John Wall gets high. Will he win the 2014 Slam-Dunk Contest?
It was announced today that the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest participants will include Paul George, Damian Lillard, John Wall, and defending champion Terrence Ross, according to ESPN. Ben McLemore and Harrison Barnes are mentioned as the two others who are expected to round out the six-man field.
The point of this post isn’t to pontificate about who’s the best dunker. That’s a matter of personal aesthetic preference: The dunk, like other special types of basketball shots, is more an art than a science.
That said, it’s fun to see what each participant has in his arsenal – and then to watch the contest to see if they have anything new up their sleeves.
Without further ado, here’s a video compilation of each participant. Enjoy.
The Wolves have lost six straight games to Toronto and its star forward, DeMar DeRozan.
The Timberwolves (18-20) are in Toronto to play the Raptors (19-18) tonight at 6 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on FSN or NBA League Pass or heard on WCCO 830 AM. The Air Canada Centre (ANGLO SPELLING ALERT!) has been a house of doom for the Wolves: Minnesota has lost its last nine games in Toronto.
Being unable to beat Toronto on its home floor is a trend that needs to end. Coming off of a bad loss against Sacramento on Wednesday at home, the Wolves need a win in a bad way. Defeating the Raptors on their home floor would help Minnesota claw back toward .500 and could help the Wolves exorcise their Air Canada Centre demons.
But getting that win will not be easy. Toronto has a better record than the Wolves do. (Eds. Note:Caveat emptor: They play in the Eastern Conference.) They’re tough at home, having won a season-high five straight home games (Dec. 28 – Jan. 13), something they haven’t done since 2010. All around the League, the question is, “Are the Raptors for real?”
The Raptors have hit their stride since trading Rudy Gay, who tortured the Timberwolves en route to 33 points in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento. Toronto was 7-12 before the trade. Since the trade, the Raps have gone 12-5.
Rudy Gay and his offensive inefficiency have been the punchline of so many (advanced!) analytics jokes over the last several years, that the facts only crowd could only smugly sneer and say “I told you so” when the Raptors improved after trading Gay on December 9th. And unsurprisingly, Toronto’s efficiency stats have improved since Gay’s departure. Sean Highkin notes:
With Gay, Toronto had a net efficiency of -0.3, scoring 101.4 points per 100 possessions while giving up 101.7. Since the Gay deal, that mark has jumped into the black, sitting at 6.3. The team is scoring 103.9 points per 100 possessions while holding opponents to just 97.6.
With Gay on the roster, the Raptors had the bulk of their possessions used by two players, Gay and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has still put up a team-high 28.7% usage rate since the Gay trade, but the rest of the team’s possessions are being distributed more evenly. Center Jonas Valanciunas has taken on a bigger role in Toronto’s offense, and his play contributions to the team during their recent hot streak have been vital.
Highkin notes that Valanciunas has not been the most significant beneficiary of the Gay trade. High-flying guard Terrence Ross has:
The main beneficiary of Gay’s absence on the Raptors has been second-year guard Terrence Ross, who has seen his playing time skyrocket. He was playing 18.9 minutes in the first 19 games of the season, and that number has jumped to 30.2 minutes a game since the Gay trade. His production has spiked as well since being given the opportunity to play, especially from beyond the arc. Before the trade, he was shooting 34.5% on 2.9 three-point attempts a game; since the trade, he’s shot three more times from long range a game (5.9 attempts) and his efficiency has ballooned to 46.1%.
This is a very important trend for the Raptors. Ross has a high ceiling, but he showed few signs that he would reach it last season. Now, with minutes freed up, Ross is again a player to watch–and not only for his *ridiculous* dunks, which are worth marveling at:
There’s much more on the Raptors’ trajectory since the Rudy Gay trade here.
A few other Raptor-related notes in the run-up to game time:
Here’s a snapshot of what the Wolves’ offensive sets have often looked like. Hi-Tech stuff here (don’t mind the DVR pause bar).
THE WOLVES SO FAR
So, there’s been a lot written already about the Wolves and the players’ individual performances so far during the preseason.
Patrick J: One angle that has gotten less attention is some of the sets that the Wolves have tried to run – with, shall we say, “mixed” results.
The set basically looks like this: Ricky takes the inbounds pass, dribbles past half court, quickly passes to a wing and cuts through to the strongside corner. The idea is that a post–often Kevin Love–will make himself available for a high-post entry. Then, the ball is in Love’s hands and the offense flows from there. The idea, I think is that Love will either be able to score the ball from the elbow, take a dribble and pass or score, or drive the ball off of a jab fake and get to the rim.
This offensive set seems to meet with limited success. The fly in the ointment is Ricky. Two reasons: (1) he isn’t great without the ball in his hands, and (2) he isn’t a credible threat to make a kickout catch-and-shoot opportunity from the corner. So, his defender can basically fade to crowd the high post and make the options for the high-post man that much more difficult to execute.
So, if this is to be one of the Wolves’ go-to sets, can it work? Should Kevin Martin basically have the Rubio responsibility–if and when he’s healthy again–to put a real threat in the strong-side corner? What gives?