NBA

Arguably the second-best shooter in the world, Desmond Bane has arrived as the Grizzlies' second star

By Sports Desk November 07, 2022

Nearly a month into the NBA season, Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane has continued his ascent into one of the best shooters in the sport, and he headlines the early candidates on breakout-watch.

The six-foot-five, third-year product out of TCU was considered a steal by avid college basketball fans when the Grizzlies selected him 30th overall in the draft, as he profiled as an elite shooter and stout defender from day-one.

As a 21-year-old rookie he averaged 9.2 points and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 43.2 per cent from three-point range, starting in 17 of his 68 appearances, before graduating to a full-time starter in his second season.

In his sophomore season, Bane started all 76 of his games and found his footing in the league, raising his averages to 18.2 points and 2.7 assists, and while his three-point attempts went up from 4.0 to 6.9, his percentage also went up from 43.2 to 43.6. Teammate Ja Morant won the league's Most Improved Player, but he gifted the award to Bane (who ultimately returned it).

A player's ability to scale up their volume of shots while maintaining efficiency is a telltale sign of someone ready to assume a larger role (see: Mikal Bridges, De'Andre Hunter), and that has continued in Bane's third season.

His usage rate jumped from a supporting-role-level 15.5 per cent as a rookie, to a main-option-level 22.6 per cent in his second campaign, before ascending to a 26.9 per cent usage this season. 

 

For reference, that is the 27th-highest figure in the league for players averaging at least 20 minutes per game, putting him ahead of players like C.J. McCollum (26.3) and Anthony Edwards (26.3) and only narrowly behind DeMar DeRozan (27.8).

His three-point attempts have also jumped again from 6.9 to 8.8, and once again, his three-point percentage has inexplicably risen with it, up to a career-high 46.8 per cent. 

It has led to career-highs across the board in points (24.6), rebounds (5.0), assists (4.6) and minutes (32.7). His 4.1 made three-pointers per game is tied with Buddy Hield for second in the league, trailing only Stephen Curry (5.1).

With a two-plus season sample size now under his belt, it is now clear Bane is not just a good shooter, but one of the best in the world. His career three-point figure of 43.7 per cent is the second-highest among all active players, trailing only Seth Curry (43.8 per cent).

It would be disrespectful to the legendary, game-changing Stephen Curry to put anybody in his class as a marksman, but if he were to retire tomorrow, Bane would have an argument to be the game's best shooter.

It had been assumed in Memphis that Jaren Jackson Jr was the long-term running-mate their potential MVP in Morant, but Bane has become undeniable, and it is now easy to envision the Grizzlies treating Bane as the Klay Thompson to Morant's Stephen Curry in their macro team-building vision.

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  • New Simeone? Howe did not learn 'dark arts' from Atletico coach New Simeone? Howe did not learn 'dark arts' from Atletico coach

    Eddie Howe was amused by the suggestion he might be the "new Diego Simeone" following accusations of Newcastle United employing Atletico Madrid's "dark arts" this season.

    Newcastle are enjoying an outstanding season, third in the Premier League and on the eve of the home leg of an EFL Cup semi-final.

    Having been more concerned with a relegation battle this time a year ago than any cup progress, the Magpies need only avoid defeat against Southampton on Tuesday to make a first major final since 1999.

    Liverpool were the last top-flight team to beat Newcastle way back in August, their sole league reverse this season, but their approach both in that match and in subsequent tussles with elite opposition has been the source of some debate.

    Newcastle, whose coach Howe spent time studying Simeone's Atletico after leaving Bournemouth, have received five yellow cards for time-wasting this season, fewer only than Aston Villa and Fulham.

    In relation to this trait, Howe was asked if he was the "new Diego Simeone" and laughed before replying: "It's so funny how things can be blown out of all proportion.

    "Yes, I did go and see a couple of Diego Simeone's training sessions, and I have huge respect for him as a coach and a manager.

    "But literally they're one-hour training sessions and then you go. Certainly I took nothing of the 'dark arts' from Diego.

    "I'm very much the same manager [he was before]. I've changed slightly because I've got older and I've got new ideas, and I'm always looking to evolve my work and improve.

    "I'm still fundamentally the same manager with the same principles and the same beliefs in style of play.

    "I just think I've become different from managing Newcastle. I think, naturally, managing this club is a huge challenge, so you evolve in that way."

    Newcastle's strong defensive record is also comparable to Simeone's best Atletico sides, keeping a Europe-leading 16 clean sheets in all competitions.

    But Howe is not planning to protect a draw against Southampton as he urges his Newcastle team, who have been wasteful of late, to attack their opponents in the manner popular former manager Kevin Keegan did.

    "The template is to entertain – of course, within the Kevin framework," he said. "We want Newcastle supporters to come to the game excited about what they're going to see.

    "It's to attack, it's to be front-foot, and it's also to try to win."

    Southampton were the last team to score against Nick Pope, back in early November, and boss Nathan Jones does not believe a win on Tyneside is beyond the Premier League's basement side, who lost 1-0 in the first leg.

    "It's not 'mission impossible' by a long chalk. It's a game of football," Jones said. "Anything can happen.

    "We have to be the best versions of ourselves – we know that's what we have to do. We have to have a game plan, we have to be good, and we have to execute it.

    "Newcastle are in good form, but they're not going to go the rest of their lives without getting beaten, so why not get beaten tomorrow night? That's what we have to attempt to do.

    "We'll go there in good spirits, we felt we played well in the first leg. If we'd had a bit more belief in the first half and been a bit more aggressive, it could have been something different.

    "We had a really good chance to take the lead. There's a lot of positives to come out of it.

    "It's definitely not 'mission impossible', and not even 'improbable'. It's a really acutely poised cup tie. That's how we're treating it."

  • Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker? Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker?

    Cristiano Ronaldo has scored many famous goals.

    Undoubtedly, though, one of his most celebrated strikes came 15 years ago, on January 30, 2008.

    On a winter evening at Old Trafford, Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth rocked up in fine form on the road, having won seven of their 12 away games in the Premier League.

    Yet Ronaldo, in the midst of a 31-goal season in the top tier, was the difference. 

    Having put Manchester United ahead in the 10th minute, Ronaldo stepped up, just under 30 yards out from goal, three minutes later.

    His free-kick, taken in what would become his trademark style, went up, over the wall and swerved remarkably into the right-hand corner. David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, had no chance.

    That goal is often thought of as the typical Ronaldo free-kick. Power, panache and pinpoint accuracy.

    But is Ronaldo actually as good as a free-kick taker as that goal might suggest? Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look.

    Quantity, not quality?

    Since that goal against Portsmouth up until the day his second spell at United ended (November 23, 2022), Ronaldo had more shots from direct free-kicks than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    Of the 645 shots Ronaldo had, 41 resulted in a goal. That is from 700 club games, across stints at United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

    On the face of it, that goal tally does not stand out as particularly impressive, at least given the fact that Ronaldo netted 619 times in total.

    Yet he is behind only Lionel Messi (who else?) when it comes to goals from direct free-kicks, with the Barcelona great scoring on 51 occasions from such situations.

    That gives Messi an 8.1 per cent conversion rate from free-kicks in that timeframe, in contrast to Ronaldo's 6.3 per cent.

     

    Naturally, given their status in the game, Ronaldo and Messi will almost always pull rank when it comes to set-pieces, especially at a free-kick in a dangerous position.

    Miralem Pjanic, who ranks third for direct free-kick goals and was a club-mate of both players at Barca and Juve respectively, boasts better conversion rate than either (nine per cent).

    Neymar's 13 goals from 147 attempts gives him an 8.8 per cent success rate, while James Ward-Prowse's 12 per cent (15 from 125, though this figure of course does not account for his strike against Everton earlier in January) is close to double what Ronaldo managed.

    Indeed, when ranked against players from Europe's big five leagues that scored 10 or more direct free-kicks between January 31, 2008 and November 23, 2022, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dani Parejo had lower conversion rates than Ronaldo.

    Club by club

    So, having established that Ronaldo's free-kick finishing was somewhat erratic following that stunner against Portsmouth, let's check on how he stacked up at each club.

    Across his career in Europe's top five leagues, Ronaldo netted 48 free-kicks in all competitions, from 782 shots (6.1 per cent).

     

    Thirteen of those goals came at United, with five each in his final two seasons of his first spell at the club.

    Indeed, Ronaldo's peak when it came to free-kicks was definitely between the 2007-08 season and the 2013-14 campaign, when he scored 35 times from that type of dead-ball situation.

    His best single season tally was six, in the 2009-10 season – his first at Madrid.

    From 2014-15 onwards he did not manage more than three free-kick goals during a season, while he scored only twice from 86 such attempts while at Juve, and managed no goals from four free-kicks in his second stint at United.

    One of the greats?

    As well as his effort against Portsmouth, Ronaldo has many other memorable free-kicks in the bank.

    His stunning, 40-yard strike against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final; a mesmerising hit from even further out in a Madrid derby in 2012; and who can forget that spellbinding, hat-trick sealing effort that secured a last-gasp draw for Portugal against Spain in a 3-3 thriller at the 2018 World Cup.

    Ronaldo might have gone off the boil from dead balls since the halcyon days either side of his move from Manchester to Madrid, yet there's no doubting that when he hits them true, there's not much any goalkeeper can do.

    While he may not go down as one of the greatest free-kick takers in history statistically, he has definitely been a scorer of some great free-kicks down the years.

    And who knows, maybe there'll be more to come in Saudi Arabia.

  • Antetokounmpo not taking anything for granted after sixth career 50-point game Antetokounmpo not taking anything for granted after sixth career 50-point game

    Giannis Antetokounmpo was determined to reach 50 points as he piled on 12 in the last four minutes of the Milwaukee Bucks' 135-110 home win against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

    It was the sixth 50-point performance of Antetokounmpo's career, and after coming into the season with four, he has managed two this month following his career-high 55 against the Washington Wizards on January 3.

    He shot a blistering 20-of-26 from the field – including 16 of Milwaukee's first 21 points – adding 13 rebounds and four assists, and while he could have settled for a strong effort and a comfortable win, he decided to make it a memorable night down the stretch.

    Sitting on 38 points with 3:51 remaining, Antetokounmpo hit four free throws and a layup to reach 44, before closing the game with back-to-back three-pointers to bring up his 50.

    Speaking after the victory, the two-time MVP and 2021 NBA Finals MVP said these are opportunities you do not want to waste.

    "I knew that if I was able to get the rebound, I was going to shoot," he said. "It doesn't always work out, but tonight it did. 

    "I didn't hesitate at all. I was able to get my legs under my shot, stayed there, and just watched the ball go in.

    "It's one of those moments you can never take for granted because you never know when you're going to have those moments again."

    Antetokounmpo's team-mates decided to bring the locker-room celebration out to the court, showering their franchise player with bottles of water in front of the sold-out Fiserv Forum.

    "We might as well do it in front of everybody," Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. "It's really just to show how much we appreciate him. For him to go out there and do that is amazing, no matter how many times you score 50 points.

    "It's a great time – everybody just kind of gets on his shoulders and we're just along for the ride. At that point, we just got to support him. If he passes it to us, make the shot, but for the most part, we know who's going to carry us."

    Head coach Mike Budenholzer joined Holiday in awe of his star player, highlighting all the hard work he puts in.

    "Tonight, I think 50 on 26 shots is impressive," he said. "Just everything he did, his aggressiveness, a couple threes, especially late, but he's shooting it well. 

    "It feels like a few more catch and shoots – if we can generate a few of those for him and build the confidence in that area, those are areas where he's improving."

    The Bucks improved their record to 33-17, leaving them third in the Eastern Conference and with the fourth-best record overall, while the Pelicans slipped to 26-25 after their eighth consecutive loss as they battle a number of key injuries.

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