Courtney Lee clocking so many minutes, reflections on the trade
Back in February I was openly somewhat skeptical about the P.J. Hairston, Brian Roberts and two 2nd round draft pick trade for Courtney Lee. While acknowledging that the Hornets received the best player in the deal by far, the two unprotected second rounders seemed a bit of a steep price for the 30-game services of Lee.
Such picks can turn into extra valuable contracts when hitting on a sleeper draft pick. You might get a rotational player for three or four years without the money even being guaranteed for all of the seasons.
Moreover, rookie deals will be even more of a bargain next year once the salary cap rises (do note that Charlotte sent its own 2018 pick and a 2019 Brooklyn Nets pick so CBA negotiations could hypothetically make a change in rookie contracts before these exact picks are conveyed).
Some teams treat even second rounders like they're gold and rightfully so. Meanwhile, Charlotte has sent out such picks rather willingly under GM Rich Cho. This time around you also weren't sure whether it was worth the price for a team with a 27-26 record. There's a scenario where it would have ended in a ninth seed finish (or a unfavorable 1-8 match-up in the playoffs), Courtney Lee signing somewhere else during the summer after his deal expires and the team losing two stabs at it in the draft.
That goes to show what I know...
Sometimes it is too tempting to get involved in the overly precise grading of the trade. The sophistication of today's NBA journalism has made all of us smarter which allows to analyze such transactions to the fullest. In such an environment you can forget that: "Hey, at the end of the day this is about winning. And the Hornets just got a guy who, you know, can actually play good basketball right now, contribute to winning and isn't a 2019 European 7-footer to be named and stashed over later."
In this particular case, it ended up swinging a couple of playoffs games, to some degree.
It's now two months since the trade and Charlotte's season could have realistically been over after Game 3 or Game 4. The 2-2 tie wouldn't have happened without Courtney Lee playing a very good 84 minutes in the last two games combined due to Nicolas Batum's foot injury.
With all due respect to P.J. Hairston, Jeremy Lamb and Troy Daniels, this team just wouldn't have a reliable wing defender if Lee wasn't with Charlotte. Moreover, it's just so easy for things to fall apart with one true wing available (plus Marvin Williams). Just take Goran Dragic and the foul problems he got into. Given Lee's responsibilities, it would be even easier for him to pick up quick fouls and leave Clifford with some tough decisions.
Courtney Lee has been forced to hold down the fort himself in regards to wing defense. He's constantly going up against offensive threats Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.
A 4 for 11 shooting performance by Wade doesn't even do justice to Lee's contributions, or to Wade's for that matter. He's an All-Star who might as well had made all of those mid-range looks.
It's more about Lee rarely beating himself, knowing exactly how to play within the scheme and then executing it on the court.
In this clip he offered just enough weak-side help on the pick-and-roll so he would also be able to close out back on Wade. He then sags off and is ready to go under the screen, yet maintains a distance close enough to contest the shot as well.
After all of the banging in the post and trailing of match-ups through screens, Lee somehow never looked to be gassed and had the energy to pull down the biggest rebound of the game, as well as clean up after himself with an offensive rebound with 0:58 remaining.
Every hard fall that he takes makes me believe even more that we should send him a fruit basket after the season is over to thank him for his effort.
Wade's effort and lack of attentiveness on the box-out helped Charlotte here as well.
Lee could probably be used as a renewable energy source who powers the city of Charlotte. But, either way, the readiness of Nicolas Batum to play will be huge in Game 5. You just need some more depth for what could be (at least, at this point) the biggest game of the season.
Hooray to Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin (can't get any better for him than going up against Amar'e Stoudemire, who's receiving little help from others due to them staying home on shooters, in the pick-and-roll) but Courtney Lee also deserves additional praise.
Josh Richardson's pressure defense
The 6-6 Josh Richardson is a man hard to dribble against. His boxscore stats of 3 points (1/7 from the field), 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block in 31 minutes might not look like much but he definitely had an impact on the game.
The rookie's ball pressure has been dynamite. It might give Miami only two or three extra seconds off the clock, yet he's almost always good for somewhat stalling the start of the possession.
Richardson noticeably slowed the pace of Charlotte's offense in the second half which result in a lot of possessions that didn't get anywhere mid-way through the 24 seconds.
Kemba was rolling late in the game so it's understandable that you want the ball in his hands, however, I'd suggest easing the load on him a little bit. You might as well spare him the ball handling exercise in the back-court and have him curling off a screen (perhaps, the much used "Floppy" set) to receive the ball in the front-court and then instantly attack.
Additionally, Joe Johnson can't impose the same pressure against Jeremy Lin. Unless Justise Winslow is the man on Lin, he's good to constantly attack his match-up.
Coach Erik Spoelstra countering with... Dorell Wright?
Charlotte's defense thrived for the second game straight thanks to successfully packing the paint, leaving little space for Hassan Whiteside in which to operate and paying the appropriate amount of attention you can to each respective player.
Although he rejuvenated himself late in the game with a few mean drives, the Hornets aren't even bothering to close out on Justise Winslow's wide open threes anymore. Sending that extra man to crash the glass is more worthwhile (ironically, Charlotte lost all three rebounding battles following a missed Winslow three):
That's not to say that the ability to flat out ignore Winslow is the key of Hornets success. Charlotte's guards can put together a successful possession of defense by sagging off the likes of Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade just the right amount.
The paint gets clogged, driving lanes aren't there anymore and Miami's offense gets hindered (unless Frank Kaminsky and Al Jefferson close out the possession with such a weak showing as in the video above).
To combat the boldness with which Kaminsky has stepped in Whiteside's diving lanes to the basket, Spoelstra went to Dorell Wright as early as in the second quarter. Even though Wright, who signed with the Heat on April 12 after a season in China, had a bad showing, the intention of putting a good 3-point shooter there was clear.
The Heat have personnel to put out there for 3-point makes. Gerald Green got dusted off late yesterday as well.
It will be interesting to see in what way Spoelstra tries to counter the way Charlotte has defended in Game 5.