Four-Point Play

1. How Jerry West Rebuilt The Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank probably will win 2018-19 Executive of the Year honors and team owner Steve Ballmer is the man who made the final call to trade Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and then opted not to re-sign DeAndre Jordan in the past year-and-a-half.

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But the Clippers would not be third in the Western Conference standings today with a 16-8 record if team consultant Jerry West had not been here to facilitate all the deals that eventually were made by the Clippers, which essentially came down to parting ways with the Lob City nucleus that had won 273 regular season games in the previous five seasons.

To fully understand West’s impact, we must go back to June 2017 when a perturbed Chris Paul clearly wanted out of Los Angeles and wanted to know if the Clippers could facilitate a sign-and-trade deal with Houston for him.

At that time, West had just been hired by Ballmer to serve as a special consultant, similar to the role he served with the Golden State Warriors for six seasons until his contract ran out following the 2017 NBA championship.

West said he wanted to return to Golden State for an extension on his deal, and Warriors owner Joe Lacob is on record stating he wanted West to return as well.

However, both sides could not strike a deal, which led to West’s departure.

The Los Angeles Lakers, West’s old stomping grounds as team president of basketball operations, were not interested in bringing on their former GM as their consultant, most likely at the desire of new basketball ops execs Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, who both wanted to plant their own flag

So Ballmer made his pitch to West and ponied up the dough to make his special consultant happy, further promising West’s voice would be heard by all in the organization.

And it was.

For starters, West told management he loved Paul and would hate to see him go, but if they were going to strike a deal with Houston. In return, the Clippers sought out as many small assets as possible, rather than land big pieces in return.

West has always said—if he were at a casino—he would rather have four $25 chips than one $100 chip. It gives him a better chance to recover—or make—his money should he miss on his first bet.

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So when Paul’s name was bandied about for a sign-and-trade, West taught Ballmer, Frank and Company to seek out reserves who play like All-Stars (Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell), starters who can also come off the bench (Patrick Beverley) and a late first-round pick that could be packaged with the Clippers’s sixth man (Jamal Crawford) for a starter in return in a three-team deal (Danilo Gallinari).

In a roundabout way, at West’s suggestion, the CP3 trade netted the Clippers Gallinari, Williams, Harrell and Beverley—who now make up 44 percent of the 2018-19 Clippers’ lineup, based on minutes played.

Seven months later, West struck again.

Because he was hired the same month Griffin was signed to a five-year, $173 million contract, West was not able to influence Ballmer as he had in the Paul deal. After all, Ballmer had a good friendship with Griffin, and in his recruiting pitch had told Griffin—to great pageantry in June 2017—that he considered the power forward to be a Clipper for life.

To let you know West’s full influence, seven months later, the special consultant convinced Ballmer that Griffin and his big contract had to be traded for more assets, before it became a liability.

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So in January 2018, Griffin was dealt for three starters (Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and a late lottery first-round pick that became prospect Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), not to mention an x-factor reserve center (Boban Marjanovic), who is as dominant a 10-minutes-per-game player as there ever has been in the NBA.

In Harris, Bradley, Gilgeous-Alexander and Marjanovic, the Clippers netted another 38 percent of their current roster, thanks to yet another blockbuster deal.

With all of these assets in place, it was not hard for West to suggest to Ballmer and Frank that they did not need to re-sign Jordan to a four-year, nine-figure contract.

Rather, by allowing D.J. to go to Dallas untethered, the Clippers could trade the coach’s son (Austin Rivers) to Washington for the Wizards starting center on an expiring contract (Marcin Gortat) at nearly one-half the 2018-19 price that it would take to sign Jordan.

With those three fell-swoop moves in place, West, Ballmer and Frank had landed nine of the Clippers’ top 10 minutemen this 2018-19 season (backup forward Mike Scott, signed to a $4 million deal, was the 10th in that set).

Now the Clippers have a West title contender in 2019, while also maintaining the fiscal flexibility to get $67 million under the cap if it wants to sign two max free agents this summer. They still will be able to bring back three starters (Gallinari, Bradley and Gilgeous-Alexander) along with two NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidates (Williams and Harrell).

Truly, West is the best when it comes to running game on the rest of the NBA.

He truly is in a League of his own.


2. How Good Is Jarrett Allen?

The Brooklyn Nets, who haven’t had their own lottery pick since 2010, despite four straight losing seasons entering 2018-19 thanks to some bad trades, do possess one of the best NBA prospects in 20-year-old center Jarrett Allen.

How good is the 6-11, 237-pound center?

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Good enough to already rank 15thin the League in Player Efficiency Rating (19.8) and seventh in Real Plus-Minus (+2.05), among centers that average 24-plus minutes per game this season.

That is incredible when you sit down and analyze his situation.

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As the 22ndpick of the 2017 NBA Draft, Allen has surfaced as one of the three best prospects of that group, probably ranking alongside Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell, not to mention ahead of John Collins, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz, among others.

His defense is stellar, with Allen possessing rim-protection skills already worthy of All-Defense consideration.

Offensively, he is a tremendous finisher in pick-and-rolls, with good hands that facilitate easy deliveries, whether he is running interference for Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell or the injured Caris LeVert.

The losing Nets actually win points when Allen is on the court (+2.3 On rating per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com) and do amazingly better compared to when he is off (+9.4 On-Off rating).

Mix in his traditional stats—12.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 28.1 minutes per game—at a .626 true shooting percentage clip, and you see why the sky is the limit.

It is only natural.

Allen was, after all, a McDonalds All-American in high school and did come from a high-profile college program in Texas.

But his drop to No. 22 in the draft did lower the expectation bar on someone who was clearly highly touted all his life previously.

Credit Nets GM Sean Marks for discovering this diamond that fell temporarily in the rough.

Marks’ mark makes the mistakes made by past management—trading all their lottery picks away this decade—a little less rough.


3. Protecting The Hornets’ Nest

They don’t shoot the ball especially well.

They don’t generate a lot of free throw attempts.

They don’t have bigs that generate offensive rebounds for second-chance points.

But if there is one thing Hornets can do this season, it is protect the nest, which Charlotte does to League-leading effect.

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No team in the NBA has a turnover ratio lower than 10.5 percent per 100 plays, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

Much of the credit for that has to go to new Coach James Borrego who has emphasized ball control, just as his mentor Gregg Popovich did in San Antonio when he had Tony Parker as his leader exemplar.

Thanks to Charlotte exec Mitch Kupchak’s free-agent signing of Parker, the Hornets now too boast a lineup of ball-control quarterbacks who turn the ball over less than any trio of guards in team usage-rate leaders Kemba Walker, Parker, Jeremy Lamb and Malik Monk.

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Walker, a two-time All-Star point guard, sets the tone, with a 28.8 percent assist ratio contrasted with a 10.0 percent turnover ratio.

That’s near 3-to-1 efficiency!

Meanwhile, shooting guards Lamb and Monk are two 2s who can get his own shot, while registering minuscule turnover counts, with Lamb logging a 9.6 percent assist ratio to a 6.7 percent turnover ratio, while Monk has a 15.6 percent assist ratio to 10.2 percent turnover ratio.

Finally, Parker keeps the model flowing with the second unit, with his 34.0 percent assist ratio gleaming especially bright next to his 11.0 percent turnover ratio, despite his—shall we say—elder statesman status.

Indeed, the 36-year-old Parker’s metrics are even better than his 18-year career numbers of 32.2 percent assist ratio and 13.9 percent turnover ratio.

When you also consider these men are Charlotte’s top four scorers, the feat is that much more remarkable.

By eliminating turnovers from their diet, the Hornets have surprisingly produced one of the most efficient offenses in all of basketball.

Who would have thunk it?


4. It Is Where Thunder D Reigns

Throughout Oklahoma City’s 11-year NBA history, the Thunder’s success has been synonymous with the individual successes of such players past and present as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden.

But now, we are in the midst of a new OKC era, and if the spotlight must be shined on individuals, then we must highlight the defensive deeds of Steven Adams and Paul George, who have truly emerged as the leaders of the thunderous Thunder D movement.

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Granted, Russell Westbrook is a force of nature—registering his 108thcareer triple-double Wednesday—that will always stand out on a basketball court.

And, yes, PG-13’s 47-point performance is going to grab the headlines, as it did Wednesday on SportsCenter, Game Time and every other NBA highlights show.

But, truth be told, offense is not the story here.

Westbrook is in All-Star form, but he would be the first to tell you he has had better starts—his .510 true shooting percentage is at a nine-year low—especially after already missing eight games with injuries this year.

George, too, is in All-Star form, though he is averaging a career-best 24.3 points per game, would say he has had more efficient seasons in the past, with his true shooting percentage dropping to a four-year low this season (.551).

Upon reflection, Westbrook and George’s shooting woes are emblematic of a team that simply has trouble making shots, with a true shooting percentage that ranks 25thin the NBA on a team whose offensive efficiency ranks 17th.

Thankfully, rebounding centers like Adams and Nerlens Noel generate enough second-chance points with their 6.9 offensive rebounds in 47.6 minutes per game to help keep OKC’s head above water when it comes to offense. The Thunder lead the NBA in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing 31.7 percent of all opportunities.

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Defensively, however, is really where the Thunder have been able to make up ground, and ultimately, charge their squad with the energy to generate a 16-7 record thus far.

Nobody plays defense like Thunder D, with OKC stomping out foes to the tune of 100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, which ranks 1.9 points better than the next closest defense (Boston).

The Thunder also force turnovers better than anyone else and are second only to the Clippers in effective field goal percentage defense.

Look no further than the starting lineup to see who sets the example for all to follow.

In center Adams, forwards George and Jerami Grant, the Thunder have three plus defenders that rank amongst the leaders in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and also make up three-fifths of OKC’s two most popular and defensive devastating lineups.

The starting crew that gives pause to opposing O’s features Adams, Grant, George, Terrance Ferguson and Westbrook. That quintet has played 107 minutes together and has a +20.8 net rating, allowing only 95.8 points per 100 possessions.

The starter/sub mashup quintet that is OKC’s other devastation unit features Adams, Grant, George, Ferguson and Schroder. That unit has played 118 minutes for a +24.2 net rating and 94.7 defensive efficiency.

Perhaps just as important as the strong lineups, are the weaker ones that now do not suffer defensively when Adams comes to the bench.

No longer does OKC have a defensive sieve like Enes Kanter backing up Adams (pre 2017-18 seasons) or an undersized center like Patrick Patterson (last season).

Now, with lengthy rim-protector Nerlens Noel giving Adams time to rest, all units in OKC can prosper on the other end of the court.

It is where Thunder D now reigns night after night.