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Coach Spins' Clipboard: Good Vibes Only
On great plays from Santi Aldama, Damian Lillard, Mark Williams, and more
Sometimes coaching is hard. Seasons are long and it’s hard to stay positive through the bumps and bruises, the ups and downs of a long season.
And the right panacea to a rough time — some good vibes on the basketball court. Basketball is a beautiful game when at its best, with ball and player movement, high-IQ plays, and sweet-shooting strokes. It’s overcome occasionally by effort and hustle, as well as tactical genius and five-man synchronicity.
High-level basketball is like a game of Chess, where both teams are trying to control the board and simultaneously attacking and defending. Each move made impacts something else on the floor and has to be made with extreme care. The smartest and greatest basketball minds can see a few moves ahead, anticipate, and catch their opponents unprepared and helpless. Those moments are amongst the most enjoyable.
What we focus on a lot here at The Box and One is scouting and player development, looking at the next wave of players to join the chess board. Player development is what elevates basketball above a game like chess: you can take a pawn and eventually turn them into a knight, then eventually into a queen. The pieces are constantly evolving, bringing more weapons to play.
During a down week when we simply need a pick-me-up, we’re just going to appreciate and marvel at those who are already making spectacular plays on that chess board. It’s a celebration of those most high-IQ highlights for the Chess fans among us, diving into our favorite moments from the NBA this past week.
No context is necessary, and very little analysis is needed. No paywall on this post, either. Just good hoops and even better vibes. Also… hire Caitlin Cooper, you cowards!
Markelle Fultz’ 99 MPH Fastball
I don’t think people realize just how hard it is to throw a live-dribble pass across the court accurately. A basketball is a large ball to have such control over. To put it in a shooter’s shot pocket off the bounce isn’t easy.
Throwing a missile like Markelle Fultz: basically impossible.
I think we could see a real run from the Orlando Magic over the stretch run of the season. Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are back. Paolo Banchero hasn’t hit the rookie wall (yet). Franz Wagner is great. Wendell Carter is solid, Bol Bol is fun, Cole Anthony is figuring it out, they have length everywhere and could be suffocating on defense. The Magic could be a major spoiler in the East this Spring; they have two games left against the Nets, Cavs, Bucks, Knicks, and Sixers, and a whopping four left against the Miami Heat.
Santi Aldama’s Pump & Go
Seven-footers who come off the bench shouldn’t be able to do this…
Aldama has been so good for the Memphis Grizzlies this year and an incredible find for them. He’s skilled, smooth, versatile, and competes on defense. If the Grizzlies need it this postseason, they can put him and Jaren Jackson Jr. out there as a hyper-switchy, really fascinating frontcourt. What an intriguing piece for them moving forward.
Mark Williams, straight up
The Charlotte Hornets may have their franchise center for the future.
Mark Williams has been really solid of late, and while he still has a ways to go to be consistent on a nightly basis, the flashes of defensive impact we’re seeing are exactly what the Hornets need from the center position.
Williams’ most impactful night on the defensive end was against the Houston Rockets, where his length completely swallowed up Alperen Sengun on the inside. Sengun has been hot of late, and uses a bevy of pump fakes, pass fakes, patient pivots, and leveraging of angles to score. An undisciplined shot blocker who falls for those fakes can be made to look stupid.
Sengun did put up a strong 24 points on 16 shots, but almost all of them came on Mason Plumlee. In fact, the only points Sengun scored while Mark was on the floor came at the free throw line after a borderline foul call on Williams that looked an awful lot like a block.
Williams is exactly why anchoring bias in Rookie of the Year voting (and in all analyses of rookies) can be dangerous. We often get attached to the initial production and rotation roles these young players earn out of the gates. If they start the season out of the lineup or in the G-League, they’re instantly ‘long-term projects’ and incapable of producing the same way guys who play immediately are.
Williams played in only 3 games before Christmas for a total of 13 minutes. In 15 games since then, he’s averaging 7.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 15 minutes per night while shooting over 60% from the field.
Luke Kornet’s Expanding Bag
The Celtics may have found something in backup big man Luke Kornet. First, he’s revolutionized the Kornet Kloseout, stopping wayyy short and leaping vertically, acting as an optical illusion on spot-up shooters. Then it was the nice interior finishing, as Kornet is making over 70% of his two-pointers.
Now he’s even passing the ball on the short roll. Short roll passing is so delightful to watch, collapsing the defense and zipping the ball to a spot-up shooter before the defenders can react. He had a delicious dime against the Golden State Warriors this week:
Korney rarely passes the ball in a meaningful, creative way. But as the Celtics are led by All-Star Jayson Tatum, they could face more aggressive ball screen coverages that get the ball out of his hands. Knowing that Tatum likes to play with the second unit (and that there are decidedly fewer scoring threats on it), we’d expect more trapping during those moments. Having Kornet be at least able to make those passes and reads is a huge plus for the C’s.
Kawhi Leonard’s Muscle
When healthy (and it feels like we’ve barely seen him be healthy over the last few years), Kawhi Leonard is one of the best individual scorers in the NBA. His ability to take over games in the mid-range is delightful because of how many ways he does it. Back to the basket, off the bounce, in one-on-one isolations, pulling up after ball screens… he’s got it all in his bag.
But a really healthy Kawhi is one that initiates contact and lays the boom on his opponents. On Tuesday against the Lakers, he was on full display there.
I mean, there are hostage dribbles… and then there’s this, which looks more like a decapitation dribble. He absolute annihilates Patrick Beverley in this ball screen with his off-shoulder:
Or what about this one a few possessions later, where he simply bodies Troy Brown Jr. in isolation:
The Clippers have won four in a row, and then embark on a six-game road trip against Eastern Conference foes. A good run these next two weeks could put them in prime position in the Western Conference — they’re 5-0 when Kawhi scores 30 or more.
Christian Braun Taking Flight
I love this rookie. The moxie, the confidence, the blending into a team setting, the ability to just make the right play… he’s the best.
And this was pretty sick on Giannis in transition:
The Nuggets are the favorite in the West, not just because they have such great star power and a ridiculously good starting five. Their bench unit is rounding into shape, and Braun is a nice element in that rotation.
It’s Sochan, Baby
We’ve written about Jeremy Sochan’s consistent improvement before — and talked about it on the Game Theory Podcast with Sam Vecenie. But man, he just keeps getting better so quickly.
Over his last five games: 15.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and shooting an absurd 58.3% from 3. Instead of highlighting the awesome energy on the glass, or the shooting development, or the great on-ball defense… let’s talk about the passing.
Jeremy Sochan can really pass. I mean, look at this fantastic zip to the opposite corner (yes, he should probably score it, but I love the unselfishness and unique feel for an energy connector).
Buying all Sochan stock right now. He’s going to keep getting better and better. The Spurs got themselves a gem.
Damian Lillard’s 60-point explosion against the Utah Jazz was a subtle reminder that he’s one of the most fun players to watch. When he gets in a takeover zone, he runs an entire offense through his isolations and ball screens — and he’s nearly unstoppable.
The takeover in the second half was filled with amazing drives, crafty gymnast finishes, and awesome dribble moves to shake free. But it’s the deep range jumper that opens up everything, and those are the most electric plays he brings to the table:
The Blazers are struggling a bit, but Lillard has been outstanding of late. He’s averaging 38 points per game over his last ten, on 53/40/93 shooting splits, with 8.1 assists and 2.9 turnovers. It feels like his mainstream stardom has fallen out since their Western Conference Finals run, and it’s a damn shame. He might be my favorite player to watch.
Jason Preston’s TikTok
As a teacher of the game, I love finding resources that help young players get better. No source is better than learning it from an athlete whom they will listen to and hold in high regard. As such, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Jason Preston has emerged as one of my favorite sources for sending teachable bits to our players.
His TikTok account is seriously great. He teaches little bits that kids will never get from watching highlights, he interacts and answers questions to engage with young hoopers, and he does so in a really important way: through film and with examples. Just the best.
Immanuel’s Leap, Happening Quickley
Since December 29th, Immanuel Quickley is averaging 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and only 0.8 turnovers per game. He’s been ridiculously good for the Knicks, a team in need of his potent offense off the bench. Last night against the Celtics, Quickley spurred a second-quarter comeback behind 15 points that helped the Knicks gain confidence which led to an overtime victory.
Lowkey, we love the young Knicks and the talent they’ve amassed. Jalen Brunson is still only 26. RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, and Immanuel Quickley are all backcourt rotation players. Deuce McBride shows some flashes. They’re one bigger wing away from being a nightmare matchup in the Eastern Conference this postseason, simply because they all know how to score it and play off of each other well.