Friday Five: Ice cold Ingles, Bolden’s G League adventure, Mills’ dimes and All-Star talk

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
Apr 29, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets in game one of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Friday Five. Here are five observations from the week that was for Australians in the NBA.

1. Not so smokin’ Joe

Joe Ingles has cooled off after a flaming start to the season. Since Utah played Golden State on the second night of the season, Ingles is shooting a meager 12 of 45 (26.7%) on shots classified as ‘open’ (closest defender is within four to six feet) or ‘wide open’ (closest defender is more than six feet away), per NBA.com. For context, he shot 44.8% on similar shots last season.

There are many ways to contextualise these results. The clear positive is that Utah’s offence is generating a high volume of clean looks for one of the best shooters in basketball. You will live with Ingles taking these shots regardless of the results (insert Rachael Nichols’ war cry about this being a make or miss league).

 

Ingles has earnt the benefit of the doubt as his marksmanship is well-established. Just as his fluorescent start to the season wasn’t sustainable, he is too good a shooter to remain a liability from behind the arc. The question is just when he turns things around?

 

Utah will be hoping he returns to form immediately, as their disappointing early season performance will face a stiff challenge over the coming fortnight.

Gordon Hayward’s return to Salt Lake City on Friday night is Utah’s last home game for two weeks, before the Jazz head out on a five game road trip that will see them visit Memphis, Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston and Indiana.

The Pick and Roll will be following Ingles, Dante Exum and the Utah Jazz on their road trip next week so stay tuned for more coverage.

2. Jonah Bolden’s G League expedition

There has been much debate concerning the G League’s suitability as an alterative to the NCAA – and international options such as the NBL for that matter – but there is no doubting its appeal for older players looking to establish their NBA careers. With all 30 NBA franchises now owning G League affiliate teams, there are more opportunities for players to prove themselves within the NBA environment, albeit at a lower level.

Access to elite NBA infrastructure offers a chance for prospects to translate into the best league in the world, and there are some high profile Australians looking to capitalise this G League season.

Jonah Bolden, who has been starved for opportunities during his first month as a Philadelphia 76er, firmly falls into this category.

The plan is for Bolden to yo-yo between the Sixers and their G League franchise, the Delaware Blue Coats. He has been sent down to Delaware on three separate occasions already. This will be a repetitive theme while the Sixers stay healthy, as the return of Wilson Chandler places a premium on roster spots.

The Blue Coats provide a platform for Bolden to implement everything he is learning with the Sixers in competitive game situations. Bolden played 74 minutes over the Blue Coats first two games and looking mighty impressive doing so. The former UCLA Bruin dropped 28 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks against Deng Adel and the Raptors 905 in his G League Debut.

 

Bolden’s playing status will remain in flux for the time being, although he is fortunate in that he gets the best of both leagues. The Sixers are essentially providing his basketball education, while the Blue Coats offer work experience in preparation for what Bolden hopes is a sustained NBA career.

Bolden and Adel are joined in the G League this season by former NBL players Isaac Humphries (Erie BayHawks) and Mitch Creek (Long Island Nets).

3. The best box score of Patty Mills’ career (thanks to a little home cooking)

Patty Mills is playing the best basketball of his NBA career and this was highlighted with his output against the New Orleans Pelicans this week.

Mills finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and was a plus 25 in the San Antonio Spurs win over the Pelicans. It was the first time Mills recorded 15-7-7 in a single NBA game. The way in which Mills can now impact the game translated on the box score.

Take nothing away from Mills, he has been fantastic, but the Spurs scorer might love Mills more than the entire country of Australia. Mills’ season high seven assists included some of the most generous contributions you will ever see.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge takes a full pivot in the post, puts the ball on the floor three times and gets to the rim in slow motion. A wonderful example of his interior skills, sure, but a solo act nonetheless.

Here is another example of the Spurs’ home cooking.

 

Mills received assists on both plays above, despite his modest interaction with Aldridge’s finishing moves. Frivolous scoring is an epidemic across the league, as the NBA employs locals to serve the role on game day. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, but in a basketball world that is dependent on analytics for a variety of reasons, it’s somewhat peculiar seeing such obvious manipulation of the box score.

Mills was the benefactor against New Orleans. Perhaps this is the basketball gods rewarding him on the back end. Play the right way, and the karmic universe will compensate.

On a serious note: Mills is shooting 46% from three-point range to start the season. This is opening space up for his teammates to benefit. On the two above plays, Aldridge is free to operate in space, thanks to a well-spaced floor that Mills is explicitly responsible for.

4. Ben Simmons’ All-Star worries

Entering the season, I predicted that Ben Simmons would start the NBA All-Star game in February. This now feels misguided, as after the Sixers’ first 12 games, Simmons is not among the best 12 players in the Eastern Conference.

Yes, it is still early, but consider this: All-Star teams are announced in late January after teams have played approximately 50 games. That means we are already one quarter through the portion of the campaign that contributes to All-Star voting.

Simmons is getting his numbers – 13.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists in 31 minutes per game – but his impact has lessened from his rookie campaign. Credit (or blame) for the slow start can be passed in many directions, but Simmons needs to play better. Simple as that.

The presence of Markelle Fultz complicates matters, as does the Dario Saric’s frosty shooting, but Simmons is also part of the problem.

On a per-minute basis, his turnover numbers are almost identical to last season, although a series of turnover binges are sinking the Sixers at inopportune times. A career-worst night against Toronto emphasized the issues facing Philadelphia, and these have continued against lesser teams.

 

As we discussed on Tuesday, plays like the above are systematic of Simmons’ unwillingness to take shots from the field. Unfortunately they are still occurring too frequently.

If Simmons and the Sixers continue their malaise, talk of All-Star snubs will be redundant this season, as he will be undeserving of a place in Charlotte.

For what it’s worth, here are my Eastern Conference All-Stars through the early season: Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Zach Lavine, Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Joel Embiid, Blake Griffin and Al Horford.

5. How the Celtics can leverage Aron Baynes’ shooting

The novelty of Aron Baynes shooting threes has officially waned.

Baynes is a proficient shooter who warrants attention behind the three-point arc. He is taking almost seven three-point attempts per 36 minutes and converting at a 37% rate.

This is no longer a gimmick used by Brad Stevens to prop up an offensively-barren Celtics team. It is the new reality, and offers a variety of new actions for Stevens’ playbook.

Now that Baynes has established himself as a shooter, we are seeing an expansion off his outside game. The Australian is a more potent pick-and-roll player because of an ability to step outside.

 

This is much harder look than those that Baynes converted in the postseason. Spacing out in the weakside corner and waiting in a shooting stance is one thing; finding balance as a back-pedaling roll man is another progression all together.

Al Horford performs this role to perfection for the Celtics. While Baynes will never match Horford’s offensive talents, he is now able to do a good imitation.

 

Boston are attempting the third most three-point field goals in the NBA. Baynes’ development provides yet another versatile floor spacing option.


That’s another week of basketball in the books, and another Friday Five complete. Did we miss anything? Let Ben know on Twitter if there is anything you would like to see next week.

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