One of Al-Farouq Aminu’s biggest strengths coming into the NBA was his defensive potential, as he had impressive athleticism and work ethic while at Wake Forest. While it took him a few seasons to adjust to the differences in defending in the NBA, Aminu has certainly improved as a defender over his three year career. Entering his fourth season, is Aminu ready to join the ranks of elite perimeter defenders?
Defensive metrics don’t tell the whole story on Aminu but some of them show that Aminu is start to show some promise as a defender. Basketball-Reference’s On-Off Data show that the defense of the Pelicans suffered without Aminu on the court, as the opponent’s effective field goal percentage and offensive rating increased with Aminu sitting. 82games.com estimates Aminu’s defensive value by position, which demonstrates he can find success defending shooting guards and small forwards while struggling against bigger forwards. Finally, RAPM might be highest on him defensively, as he graded out at a positive 3.63 points.
Does the video line up with this positive outlook of Aminu? His physical tools are evident, as he has quick lateral movement which allows him to stay in front of offensive players and an impressive wingspan that bothers shooters, both off the dribble and on catch and shoot attempts.
The pick and roll clips below demonstrate these physical tools, as Aminu fights through the screen (either by going above or below the screen, depending on the situation) and recovering quickly to take away dribble penetration or force a tough mid range shot.
One of the breakout stars from the 2012-13 season was Tobias Harris, after a midseason trade moved him from Milwaukee to Orlando, where he immediately gained a spot in the rotation. In his Orlando debut, he 14 points in 24 minutes, two of his highest outputs up to that point in the season. He went on to average 17.3 points per game in 36 minutes while shooting 49% on 2’s and 31% on 3’s. The question for this season is whether these 27 games were an anomaly, with Harris being able to produce offense on a poor team or whether Harris will be able to replicate this production over an entire season.
To do so, we need to examine Harris’ offensive game and see what his strengths and weaknesses on offense are and whether defenses will find it easy to stop him or not. To provide some context before we dive into the video, the below shows Harris’ shot chart for the entire season. There are a few areas where he is below average but most of the zones have him at league average levels or above.
After scouting fellow sophomore Devin Thomas’ strengths and weaknesses, our attention turns to Codi Miller-McIntyre and will investigate whether he can be a point guard for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons this season or whether he is better suited to playing off the ball.
First, let’s review some of his statistical measures from last season to start determining about whether he should play more with the ball in his hands. Per KenPom.com, his assist rate was 19.4%, which ranked behind teammate Madison Jones’ 22.6% and 17th in the ACC. He struggled a bit with turnovers, turning the ball over 20.4% of the time, which is a poor mark, even for a freshman. Draft Express has his pure point rating at -0.64.
In the video, we see similar mixed results. CMM can attack the rim well with the ball off the dribble but he doesn’t always make the best decisions, which leads to turnovers.
Off the Dribble
In the first few clips below, you can see CMM penetrate off the dribble into the lane and finish at the rim or find a teammate for a layup attempt. He has a quick first step that allows him to beat the defense and get to the rim. One thing he can improve on for next year is drawing more contact in the lane, which would allow him to get to the foul line more often. Last season, he shot only 46 free throws (19.2% free throw rate) while shooting 56.5% on these free throws.
This sample size is a bit too small for us to determine if he is a poor free throw shooter but regardless, he needs to get to the line more. In the first two clips, you see him avoid the defense to attempt the shot instead of absorbing the contact to draw the foul. He can work on driving into the teeth of the defense, drawing contact and finishing or drawing the foul to make the offensive possession a successful one.
At the end of the clip, you can see where CMM struggles with turnovers. He is careless with the ball at times, which allows the defense to take the ball from him. If he wants to play with the ball in his hands more, he’ll need to cut down on these turnovers.
When trying to determine the top transition bigs in the league last season, I expected Tyler Zeller’s name to pop up based on his collegiate production. Looking at his rookie season though, Zeller did not get a chance to run in transition as much which took away one of his biggest offensive strengths.
Cleveland was an average team in terms of pace, as they averaged 92.3 possessions per game last season, which ranked 13th in the NBA. While Zeller used 10% of his possession in transition opportunities his last collegiate season, he saw a decrease to only 8.1% his rookie season, according to My Synergy Sports. On these possessions, he averaged 1.09 points per possession (PPP) which is below average for transition opportunities.
When looking at the video, there are a few reasons why Zeller did not find the same success in his rookie season in transition as did while at North Carolina. To break down the first reason, Zeller’s shot chart must be examined. When looking at his shot chart, you can see that he struggled from two point territory outside of the paint.
Due to Wake Forest’s poor outputs of the last several years, none of their players have registered on a national scale. Devin Thomas may be the next example of this player after a freshman season that saw him outplay his #169 RSCI ranking to become arguably the best Wake Forest freshman last season. Thomas posted 9 points per game on 55% shooting while grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game to lead the team in that category. His 11% offensive rebounding rate ranked 8th in the ACC while his 22% defensive rebounding rate ranked 4th. He still has room to grow obviously, but he looks like he could become a productive ACC player over a four year career.
Thomas’ offense is derived almost exclusively from the paint, as 72% of his shots were at the rim, as categorized by Hoop-Math. His most utilized possession type was a posted, where he posted an adequate field goal percentage, especially for a freshman player of his size.
Much of Thomas’ playing time came at the center position, where he is a bit undersized at 6’9″, with only an average reported 6’11” wingspan. Despite the fact that he was over matched size wise on the block, he was often able to score with some impressive footwork for a young player.
Thomas likes to finish with his preferred left hand and attempts to get to the left side of the rim for his finishes. His main move is to drop step around the defender and has a wide drop step that can get past the defense. With the drop step, he is able to finish with either hand out of this move.
This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how collegiate defenses can slow down the offense of Doug McDermott from Creighton.
Doug McDermott returns for his senior season as the top returning scorer in collegiate basketball after averaging 23.1 points per game on 57% shooting from 2’s and 49% from 3’s. He is able to score in a variety of ways although he is first and foremost, a deadly accurate shooter. What can defenses do to try to stop him this year on the offensive end?
Although McDermott is mainly known for his shooting, he is more often seen on the block for the Bluejays, where was he one of the best post players last season (as well as his sophomore season). If defenses let him work 1 on 1, they are going to be grabbing the ball out of the net more often than not.
Therefore, defenses need to send two defenders at McDermott and take away post moves as an option while turning him into a distributor. McDermott has decent vision and passing ability for a player of his size, so defenses need to be organized to pull this off or McDermott will be able to shred the defenses with easy passes to wide open teammates.
Here, Mason Plumlee rotates over to help on the post move, which leaves his man open for a dump off pass. Duke needs to rotate properly, which they do, as the opposite corner defender rotates down which leaves the only open pass a cross court skip pass. McDermott has no viable options and turns the ball over.
This series will provide strategies on how defenses can best guard, or attempt to guard, some of the most dangerous offensive players and actions. Today’s post will try to show how collegiate defenses can slow down the offense of Russ Smith of Louisville.
Russ Smith took a major leap forward on the offensive end in his junior season, increasing his points per game from 11.5 to 18.7, while increasing his two point field goal percentage from 38% to 45.8% and his three point field goal percentage slightly from 30% to 32.8%. He was a key member of the Louisville national champion team and will be one of the leaders as they try to defend the title. With the departure of backcourt mate Peyton Siva, it will be interesting to see how Smith’s role changes but the one thing that is certain is that teams are going to struggle to defend him.
These strategies won’t turn Smith into a poor offensive player or stop him from having any effect on the game, however, they can provide a starting point for what defenses should focus on to slow Smith down. This isn’t an exhaustive list for defenses but hopefully it will show some building blocks for how they can make life difficult on the offensive end for Smith.
Run players at him in transition
Smith is one of the quickest players in the country with the ball, which makes him deadly in transition. Transition opportunities were where he derived most of his offense last season as Louisville ranked as the 5th fastest team on offense, according to Kenpom.com. When Smith gets the ball in the open court, he is nearly impossible to keep up with and he is able to blow past defenders on the way to the rim.
To slow down Smith, defenses need to run multiple players at him as quickly as possible once the transition opportunity materializes. Although Smith became a much more controlled player his junior season, he can still be susceptible to turnovers or rushed shots when he gets moving too fast. Flooding him with defenders could leave the defense exposed elsewhere but teams could find some success in getting the ball out of Smith’s hand in transition and forcing his teammates to beat them in this facet.
The following clips from the NCAA tournament begin to show how defenses can execute this strategy. In the first clip, after Smith picks up the loose ball, Trey Burke immediately attempts to cut him off instead of giving him a little bit of space in midcourt before taking a harder approach once Smith gets closer to the three point line. Nik Stauskas then runs toward Smith and helps finish off the turnover.