Friday, December 3 2021

As part of an ongoing series at HoopsHype, we’re breaking down three interesting topics we’ve seen happening around the NBA over this past week.

Of course, the name of this column is derived from basketball’s three-second violation rule. The goal of this exercise is to observe a few subjects and then explain the key to why it’s happening and what makes it interesting.

Here are our three highlights from the last week of the NBA’s 2021-22 season:

Tyrese Maxey

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who has watched the Philadelphia 76ers so far this season knows that Tyrese Maxey has been absolutely integral to their offensive identity.

Without a doubt, his productivity on offense has allowed the Sixers to remain competitive even when key players Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris have missed time with COVID-19. Maxey’s offensive estimated plus-minus ranks in the 92nd percentile among all players, per dunksandthrees.com.

Especially in games without Embiid or Harris, the ball is going to Maxey when Philly is trying to put points on the board. Head coach Doc Rivers is running plays for Maxey – who plays the game with so much joy – and he is making the most out of that.

Here is how his Philadelphia’s Georges Niang describes what he has seen from his 21-year-old teammate (via Sixers Wire):

“Who would’ve said if things were different that he’d have this opportunity? I love that he’s maximizing it. For him to come in and do what he does every day and take ownership of it. Guys are on him. Tyrese doesn’t get any grace from anybody and he takes it on the chin and continues to grow and be better and it shows. The kid was phenomenal. He’s been phenomenal.”

Look at his performance against the Portland Trail Blazers and you will see someone who needed just 17 attempts from the field to score 28 points.

Maxey didn’t record any turnovers in the game and it marked the fifth time that has notched at least 22 points over the course of the past six games. He already has two 30-point performances in November and his turnover rate is the lowest among point guards.

Maxey has scored 141 points as the ball handler in pick and roll sets, according to Synergy, which trails only Atlanta’s Trae Young and Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan for the most in the Eastern Conference. He is averaging 1.09 points per possession on these opportunities, which currently ranks in the 91st percentile among all players so far this season.

But here is what’s most surprising: 47.8 percent of his offensive finishes have been as the pick and roll ball handler. Last season, that number was nearly identical, ending the season at 45.5 percent of his total possessions. His shot frequency for jumpers off the dribble has remained consistent year-over-year, too.

He has scored 56 unassisted field goals within ten feet of the basket, via PBPStats, which ranks as the sixth-best in the NBA. More than three-quarters (76.2 percent) of his buckets have been self-created and that is essentially identical (75.1 percent) to his rate in 2020-21.

That tells us that for Maxey, this is actually who he has always been as an NBA player. He has just gotten more volume to show it.

We can prove that with numbers, too. Per 100 possessions, he averaged 25.6 points – with 10.8 points on unassisted two-pointers – last season. Then in this campaign, per 100, Maxey is now averaging 26.0 points – with 10.3 points on unassisted twos.

While it’s impressive that he’s been able to sustain the productivity even with more volume, the way that he’s playing now is actually fairly similar to what he had done in the past as a rookie.

Josh Hart

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have a new coach, Willie Green — who played a dozen seasons in the league — replacing Stan Van Gundy. Green, who was a 6-foot-3 wing, has given a green light to the 26-year-old Josh Hart.

The season has been largely disappointing for New Orleans, who are playing without franchise star Zion Williamson. But as they try to find an offensive spark in his absence, Hart has an entirely new role.

Hart’s usage rate (17.6 percent) and assist rate (17.2 percent) are both at a career-high so far this season. Further, his assist-to-usage rate (0.98) ranks in the 98th percentile among all forwards. He has increased his time with the ball in his hands from 2.1 seconds per touch last season to 2.9 seconds so far this season.

Last season, more than anything, he was a floor spacer who spotted up on the perimeter. He attempted 19 percent of his field-goal attempts from the corner, via Cleaning the Glass. Now, that number is down to just 6 percent. After finishing 38.0 percent of his offensive finishes shooting off the catch in 2020-21, per Synergy, that has dropped down to 13.2 percent.

Here is how Hart compared his time playing for Green with his experience when playing for Van Gundy (via NOLA.com):

“Willie has the ultimate trust in me to go out there and play my game and play with confidence. The biggest thing that we talked about was not just standing in the corner and hoping and praying for the ball to do something. He is putting me in positions where we’re running actions on the weak side, and I have the ball and I’m making the decisions.”

Indeed, he has far more decisions to make this season now that the ball is in his hands more often.

Hart finished just 2.8 percent of his possessions as the ball handler in pick and roll sets and this year, that number has exploded all the way to 15.1 percent. He has struggled with efficiency on ball screens, which is expected as he adjusts to the huge change in his output.

But when he is operating in transition, he has been lethal. He loves nothing more than grabbing the board, sprinting down the floor and putting up a lay-up for a quick two points.

Hart has scored 2.7 points per game as the ball handler in transition, which ranks eighth-best in the West. Meanwhile, per Synergy, his 1.15 points per possession on these looks ranks as the NBA’s third-best mark among those with at least 25 opportunities.

He is someone who is able to make his way through traffic for coast-to-coast buckets and they help the Pelicans gain momentum early and often.

It isn’t likely that Hart is ever the focal point of an offense but with this new role, he’s stepped up in a big way.

Isaiah Hartenstein

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Clippers big man Isaiah Hartenstein has been one of the most impactful players who is currently suiting up for a different team than the one he played for last season.

Hartenstein, who is now playing for his fourth organization since 2019, has bounced around the league over the past couple of seasons. But it seems that with the Clippers, he is setting in as a low-usage player on offense who is a defensive guru on defense.

L.A.’s defense has been insanely good when he is on the floor, allowing just 95.2 points per 100 possessions. That is the third-best defensive rating among everyone who has logged at least 170 minutes so far this season. It is also a significant swing compared to the minutes when he is not on the floor when the Clippers’ defensive rating is 108.1.

Overall, according to dunksandthrees.com, his defensive estimated plus-minus ranks as the second-best among all players in the league so far this season. You have to wonder: how did none of the other three teams who had this guy on the roster want to keep him?

Opponents are shooting 29-for-66 (43.9 percent) when defended by Hartenstein near the basket. Among players who have defended more than 30 attempts at the rim, not even Utah’s Rudy Gobert (44.1 percent) has held his opponents to a lower field goal percentage.

As noted by The Athletic’s Law Murray, opponents are shooting more than 18 percentage points worse when guarded by Hartenstein within six feet of the basket compared to the attempts when they are not.

This type of impact is often correlated with defensive playmaking, of course, and this is no exception. Hartenstein’s block rate and steal rate both currently rank in the 90th percentile or better among big men, via Cleaning the Glass.

Watch the way that he literally grabs the ball away from Timberwolves wing Anthony Edwards on Nov. 13. He towers over him and snatches it back like he is stealing candy from a baby:

He later defended New Orleans Pelicans big man Jonas Valanciunas for approximately seventeen possessions on Nov. 19. During those minutes, Valanciunas was 0-for-3 and Hartenstein was able to block him twice.

But it’s not just that he is defending bigs like Valanciunas considering, per NBA.com, Hartenstein is actually matched up with guards more often than centers so far this season. When the Clippers have faced the Portland Trail Blazers, the big man has switched on to help stop both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Hartenstein, who is averaging the fastest defensive speed of any player on the Clippers and any big man who has played at least 150 minutes, can keep up with any player in the league.

For the Clippers to have this kind of presence on defense — and for him to only take up a minimum deal on the salary cap — will help immensely come playoff time.

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Source: Yahoo Sports

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