Welcome to the first installment of Bafflement.
If you weren't baffled by this four-game road trip, God bless you. And I wouldn't say that it was solely last night's game that baffled me or just this road trip, but there are a slew of things that have left me bewildered regarding personnel and basic basketball strategy. Some real basic shit.
The ultimate goal of this isn't for me to do what I love most, which is rant, but to help me grow as a basketball observer and share with you whatever it is I saw. Please share your own Bafflement as well.
1. One of the first things I noticed was the matchups. We had Enes Kanter guarding a very offensive minded player in Jonas Valanciunas. Already, there is a problem here. Amir Johnson isn't a scorer. I don't remember a single offensive possession going through him all night but he was being guarded by our biggest, longest, and best defender in Derrick Favors. For some reason Dwane Casey had the wherewithal to do the right thing and he put Johnson on Kanter for obvious reasons defensively.
2. The first three that Kyle Lowry shot. Jamaal Tinsley is nowhere near him. I don't know who to blame for this, Corbin or Tinsley.
If we blame Uncle Amaal, it's because he failed to get close to a shooter knowing that he has rim protectors behind him. If we blame Corbin, who's gonna Corb, it's for one of two reasons. One, he hasn't given the starters a defensive strategy to deal with a defensive liability such as Amaal. Two, he plays Tinsley.
This has been a reoccuring theme so far this year, guys not being close enough to shooters, which probably says more about the overall defensive strategy that should be employed at a professional level--something I'll touch on in a minute.
3. Defense Part I
Guys aren't playing fully committed to playing help defense. I see them begin to rotate but not commit to it. This is all sorts of wrong for multiple reasons. If they do not fully commit to the help rotation, they get stuck in no-man's land. They're not guarding the guy with the ball who they should have rotated to fully, they're not guarding their own man either, and they put the secondary defensive rotation in no-man's land as well because he doesn't know whether they're rotating or not.
This leaves wide-open short-corner threes. And driving lanes for easy layups. Next game, watch for it. Gordon Hayward is particularly guilty of this. However, I'm sure he'll learn whether or not Corb teaches him.
Defense Part II
The overall defensive strategy is perhaps the most baffling. I think that if you want to mimic good, solid defensive strategy, you should be watching Duke basketball or Bulls basketball. They have a defensive theory, the players understand it, and they commit to it.
We're defending men straight up, meaning we're allowing the offensive player to dictate the ability to change directions using the dribble, which makes the rotation, if necessary, come from a surprise direction. The bigs don't know where they'll have to help, only that they will. When that happens, the second rotation becomes late and Favors' or Kanter's or Gobert's guys get easy dunks. Guys like Coach K and Thibs don't allow this to happen.
Their defensive strategies are based on forcing the ball into certain areas on the court. They don't allow the ball-handler to cross over and change directions while moving forward. This way, they dictate where the help defense will be coming from if it's necessary to rotate and it's not of any surprise to the help defender when it happens. They push the ball to where they want the offense to have the ball. If they score, they score. But at least they're only scoring where you're allowing them to.
Corbin's defensive strategy is some Basic Basketball 101 shit. Stay between your man and the basket. It's paradoxical to use this strategy in the NBA because this league has superheroes. It's an even bigger paradox when you employ this strategy with guys like Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Mo Williams, Uncle Amaal, etc. You already know they struggle as individual defenders. So, by putting people like this on the court, you have to simultaneously build a strategy based on pushing the ball where you want it to go, dictate where you'll let teams beat you, and never let them change direction while going forward. This way, you take away half of the court and limit the liabilities of certain players.
Defense Part III
What's up with the strange double-teams that Corbs is employing? Multiple times last night, Casey put DeRozan or Gay on the wing block against Gordon or RJ. And almost every time, despite the fact that neither of these guys were beating us, the double-team was sent over, specifically Tinsley. They easily passed out of it, the ball rotated to the corner for an easy three.
Why are we double-teaming? What is the point? We didn't double-team Durant when he went of for 40-plus, but we double-team two guys that combined 10-25 from the field when the rest of the team shot nearly 50% from the field and 40% from downtown? They're both high-volume, low-efficiency scorers. The more times they chuck up the ball, the better for your defense.
Defense Part IV
Favors isn't helping. I don't know if the referees are in his head or what. But multiple times last night and during the course of this road trip in general, he wasn't protecting the rim against guards. I figure some potential reasons: he's tired, he's worried about fouling, he knows that secondary rotation isn't going to come, or Corbin's game plan is to reduce Favors; overall effectiveness as a defensive player.
If you have the opportunity to rewatch this game, do it. When you combine all these defensive factors specifically, that's how you give up nearly 120 points to the Raptors and make them look like the Dream Team.