How They Drew It Up: Unicorn Edition

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Featuring Bradley Beal, David Nwaba, and Kristaps Porzingis

Welcome to the first edition of “How They Drew It Up.” This is a new Holyfield series where I examine NBA plays from the week that intrigue me. They may be good, bad, or something in-between — but mostly good. I enjoy celebrating basketball more than ripping an athlete for a mistake, so I’m going to try to keep this fun and informative. From time to time, I will be joined by my fellow NBA staffers at Holyfield who will do the same, as each one of us has a different perspective on the league. Differing perspectives forces us to think in ways we may not have considered, which is a good thing.

The concept for this series is quite simple. Each Monday, there will be five NBA clips highlighted from the previous week’s worth of games, meaning Sunday through Saturday. Since this is published on Monday, November 6, the plays will be from October 29 through November 4. You may read me break down all five clips, or you may see me break down three while Will Muckian and Joseph Nation examine one, respectively. The contributors may be fluid, but the film analysis will be constant.

Rather straightforward, right? So, without further ado, let’s look at the tape!

Every Team Needs a David Nwaba

Let’s start this series off right by looking at the “Demolition Man” himself, David Nwaba. There are only a few reasons to watch the Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen proving people wrong as he lights up opposing defenses and David Nwaba out hustling and out scrapping everyone on the floor. Sure, he may be a homeless man’s John Wall, but Nwaba plays like he’s 6’9 — he’s listed as 6’4 — and is a one-man wrecking ball in transition.

The clip above is a David Nwaba special. He chases down the rebound, gets right into transition, and takes on non-set defenses with ferocity. The Demolition Man pulled down 11 rebounds against the Heat. Furthermore, he’s averaging 5.7 defensive rebounds per game, second on the Bulls and seventh in the NBA amongst guards (fifth if you exclude LeBron James and Ben Simmons from that list). Nwaba can’t shoot and he isn’t a good passer, but he competes defensively and thrives in transition. How can you not love this guy?

The 76ers Running Horns with Ben Simmons

Speaking of Ben Simmons, the 76ers rookie is playing how many thought he would: dominant. He’s already had two triple-doubles, and his season average isn’t far from that same mark. Simmons is a matchup nightmare because of his combination of size, athleticism, and ball-handling abilities. Because he’s the de-facto point guard, it allows the 76ers to do fun stuff like the play below.

It looks like the Sixers were trying to set up Horns, but Robert Covington cuts to the right side of the court, distorting the normal spacing. For those who don’t know Horns, it’s when the offense sets up with a ball handler bringing the ball up the middle of the court, two players at each elbow, and the other two players at each corner. JJ Redick sets a screen and then flairs out to the left wing. Simmons uses the screen, then quickly kicks it to Redick, who sinks the 3-point shot.

If Embiid sets a better screen, Redick is wide open, as Embiid’s and Simmons’ gravity sucks the Pacers’ defenders into paying attention to them. This play can be as close to unguardable as possible if Embiid screens Redick’s defender better. If Embiid’s defender goes to help on Redick, Embiid can roll to the basket for a potential pass from Simmons. Or, if Covington stays in the left corner and is defender decides to help on Redick, JJ can pass to Covington for a wide-open 3-point shot in the corner.

Something as simple as this play can work so effectively for the 76ers because of Simmons’ ability to facilitate. In a typical Horns set, both big men are at the elbows. For the Sixers, the other big man on the court is Simmons, who is surrounded by four shooters. Having a guard like Reddick at the elbow in this set adds extra depth to the offense. Keep an eye out for this play.

Frank Ntilikina Showing Defensive Potential

The 2017 rookie class has shown a lot of potential. From Lonzo Ball to Lauri Markkanen to Dennis Smith Jr., so many have shown that they may very good NBA players. New York Knicks rookie Frank Ntlikina should also be included in that group. This kid can play some tenacious defense. For those who have seen a few Knicks games already, you can tell right away that Ntilikina can be really special on defense. He’s a bit too aggressive right now, as he’s getting called for many fouls, averaging 7.8 fouls per 100 possessions. However, the French Prince is in the top 20 in steals — tied for 17th with Avery Bradley and Giannis Antetokoumnpo — and does stuff like this:

The Rockets are crushing the Knicks and Ntilikina does not care. He locks down one of the game’s best ball handlers in James Harden, who regularly embarrasses defenders. Ntilikina had five steals this game, two of which were on Harden. He’s still raw offensively, but the talent and potential are there as well. If the Knicks can nurture Ntilikina’s growth and unlock his full potential, he can become a two-way force in this league.

Bradley Beal Off Screens is a Thing of Beauty

To start the season, Beal is having a rough time off screens. He’s currently third in off-screen possessions per game and is in the 45th percentile in PPP with a figure of 0.94, per NBA.com. However, you still never want to give Bradley Beal a clean look at the basket as he shoots in rhythm. Simply not a smart decision.

John Wall receives a double screen at the top of the arc by Beal and Marcin Gortat. Beal then fakes going inside, cuts back up to the top of the arc, receiving a good screen from Gortat. Alex Len is caught in no-man’s land, per usual, and Devin Booker is late getting around the screen. Beal has a clean look at the basket and drills the open 3-point shot. This is such a simple, easy play to get a good shot quickly. Teams that have good screening big men like Gortat and players who play well off the ball like Beal should consider running this action.

Unicorns Don’t Give Up on Plays

During Friday night’s Suns-Knicks game, New York was up big in the fourth quarter. With less than five minutes left in the game, Enes Kanter made an ill-advised pass to Porzingis and rookie Josh Jackson made a good play on the ball for the steal. Porzingis could have just given up on the play. But he didn’t. Why? Because Unicorns don’t give up on plays. The result is an early highlight play of the year:

Porzingis gets back to help with the transition defense. He tracks Jackson down like a predator hunting its prey and swats Jackson’s shot attempt with no concern for the rookie’s life. The block goes straight to Courtney Lee and the Knicks are off to the races. Porzingis could have easily stayed behind on this possession as well. But he doesn’t. Why? Because Unicorns don’t give up on plays.

Lee finds Jarrett Jack on the left side of the court, who hits a trailing Porzingis with a perfect bounce. Porzingis rises up and slams it home, drawing the and-1 on Josh Jackson. If you didn’t think the game was over yet, it sure was ended right then and there. Frank Ocean once sang, “What’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?” Notice how he didn’t say “PorzinGod” — because everyone believes in the Church of Kristaps Porzingis.

Note: statistics were gathered on Saturday, November 4 and reflect the figures that day. They may have slightly changed since then.

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