2017-18 NBA Journey Week Four: Space And Opportunity

The start of the 2017-18 NBA season is underway. There will be scores of articles about questioning good teams, declaring individual award races over, and patting ourselves on the back for an obvious breakout star playing like a star. There is also a feeling surrounding this season that we're headed towards the inevitability of a Golden State Warriors championship. Thus, some of the fun is met with a bit of gloom. Cheer up, lover of hoops. Basketball is a sport in which the journey of the season is just as important as its destination in the Finals. Here at TSFJ, we're going to highlight some things and people the basketball realm can be excited for between now and June.

Song of the Week: David Bowie - "Space Oddity"

Basketball, when broken down to its core elements, is built around a cause-effect relationship between space and opportunity. With and without the ball, the team on offense manipulates the area in the halfcourt in order to get the most efficient shot within 24 seconds. If a player feels he or she has created the space for a shot within range, the attempt is going up. Teams use the gravitas of their best players to force mistakes by the defense. Basketball is a game of magnetism - a solar system of celestial beings compelled by one ball filled with gas.

There are many ways to achieve good spacing. The most common method is to surround a team's best player with a teammate or two that can shoot well from long distance so defenses do not readily collapse and make it difficult for him or her to score. Some teams are blessed with multiple players capable of draining open threes. Other teams have to be a little more creative with creating space because they're not blessed with shooters.

The New Orleans Pelicans are in that latter group. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are two of the best big men in the Association. They have managed to average a combined 56 points, 25.9 rebounds and 8.5 assists (Cousins at 5.7!) per game this season. While their elite talent has a lot to do with their productivity, the surrounding environment doesn't suggest those two would be allowed to have that much space to be efficient. The Pelicans rank 24th in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage, shooting at 33.9%. Now, the team is 15th in made threes at about 10 a game, but that lowly rate certainly isn't respected enough to help keep teams from focusing so hard on Davis and Cousins.

Having a steady point guard like Jrue Holiday at the helm is a key component of ensuring the Pelicans' offense has structure as a whole. However, with the limited outside shooting - as Davis and Cousins are arguably the team's best shooters - coach Alvin Gentry has used Cousins to initiate the offense, hence Boogie's assist average. He's used his two biggest celestial bodies to attract and manipulate defenses to get good shots on offense. They've turned a weakness into an advantage. While this has resulted in a mediocre 7-6 team record, the Pelicans don't look as confused on offense as they did when Cousins was traded there last year.

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Over in Houston, the Rockets have taken the idea of space and transformed it into a destructive Big Bang Theory that helped shake and rearrange the astronomy of the basketball universe. New forms have been created and the analytics are so detailed, they fit better on a sitcom about roommate scientists than a basketball discussion. Either way, the Rockets have made outside shooting an ideology the 1986 Celtics couldn't fathom.

Houston has its mad scientist in coach Mike D'Antoni. It has is giant orbital being in James Harden, who has grown even more comfortable with being the primary ball handier. With shooters like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, and Harden's ability to draw contact and live in the paint, Houston has a moving solar system that is both spacious and lethal. The result is scores of meteors rained from behind the three point line.

In the olden days, the three was a precious shot only meant for the best shooters, and even then they didn't shoot it with volume like in today's NBA. Now, teams like the Rockets use the three as long-range artillery in conjunction with close quarters weaponry in the paint and at the rim. And this has been achieved mostly without Chris Paul playing. The only thing deadlier than a mad scientist with an optimal extension of his genius is a second genius who wants to optimize everyone else on the team.

Space and opportunity: the laws in which basketball operates. As the game moves forward and expands outward, we will see more and more creative ways to obtain those two ideals.

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Blurbs!

  • Brook and Robin Lopez are not yet 30 years old. That might be the most surprising basketball fact I've learned this decade.
  • LeBron saved the Cavaliers again, this time against the Knicks. The team appears to be comfortable with the idea of him being able to flip that proverbial switch. That's such a dangerous mindset to have.
  • As of November 13, the Detroit Pistons and the Golden State Warriors have the same record at 10-3. While no one expects Detroit to keep pace with last year's champs, credit should be govern to Stan Van Gundy for being able to develop that very young team. The biggest surprise is Andre Drummond's much-improved free throw shooting, clocking in at 63%, which is up from 38.6% last season.

Four weeks done. Happy NBA, folks.

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