The NBA website has playtype data back up, so I decided to dive into some of that data the other day, which led me to finding this interesting nugget about Rodions Kurucs:
Rodions Kurucs leads the NBA in points per possession in isolation with 1.77.
(Kurucs only has the ball in iso situations 0.5 times per game & only 6.1% of his possessions are isolations, so please take that stat with a massive, massive grain of salt.)
— Justin Carter (@juscarts) March 7, 2019
Now, that’s a pretty small sample for Kurucs, but is it indicative of something about his game that hasn’t been fully tapped into yet? Let’s head to the tape and find out.
Rodions Kurucs in Isolation
First, let’s get all the qualifiers out of the way here.
Rodions Kurucs is scoring 1.77 points per possession in isolation, the best mark in the league. But the sample size we’re working with is small — Kurucs averages just 0.5 isolation possessions per game and they account for only 6% of his playtypes. That works out to just 26 isolation possessions this season. Still, he’s 17-for-19 shooting the ball in isolation. That’s a field goal percentage of 89.5%, which is just wildly high and unsustainable, but is also…I mean, let’s not nitpick that field goal percentage too much.
Let’s look at some video. Quick note: I don’t have access to the more in-depth playtype data that Synergy has and I only have the clips available from NBA.com, so I can’t 100% guarantee every one of these plays is technically an ISO. Kurucs could have been involved in a pick play before the clip starts or something. I have picked all plays where Kurucs is taking a guy one-on-one, though, and tried to use my brain to make sure I wasn’t using transition clips/ that the defenses were set before the play.
First clip is from the Miami game. Kurucs has the ball out on the left wing with Derrick Jones Jr. on him. If you know one thing about DJJ, it’s that he’s competed in the dunk contest before and is a very athletic player. Kurucs has the size advantage, but you’d think Kurucs would probably struggle trying to get past Jones.
He doesn’t. Kurucs puts the ball on the floor, crosses up Jones, and drives towards the hoop. Once he gets that step on Jones, Kurucs has to just get contend with a waiting Bam Adebayo in the paint. Adebayo hasn’t been great defensively this year — his D-PIPM of 1.1 ranks third on the team, so he hasn’t been bad, just maybe not as good as some people hoped he’d be — but he’s still a big body for Kurucs to contend with. Doesn’t matter though, and Kurucs glides in for the slam.
On the season, Kurucs is shooting 50.6% from the field on 3.3 drives per game, which puts him really close to Joe Harris’s 50.3% mark. That’s good, but it’s not as good as his overall isolation numbers.
This might be a good time to bring in some of Kurucs other playtype data to try to get a bigger picture of this. He’s in the 59th percentile in scoring off cuts, which account for 10.8% of his possessions. He’s been really bad as the roll man in pick-and-rolls, but he’s also logged just 11 total possessions in that situation. It looks like Kurucs benefits from having the ball in his hands and the defense spread out away from him.
Here’s another play. Kurucs gets the hand-off here, but he ends up holding the ball long enough after the hand-off that I’m counting this as isolation.
Unlike the play above, Kurucs has a matchup that’s much easier on paper here with Mason Plumlee guarding him. Once Plumlee switches onto Rodi, this play progresses in a pretty logical manner: Kurucs knows he can make something happen off the dribble, and while Jamal Murray offers a token amount of help here — he literally leaves his man open in the corner just to take one swipe at the ball and nothing more — Kurucs is able to get into the paint and make the play at the hoop.
Kurucs is shooting 62.4% from inside of five feet this season, by far the best mark he has from any zone of the field, so plays where he can get to the basket are a good call. You don’t want him pulling up and shooting, though, as Kurucs is hitting just 16.7% of his shots between five and nine feet.
One reason I like the idea of Kurucs moving from the three to the four on a full-time basis is that he should, theoretically, get some easier matchups. I’m especially interested in Kurucs against teams that go bigger up front like we saw in the Nuggets clip above, though not too many teams are doing that these days.
Same kind of thing as the other plays here. Kurucs gets the ball out on the wing, Aaron Gordon is defending him, and he drives in on Gordon. Kurucs shows a good ability to get from the arc to the bucket in these one-on-one scenarios. The Nets have the left side of the court overloaded here with guys who defenses are more apt to stick to and DeMarre Carroll off in the corner drawing one defender, so there’s a ton of space created in the middle of the court for Kurucs to operate in.
Incorporating Kurucs in Isolation
The bigger question might be this: We have some evidence that Rodions Kurucs has potential in isolation situations, but there isn’t a ton of data, so what can be made of this fact?
Well, the Nets are already fourth in the NBA in isolation frequency, so it’s not like they aren’t already taking advantage of isolation plays. They’re third in the league in points per possession in isolation, so these plays are obviously working.
That might be a problem, though, if you want to see more of Kurucs in isolation. The team’s already getting so much out of a playtype that’s not known for being super efficient, so they’re likely to be a little wary of increasing the number of isolation plays they run. It also makes more sense to run them with the guys who are better ball-handlers — Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell — because it’s less work to get those players in an isolation situation. They can bring the ball up the floor; Kurucs needs to get the ball off a pass, and then it probably makes more sense to use him as a catch-and-shoot player, especially as his three-point shooting continues to improve.
There’s definitely room for Kurucs to take players off the dribble and drive to the bucket in these one-on-one scenarios, but even with his efficiency at doing so, I think the Nets are better served by using Kurucs beyond the perimeter on the offensive side. Here’s maybe my dream idea: If only one of the three guards mentioned above are on the floor with Kurucs, work some plays for him to get the ball in spots where he can drive. If two or more are there, take advantage of their playmaking skills to get Kurucs open looks. I see Kurucs as the kind of guy who can be your team’s jack of all trades in the future, so mixing in some isolation looks is a good idea, but it shouldn’t be his dominant playtype. Let the guards run isolation plays the most, but do try to get Rodions Kurucs more involved on the offensive end, whether that’s as a jump shooter or if it’s by clearing out space and letting him get to his best spot on the floor.