The Long Two: The Warriors’ offensive rhythm and Davian Mitchell’s defense

What makes Kings rookie Davian Mitchell one of the NBA’s best on-ball defenders, and why the Warriors’ offense looks better than it did a year ago.

There is no hotter fire for a rookie guard than facing Devian Mitchell in the first four games of his NBA career. In his first professional game, the Kings rookie had the privilege of guarding Damien Lillard and CJ McCallum, two of the deadliest dribbles in the NBA; Two nights later, he squared off against three-stage killer Donovan Mitchell (no relation) and the ball screen-heavy offense of the Utah Jazz; The next game, they took on Steph Curry, who — how does anyone even begin to describe that challenge? After two nights off, Mitchell faced All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker. For most first-year players, this would be a surefire way to start a career off on the wrong foot, but Mitchell, as always, kept his balance.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a current NCAA National Champion and Defensive Player of the Year can make an immediate impact for a team without any backcourt defense, but the extent to which Mitchell’s relentless defensive pressure has translated is yet again. is also impressive. The rookie has begun to establish himself as one of the league’s best on-ball defenders (and a regular in Luke Walton’s final five), giving the Sacramento Kings an invaluable weapon in the Western Conference full of elite guards. Is. “He is as advertised,” Donovan Mitchell said after Shooting 2-of-6 on the shot against Davian. “He is physical, he is fast, he does a lot of solid things defensively that have hindered not only me but a lot of us. He set the tone defensively.”

What stands out most about Mitchell’s defense is how difficult it is to dribble against him. Whether in isolation or pick-and-roll, he makes every inch of his man work. He invades personal space that players often take lightly, carefully guarding the ball-handler’s every dribble and labor through every move, all without putting himself at risk of being defeated by the dribble.

Where most defenders lose a half-step when an offensive player changes their pace, Mitchell can immediately stop and change direction with them, and often even beat them to their desired position. This is largely due to their incredible leg speed, but also to their equally rare reaction times, lateral bursts, deceleration times, hip mobility and motor. Take this capture from Mitchell’s first game against McCullum:

The right-to-left crossover following the screen is designed to take advantage of a defender’s momentum against him: when McCullum changes direction at once, his man usually continues to move toward the foul line. But Mitchell, like a shadow, reflects McCallum’s every move. He engages around the screen, swinging his hips with the ball as it moves from McCullum’s right hand to the left, and back up to McCullum before starting the next drive. It ends in McCullum’s ugliest attempt of the night.

Mitchell sees these plays regularly — and to him, they are — but the combination of physical traits needed to pull them off is extremely rare. Even as Curry and Lillard struggled to attempt a clean shot at Mitchell without a screen:

Since opponents can’t take away from him, Michelle is also incredibly difficult to screen. He’ll wrap himself between his man and the screener to avoid being clipped, but make solid chest-to-shoulder contact ineffective:

But it’s not just Mitchell’s athletic gifts that make his defense special, it’s his discipline and his approach. NBA ball-handlers are so clever and screeners so physical that defenders don’t get by with athleticism alone; Being truly disruptive requires careful attention to position, technique and opponent tendencies, all of which Mitchell does remarkably well for a player with less than five professional games under his belt. He rarely falls for shot throws, he talks as a help defender and he’s already one of the best close-knit performers in the NBA:

He is not as valuable as an off-ball defender at this point in his career. Despite good instincts and good position, Mitchell’s size and short reach will always limit his effectiveness as an assisting defender and, more importantly, may prevent him from being a particularly versatile defender. And while it is still early in his career, he has not been seen chasing shooters away from the ball.

It is no coincidence that despite holding Lillard And Michelle For the combined shoot of 3 of 13, McCullum and Curry found it easier by trekking around the floor and navigating the off-ball screen to Mitchell. He lost McCallum more than once on a basic pin-down action, and made the common mistake of momentarily losing contact with Curry:

Mitchell himself is aware of the difference between his on and off ball work and Sundays Curry called toughest player ever. “He can really play a game of basketball with the ball. He’s always on the move, setting up great screens, cutting, doing lay-ups, opening up to his teammates,” Mitchell said. “He uses his teammates a lot, it’s a job he’s done really well, making shots when he has to close the ball.”

It would be unreasonable to expect anyone — let alone a rookie — to play the perfect defense against six All-Star-caliber players in four games. Mitchell will improve chasing shooters around the screen as he learns to translate his knack for staying in front of the ball to engage with off-ball movers. For now, he has already earned the right to step in step with the best of the NBA. “It’s been fun, just guarding these guys,” Michelle said. “They’re really good.”

Warriors’ crime is humming again

This time last season the Warriors were struggling to keep their heads above water. The once free-flowing offense had become an isolated mess, held together only by the symbiotic brilliance of Steph Curry and Drummond Green. An inexperienced supporting cast failed to grasp basic read-and-reaction offensive principles, and without a quartet of All-Stars holding the safety net, the Warriors ended the season. below average crime And missed the playoffs for the first time in Curry’s prime.

Perhaps more than any other in the NBA, Golden State’s offense is dependent on consistency and intuition. Its effectiveness depends not only on the talents of the players running it, but how those players complement each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses; Defending an offense in motion is incredibly difficult, as long as that motion is objective and additive.

Curry is a magnet, pulling defenders around the court and making room for teammates with permanent off-ball movement (if the NBA used gravity assists, Curry would always lead the league). Green, meanwhile, may be the second-best passing big man of all time and is adept at turning Curry’s focus into scoring opportunities for the others. To fully unlock the offense, it requires teammates who can take advantage of the gases Curry creates and substitutes themselves when Green attacks scuttled the defense.

This made it imperative that the Warriors not only upgrade their roster this off-season, but do so with players who would fit a specific system. This iteration of the team may not be more talented than it was last year, but it is full of brain players who can make decisions on the fly and play within the flow of the offense. With multiple players who can shoot, shoot, and make decisions (and with an offensive weapon like curry around them), role players whose ranges may be more expensive in other environments become dynamic, forceful contributors. go.

Now, when Curry pulls off a second defender in a pick-and-roll or moves to the perimeter, his teammates know that by setting up impromptu screens, making extra passes, attacking closeouts, or identifying any other advantage. How is capitalization done? This not only puts Curry in more danger but also allows his team to kick off their quiet scoring nights by playing through other threats. The ball moves freely from person to person, each making a spontaneous decision rather than a predetermined move. As a result, the warriors have made Most Aided Points Per Game There may already be more highlight passing sequences through his first four games in the NBA and in that period than he did in the entire first half of last season.

There are still hiccups, especially from Andrew Wiggins, who tends to be very happy mid-range and still isn’t used to looking for teammates. Jordan Poole often falls into a similar category, slamming his foot on the accelerator instead of making simple play. Adding second-year center James Wiseman and rookie winger Jonathan Kuminga (both currently injured) into the rotation could also compromise some of the team’s offensive flow.

But it’s the kind of offense that’s designed to improve with time and repetition, and the Warriors are starting from a much higher point than they did a season ago. Eventually, they’ll add Klay Thompson, giving them another player with intimate knowledge of the system and their ability to compromise defense with shooting and movement.

This mix amount for Championship Contender may not be known yet. Much depends on Thompson’s health, the consistency of those playing the unproven role, and what shape the rest of the Western Conference takes. All Golden State can do is reform right now, one unwritten decision at a time.

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