The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
Vinny Del Negro and the Clippers' Strides
Realistically, Vinny Del Negro was never going to be the Clippers' in-season savior; the team's problems seemed too many and too profound, and Del Negro doesn't have much of a track record for righting his teams' wrongs in any form whatsoever.
But whether by design or mere coincidence, the Clips are playing their best ball of the season, and Del Negro himself seems to be making more and more of the right moves.
Sometimes it's as simple as a lineup decision; on Monday night, the off-ball utilization of Eric Bledsoe ended up making a pretty significant impact in L.A.'s win over Oklahoma City, in spite of the fact that Bledsoe made just a single field goal and registered a single assist.
Del Negro could have surely found more playing time for Caron Butler (who would have been a more conventional fit in the Clippers' reserve lineups and finished with just 23 minutes played for the evening) or even Randy Foye, but he stuck with Bledsoe as a backcourt counterpart to Mo Williams, and later as part of a three-guard lineup featuring both Williams and Chris Paul.
Bledsoe's energy and activity were rewarded, and although he should be praised first and foremost, some credit should go to Del Negro for his lineup constructions.
Additionally, according to NBA.com, the Clippers have been the league's sixth-best defensive team over the last 10 games, a mark accentuated by its contrast.
These Clips are legitimately improving their defensive operations, and though, again, credit is due to the players themselves, their evolution isn't a matter of effort or focus alone. There's real coaching there, and while that doesn't make up for Del Negro's largely irrelevant impact, it's put the Clippers in a wonderful position at a crucial time in their season.
Derrick Favors: Ahead of the Curve
Derrick Favors is 20 years old, and as a backup behind both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in Utah, has only managed to secure a shade more than 20 minutes a night.
He's an afterthought of a former No. 3 overall pick; he's a crucial part of a fun, unexpected Jazz team, but he doesn't play enough minutes for his prorated production to reach any lofty totals, nor does he do much that isn't eclipsed by the outright superior play of Jefferson and Millsap.
He's valuable, but simply not an active part of the basketball consciousness outside of Salt Lake City.
Which is why it may come as a surprise to some that Favors has ranked among the league's most prolific rebounders since the All-Star break, even as his minutes and role have stayed relatively constant.
According to NBA.com, Favors' total rebound rate since the season's intermission ranks as elite among qualified leaders; he grabs almost 20 percent of available rebounds while he's on the floor, a mark just short of Dwight Howard, and that puts him slightly above Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe.
Favors is still figuring out how best to use his body on the offensive end and discerning the nuances of team defense, but he seems to have this particular aspect of his game figured out.
Markieff Morris on a Slow Burn
The rookie wall is no myth; the pacing, strain and fatigue of an NBA season often causes league newcomers to crash come February or March, and we've seen some of this season's most intriguing rookies taper off since their hot starts.
MarShon Brooks saw his shooting percentages plummet in January and February without much warning or explanation. Norris Cole became so inconsistent that he fell out of the Miami Heat's rotation entirely.
These things happen, and although some rookies manage to circumvent the wall by resting during the early months of the season or playing within a role that insulates them from its effects, most long-established rookies seem to taper off as the year goes on.
Phoenix's Markieff Morris is a noted exception, though perhaps one who benefits from one or both of the aforementioned circumventions.
Morris has played consistent minutes over the course of the season, but hasn't exactly been run down by the volume of his playing time. He's averaged almost 20 minutes a night in 58 games, and while that may not seem like all that much, rookies have run headfirst into the wall despite playing less and playing less frequently.
Yet Morris is playing his best basketball of the season at an indisputably dire time; Phoenix has worked relentlessly to elbow its way into the playoff race, and with Grant Hill MIA and Michael Redd a candidate for occasional disappearance, Morris' contributions off the bench are rather vital.
His 10.8 points per game on 50 percent shooting in April may not seem like all that much, but that kind of efficient, supplementary production is huge for a team with such a delicate offensive balance.
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