Breaking Down: How Purdue slowed down Brandon Paul

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Purdue picked up a huge win on Wednesday night, knocking off No. 11 Illinois at home and helping to erase the memory of a rough non-conference season.

They did it by taking away Brandon Paul. A contender for Big Ten Player of the Year after the first two months of the season, Paul has been sensational in the biggest moments for the Illini. But when John Groce’s team has struggled, it has been the result of an off-night from their leading scorer.

Paul got off to a fairly quick start on Wednesday, knocking down his first two threes — one of which turned into a four-point play — and scoring seven points in the first seven minutes. He wouldn’t score again until the layup he made with 3:15 left in the game, a 29:46 stretch where Paul didn’t score a single point.

How did Purdue do it?

In the first half, Paul’s struggles had as much to do with his foul trouble as they did with anything Purdue was doing defensively. Paul picked up his second foul with 9:42 left on the clock, and for the rest of the half, Groce went offense-defense with him. There’s no better way to get a shooter out of a rhythm than to have him subbing in and out every third possession.

In the second half, however, the Boilermakers executed Matt Painter’s game-plan to perfection. There were three keys:

1. Ball screen defense: Illinois loves to set picks for Paul, and Groce loves to use Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu in the ball-screen action. Painter’s game-plan was simple: whoever was guarding Paul would fight over the screen, trailing Paul to keep him from getting an open look at a three, while the big guarding the screener helped off his man, daring Paul to penetrate against a double-team:

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Purdue was able to ignore the screener because: a) Neither Egwu or McLaurin are much of a threat offensively; and b) Paul is coming off that ball-screen to score, not to pass.

2. Switching: Illinois also likes to use Paul in some screen-the-screener actions. Essentially, they’ll use Paul to set a back-screen for one of their big men in the paint and then have him run off of a downscreen from the other big man. To defend this play, Painter had to trust that his team would be able to recognize it early enough that the opposite side wing — in this case Rapheal Davis — would be able to switch onto Paul while the man defending Paul — in this case Terone Johnson — would slide out and cover Byrd’s man. (Video of this sequence can be found here.)

3. Terone Johnson: At the end of the day, once you get past all of the x’s-and-o’s and game-planning terminology, defense is about stopping your man one-on-one. And Johnson’s on-ball defense was simply superb against Paul. He fought through downscreens, he didn’t give Paul an inch coming off of ball-screens and it was clear that his physical brand of defense got into Paul’s head midway through the second half. In one sequence, Johnson stole the ball from Paul in the back court and found Jacob Lawson for a dunk. then he fought through two ball-screens, nearly forcing Paul into another turnover, on the next possession.

Previous Breaking Down posts can be found here.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.