June 17, 2016, 9:14 pm
As a quick note, this marks our last edition of One Big Thing while the NBA is in action. I’ll be around finding Big Things to write about in the offseason, including free agency, the draft, Summer League and the Olympics to tide us over into next season. It’s been a pleasure to join the Hoop Ball team this year, and I safely speak for everyone involved in saying that we’re glad to have you fine folks along for the ride going forward.
Hoop Ball, at least to me, is a place to celebrate and learn about basketball. For you, that could involve a variety of things: scanning the news wire, picking up a new fantasy strategy, perusing prospect and draft coverage, or reading opinion columns that cover large scope issues (*cough cough*). We’re all here because we love the game, and I assume the same goes for you too.
With that said, best way to learn about anything is to engage in a conversation. I’m of the belief that any interaction affords you an opportunity to learn something new, so I’m going to open the floor up because I want to know what you want to talk about. Leave a comment, tweet at me @Mike_Pandador or us @HoopBallTweets, hashtag #OneBigThing and I’ll try my best to get to it. Writing shouldn’t be an isolationist gig so let me know if there’s a topic or idea you’d like to read about.
Anyway, One Big Thing.
I like to play chess. I’d venture to say that I love chess, but I’m actually both a mediocre chess player and afraid of commitment. Chess is great for teaching you to think ahead and prepare for multiple outcomes, which seems like a fine lesson to carry over to many things, basketball included.
When you start a fresh game, one of the first things you want to do is develop your pieces. The basic tenets of development are getting your pieces towards the center of the board to control game flow and getting your pieces to advantageous squares. ‘Advantageous’ holds different meanings for each piece, but basically you want to get them into spots with lots of options. Once there are multiple avenues of attack, they become far more dangerous to your opponent.
Take, for example, the knight. The horse, for newcomers. From a corner square a knight can only be moved to two squares. If you choose to develop your knight, i.e. get it out towards the center of the board, it can attack up to eight different squares. In the wrong spot, it’s entirely useless. In the right spot, you present up to eight choices for your opponent to think about. Having someone juggle eight different outcomes hinging on just one piece is a good way to tilt the scales in your favor.
It’s also important to know what each piece can do for you. A knight, while moving in nifty little ‘L’ shapes, can attack eight strangely-arranged squares. It can get to just about anywhere on the board, but it’s not going to get from end to end quickly.
Harrison Barnes is a knight. It’s pretty hard to get beaten by a knight on its own, but as a complementary piece a knight can be pretty dangerous. The Cavs have been giving Barnes the Tony Allen treatment as of late, all but ignoring him on the perimeter and daring him to shoot. Barnes has done his part to make the strategy work with a series of truly awful shooting nights. If you can take out an opponent’s queen and rooks, you’re probably going to win. That’s easier said than done, but we’ve seen Cleveland do a pretty good job of keeping Golden State’s best players from going truly bananas.
A bishop is a more valuable piece than the knight. Despite only being able to attack half the squares on the board, a bishop can travel end to end with relative ease. Context matters, of course, but in most games you’d rather sacrifice a knight than a bishop.
Kevin Love is a bishop. He’s an accomplished scorer and rebounder. His defensive warts have been discussed at length, but he’s still a guy that you should want on your team in most scenarios. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Cleveland insists on turning him into a knight. Shoving Love in the corner and making him a catch and shoot guy is a disservice to everyone involved. They’re handicapping him by not putting him in a spot where he can attack in multiple ways.
Love is a tremendous threat as a pick and pop guy and can work over smaller players in the post. While Tristan Thompson’s presence clogs the paint in exchange for valuable rebounding, there are still opportunities to get Love the ball while backing down a smaller player. That’s not even to say that he’s a bad catch and shoot guy, he’s just having the tools taken out of his toolbox. If he’s in the corner, he’s going to rise and fire or pass again. Unless someone gets burned by a pump fake, he’s not going to drive into the paint.
Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that the Cavs have been using Love above the break at the start of games only to completely move away from it as the game goes on. I’m not sure what persuades Ty Lue to whittle down Love’s participation, but it’s curious that Love’s activity is a first quarter phenomenon. Love fell victim to foul trouble in Game 6 and maybe the Cavs didn’t want to move away from what was working by the time he returned to the floor. Maybe Lue wanted his best group of defenders out there to avoid any surge from the Warriors in the game’s final quarter. Both are reasonable but don’t really excuse the rest of the series.
Whatever the cause, Love’s value has dropped tremendously this postseason. His next team would be wise to play him to his strengths.