The Weights: NBA Scouts & Execs on Players Who Tip the Scales of a Playoff Series
Credit: Getty Images. Pictured: LA Lakers forward Markeiff Morris #88, Miami Heat forward Jae Crowder #99, LA Clippers forward Marcus Morris #31.
It is an annual tradition unlike any other: perusing the vast expanse of NBA Twitter and discovering tweets that form somewhere along the lines of …
“(Player name)?! (Player name) is beating us?!”
You expect to get beat by LeBron James and James Harden. You expect for the great shooters like Khris Middleton and Duncan Robinson to hit shots. You expect great defense from Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard.
It’s the other guys that break your heart. You can call them X-Factors. You can call them wild cards.
I call them the weights.
Think of every series like a scale. And all sorts of things go on either side for a team. Matchups, overall talent, home court (not this season, obviously), coaching advantages.
Those things provide the general basis of a series. But in every series, there are elements that weigh differently from expectation, and differently from game to game. And they can tilt those scales to decide a series.
“You know, in general, what a star player is going to give you,” one scout said this week. “It’s these other guys where you don’t know what you’ll get, and if you get a lot, that can win you a series or be the difference in five or seven games.”
So who are the weights in this postseason?
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Everyone thinks it’s Rajon Rondo, but when you dig into it, there’s another guy who swings games more for the Lakers.
In the Lakers’ Game 1 loss to the Rockets, their offense was a mess. They scored just 98 points per 100 possessions per Cleaning The Glass and had zero lift. The Rockets made LeBron try and beat them on his own, and it wasn’t enough.
Anthony Davis picked up his jumper in the next three games, but while everyone was clamoring for JR Smith or Dion Waiters to provide an offensive spark, Markieff Morris has been the weight.
“Morris gives them a guy with size who can spread the floor,” an executive with a team not in the semis said this week. “He’s tough and physical but can also hit the 3. You need those things vs. Houston. The Lakers have actually kept pace with Houston’s 3s in this series, which I didn’t think they would.”
Morris is a wing with size, which means he gets guard matchups. He loses Russell Westbrook here because of the attention the Rockets are putting on James.
The Rockets have dared Morris to hit spot-up shots. Spoiler: He’s hitting those spot-up shots.
Watch Westbrook dare him to shoot here:
In Lakers wins in this series, Morris is +51. In losses, he is -10.
The Lakers needed one more guy. He’s been that guy. Makes sense.
It must run in the family because …
Similar to the Lakers, it’s easy to point to Lou Williams, who has a 96 defensive rating against the Nuggets, the way Lakers fans point to Rondo. But instead, it’s Markieff’s brother Marcus who is the real difference-maker.
In wins, the Clippers are +27 per 100 possessions (!!!) with Morris on the floor. They are -5.4 with him on the bench. Williams, conversely, is +9 even in the losses. He’s just been great, and they’ve managed to cover for his defensive shortcomings perfectly.
Morris is shooting 70.8% from the field in the Clippers’ three wins vs. the Nuggets and has hit 7-of-12 shots from 3-point range.
Watch this play:
Most of the playoff teams have guys who are ready to take 3s on the kick out. But they’re not ready to drive and then create that mid-range shot (a low-percentage shot), and hit it. Morris is hitting it, and it’s a big reason he’s succeeding, on top of his hot 3-point shooting.
If you have to cover Leonard with two players, stay home on Paul George, stay home underneath for Ivica Zubac dunks and stay home on Williams, then something has to give. Morris is pulling that weight so far down the Nuggets are barely in the picture anymore.
The Raptors and Celtics don’t really have these types of players. Brad Wanamaker comes pretty close, hitting huge shots and giving meaningful minutes after drifts of being unplayable for the Celtics.
The Raptors are getting big minutes from OG Anunoby (and the Game 3 game-winner), but he’s a big part of their rotation in general.
The Bucks never had a weight. That was part of their entire problem. For the Heat, though, it’s pretty clear who the weight is.
I wrote before the Bucks-Heat series that the Bucks would send multiple defenders to contain Robinson. Robinson shot just 6-of-22, getting up just 4.4 3-point attempts per game compared to 6.75 per game in the first-round.
But that meant the Bucks had to dare someone to beat them.
Enter Jae Crowder.
Crowder finished with a net plus-minus of zero in the five-game gentlemen’s sweep of the Bucks. But that’s kind of the point. Crowder played a lot of minutes without the starters and the Heat still didn’t lose those minutes.
Crowder shot 29% from 3-point range with the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded in a contract year at the deadline. Against the Bucks? Crowder hit 16-of-29 3s, the most of any player for the Heat in the semifinals.
Think about that. Jae Crowder hit more 3s against the Bucks than any other Heat player. He shot 12 more 3s than Tyler Herro who was second in attempts, and still made 41%. The Bucks dared him Crowder to beat them.
“The Bucks had a lot of problems in that series,” one league source said. “But Crowder going off like that is the kind of thing that haunts you later.”
That’s what the weights do.