More juicy subplots come your way as we head into these long-awaited conference finals!

1. ANTHONY DAVIS’ FACE UP GAME JUST TOO MUCH FOR HOUSTON’S SMALL BALL

My Houston dreams were alive and well after the Rockets made quick work of Los Angeles in Game 1. For anyone (like myself) who is a heavy proponent of big ideas, this was the series that was going to break NBA conventionality. But, Los Angeles has Anthony Davis. The Lakers star has been phenomenal in the matchup. Forget the 28 points per game on 62% shooting thru 4 games. Focus on how he’s getting those points. Last week we talked about the effectiveness of Houston’s blitz style defense.

Well, Davis has solved that puzzle in the dribble face-up game. In a HUGE way. Take a look:

Anthony Davis' Dribble Stats *per NBA.com
Anthony Davis’ Dribble Stats *per NBA.com

Houston prides itself on physically stout defenders who provide a strong anchor on the block. But without a weakside rim protector, Anthony Davis can leverage his handle to attack the rim with ease. Watch how he sets-up Jeff Green off the dribble:

A similar outcome takes place when help flashes early. Davis banks on the array of spins and subtle moves to create enough shooting space. Whether it is PJ Tucker, James Harden, or Jeff Green, he continues to attack these matchups with a guard-like mentality. Showing that centers now need a modern offensive game to solve very complex problems. 

2. LOU WILLIAMS AND THE CLIPPERS NEW “DEATH” LINEUP

The Clippers roller coaster of a postseason took an interesting turn in the 4th quarter of Game 3. Down 4 and staring at a 2-1 series deficit to Denver, Doc Rivers found a compelling lineup combination. There would be no Patrick Beverly defensive minutes to close the game. Instead, Rivers opted for Lou Williams as the crunch time alternative. A dominant quarter followed by an easy Game 4 win, the Clippers may have found the postseason’s most destructive lineup. Why?

Look at offensive impact of the Williams-George-Morris-Leonard-Zubac group thru 4 games vs Denver:

Conference Semi-Finals Lineups (over 15 mins) *per NBA.com
Conference Semi-Finals Lineups (over 15 mins) *per NBA.com

Yes, the Clippers lose some ‘point of attack’ defense in the form of Beverly. But Kawhi Leonard and Paul George already carry most of the defensive burden on the wings. What is most interesting is how versatile the Clippers become in the pick and roll. Los Angeles can now attack you with three different ball handlers in the form of Leonard, George, and Williams. The combinations are endless, especially when you pair those with a decent roll man in Ivica Zubac. Want to blitz the ball handler? Marcus Morris is waiting in the wing for a wide-open 3 pointer.

Just look at all these options!

Clippers Playtype postseason scoring *per NBA.com
Clippers Playtype postseason scoring *per NBA.com

Rivers has an envious menu of options at his disposal. The Clippers can slice and dice you in a variety of different ways. Yes, there will be times when Beverly’s defense will be needed. But Los Angles can balance the court and play with a variety of different alternatives. The type of solutions that will be very critical against its cross-town rival.

3. NO GIANNIS, NO SHOT CREATION FOR THE BUCKS

Not many teams can survive an MVP on one bad leg. The idea that Milwaukee could be that team was quickly (and emphatically) shut down by the Miami Heat. It’s hard to encapsulate what Giannnis means to this Bucks offense. But it is not very hard to see what they lack without him. The Bucks simply do not have secondary playmakers to complement its iconic star. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are nice pieces, but hand them the keys to the offense and things can go south in a hurry.

To see what I mean, let’s contrast the Bucks shot creation in the regular season to what we saw against Miami:

Bucks Shot Creation Metrics *per NBA.com
Bucks Shot Creation Metrics *per NBA.com

Without Giannis, Milwaukee morphs from a downhill team to one heavily reliant on pull up shooting. Giannis’ growth as a passer has enabled head coach Mike Budenholzer to play off his skillset. That is, space the court 4 wide and give ‘The Freak’ multiple passing outlets on the wing.

But Middleton (nor Bledsoe) are not the same type of shot creators. That means less drive and kick opportunities, and more contested mid-range offense. In the 5 series games, the Bucks abused the mid-range area to the tune of 16 attempts per game (most among all teams left in the bubble). It was a painful display of static ball movement and isolation basketball. Spearhead by two guys with not much juice on the ball.

EXTRA THOUGHT: SPEAKING OF KHRIS MIDDLETON … A $40M PLAYER OPTION IN 2023-24? YIKES!

So much noise is made of recent contracts that we almost forget Khris Middleton is due A LOT of money soon. Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and John Wall are constant participants in NBA trade machine. Fans match the money with the production and quickly pivot to exciting trade ideas. Well, Khris Middleton should be next to go on that carousel. 

Listen, Middleton is a nice player. A two-time All Star who put together a phenomenal shooting season this year. But again, when I think of $40M production I think of guys who can do just about anything on the court. Middleton is not that guy, at all. It is also very likely that we will see a sharp shooting regression next year. This season Middleton out-performed his career true shooting average by a significant margin. To expect a similar output in the coming years may be too much to ask. At that point we circle back to the original question. Is he a $40M player four seasons from now? I don’t think so.

Check out Thiago’s (@TScabbia on Twitter) other posts on the NBA Playoffs below