. It’s just the nature of sports. There’s no hard feelings or anything personal. This is their job and we’re trying to win ballgames, trying to put the right combinations out there, but the big thing is we’re not shooting the ball at a high clip and we’re getting wide-open looks.
“And you play teams like Boston, you have to make them.”
Celtics have grabbed attention
A few things opposing coaches and players have said about the Celtics:
Kidd: “They’re vets. This is a team that’s been together for some time. They understand their roles. They can shoot the three, not just take it, but they shoot it at a high clip. [Jayson] Tatum is playing at an MVP level, [Jaylen] Brown is right behind him. [Marcus] Smart is making plays, he’s passing the ball. They’re unselfish. That’s hard to guard when you look at Boston and Golden State, when they move they continuously keep moving, someone else is going to be open. You’re playing good defense but they just make the right plays.”
Pelicans coach Willie Green: “It is definitely a tough test in the sense that this is arguably the best team in the league at this point. They have an eight-game win streak [going into their Nov. 18 meeting], and they are playing at a high level. It will be a good challenge for us, and we are looking forward to it.
“They are the highest-scoring team in the NBA. The first thing they are going to do is make shots. We just have to make it extremely tough to make sure they aren’t getting a ton of catch-and-shoot threes that are not contested. Then keeping them off the foul line. That is the key of this team, as they do a great job defensively by having hands on guys and switching on all types of actions. Offensively, they put a ton of pressure on the defense because they come down the floor with force and pace.”
Pelicans forward Herb Jones: “They have a lot of big guards. They’ve just got a lot of good shooters. They’re shooting with confidence, and it’s tough when shots are falling to close out. Like when you get beat, and they spread it to another shooter. When they’re making shots, it’s tough any night in the NBA, if a team is making shots at that clip.”
Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram on why the Celtics have been so effective: “Just them being connected for a long time. In their offense, you can see guys moving when they’re in isos. Their offense is just fluid. On the defensive end, they’re pretty connected, too. So, this is a really good team.”
There’s concern in Los Angeles that the Clippers may never reach full health. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard missed Wednesday’s loss at Golden State and there is no timetable for either to return. The Clippers were a popular pick to win the Western Conference because Leonard was coming back healthy (apparently) to join George and new addition John Wall. While the Clippers have a winning record, they are hardly the product expected to challenge for the championship. Leonard has played five games — after missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament — and is sidelined with a sprained ankle. The Clippers have been careful with Leonard, but the question is whether he’ll ever get back to being a full-time player. At 31, he has dealt with myriad injuries since leaving the Spurs. George was carrying the Clippers, but he’s been sidelined with a hamstring strain. Without Leonard and George, the Clippers have to rely on former Celtic Marcus Morris as well as reserve Norman Powell. Wall has played solid ball as a backup point guard, averaging 11.5 points and 5.7 assists. The Clippers have enough talent to make a deep playoff run — if healthy — but that seems like a slim possibility … After a surprisingly strong start the Spurs are beginning to position themselves nicely for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. San Antonio has lost nine of 10 games but is developing potential cornerstones Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and rookie Jeremy Sochan. Gregg Popovich, who will turn 74 in January, remains willing to lead the Spurs through this abyss despite the fact it could be years before the Spurs are back in contention … Former Celtic Jae Crowder remains on the trading block and while there are several interested clubs, including the Bucks, Hawks, and Heat, there has been no movement. Crowder and the Suns agreed to part ways in the preseason on the condition Phoenix could find a trade partner. Crowder has one year and $10 million remaining on his contract.