Merry Christmas Basketball Nerds!
We've nearly reached the new year, and most teams pretty much have their identities.
Let's look at our Surprises, Disappointments, and Things to Keep an Eye on.
- Devonte' Graham
If you created a list of players that would make a leap this season, Devonte' Graham probably wouldn't have even been on there. But his play has helped the Charlotte Hornets find themselves just one game back of the playoffs.
He has made himself the leader in just his second season, on a team full of guys who have been in the league for multiple years. But his vocal leadership has been backed up by his play.
- Ben McLemore
The Houston Rockets have somehow unlocked the talents of Ben McLemore. In his last 15 games, he has had three 20+ point performances, shot 39% from three, 45% from the field, and has made an incredible 48 three-pointers.
It seems as if the Rockets have found another guy they can bring off the bench and add more scoring. And maybe Ben has finally found the right fit for himself.
- Portland Trail Blazers
This is the second time they have gotten on this list. We usually try to switch things up, but not much has changed with these guys. They have played better with Carmelo Anthony in the lineup, but it still hasn't been enough.
To be fair, injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood have killed their chances of being one of the top teams in the West. But they still have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, which should lead to a better record than 14-18.
- Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings have been the most inconsistent team in the NBA. Even with the recent returns of Marvin Bagley III and De'Aaron Fox, they have still not really found their footing.
Over their most recent stretch, they've achieved wins over the Nuggets, Rockets, and Mavericks. But they've also suffered losses to the Knicks, Bulls, Grizzlies and Wolves. Their current five game losing streak matches their longest of the season, so let's hope they can figure it out quickly.
Things to Keep an Eye on
- East vs. West
During the 2010's the Western Conference playoff race was a dog fight. However, with disappointing play from more than half of the conference, the Western Conference has taken a step back. Only 6 teams have a winning record in the Western conference.
The East has taken a step forward this season and has just one team without a winning record in the playoff race. Both conferences have two heavyweight contenders and a couple of teams on the fringe of being contenders. We'll see how things shake out.
- The Trades!
We finally had our first movement since the Chris Paul trade before the season when Jordan Clarkson got shipped to the Utah Jazz. It'll be interesting to see which teams are buyers as we approach the deadline.
With a clear cut four or five championship contenders, I would be surprised to see any of those teams on the fringe make any kind of desperate moves. But we may see teams like the Blazers, Wolves, or Spurs make a move to help them in a playoff push.
I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more sellers than buyers. Teams trying to get rid of contracts to get some future assets in return. The Cavs, Suns, Pelicans and Bulls all have talent that they could give up on to build toward the future. Especially since the playoffs are a distant thought for those franchises.
During the Philadelphia 76ers rebuild, they allowed their first round picks to take the first year off.
Ben Simmons took the first year off.
Joel Embiid didn't play until two years after getting drafted.
And Markelle Fultz spent most of his first year working on his "mechanics,"while just playing in 14 games.
The Sixers allowed their young guys time to heal properly before throwing them onto the court. The Pelicans and Zion could take a page out of their book on managing health for longterm gain.
The New Orleans Pelicans came into the season with positive vibes, and a hope that they would be in the playoff race. But they weren't the only ones.
They are scheduled to play the 10th most nationally televised games in the NBA this season. And we picked them to be a team in the playoff race by the end of the season.
With a 6-21 record and 13 straight losses, they have essentially played themselves out of the playoffs. So what's next?
They have a ton of assets that they can sell. All the way from the bottom with guys like Josh Hart and E'Twuan Moore to the top of their roster with guys like Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday. They have many draft picks coming in the future thanks to David Griffin.
So there's really no rush, right? If the plan is to establish New Orleans as a new destination for free agents, then Zion Williamson being healthy should be their top priority.
Zion has yet to play in a regular season NBA game, and we have already begun to see the injuries pile up.
The freak shoe explosion accident at Duke. The knee injury in the Summer League. And then the torn meniscus in the preseason that required surgery.
These little flashes of "Injury Prone" are not quite a red flag, but we're at least on a yellow in the color spectrum. Big guys like him who are freakishly athletic as he is hardly ever get a chance to succeed.
To be fair, we may have never seen anything like the mix of athletic ability and size of Zion at that age. So maybe he can just heal faster than other human beings, who knows.
But why risk it if you're New Orleans? If Zion has made up his mind about playing, then that's one thing. But we have not seen him or heard him make any kind of "I am definitely playing this season" statement.
And with the Pelicans being as bad as they are, there's really no point to let him play. They have a guy who has the potential to be a top ten player in the NBA, if not better. Throwing him out there to play for a bad team after having surgery, doesn't seem like the best business decision.
At this point, if I am running the Pelicans, I'm wrapping Zion in bubblewrap and asking him to stay home until the 2020 season.
Two teams sitting at 13-10 couldn't be any different. The Utah Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets both have dreams of improving on their play from last season.
Both teams suffered first round exits in five games. Both teams made a lot of splashy moves during the offseason to bolster their roster. And both teams have coaches with really greasy hair.
But one team should clearly be better than the other, but their records haven't reflected such opinion thus far.
Who Sucks Less? Utah Jazz or Brooklyn Nets
The Utah Jazz have had the blessing of health throughout this young season. Like with any team that adds new pieces, it will take some time to get everyone to play well together.
But there is cause for concern as Mike Conley has yet to show that he can return to his All-Star form. Over the past couple of seasons, he has suffered injuries that have slowed him down. But with one of the most talented roster he's had in a while, you'd think the game would come easier to him.
Conley has never had a season where he shot worse than 42% and this season he is shooting an abysmal 37% from the field. He's forcing less turnovers than ever. He's averaging just 4.6 assists per game, which he hasn't done since his first two seasons of his career.
It's pretty clear to see what is slowing the Jazz down, and keeping them from being more successful. Now it is still very early in the season, but it's still alarming.
The Jazz still have a top ten defense thanks to Rudy Gobert in terms of opponents field goal percentage and points allowed per game. But they are bottom of the league in turnovers forced, which has made it hard for them to get easy points.
The Brooklyn Nets couldn't have had things go much worse for them so far this season in terms of health. They came into the season knowing they would be without Kevin Durant. But they didn't expect their next two best players in Kyrie Irving and Karis Lavert to miss significant time with injuries.
Yet, while being decimated by injuries, they have found a way to win nine of their last twelve games. Much of it has had to do with their interior defense.
Since November 16th (first game without Irving and Lavert) the Brooklyn Nets are 3rd in field goal percentage allowed within 9 feet of the basket. Holding their opponents to just 56% from 0-5 feet and an incredible 26% from 5-9 feet.
Guys like Taurean Prince and Garrett Temple have both seen in increase in minutes, and have played well in their roles. Efficiency has been the key for Prince, who is shooting 40% from the field as well as the three. And Temple is 5th in the NBA in total blocks amongst guards since November 16th.
The narrative has been that the Nets are playing better without Kyrie because he's not playing. But the offensive stats prove otherwise. Their scoring, assists, field goal percentage and points off of turnovers are all down since his absence.
People can continue to downplay Kyrie and label him whatever they want. But the fact of the matter is, he raises the ceiling for this Nets team.
So Who Sucks Less?
We have one team in the Utah Jazz trending in the wrong the direction with a fully healthy squad.
And we have the Brooklyn Nets trending in the right direction while being hit with the injury bug.
At this time, I'll say that the Utah Jazz still suck less, even though things haven't been looking great.
They could easily go 7-3 over their next ten games and find themselves all the way up to the 2 seed in the Western Conference. Their top ranked defense will carry them throughout the season, and will eventually wear teams down.
So congratulations Utah Jazz, you suck less than the Brooklyn Nets!
Black Friday has come and gone. Which means it's just about time to put the presents under the tree.
But you don't have to wait for Christmas to get the gift of basketball. Just keep watching.
Here's some more Surprises, Disappointments, and Things to Keep an Eye On.
- Spencer Dinwiddie
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week just keeps on hooping. With the injuries to both Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie has had to carry the load offensively. And things are going more than good.
The Brooklyn Nets have 6 out of their last 8 games and have got themselves over .500 for the first time all season. Dinwiddie has averaged 24.5 points per game on 42% shooting. He has been in the top three in voting for Sixth Man of the Year for the past two seasons. And if he keeps this up, he'll be back in that same group again.
- Luka Doncic
Even for the most trusting Doncic believers, his play has been above everyone's expectations. At just 20 years old, he has already catapulted himself into the MVP conversation.
For the entire month of November, he averaged 32.4 points per game, 10.4 rebounds, and 10.2 assists on 49% shooting! Those numbers are no flash in the pan, this guy is for real.
- John Collins
At the beginning of the season, the Atlanta Hawks looked like an improved team. They were healthy and had some new veteran additions. But the lengthy suspension brought down on John Collins due to a failed drug test has left the Hawks without their second best offensive player and their best defensive player.
Since his suspension, they have allowed a league worst 124 points per game while going 2-13. It may be safe to say that Collins getting suspended was the most disappointing thing to happen to any team so far this season.
- San Antonio Spurs
Who thought it was possible that a Gregg Popovich led team could lose 8 straight games? But this squad did it, and they're 2-8 in their last ten games dropping them to 7-14.
They have the talent to be a good team, but they just haven't been able to put it together. It's always easy for everyone to say "The Spurs are done," whenever they are met with any kind of adversity. Yet, they always prevail.
It'll be interesting to see what the next steps for this team are. Whether it's a trade, or moving someone like Lonnie Walker into the starting lineup to provide a spark.
Things to Keep an Eye On
- Ben Simmons
Simmons, for the last two seasons, has spoken frequently about how he takes pride on the defensive end of the floor. He has made it a point that he strives to be on the NBA All-Defense team, and this season may give him his much awaited debut.
He leads the NBA in steals, second in deflections, and second in loose balls recovered. What he lacks in shooting, he covers more than enough on the defensive end. His high level of defensive play has helped the Sixers to fourth in defensive rating.
- Race for the 8 seed
Yes, we are only 20 games into the season. But it's never too early to start paying attention to playoff races. In the Western Conference, just 2 games separate the 8 seed from the 14 seed.
The Golden State Warriors are the only team that looks like they've already payed themselves out of the chance to make the postseason. Funny how things change so quickly, huh?
I was recently having a basketball conversation with my mom, and as she was referring to her favorite basketball team who had just defeated my favorite team she said something that inspired me.
"I always pray for us to suck less."
Changed my whole perspective on winning and losing. Well, not really. But it definitely gave me inspiration for our new series I'll be doing periodically called "Who Sucks Less?"
So congrats Bulls and Hawks, y'all up first.
The Chicago Bulls have been a train wreck since Jimmy Butler left. But not like a huge train wreck where people die. More like a train that's brakes gave out, so it's just like coming to a very loud screeching stop. But since the brakes don't really work, it's taking like 3 hours for the train to actually stop.
They seem like they're somewhere between coming to a full stop, and slowing down, but also maybe moving forward. I don't really know, and I don't think they do either.
This season they have been blessed with health. All of their young guys and players they acquired in the Butler trade have been able to play. Their head coach Jim Boylen just got a new contract, so the team is operating completely under his style now.
But let me make things clear on how I feel about Jim Boylen, he sucks. He has the tenacity and passion of Bob Knight, without any of the coaching skills to back it up.
Their five-man lineup of Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Zach Lavine, Otto Porter, and Tomas Satoransky has played over 132 minutes on the floor together, while no other lineup has played more than 64 minutes together.
A lineup of their five best players in Coby White, Lavine, Porter, Markkanen, and Carter Jr. has yet to play the floor together. Not even for one second. How is this possible?
Much of it is due to the use of Coby White. According to Basketball Reference, he has played 2% as a point guard, 49% at shooting guard, 48% at small forward, and 1% at power forward. Coby White should never play in the forward position, for any reason. Even in the smallest possible lineup, he would still be the third smallest guy on their team.
Boylen openly preaches about defense and hustle, and one bright spot for the Bulls has been their ability to force turnovers. They are first in the league total steals, which has led them to 8th in the NBA for points scored in Transition with 20.8 per game.
Their offense in the half court, however, has been bottom ten thus far. They are 22nd in points per game and 29th in field goal percentage.
So with all these discouraging numbers, the question is how do they fix themselves?
They have a decent roster offensively, and they've been able to get those guys to play very well on the defensive end. The coaching staff needs to utilize the players to their maximum potential by getting them into positions where they can thrive.
Coby White needs to play more point guard, and should never be playing any forward position. Otto Porter needs to be used, just in general. Markkanen is great at stretching the floor, so let him stretch it. Thaddeus Young should be playing big minutes in the fourth quarter for that veteran presence.
There's a million different things they can do to improve, but with Boylen on the sidelines not much will change.
Let's shift our attention to the Atlanta Hawks, who are sitting at 4-13. The Hawks had some expectations this year to at least be better than last season, and so far that has not been the case. They are getting mopped off the floor as of late, and it doesn't seem like things are going to change.
After an encouraging 3-3 start, they have dropped ten of their last eleven games. Much of it had to do with Trae Young experiencing a setback with setback with a minor injury, and John Collins getting suspended. Kevin Huerter also just suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out a few weeks.
So besides those first five games, they haven't had their three best players all on the court at the same time.
New head coach Lloyd Pierce has done the best he can with what he has. The players seem to like playing for him because he gives them the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
But those mistakes are starting to pile up. They are giving up the fourth most points off of turnovers in the NBA with 20.1 points per game. While also committing the second most turnovers with 17.7 per game. A recipe for disaster.
And while Trae Young is making a big leap this season, it's been the other young guys who haven't been able to keep up.
Rookies Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter are still learning as they go, but just haven't been what the Hawks have needed. They are averaging combined 19.9 points per game between the two of them, and have been getting torched on the defensive end of the floor.
Jabari Parker has been healthy and has shown flashes of good and bad. He has been extremely efficient with his shooting at 51%, but has shot just 27% from three point range. He is committing 3.5 fouls per game, which has kept his minutes down.
Evan Turner and De'Andre Bembry have been decent additions, but haven't moved the needle for them. Their starting big man is Alex Len, who has been more recently outplayed by their backup center in Damian Jones.
There's much room for improvement for this team, but the mix of injuries and youth may give this team a very low ceiling for this season.
It looks like they may be digging themselves a hole too big to get out of by the time they get John Collins back.
So let's answer the question Who Sucks Less?
The Bulls have the talent to fight for the 8 seed, but their coaching staff may just hold them back from everything they're capable of. And the Hawks are too depleted and young to even give themselves a chance.
So at this moment in time, the Bulls suck less. If only for the fact that their roster shows more potential to be better. And they may just form a mutiny again against Boylen that may actually get him canned.
So congratulations Bulls, You Suck Less!
With one minute and twenty-nine seconds left in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, the cameras made their way towards the Oklahoma City Thunder bench. James Harden had each of his arms wrapped around Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant, as they watched their championship hopes tick away.
This moment would be forever known as the last time we saw those three together in their Thunder uniforms.
Everyone assumed they would be the team of the future with those three guys. But James Harden's bad play in the Finals ultimately cost him his spot on the Thunder. They traded him to the Houston Rockets, and has gone on to become the best offensive player in the game.
Leaving Westbrook and Durant searching for their next Finals appearance together, which would never come. Durant moved on to the Warriors. The Thunder tried to reinvent themselves with Paul George. But that never really worked as they never made it out of the first round.
This slow regression into mediocrity all started with the Harden trade. But they now have an opportunity at redemption.
The failure to win a single playoff series led to Paul George searching for more. In the age of player empowerment, he was able to force his way out and to the team he wanted. The Los Angeles Clippers paid a large price for PG13.
The Thunder acquired Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and first-round draft picks from 2021-2014, and another one in 2026.
This power move from George left Westbrook asking himself what the next step in his career was going to be. He and the Thunder agreed to find a way to help each other find success, separately.
He was traded to the Houston Rockets and finally got his reunion with his buddy James Harden. But the Rockets had to pay a hefty fee.
The Thunder continued their summer haul by acquiring Chris Paul, four more first-round picks, and additional cash.
So with all this movement the only question remaining is What's the next move?
The consensus opinion was that the Thunder were building for the future. When you take a look at this roster, you realize that they are one trade away from being a serious playoff team. But they are also one trade away from leaning into tanking for the future.
Chris Paul in his 15th season is as efficient as ever. He is playing less minutes and shooting the ball less than ever in his career. Yet he is still averaging 17 points per game, while shooting 46% from the field and 43% from the three-point line.
He is simply refusing to fall out of relevance. He is still a Top 40-50 guy in the league, and he could possibly be one of the three best point guards in the Eastern Conference.
With Paul playing just as efficient as ever, he has become a player we may see sought after at the trade deadline. Even though his contract will exceed $40 million starting next season, it may be worth it for a team who is looking to maximize his potential over the next couple of seasons.
He could raise the ceiling of the Milwaukee Bucks while they have Giannis. He could make the Miami Heat a contender to reach the Finals in the East. Or he could make the Los Angeles Lakers nearly unbeatable.
Or maybe they want to keep Chris Paul. They have an unlimited amount of trade assets that they could use to get what they need to build around him.
They already have their big man in Steven Adams, and a solid backup in Nerlens Noel. But they would need a high volume scorer to make this work.
The Blazers have been struggling early on this season. We could possibly see a trade for CJ McCollum that would compliment CP3 extremely well.
The Warriors are in the market for bench players and future assets. Maybe a trade for D'Angelo Russel could give them the shot creator and closer they need.
Or maybe they'd be willing to wait this season out, and make a play for Bradley Beal in the offseason.
It's possible that the next move is to not make a move at all. They make like this team that they have currently constructed.
In their last three games, we've seen them beat the Philadelphia 76ers, and take the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers to the wire in close losses.
This is not a bad roster, it's actually pretty good. So the decision to build with their 15 draft picks that they have over the next 6 seasons isn't a bad idea either. With the flattened odds in the NBA Draft Lottery, they could try to win with this squad, while still having a legitimate chance at top picks.
And making a continuing effort to be a winning team is always a good pitch to free agents. Being able to show that the product on the floor isn't a facade just to move higher in the draft. But a culture dedicated to always putting the best effort on the floor. Just look at the Miami Heat and how it worked for them in getting Jimmy Butler.
There's really an unlimited amount of possibilities with this Thunder organization.
Flash back to that moment again of their Big 3 watching their championship hopes drift away. It was the end of an era that never really started. Mostly because they never let it get to its full potential.
So the Thunder now have a chance at redeeming themselves, and making the most of their past failures. They can build from the ground up, build around what they have, or maintain a steady course.
The Sacramento Kings had a curious offseason to say the least.
It all started with the firing of Dave Joerger and hiring of Luke Walton. The front office and Joerger had a difference of opinion on playing time for their young guys, Marvin Bagley in particular.
Then came the odd signings. Paying guys like Richaun Holmes, Dewayne Dedmon, Corey Joseph, Trevor Ariza, Harrison Barnes, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Not that those guys aren't good, but they all got their contracts before their budding superstar in Buddy Hield.
Instead of worrying about getting accustomed to each other on the court, the Kings were already met with distractions when Hield came out to the media and began bad-mouthing the front office. And for good reason.
But he eventually got paid (less than what I think he could've gotten next summer in free agency) and everyone was happy again.
But having everyone on the floor wasn't enough to get them out to the start they would've liked.
After showing promise last season, the Kings had expectations from many as a team that could possibly contend for the 8 seed in the Western Conference. But an 0-5 start, and injuries to Marvin Bagley and De'Aaron Fox made it look like the season was already a lost cause.
They were allowing 115 points per game while committing over 17 turnovers per game. They were at the bottom of the league in terms of Fastbreak points, and they were getting inconsistent play from guys like Hield, Fox, and Bogdanovic.
Luke Walton looked overwhelmed and already had people wondering how long he would last in Sacramento. But knowing how much the front office has invested in him, another change at the coaching position shouldn't be expected.
They scored over 100 points just twice during that stretch. Their offense was abysmal.
But all streaks come to an end. The Kings grinded out their first win with a 102-101 home victory over a very good Utah Jazz team. And that taste of victory may have been all they needed to get going.
The Kings have won five of their last seven games, with their two losses coming on the road against the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers. Those two losses were by a combined six points. And their most recent victory was against the Boston Celtics, that ended their ten game winning streak.
So the question is, have the Sacramento Kings started to figure it out?
During this stretch, they have scored 110 points per game, allowed just 104 points per game, and are committing 4 turnovers less per game than they were during that five game losing streak.
Bogdan Bogdanovic has seen an uptick in minutes per game from 24 to 29, and his scoring has gone from 9 points per game to 18. Buddy Hield was shooting just 35% from the field, but shot 46% over this last stretch.
It's possible that the first five games of the season were an anomaly and this team we've seen over this recent stretch will be more similar to what we'll see the rest of the season.
A few questions still remain. Can they maintain their hot shooting we have seen from them in these last seven games? The Kings have shot an Efficient Field Goal Percentage of 56% compared to 47% in the first five games.
How will they integrate Marvin Bagley and De'Aaron Fox into the lineup without messing with the flow of this current offense?
Will the front office stay out of it's own way and allow Luke Walton and the coaching staff do what is best for the team?
At 5-7 they have found themselves right back in the mix of the way-to-early playoff standings. And Kings fans can breathe a little bit easier after that horrific start.
They’ve taken on the Benjamin Button approach to this season. They started off dead, and now they’re showing some signs of life and youth. Maybe by the end of the season they won’t be so curious after all.
It's Week 3 in the NBA season, and just about every team has played ten games.
Which means we're already 12% through the regular season. So we are able to collect data and have a general idea of where most teams stand heading forward.
Let's dive into some Surprises, Disappointments, and Things to keep an eye on.
Every player in the NBA are professionals, so it should never really be surprising when a guy is playing great. Yet, we still get that feeling of shock when players we slept on play better than we expected.
- Brandon Ingram
Brandon Ingram was a top pick for the Lakers just a few years ago. But his inconsistent play in his first couple years left people wondering what he could become. But let's not forget, this guy had a life-threatening blood clot issue that was cause for concern.
It was similar to the issue that ultimately ended Chris Bosh's career. But Ingram's youth allowed him for a full recovery, and he's coming out this season like he has something to prove.
We can look at his stats and see that he's got career highs across the board with 26 PPG, 4 APG, and 7.3 RPG. But we can also look at his Advanced stats and see that he's having an even bigger effect on his team. He's accounting for 20% of the Pelicans Defensive Rebounds as well as teams Assists.
- Phoenix Suns
Every year, a bad team wins a few games early to trick us into thinking they're actually good. But this Phoenix Suns team looks different when you watch them play.
The additions of Dario Saric, Ricky Rubio, and Aaron Baynes have given them a veteran presence that is probably holding this young squad accountable. Their new head coach Monty Williams has them playing fast and moving the ball more than they ever had in the Devin Booker era.
They are still leading the league in Assists per game with 28.1 and field goal percentage with 48.1%. This is no flash in the pan. Any team that can play at a Pace of Play that is good enough for top ten in the league, share the ball, and buy into the coaches philosophy will have an opportunity to be successful.
- New York Knicks
Every year, the Knicks are a dumpster fire and a magnet for disfunction. But this season, they've already topped themselves!
We're only ten games into the season and the ownership is already starting to point fingers at coaching and the players. Congratulations Knicks! You're ahead of schedule!
- Portland Trail Blazers
The injury bug has hit a team that is already battling injuries as it is. We still don't know when Jusuf Nurkic is coming back, and Zach Collins was supposed to fill in for him. But the unfortunate news of him needed shoulder surgery is going to keep him out for at least four months.
CJ McCollum has gotten out to a very slow start. His worst performances came against the short-handed Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets. He went a combined 10/35 from the field and totaled 22 points. He finally hit a big shot in their overtime win against the Hawks, and immediately after the shot he looked to the sky and threw his hands up and shouted "Finally!"
They're sitting at 4-6 right now, so hopefully they'll be up to at least 11 wins by the 20 game mark.
- Zion Williamson's injury
We have gotten good play from a couple of rookies we expected to be good, and some other guys who have been pleasant surprises. But it still feels like something is missing without Zion on the floor.
His explosiveness and highlight ability has been missed in this young season. Here's to hoping he heals sooner than later.
Things to Keep an Eye On
- Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have raced out to league best 8-1 record, despite lacking size and losing Gordon Hayward for 2 months. Brad Stevens is proving why he will continue to be one of the best coaches in the NBA. Not only keeping this team afloat, but making this roster look like a potential contender.
But are they for real? Or have they had the blessing of an easy schedule to open up the season? They have wins against the Hornets, Cavaliers, and two against the Knicks.
According to Strength of Schedule, they are 16th. So they may continue to win a lot of regular season games against lesser opponents, but pay attention to them against the better teams in the league.
- High individual scoring performances
We have already had thirteen 40-point performances! And those teams are 8-5 when those individuals have scored 40+ points.
Damian Lillard scored 60 points and home, and his team still lost. In an era where scoring is at an all-time high, it'll be interesting to see if defenses either find a way to slow these guys down or they let them jack the ball up 40 times in a game and just shut everyone else down and take the win.
On October 27, 2012 the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets. With just four days until the NBA season started, both sides were left with a disagreement on the contract extension and they parted ways.
Thus giving James Harden the opportunity to take his game to another level. All he needed was his own squad to prove to the world that he was capable of being one of the best players in the game.
His MVP campaign, and deep runs into the playoffs have been successful as well as disappointing. But it has always been entertaining.
So who is the next guy to have this Harden-style rise to power?
It was Game three of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Milwaukee Bucks were already up 2-0 in the series. As the ball tipped off in Double Overtime, the Bucks were looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Instead, Kawhi Leonard took the reins of the series and reeled off four straight victories.
The Bucks were right there. Two or three plays away from having a chance to really win this series.
So a big change to the roster didn't seem to be necessary, especially when you're a franchise like Milwaukee. A franchise that is desperate for a championship, and will do whatever it takes to win while they have potentially the best player in their franchise history in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
They paid Eric Bledsoe last season, and then they paid Khris Middleton in the offseason. Leaving Malcolm Brogdon as the only player left to get paid on that championship caliber core.
Instead, The Milwaukee Bucks chose not to bite into the luxury tax. Choosing to stay under the salary cap, and give their team more flexibility moving forward.
But could moving forward without Malcolm Brogdon be what ultimately drives Giannis away from Milwaukee? Forcing Giannis to make a Kevin Durant-like decision to go win a championship somewhere else.
In 64 games last season, Malcolm Brogdon joined the 50-40-90 Club. Which is 50+% from the field, 40+% from the three, and 90+% from the free throw line.
Thats some real shooting numbers. Only seen by the likes of Larry Bird, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Reggie Miller.
Through ten games this season, he looks like he'll be able to reach those numbers again. His current free throw percentage is sitting an NBA high at 98%, while scoring a career high 21 points per game.
Yet it hasn't been his scoring that has helped the Indiana Pacers to a winning record without Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Damontas Sabonis for a few games. It's been his ability to share the basketball. He is currently second in the NBA in assists with 81.
When you watch this Indiana Pacers team, the first thing you notice is how hot the ball is. Those guys keep it bouncing around as if the ball is smothered in hot lava. And it all starts with Malcolm Brogdon.
His passing has led to 39.8% of his teams scoring, and his scoring has attributed to 20% of the teams scoring. So nearly 60% of the team's scoring is directly attributed to Brogdon thus far. And that doesn't even contribute to the many other ways he affects the offense off ball.
Defenses can't simply leave him open on any spot on the floor because of his sharp-shooting ability. And most defenders can't handle him one-on-one because he can pull up or drive to the lane against most guards.
His size, speed, and shooting ability give him the tools he needs to turn a new page on his career.
If there are any players that have the ability and opportunity to make a leap from a star to a superstar so far this season, Malcolm Brogdon is on that short list.
It's finally here. No more waiting. The NBA season officially starts tonight!
So here's some reading material for the commercial breaks.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (Projected record 60-22)
The reigning MVP has never stopped improving from season too season. And after losing Malcolm Brogdon, Giannis is going to have shoulder even more of the load for his team.
But that is going to be no problem for him and the Bucks. If they stick to the same strategy of spacing the floor and letting shooters shoot, they will replicate their 60 win season.
They also united Brook and Robin Lopez together for the first time in their NBA careers, so that's gotta be some good karma.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (56-26)
In Ben Simmons first two seasons, the 76ers entered the playoffs as a 3 seed. But now with a reloaded roster, they look like the best team on paper in the Eastern Conference.
The addition of Al Horford will be the veteran presence and defensive mind they needed in the front court. Joel Embiid has been one of the top ten players in the league, but the 76ers lack of depth with big men in the past has made his job all too difficult.
The trade for Josh Richardson gives them another shooter who can defend just about anyone in the league at the guard position, similar to what they have in Tobias Harris. Their size and overall defensive dominance will carry them to a lot of victories this season.
3. Brooklyn Nets (50-32)
Even without Kevin Durant this season, the Nets still have the third best roster in the East. Replacing D'Angelo Russel with Kyrie Irving now gives them the best point guard in the conference. And putting him alongside Caris LeVert gives them a dangerous set backcourt that only a couple of teams will be able to defend.
It'll be interesting to see who they decide to start on a night-to-night basis. Rodions Kurucs, Joe Harris, Jarret Allen, and newly acquired Taurean Prince will all be fighting for minutes on a team with plenty of options.
And if all else fails, they can turn to Spencer Dinwiddie to score for them in bunches off the bench. Watch for Head Coach Kenny Atkinson to get some attention for the Coach of the Year award.
4. Miami Heat (48-34)
Pat Riley really pulled this roster together in unbelievable fashion this summer. They were capped out on a roster that was constantly going to be a .500 team. But due to Jimmy Butler's desire to play there, and Portland's desire for a big man, they were able to swing a couple moves to put themselves right back into the playoff conversation.
They gave Jimmy the max contract and shipped Hassan Whiteside off to the Pacific Northwest. And the fact that they were able to get Meyers Leonard back in that trade just made it all that much sweeter.
Goran Dragic still has a lot left in the tank, even if he hasn't lived up to his price tag. And rookie Tyler Herro is the exact kind of scorer they needed to fit their ongoing puzzle. I wouldn't be surprised if they continued to make moves as the season progresses.
5. Indiana Pacers (46-36)
Last year the Indiana Pacers were the 5 seed even though they only had Victor Oladipo for about half of the season. This season will be the same, but they will have him for the second half of the season. Which could possibly make them the most dangerous team come playoff time.
They made some sneaky good moves that may not impress the casual fan, but basketball nerds love this team. The additions of T.J. Warren and T.J. McConnell give them the two best T.J.'s in the NBA. But the addition of Malcolm Brogdon is the move that really gave them a successful summer.
A one-two punch in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis will give the opposing team no breaks as these two go hard every minute they're on the court. Another brother duo in Aaron and Justin Holiday will help build a family relationship in the locker room. And scorers Doug McDermott and Jeremy Lamb will make life easier for Oladipo when he finally does return with a vengeance.
6. Boston Celtics (46-36)
This Celtics team lost a lot more than they gained this summer. Losing Kyrie, Horford, and Aaron Baynes took a lot of the heart and soul out of their roster. They replaced that heart and soul with Kemba Walker, who has yet to prove himself as a consistent winner in the NBA.
Their only addition to their front court was Enes Kanter, who looked amazing in his time with Portland. But after him, their depth in big men is alarming. Best case scenario is that Daniel Theis is their second best big man, which isn't a recipe for a championship.
But their best move came just one day before the season, when they gave Jaylen Brown a four year extension. Out of all the young talent they have on their roster, I believe that he is the one guy with the potential to be an All-Star caliber player for years to come.
7. Toronto Raptors (43-39)
The reigning NBA Champions haven't lost all hope after losing the best player in franchise history. This team still has talent and has one of the best coaches in the NBA in Nick Nurse.
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka all exorcised some demons of past failures when they finally achieved the championship they've been longing for. Their veteran leadership is going to carry this team with their positive mindset.
And while the old guys will be leading by example, young guys in Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam will take on a bigger challenge on both sides of the court. This may end up being the most carefree team in the NBA because nobody will expect them to be successful without that guy who moved out West.
8. Detroit Pistons (42-40)
Blake Griffin's second full season with the Pistons should be a fun one. Last year, he made the All-Star game and was on the All-NBA team. He has refined his game and become a guy who can shoot the ball from any spot on the court and can guard any position. He seems to be doing just fine without the spotlight of LA.
There's nothing anyone loves more than a story of the resiliency of the human spirit. And Derrick Rose embodies every part of that. His ability to continue to fight every single year to play in this league is unbelievable. The people of Detroit are going to love his tenacity and work ethic, if they don't already.
A possible breakout season for Luke Kennard is going to be the difference between them being or not being a playoff team.
- Atlanta Hawks
The depth of young talent on this team should have any Hawks fan excited. Trae Young is already the leader of this squad. And adding rookies Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter should help them get on House of Highlights more than a few times. Look for John Collins and Kevin Huerter to have breakout seasons.
- Orlando Magic
The Magic are like that fly in your house that you can't seem to get rid of. You can hear them fly by you, and everytime you get ready to kill it, it somehow gets out of your reach. They're annoying as hell and I have no idea how they're still here, but they'll be in the mix for the playoffs all the way up until the final game of the season.
Middle of the Pack
- Washington Wizards
This team would be in the "Hopeless Teams" section if it wasn't for Bradley Beal. That guy is an unbelievable talent. And if you're a Wizards fan, you better cherish every second you have with him.
- Chicago Bulls
This roster is actually very heavy with talent at the top end. Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. are a good young trio to build your franchise around. But head coach Jim Boylen is more of an authoritative figure than a great basketball mind. So expect them to be very disciplined on the court, but all the wind sprints in the world won't help get them to the playoffs.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
I have no idea what this team is doing. One year later they drafted Colin Sexton, they draft Darrius Garland. They're stuck with Tristan Thompson forever. And they won't free JR Smith. But at least they have Cedi Osman. Hopefully they trade Kevin Love to a good team so he doesn't have to rot there forever.
- New York Knicks
The Knicks haven't been relevant since Carmelo's first couple seasons with them. And they haven't been good since they made the Finals as an 8 seed. Don't expect them to be good anytime soon. But watching RJ Barret shoot the ball 25 times a game should be fun.
- Charlotte Hornets
I should've created an entire category for them called "The Worst Team of All-Time." This team has the potential to lose 60+ games. It'll be like watching a little kid hurt themselves. You won't be able to stop laughing, no matter how mean it actually may be.
The Eastern Conference may not have the depth of superstar talent like the Western Conference. But those playoff teams will make the conference worth watching.
However, I do highly recommend that when the Cavaliers play the Hornets we should all get together and watch what I am dubbing The Worst Game of Basketball Ever Played. I may even write a screenplay about it.