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FILM STUDY: For Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, ‘It’s a small world, after all!’

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Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

As a wise man once said, We Didn’t Start the Fire. That glowing inferno of abnormality, which our guy Anthony Puccio detailed three months ago, has continued to blaze on, scorching every bit of landscape of this 2019-2020 Brooklyn Nets season (aka fiasco) with no end in sight. To get an idea of just how drastic things have gotten in Nets-land, here is former two-way contract signee Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot on his potential role in Orlando.

“I’m just going to help more in the paint and stay out there with (Jarrett Allen), sometimes have to do the dirty job that they do.”

If that “help in the paint” refers to creeping on the low with the occasional painted-area dig, then yeah, sure, sounds like a hunky dory plan. After all, in 39 games this season, the 25-year-old routinely used his impressive 7-foot-2 arms’ reach and acute awareness to throw penetrating opponents off the scent of that tasty, tantalizing rim. (Notice how he spooks Furkan Korkmaz into picking up his dribble a step-or-two early in the first clip.)

But if that “dirty job” refers to bracing for larger, stronger opponents in the post? Then, well, his Brooklyn Nets might be in for a 1-star stay in the resorts found at the “happiest place on earth.”

A 4 the Frenchman isn’t, nor anything close to that. But what the late first-round pick-turned-journeyman-turned potential 3-and-D excavation project IS, however… he’s a suddenly crucial part of this kooky cast of Disney World Brooklynites. You know, It’s a small world, after all.

Where else to begin than with Timothe’s defense –– that evergreen commitment to ripping into opponents’ jerseys for every little second of floor time, which earned Luwawu-Cabarrot this specific job opportunity for the big league Nets after an ever-so-brief ten-game stint with the Long Island farm club. That calling-card graded out rather indiscriminately across your favorite stat-nerd’s catch-all metrics:

  • FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR rating scored TLC a +1.6 on defense –– 26th of the 116 shooting guards polled. Good start!
  • ESPN’s real plus-minus, however, ranked the 25-year-old as the 68th most effective defensive shooting guard in a group of 133 total players (+0 DRPM).
  • BBall Index’s player impact plus-minus similarly classified Luwawu-Cabarott as a fairly average defender; his mere 0.33 defensive-PIPM was the 201st-best score in the league of 501 NBA players.
  • Whereas Synergy Statistics labeled the two-guard as a “below average” 19th-percentile overall defender. Yikes.

So, what does all of this geeky data mean to you, the consumer and reader of this here article? Well, the answer to the pressing question of TLC’s defensive acuity is likely found somewhere in the middle of this rangy datal set.

The first thing that sticks out about Luwawu-Cabarott’s defensive package is his hustle; the dude flat-out flies around the court like a Dassault Rafale with his scopes set on high while dislodging the opposition’s offensive sets with pinpoint accuracy. Here, the pesky 6’7” wing drapes his never-ending wingspan around the body of one of the league’s most prominent catch-and-snipe marksmen, heir to the throne once held by his father Dell… Dallas’ Seth Curry (see what I did there? HA!).

Notice how, even after encountering double-screens set by a pair of fellow Europeans (the perennially underrated Maxi Kleber and early-bubble treasure Boban Marjanovic), TLC is able to maintain his composure while “top-locking” the career 44.3 percent distanced threat. In shading Curry toward the baseline and disallowing any chance of a quick-hit hand-off or perimeter pass, the eventual outcome of Luwawu-Cabarrot’s supremely staunch coverage is an unbalanced flick shot that lands squarely in Jarrett Allen’s mitts.

In general, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarott tends to fare well as a point-of-attack defender, especially in the face of bite-sized assignments. If his semi-irregular offensive output (more on this in a second) allows it, he could be Brooklyn’s version of a taller, slower Avery Bradley –– the perfect deterrent to those pesky jitterbugging point guards that have plagued the Nets in the past. Though he’s received countless nicknames from YES Network play-by-play guru and resident nickname aficionado Ian Eagle (my favorite: “French Dip!”), it may be time to add another moniker to the mix:

La colle, French for “the glue.”

(...at least I hope so, although that dastardly Google Translate has led me astray before... and If we are wrong, Je suis désolé.)

Because the dude is absolutely sticky in his man-to-man coverage.

Here, TLC damn near executes nuclear fusion by coating his frame onto the (still) bobbing-and-weaving Thunder point guard and slick-dribbling legend, Chris Paul. Halted on his drive, CP3 kicks out to Oklahoma City’s resident stretch-five, Mike Muscala, who drained three-balls with decent 35.8 percent accuracy this season. Admirably, Brooklyn’s 3-and-D specimen, TLC, rotates over faster than a disinterested television viewer flipping through channels, poking those rangy appendages into Muscala’s airspace and interrupting the 6-foot-10 center’s follow-through. The result? That once-open three-pointer very quickly dissolves into a fall-away sonic boom-worthy “clunk!” of a miss, and a Brooklyn transition possession ensued.

Luwawu-Cabarrot comes equipped with that length we tend to see on most elite NBA perimeter defenders. He also shares their tenacity. Now, he’s got four years’ worth of NBA tutelage to add to his bag. What exactly is holding him back in the eyes of advanced metrics?

That answer is simple: footspeed.

As an NBA defender, you’re going to run into a lot of pro-level screens throughout your career and there’s not much you can do about it. What separates “good” defenders from “great” ones is the ability to recover, that willingness to persevere even after getting absolutely slammed by the frame of a 230(-plus) pound man. If Luwawu-Cabarrot is even slightly dislodged by a screen, his sluggish first step provides for an ultra-slim window when hurrying back into the play.

Per Synergy, TLC graded out as a not-so-great 41st-percentile hand-off defender and was in the damn-near disastrous 16th-percentile when attempting to smother opponents streaking away from off-ball screens. Both of these picks from Ben Simmons lead to the same general outcome: Luwawu-Cabarott reaching feverishly while the opposition bombs away to their heart’s content.

The first thing that stuck out to me about Luwawu-Cabarrot’s offense had nothing to do with a jumper of any kind. No, it was his continuous persistence when knifing toward the basket that never seemed to wane… What transpired from his relentless intensity was a bit of a two-sided coin. The “right” TLC drive is a true spectacle to watch: excellent body control, the occasional cheeky “over-the-head” move above his defender, and perhaps a little sprinkle of no-look scoop-layup finesse. That unshakable confidence produced buckets against some of the league’s most tenacious defenders (hello, Mattise Thybulle!). It’s pretty stuff.

Unfortunately for Luwawu-Cabarrot, those silky finishes were far outnumbered by live-ball hiccups, as he scored on just 28.9 percent of his drives. Plus, he’s by no means a polished passer, tossing out just 25 total dimes in juxtaposition to 32 turnovers this season. That tendency to fall into tunnel vision with iron-cladded blinders on regularly reared its ugly head when Luwawu-Cabarrot made the executive decision to put the ball on the floor. With just 3 assists and 9 total turnovers on his drives, it’s safe to say TLC got caught up (wait for it…) chasing waterfalls (buh-dum, tss).

In the first clip, TLC misses Brooklyn’s ultra-energized rookie Nicolas Claxton sitting utterly unattended in the dunkers spot, and in the second, a window for a bounce-pass to Wilson Chandler in the corner (a 39 percent corner specialist!) closes quickly as Luwawu-Cabarrot dribbles into a sea of four, four Toronto defenders! Sacre bleu! (Enough French!, you say? Au contraire!)

I’d love to see Luwawu-Cabarrot utilized more as a cutter. He’s got himself a pretty deft sense of timing, falsifying a move toward DeAndre Jordan for an apparent hand-off only to reverse in his tracks and jolt the other direction for a layup (against Mattise Thybulle, again!) in the clip below. 71st-percentile cutting proficiency is the makings of a strong building block, so let’s ensure he sees more than just 18 total possessions, Jacque Vaughn!

It’s worth mentioning, without the threat of a 3-point jump shot, backdoor movements –– tricky and calculated as they may be –– can and will be rendered useless in the face of most NBA-caliber defenders, who can simply “sag off” of TLC if he’s hanging around the perimeter. That outside shot is where things begin to get a little… funky.

Truthfully, the dude came out the gate like gangbusters, clipping a surprising 43.1 percent of his first 51 Brooklyn threes. These weren’t your regular old run-of-the-mill standstill attempts, either. The dude’s confidence was flowing from all angles –– he was driving, dishing, weaving, and popping 3-balls faster than you can say “Croque Madame.” Notice here how he adroitly repositions his footwork off a 180-degree turn into a buttery shooting stance like a seasoned expert.

But as the season progressed, that glimmering green light that tends to glisten from a fresh new start began to vanish; like a werewolf after sundown, a frightening new form of TLC’s marksmanship began to take shape ––– 32.3 percent on his final 62 threes is scary, it’s chilling, and I’m worried it may be closer to TLC’s true reality (prior to this shortened season, he had never shot better than 33 percent from behind the arc). Missing well-guarded looks is one thing, but whiffing on shots like the ones selected below is gravity-sucking for an NBA offense. And no, I’m not just cherry picking film clips to fit a narrative: per NBA’s statistical library, the 25-year-old was successful on just 28.1 percent of his “open” threes. Not good.

Things got so bad that he –– at least briefly –– caught the disease that plagued Rodions Kurucs’ decision-making as it pertained to launching shots worth three-points on the scoreboard; he began pump-faking ghosts out of their shoes likely because of sheer nerves, leading to inconsistent mechanics while attempting to maintain long-range accuracy.

My evaluation of the kid is fairly straightforward: Ultimately, the 3-pointer will represent TLC’s Occam’s razor for success. Should he perform like he did when he first landed in Brooklyn, there’s a chance he becomes a rather covetable role-playing asset for all 30 teams in the league, including the Nets. Without it, I’m not sure he’s on Brooklyn’s roster –– much less any in the NBA –– in one year’s time. Live by the three; die by the three.

All that said, there are intangibles not governed by data that’s helped Brooklyn, like knowing what’s a big game. In three of the four wins the Nets garnered in that last week with fans in the stands, TLC scored in double figures and so exasperated the Celtics that Boston beat writers were heard lamenting that their men in green had been undone in part by a player they called, “Timmy Love-Carrot.” That decidedly ain’t French!