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Canadian Roundup: Week 2 of the NBA Bubble

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With week #2 of the bubble complete, some Canadians will be set for a playoff run while others will be leaving the Disney resorts.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

With the Thunder locked into the 4th seed, they scaled back Gilgeous-Alexander’s minutes and even let him sit out a game this week. The OKC vs Houston first round matchup should be one of the most exciting series with all the storylines between the two teams. With the Rockets employing the ultra small-ball philosophy, Shai is going to have ample opportunity to get to the rim, where he’s most dangerous. This season he’s shooting 61.5% at the rim and is in the top 10 among all players in drives per game with 16.5. Shai is going to put an immense amount of pressure on the Rockets in the paint and it’s going to be interesting to see how Houston tries to contain him.

In other news, Shai was a guest this week on the Woj Pod and they touched on Canadian basketball (starts at 17:45) among many other topics. Woj asked Shai about the future of Senior Men National’s Team and Shai responded with, “I think we’re well-rounded, we have young guys, vets and I just think we have talent […] I think we’re only going to get better”. Shai has embraced his role as a leader (along with Jamal Murray) on Team Canada with his verbal commitment earlier this season and it’s good to see him continue to talk highly about the national team.

Jamal Murray 

Jamal Murray finally returned to the court this week and his strong play was encouraging for Nuggets fans. His activity on the floor as well as his playmayking have all been great thus far in the bubble.

Murray’s shooting from behind the arc hasn’t been there in his first three games, though its expected as he gets back into rhythm. Although he’s shot just 4-17 from three since his return, I love his aggressiveness hunting out these shots. Murray’s developed a habit of taking a ton of off-balanced mid-range jump shots out of the pick and roll and dribble hand-off situations (something first noted by Jackson Frank). It’s not the most efficient shot and if he could start to extend the range at which he decides to pull-up, Murray would punish drop coverages and open more winkles for the already effective Murray-Jokic pick and roll.

On this play, Murray takes advantage of the Clippers defensive breakdown on the slip screen from Craig and hits a wide open pull three. This was one of the few possessions this week where Murray’s shot looked really good coming out of his hands as he continues to shake off the rust.

And of course Murray hit this incredible step back three to give the Nuggets a huge 5-point lead in double overtime. The balance Murray has on these step-back jumpers is beautiful to watch and it’s one of the reasons I believe in him developing a a dangerous three off the dribble.

Though he misses the pull-u[ three on this possession, he gets a clean look here. When he gets back into rhythm, this shot is going to be open for him, especially as their first-round opponent, the Utah Jazz, run a drop coverage with Gobert, and Murray should be able to punish the Jazz all series long.

Another sequence where Murray generates a great look with a step-back three. Murray’s balance is picture perfect again and it’s just a matter of getting his legs under him as he plays more games. He’s shown he can hit off-balanced shots throughout his career and I’m excited that he’s beginning to hunt these shots out.

When Murray hasn’t been taking the open pull-up threes, he’s been aggressively attacking the rim out of the pick and roll. Here he sets up Gobert perfectly as if he’s going into his patented mid-range jumper. Gorgeous hesitation to fool Gobert and get to the basket.

Again another pick and pop sequence where Murray chooses to attack. On many possessions this season, Murray would have turned to a step back mid-range fade-away. Instead he’s been determined to get in the paint this week and scores a tough double clutch layup.

Kelly Olynyk 

The shooting has come down to Earth for Olynyk as he’s made just two threes this week and shot 15.4% from three. His last few games have really brought down his shooting splits and negated his hot start. Olynyk has always been a streaky shooter and Heat fans should hope he rebounds with a hot streak after his cold shooting this week. He’s still been a key contributor for the Heat and has solidified his role for playoffs. His spacing will be important for Miami’s primary creators like Butler, though I do hope to see more of Olynyk pushing the ball up the floor after grabbing a rebound.

Dillon Brooks 

When Dillon Brooks’s shot is falling, he is an integral part of the Grizzlies offense. Combined with his defensive tenacity and upmost self-confidence, Brooks is a high level role player. When he’s missing, Brooks becomes a ball-stopper and one of the most frustrating players to watch.

Though Brooks has been horrible for most of the bubble games, he showed up in a huge way for Memphis in a must-win game. He dropped 31 points on a hyper-efficient 12-18 from the field and along with Jonas Valanciunas, led the Grizzlies to secure a spot in the play-in games.

Though he had a great game shooting the ball, the shot selection from Brooks continues to be a problem. I think the tweet below really summarizes everything you need to know about Brooks’s confidence in his own scoring abilities.

With Jaren Jackson Jr. sidelined for the rest of the season, Brooks has been given a larger offensive role. Unfortunately he’s just not good enough to be the secondary ball handler and primary/secondary option on offense for an extended period of time. Brooks is limited athletically and doesn’t have the burst to blow by defenders. His handle is also not good enough to consistently create space off the dribble as well. The result is a bunch of unbalanced, highly contested midrange jump shots early in the shot clock (Also notice how he misses an open Tolliver rolling to the rim here).

Again another leaning midrange shot early in the shot clock. These type of shots are just so deflating for the Grizzlies and I have no idea how Brooks has such a long leash.

Another sequence where Brooks takes a highly contest mid-range jumper. He had a passing lane to Grayson Allen, an excellent three point shooter in the corner, as well as the skip pass to Gorgui Dieng. Instead he opts for the tough fade-away jumper at the elbow, the least efficient shot in this scenario. The tunnel vision is definitely an infuriating part of Brooks’s game.

Brandon Clarke 

A Rookie of the Year finalist snub, Brandon Clarke continues to be the most underrated rookie of the 2019 draft class. His teammate Ja Morant has rightfully gotten a lot of attention for his stellar play, but Clarke truly has been one of the best rookies in the league this season and should be a lock for the All-Rookie first team. With Clarke, Morant and Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies have a bright future ahead.

Clarke’s versatility on defense can be a game changer for the Grizzlies. Not many big-men in the league can chase a guard around the perimeter the way Clarke does. Clarke’s agility and athleticism is on full display when he’s in pursuit of opposing guards on the perimeter. Here he does an excellent job chasing Matt Thomas, navigating around the Hollis-Jefferson screen and ends the possession by poking the ball away. Just excellent defense from Clarke on one of the games deadliest shooters coming off of screens.

Luguentz Dort 

Lu Dort is quickly becoming one of my favourite players in the NBA. He’s a scrappy and physically imposing defender who flies around the court on the defensive end. Unfortunately, he exited in the first quarter with a right knee injury against the Heat after colliding with Crowder. The Thunder have said it’s a right knee sprain and Dort is considered day-to-day, which is a relief. Dort is the Thunder’s primary perimeter defender and the Thunder’s playoff chances would be devastated if Dort misses significant time.

I love the recognition from Dort here to cut to the basket. Rather than fill to the corner and shoot a three, which isn’t his strong suit, Dort cuts to the open space and gets an easy dunk. It’s a simple play but it demonstrates Dort’s improving basketball IQ.

Cory Joseph

With the Kings missing the playoffs for the 14th straight season, Joseph will miss the playoffs for the first time in his career. This season, Joseph saw his 3pt%, FT%, TS% and eFG% all increase, though his shot attempts per game did dip. He’s become a decent catch-and-shoot threat this season shooting 37.5% (although on only 1.7 attempts per game) and its something to keep an eye on as he enters the second half of his career. Can Cory Joseph turn himself into an average catch-and-shoot option? It’s the next logical step as his athleticism and quickness diminishes and it would allow him to lengthen his career in the NBA.  Joseph is still a solid backup point guard and should thrive running the bench units for the Kings over the next few years.

Khem Birch

Birch has solidified himself as the backup center in Orlando and had a near double double with a 12 point 9 rebound performance against the Nets this week. With Orlando set to face off against the Milwaukee Bucks and Jonathan Isaac sidelined, I wonder if Birch will get a crack at defending Giannis. Birch has the strength to defend the reigning MVP, though his agility on the perimeter may be tested. On the switch against Harris, Birch holds his own until he gets a little too physical when Harris drives baseline.

Again another play where Birch gets too physical on a smaller guard. Birch has a tendency to bump players on the perimeter and against a player like Giannis, that initial bump probably doesn’t seem as obvious (Giannis is extremely strong himself) and could make it harder to get to the rim. It’s not a great option to defend Antetokoummpo but the Magic don’t really have a lot of options.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

After the pelicans got eliminated from playoff contention, NAW got some more run this week. Reached a new career high with 29 in a meaningless game against the Magic (also got his first career start). NAW struggles with his shot selection and tunnel vision at times as he looks like he’s trying to do too much on the floor. Despite this, he’s shown flashes of being a high level facilitator. Here he makes a nice pass to Lonzo on the wing out of the pick and roll. Though Ball bobbles and ends up hitting the shot, it’s these types of plays that keep me intrigued with NAW as a future pick and roll savant.

I mean come on, rookie guards don’t normally make these type of reads and skip passes.

Chris Boucher 

Boucher found himself back in the Raptors rotation this week after a sluggish performance from Ibaka and continued to play when the Raptors kept Ibaka out with right knee soreness. Though the game didn’t mean much for both teams, Boucher dropped a career high 25 points in a win against the Bucks. He followed that up with another solid game, scoring 19 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 4 blocks against the 76ers.

One thing to watch is Boucher’s shooting resurgence. It’s an incredibly small sample size has shot 9-15 from three since being reinserted into the rotation. Boucher’s a much better shooter than his 30.3% from three this season would suggest and maybe this is the start of his shooting touch coming back around.

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