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Canadian Roundup: Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs (Part 1)

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Jamal Murray is good folks.

Jamal Murray

Greece has Giannis Antetokounmpo. Australia has Ben Simmons. Serbia has Nikola Jokic. Canada has Jamal Murray.

When Steve Nash retired in 2015, he was the undisputed greatest Canadian basketball player. A 2x MVP, 8x All-Star, 7x All-NBA and Hall of Famer, Nash had an illustrious career to say the least. An NBA all-time great by every definition that unfortunately never got to play in today’s pace-and-space era.

Since then, despite the recent boom of Canadian NBA players, Canada has been searching for its next star. A Canadian hasn’t made the All-Star game sine 2012 and numerous promising prospects have not reached the lofty expectations placed on them. However, we are watching a star blossom right in front of our eyes in these playoffs. Jamal Murray has taken the leap.

Jamal Murray’s first round performance etched himself into the history books. His 32 three pointers trails only Donovan Mitchell for most in a series and he scored the 5th most points ever in a 1st round series. His three game run of 50-42-50 was one of the best offensive stretches of basketball in NBA history.

The Jazz tried multiple defenders on Murray this series and he just torched every single of them. Against the 4 Jazz defenders that defended Murray the most in the series, his lowest FG% was 47.5, and that was against two-time DPOY Rudy Gobert. Just absolutely could not be stopped by O’Neale and Ingles and his improving playmaking in the pick and roll added to his offensive effectiveness this series.

via NBA Advanced Stats

The key to Murray’s offensive explosion was his huge leap in efficiency in pull-up shooting. In the last Canadian Roundup, I talked about the importance of Murray hunting out pull-up jumpers, especially out of pick and roll sequences against Rudy Gobert. Though I was a believer in Murray’s live dribble shooting, I never saw this jump in efficiency coming (though seven games is a small sample size). In the regular season, Murray averaged a modest 7.7 points per game on 41.4% FG% and 32.4% 3P% on pull-up shots. In the first round though, Murray saw his averages on pull-ups rise to 16.6 points per game on 54.8% from the field and 57.1% from three (on more attempts per game as well). Overall, Murray’s pull-up jumper had an eFG% of 69.0% against the Jazz!

In game 1, Gobert dropped way too deep and Murray made him pay time and time again. Murray was unconscious in crunch time this series and here he rejects the Jokic screen after realizing Gobert has overplayed the drop. Murray leaves O’Neale in the dust and hits a huge shot, something he did all series long.

The degree of difficulty on some of these Murray makes was just jaw-dropping. I do want to point out the balance that Murray gets on these step-back jumpers. Murray is one of the few players who have mastered the art of maintaining balance on step-backs and it has really helped his efficiency.

Again another play where Murray hits a mean step-back over Ingles, who just could not guard Murray this series. Notice the perfect balance again.

Another sequence where Murray just kills the Utah drop coverage. Gobert is so out of position that he just aimlessly jumps, praying that he somehow distracts Murray, which obviously didn’t work.

I was surprised that Quinn Snyder waited until game 7 to give Murray a different look in the pick and roll. I just don’t understand how you go 6 games giving Murray a wide open shot like this. Trap the ball screen, hedge just do something different, especially if he is lighting up your team’s best perimeter defenders.

Whenever Murray got to attack Gobert in space, he was extremely successful. I don’t think Murray will stay this hot on pull-up jumpers so attacking the Clippers big will be important for his scoring in the next series. Zubac and Harrell are not the quickest bigs and Denver needs to find ways to get Murray attacking them downhill, rather than isolating over the likes of Leonard, George and Beverley.

One way to do this is set a high ball screen as Murray is bringing the ball up the floor. Murray coming downhill is a recipe for success for the Nuggets. Kudos to Gobert though for contesting this shot as well as he did. Against Zubac and Harrell this should be an easy bucket every time.

Another high ball screen and Murray turns Gobert into a statue. If he can do this to one of best drop defenders in NBA history, just think what he will do to the Clippers’ bigs.

This time Murray gets to the rim in isolation. The right-left footwork combination is something that Donovan Mitchell uses all the time and it gives Murray a lot more pop going to the rim.

Murray is great at moving without the ball, much like Steph Curry. On this give-and-go Gobert again does an excellent job to recover and make this a difficult layup. However, Murray’s touch around the rim and improved strength has allowed him to finish through contact.

I mean do I have to say anything about this play. Murray attacking downhill is lethal.

And with Murray’s improved playmaking this season, his dribble penetrations opens so much for his Denver teammates. Here he draws the help from Gobert and kicks to a wide open Jokic for the game sealing three.

Murray relies heavily on his 3pt shot falling for his offensive production. When they don’t fall, he struggles to get to 20 points. This series they were falling at an incredible clip and so his scoring was extraordinary. He won’t be shooting 53.3% from three every series and with the Clippers’ plethora of perimeter defenders, Murray is going to need to diversify his offensive game. More high screen and rolls leading to more drives could put put a ton of pressure on the Clippers interior defense and send Murray to the line more as well (which is something he needs to get better at). Here’s hoping Murray’s left leg heals up and will not restrict him in the second round.

Kelly Olynyk

With the Heat moving towards a more small-ball approach in the first round, Olynyk saw his minutes decline to 13.7 minutes per game. Olynyk is a streaky shooter and in the first round he shot just 27.3% from behind the arc on 2.8 attempts per game. If he’s not hitting his shots and spacing the floor, his defensive limitations make it very hard for him to play big minutes in the playoffs.

This shot pretty much sums up Olynyk’s cold streak in the first round. Wide open in the corner and hits the side of the backboard. Just a brutal sequence.

There was one play that I thought was really encouraging from Olynyk in the Indiana series. Miami had Olynyk post-up and run action away from the ball. Olynyk is a capable passer and makes a great skip pass after the pass fake. Smart manipulation of the defense and a very mature decision. Curious to see if this sequence gets used more in the future.

Khem Birch

Birch was again really solid for the Magic off the bench in these playoffs and finished with a positive plus/minus in 3 of the 5 games. The Magic were just again overmatched in the first round, though the legend of the Game 1 Orlando Magic lives on.

via NBA Advanced Stats

In the last Canadian Roundup, I talked about the Magic potentially using Birch as a defender on Giannis. While it didn’t happen a ton, Birch was matched up with Giannis for 6:10 over the 5 games according to NBA Advanced Stats, good for the third most on the team (though way less than Gary Clark). In that 6:10, Giannis was able to score 19 points (7 came from the line) on 45.5% shooting from the field and dish out 5 assists . Compared to most of the other defenders on the Magic, Birch actually did a decent job defending the reining MVP.

This was one of Birch’s better sequences against Giannis. Moves his feet on the drive and actually beats Antetokounmpo to the spot for the offensive foul. Staying in front of Giannis is not an easy thing to do and Birch does it perfectly here.

Again another play where Birch draws the offensive foul against Giannis. The mobility of Birch is on full display as he drops to contain the Hill drive and still is able to beat Giannis to the spot and establish position.

As the series went on though, Giannis began to figure out Birch’s method to draw charges and routinely began to draw blocking fouls on Birch.

It was interesting to see the Magic go with a ultra-big lineup with both Birch and Vucevic on the floor throughout the series. In the 34 minutes the two shared on the floor, the Magic had an offensive rating of 106.7 and a stout defensive rating of 97.3 both of which were improvements compared to the Magic’s overall offensive (101.9) and defensive rating (111.5) in the series. Before the series, I would never have expected both centers to play at the same time, though Aaron Gordan and Jonathan Isaac’s injuries may have had something to do with the frontcourt rotation.

Chris Boucher

Not many meaningful minutes for Boucher. Though I would love to see him get a look against the Celtics. His length and quickness could cause some problems for Boston’s wing scorers and the Raptors could use his energy.

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