Accept as an article of faith that the worst-shooting team in basketball isn’t going to win many basketball games when it turns the ball over 25 times. Fred Jones has never looked less like an NBA point guard than he does tonight. He delivers a series of lazy passes off basic S/R action. Even Marcus Camby, a center with a fairly low turnover rate and a good interior passer, coughs the ball up four times. Throw in a horrendous 63.3% team defensive rebounding rate, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
Al Thornton finishes with five points [2-10 FG, 0-1 3PFG, 1-1 FT], two rebounds, and zero assists in 32 minutes. Analysts, scouts — even fans — often speak about “basketball IQ” What do they mean?
- [1st, 10:20] The ball goes into Thornton on the right wing against Darius Songaila in isolation. This is a gift-wrapped halfcourt matchup for Al. Songaila lacks the lateral quickness or athleticism to defend Al off the dribble. So what does Al do on this clear-out? He tries to shoot over Songaila, whose only advantage over Al is an inch or two of height. Al is a 29.7% shooter from that zone of the floor. The outcome here reflects that percentage.
- [4th, 10:35] After Thornton picks Caron Butler’s pocket on the defensive end, he dribbles the length of the floor on a Clipper break. Javaris Crittenton picks up Thornton in transition, a strong mismatch for Al, but one he doesn’t recognize. Instead, he pulls up outside the arc, then returns the ball to Baron and lingers in the right corner. Baron Davis yells at Al to post up the Wizards’ point guard. After Al finally realizes he’s got one of his best scoring opportunities of the night, he moves toward the post…and is immediately fouled by Crittenton. With the fourth quarter only a minute-and-a-half old, Crittenton happily cedes the foul, because he knows the instant the pass goes into Thornton in the post, it’s a likely two points for the Clippers. He knows it; Baron knows it. Al? Oblivious.
It’s one thing to be a black hole in the offense, incapable of passing out on drives or creating something for a teammate. But it’s quite another not to have a basic recognition of what’s going on. Matchups are the fundamental basis of the NBA halfcourt game. An efficient wing should be able to size up the nature of his opposition. Darius Songaila? Take him off the dribble. Javaris Crittenton? Post him. Shorter defender who’s still recovering from the curl screen? There’s your opportunity for a high-percentage jumper. A player who doesn’t understand how to maximize his limited attributes won’t help you win basketball games.
Eric Gordon has another strong game: 25 points [8-15 FG, 3-7 3PFG, 6-6 FT], four rebounds, four assists, and three turns in 38 minutes. There’s a nice sequence toward the end of the third quarter:
- [3rd, 2:18] The ghost of Sam Cassell visits the Clippers. The offense spreads the floor perfectly, and the Wizards leverage themselves defensively when they double Baron off the pick-and-pop with Steve Novak. Eric Gordon is in the left corner, guarded by Nick Young. When the ball goes to Novak, Young rotates up from Gordon to close on Novak. Novak recognizes this, and darts the pass over to now-open EJ. Songaila has to step out to close. Eric sees him coming, so he administers the ball-fake, gets the flailing big man in the air, then leans into him while launching the 3PA. Three free throws. 3-3.
- [3rd, 1:55] Gordon pushes the ball upcourt off the Antawn Jamison miss. He gets a nice screen from Brian Skinner just inside the arc on the right side. Once that screen comes, EJ dribbles left to an open spot at the top of the key, but hesitates for a moment to see how Songaila is going to play the recovery. EJ wants to know [a] will he be able to draw contact if he goes to the hole? [b] how far inside he can get a shot? When Songaila fails to show, EJ dribbles in to about seven feet where he gets off an easy, high-percentage, uncontested floater. Patience pays off.
- [3rd, 1:02] The Clippers run a curl for Eric, which gets him the ball one-on-one against DeShawn Stevenson out on the left-side perimeter. Pretty simple: Eric takes a hard dribble with his left, but Stevenson stays in front of him on the drive. Despite the fact that Stevenson is playing EJ well, Nick Young makes a peculiar decision to leave Ricky Davis alone in the corner to collapse in the lane. When Gordon sees this, he kicks the ball out of his drive against the double-team, and finds Ricky Davis for the 3PA, which is good.
Three things you like to see from a young guard:  A willingness to draw contact to get easy points at the stripe.  Not settling for low-percentage stuff, when a little patience and an appraisal of the halfcourt will get you something better.  The ability to exploit the double-team by making the necessary pass to find the open guy. That’s high basketball IQ.
Baron Davis almost breaks his 50%-and-below shooting streak, going 5-10 from the field. More important, though, Baron works himself three trips to the line [5-6 FT] by driving to the hole rather than settling for garbage on the outside. I’m a little surprise the Clippers don’t work that pick-and-pop with Davis-Novak they had going in Cleveland, but Baron’s overall effort is his steadiest since his return.