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Canadian Roundup: Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs

18 mins read

MurrayMania is in full swing.

Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray once again showed why he is the best Canadian player in the NBA as the Nuggets came back from another 3-1 deficit. Led by Jokic and Murray, the Nuggets have reached their first Western Conference Finals since 2009 and are putting the league on notice that Denver is a championship contender, for both the present and future.

Despite being hounded by All-NBA defenders in Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all series long, Murray was still able to generate efficient offensive production. Over the 7 games, Murray averaged 22.6 points per game on 44.7/43.8/90.5 shooting splits. His 3pt shooting has exploded in the bubble and it’s a big reason why he’s become such a lethal scorer. In the regular season he shot just 34.6% on 5.5 attempts per game from three, though this number never reflected how good of a shooter he really was. In the playoffs he’s shooting an unconscious 49.1% from three on 7.7 (!) attempts per game. This type of shot making is almost certainly not sustainable, but I love his growing aggression hunting out pull-up jumpers. The best scoring point guards in the league are elite live dribble shooters and Murray’s development in the playoffs is an encouraging sign that he will be joining this crop of players soon.

While Murray finished the series with a string of strong performances, he did struggle at the beginning with the Clippers’ perimeter defense. On the first Nuggets possession of the series, Murray runs into a Bermuda Triangle of defenders in George, Morris Sr. and Leonard (not to mention he had to come off a screen to shake Beverley). Gets caught in the air and throws a bad pass across the paint that is easily picked off.

On any screen sequence Murray was involved in early in the series, the Clippers tried to have Murray’s man go over the screen and pursue while their big dropped. The Clippers were scheming to contain Murray from the beginning and it certainly worked in game 1 and especially on this sequence. Morris Sr. does an excellent job fighting through the screen and his length bothers Murray’s pull-up shot. One of the few times where Murray’s step-back did not create enough separation

On the few occasions where the Clippers defenders made the mistake to go under screens, Murray made them pay. Great awareness and recognition from Murray as he sees George try and go under on the dribble handoff screen to contain the drive (Murray had taken the dribble handoff and drove straight to the paint a minute earlier in the game). Rather than continue on his normal route, he cuts it back the other way. George does a great job fighting through the screen (a common theme in the series) and gets a good contest, but Murray hits a tough shot.

Again another sequence where the Clippers perimeter defenders do an excellent job navigating screens. George stays connected even after getting initially beaten when Murray rejects the Jokic screen. Though I am a fan of Murray taking more pull-ups and step-backs out of the pick and roll, I prefer him taking them from behind the line and not as heavily contested as he was here.

Murray was really struggling to crack the Clippers screen defense in the first couple of games in the series. Here Green drops a little higher than normal and with George breathing right down his back, Murray throws an errant skip pass to the corner and it turns into a turnover.

While Murray was still struggling to score efficiently in games 3 and 4 (he shot just 38.2% from the field and 34.6% from three in games 1-4), Mike Malone began to put him in more situations to be successful, specifically in the screen and roll. One of the Nuggets’ primary adjustments was the pick and pop. This particular set really leveraged Jokic and Millsap’s shooting ability along with Murray’s improving playmaking and decision making. We saw instances of it in game 2 where Murray would go wide and the big would pop out for three. With Zubac and Harrell dropping to contain Murray, they were woefully out of position to recover to Jokic and Millsap.

The Murray-Jokic screen and pop sequence was especially lethal and the Clippers had no answers as the Nuggets began leaning on it more and more. Immediately at the start of game 3, the Nuggets turned to their two stars for offense. Murray comes off the dribble handoff and goes into a slight hesitation move to keep Zubac engaged. Hits Jokic with a pocket pass that is on time and on target and Jokic hits the wide open jumper.

I’ve talked about Murray’s development as a passer throughout the year and his improved playmaking was on full display this series. One reason the Murray-Jokic screen and pop action is so hard to defend is Murray’s ability to score the ball. However, its Murray’s new-found passing accuracy that makes the sequence borderline unguardable. He’s been making this across the body bounce pass with ease and accuracy throughout the series as it sets up Jokic this time for an elbow jumper.

When the Clippers tried switching the Murray-Jokic screen and roll, it left a mismatch for Murray to exploit. Zubac is just too deep in the drop and Murray makes him pay with a step-back three. I was really impressed with how Murray read the Clippers defense here and went through his options. You can see the slight tilt of his head as he comes off the screen to check what the trailing defender is doing. Recognizes the switch and knows he will have a mismatch and plenty of space to work with.

Again a different look from the Clippers as they bring the closest off-ball defender to stunt out at Murray in an attempt to overwhelm him. Instead, he stays calm under pressure, makes the right read and hits Grant for three. Encouraging to see that while Murray’s scoring has taken a huge leap, his playmaking and passing hasn’t been too far behind.

I mean can we talk about this pass. Murray throws an over the shoulder pass with the weak hand through traffic to a wide-open Jokic. Jaw-dropping pass.

This next play really shows the growth from Murray in this series. If you recall in the first clip, Murray gets overwhelmed by three defenders and throws the ball away. By game 6 though, Murray had figured the Clippers defensive scheme out. Gets a paint touch with his dribble penetration and is met by Kawhi again. The Nuggets spacing was perfect and Murray fakes Zubac out of his shoes with an incredible move and a perfect no-look to Harris in the corner. Murray has become so good at manipulating defenses and its a joy to watch.

If you told me 6 months ago Murray would be throwing behind the back pocket passes consistently I would have laughed and said you were crazy. Instead it’s a weapon that Murray used to hit Jokic in the biggest games of the season when the Nuggets mixed up their screen calls.

And did I mention while he was making all of these incredible reads and passes, Murray was still lighting up the scoreboard. With the Nuggets facing elimination, Murray came up big, averaging 29.0 points per game to go with 6.7 assists on 51.6/54.5(!)/90.0 shooting splits. Jamal Murray’s meteoric rise in these playoffs has been special to watch to say the least.

Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk had his best playoff series this year on both sides of the ball against the Milwaukee Bucks. Look no further than his +22 game 5 performance as the Heat dispatched the heavily favoured Milwaukee Bucks.

While Olynyk will never be a great defender, he had a really strong series defensively. He was matched up with Brook Lopez for the majority of the series and did a good job stopping him. In 8:58 of matchup minutes, Olynyk held Lopez to 22.2% (2-9, one basket was a goaltend from Olynyk) from the field and 0% (0-3) from three. While the NBA Advanced Stats matchup minutes are not the most accurate when it comes to evaluating defense, it’s hard to argue with how well Olynyk defended Lopez in the series.

This was one of Olynyk’s better defense sequences when defending Lopez. He’s gotten a lot stronger over the years and forces Lopez to shoot a hook shot from the free throw circle. I don’t really like how he just stands there and watches the ball on the rim but he makes up for it with a block on DiVencenzo.

As a team defender, Olynyk has gotten much better with rotations and his positional awareness with the Heat. With Lopez being jut a 31.4% three point shooter this season, Olynyk does the right thing to help off of him and clog up the lane. Does a great job to stunt at the driving Hill and then get his hand in the passing lane to force the turnover.

Another instance where Olynyk is there as the help early. As Bledsoe comes barreling into the paint, Olynyk stays disciplined and just keeps his hand up, trying to take the charge. Even though he doesn’t get the offensive foul, Olynyk forces Bledsoe to contort his body and throw a tough pass to DiVincenzo. Good hustle at the end of the play to secure the defensive rebound and the stop for the Heat as well.

On this play, Olynyk makes a couple of really good reads defensively. Does a nice job of showing to contain the dribble penetration and getting back into position once the pass is thrown. Gets a little lost as the ball gets deflected but he anticipates the pass to Wes Mathews and steps in to poke it free

Offensively, Olynyk did his job and hit the open shots he was given. He shot 58.8% from the field and 45.5% from three albeit on very low volume for the series. Though what interests me the most is how the Heat like to use Olynyk on offense.

In many actions, the Heat have Olynyk in a traditional guard/wing role as he’s the one coming off of screens and shooting threes. The Heat flip their usual set of screening for Duncan Robinson as Robinson sets the down screen for Olynyk. The Heat were targeting Lopez on these types of plays and he is way too help conscious to realize Olynyk had used the screen, resulting in a wide open shot.

Once the Heat found Lopez’s speed exploitable they began attacking him over and over again. Most of the time when Olynyk was on the floor, the Heat accomplished this by having Olynyk be the screener. On this sequence, Lopez does absolutely nothing to stop Dragic’s cut down the lane and even impedes DiVencenzo. Whether it was Lopez’s lack of quickness or the fact Olynyk is a good shooter, Lopez was reluctant to offer any shred of help defense here and Dragic gets an easy bucket.

By keeping Lopez out of the paint, the Heat were able to minimize his impact as one of the elite rim protectors in the NBA and really exploit his lack of lateral quickness. On the slip screen, Lopez just keeps chasing Olynyk, clearing the lane Herro and leaves DiVencenzo out to dry once again.

Also can we see more of Olynyk handling the ball. This was an incredible play from him and the fluidity throughout really impressed me. Looks like a big wing with the way he was able to handle the ball and change direction so smoothly.

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