A tweet can be a Rorschach test. This one, sarcastic as it may be, elicited wildly different reactions:
I tweeted it the day after the Los Angeles Lakers shot 5 for 32 from 3-point range in their 100-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of their first-round series. The responses generally fell into two camps:
The video is how Sam Hinkie tries to watch basketball. More than six years before former Philadelphia 76ers guard Tony Wroten introduced the world to the phrase "Trust the Process," the divisive executive described himself as "probably pretty boring to watch a game with because I'm all about expected values."
"I don't even care if it goes in or not, I'm all about, 'Should it go in?'" Hinkie told the Houston Rockets' official website. "I can live with randomness."
He went on:
"Sometimes it's even important to live with randomness because too often we all decide whether a play was a good play or bad play only after we've watched whether the ball went into the net," he says. "I think that can be misleading. Of course any shot that goes in we'll take, but over time I want our players to continue to make smart decisions over the long term, and to do that you really have to take out whether the shot goes in or not, and you have to focus more on whether it should go in and whether it's a good shot for our offense. That's pretty critical, otherwise you end up chasing what you just saw, which might have been pure luck versus constantly focusing on the future and what you're most likely to see."
I'd have a meltdown if I tried watching a full game edited this way, process fully divorced from result. But the fact that the Lakers missed every single one of those shots is precisely why Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he wanted his shooters to "trust the percentages" in his post-game Zoom conference. The next day, Vogel confidently doubled down, saying he was "pleased with a lot of the shots that we were able to generate within our offense, and optimistic about what we can accomplish in this series."
On Tuesday, Los Angeles shot 2 for 16 (12.5 percent) on "wide open" 3-pointers, i.e. when the closest defender is at least 6 feet away, per NBA.com's tracking data. In the regular season, the Lakers shot 37.7 percent on such shots and, according to Cleaning The Glass, made 35.3 percent of their 3s overall (excluding heaves and garbage time). If you think Los Angeles was simply unlucky, you might already know these numbers.
If you think the Lakers are in trouble, you might dismiss the numbers as insufficient or irrelevant. Wide-open shots are not created equal, and all these bozos have been saying that Los Angeles' offense is shaky. That bozo Hinkie surely isn't just looking at how much space is in front of the shooter on every play, you might say. Was this performance that much of an outlier?
The answer is yes, according to Second Spectrum's metric, which uses variables like "the positions, movement, distances, and velocities of the shooter, the closest defender, the next closest defender and the ball" to determine shot quality. Factoring in who was taking the shots, the Lakers "had the worst 'shooting luck' for a team in any game since the 2013-14 season, regular season or playoffs, scoring 46 fewer points than expected," Second Spectrum tweeted.
What do you think of that, Russ?
Video tracking, however, cannot account for everything. What if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope barely slept before missing all nine of his shots? What if Danny Green, who went 2 for 8 from deep, made only a quarter of his 3-point attempts in the seeding games and missed a matchup with the Indiana Pacers with hip soreness, isn't healthy? Confidence fluctuates, and professionals are not impervious to pressure.
The generous view of the Blazers' defensive approach is that they shrewdly sold out on the perimeter to protect the paint, gambling that the Lakers' role players would miss open shots. Those guys have largely struggled in the bubble, and perhaps Terry Stotts' coaching staff was trying to get in their heads.
I trolled the Blazers' defense, but I can understand this logic. Maybe they would have switched things up if Los Angeles had managed to inflict some degree of damage from the outside. Portland gave up an atrocious 120.4 points per 100 possessions in the seeding games, and, given the limitations of its personnel, game-planning is probably an exercise in finding the least bad option.
This point of view, though, glosses over the reality of the Blazers' Cinderella story: They've been awful defensively because they've given up wide-open looks just like those, and they've only overcome it by scoring like crazy themselves, which they might not be able to do in this series. Their we'll-live-with-that strategy, in which shooters are allowed to comfortably launch jumpers, generally doesn't work over long periods of time. They know this from experience.
"We know it's going to be harder, we know they probably won't miss the same shots that they missed last night going forward," Damian Lillard said on Wednesday. "Or at least consistently they won't."
Portland's gambit earned the underdog a 1-0 lead, but let's not get this twisted: The Blazers are not like the Milwaukee Bucks, who emphasize rim protection over 3-point defense but have long, athletic guards fighting through ball screens and contesting shots from behind. They are certainly not like the Toronto Raptors, who are constantly causing chaos and confusion as they cover for each other, closing out and challenging everything.
Essentially, Portland dared the Lakers to make uncontested and lightly contested jumpers. To point out that the No. 8 seed got lucky is not to dismiss the top seed's glaring issue, which will matter against any elite defensive team. It just shouldn't matter all that much against this one.
Previously on That's Pretty Interesting: Go to the post, LeBron!