100 early season observations

22 Comments

We lost basketball this year. Precious, sweet basketball. And even though most of the lockout happened in the offseason, those days were still slogs through disappointment and frustration. So to mourn those days and celebrate the first week of professional basketball this season, here are 100 observations on the early season.

1. Lob City’s a work in progress like all teams thrust together are, but there are also career developments that have to happen with Griffin and Jordan’s defense.

2. The Bulls are going to be really great when they win, which is most of the time, and really ugly when they lose.

3. The Heat are just going to be really great even when they’re losing. Sorry, it’s true.

4. The Cavaliers are a lot better than we thought they’d be. They’re going to lose a metric ton of games when the rush of early season wears off, but they’ve got a foundation there to build on.

5. Boston has problems that go beyond Pierce, on both ends.

6. But Boston also has some things going for it, especially the play of Brandon Bass.

7. James Harden has not locked up the 6th Man of the Year by any stretch of the imagination, it’s been three games for crying out loud. But he definitely looks like the strongest candidate early on.

8. The Blazers are much better than I expected. They’re not getting bullied inside and they’re doing the bullying on the perimeter. It’s a strong combination of players.

9. The Lakers will be winning, but they’ll be winning ugly. Mike Brown is getting the most out of a weak roster outside of the Big 3, but that means playing some ugly basketball the Staples faithful might not enjoy.

10. Vinny Del Negro has some done some bizarre things early on. Running pick and rolls with Blake Griffin as ball-handler and putting Griffin on Joakim Noah are only a few examples. It’s a learning process for him as well and I’ve never been as down on Del Negro as others, but some of it is just perplexing.

11. Tristan Thompson is going to be better than most of us thought. Lots to learn, though.

12. Enes Kanter is going to be worse than most of us thought, at least for a while. Lots of rebounds, though.

13. LeBron James’ post game has improved maybe just enough for him to not rely on it but to make a significant difference.

14. Wade, at least early on, is the tip of the spear for Miami’s offense, which is what makes James’ scoring totals so outrageous.

15. The Kobe Bryant you’ve seen is what you’re going to get. Nights of sheer brilliance and a lot of of inefficient scoring nights where he handles the load.

16. That said, Bynum could make all the difference. If he can get to the arena with all the traffic tickets he gets.

17. The Pacers have a really good team that can play consistently, score, and defend, and may still wind up a five seed.

18. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks keep winning games and no one stops to notice how well they’re playing.

19. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks play really well for long stretches and still don’t make an impact in the playoffs.

20. If the Wizards had any sense of poise whatsoever, the Nets would be the worst team in the league in just about every category right now.

21. Deron, big market Brooklyn, owner that wants to win, I get it. But if Howard looks at this roster and says “I can win with those guys this year” he’s out of his mind. Unless he wants an early summer vacation, no way he should go to Brooklyn.

22. Chris Bosh is more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him, even in Toronto.

23. Speaking of which, early on, the Raptors aren’t bad. Competitive, playing hard, rebounding, and some balance. Long way to go, but I like what Casey is doing there.

24. Memphis will figure it out eventually, but this team is going to have to find the gear it had from February on last year and that’s really difficult. Missing Arthur hurts.

25. The Sixers, despite a loss to Utah, are one of the most impressive teams I’ve seen. There’s something to be said for experience together.

26. Flip Saunders, here’s some ice for that hot seat.

27. Andrew Bogut doesn’t look healthy, but he doesn’t look injured, you know?

28. John Wall has to play better.

29. Taj Gibson does an unbelievable amount for the Bulls off the bench.

30. Phoenix has looked really bad at both ends. Maybe they’ll get it together, but the lack of offense is a huge concern. That’s what they’ve got. If they don’t have that, they’re in trouble.

31. New Orleans’ effort under Monty Williams is admirable, even if the performance isn’t sustainable, which, who knows?

32. All of these observations are based under a handful of games and only a small amount will seem valid in March.

33. Ricky Rubio: Worth the hype.

34. Rick Adelman: Worth the hire.

35. Michael Beasley: Worth neither of the two above.

36. Charlotte has the effort and has a lot of guys improving.

37. Diaw has been particularly impressive considering, you know, Diaw.

38. Kemba Walker and Jimmer both have a place in the league when I had reservations about both. The place may not be big, but it’s there.

39. Mark Jackson storming out of the gates is not something I expected.

40. The Warriors’ defense with that roster is yet another sign that defense in this league is as much systemic as personnel dependent.

41. Carmelo Anthony at point forward is a disaster.

42. And the worst part is it’s limited Amar’e Stoudemire’s role which hurts just about everything.

43. San Antonio looks like it’s gotten the defense back in its gameplan early on. That’s big.

44. Conditioning has been a lot better than most expected.

45. Defensive 3-seconds, not so much.

46. Shaun Livingston has impressed in limited minutes for Milwaukee. His first game was the best I’ve seen since before the injury.

47. The Kings are about what you’d expect. Fun to watch, losing every night.

48. Denver has been monstrous.

49. Al Harrington shooting better? Expected. Al Harrington defending better? Not expected.

50.  DeMar DeRozan has not started as well as I thought he might.

51. Ty Lawson is a speed demon and you should probably get a hand up on him.

52. Nene has struggled offensively. He’s making an impact defensively but the Nuggets need a pick and roll partner.

53. Danilo Gallinari needs to find his range, like, right now. Great aggressiveness, but missing the arc.

54. LeBron James won’t average a triple double. It’ll just feel like it.

55. Lawrence Frank has not gotten through to Detroit yet.

56. Which means Lawrence Frank has lost about 22 games in a row.

57. The Pistons’ refusal to play younger lineups is baffling.

58. The problem in OKC isn’t Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant, there is no Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant.

59. The problem is Russell Westbrook vs. being No.2. He’s not and will not be.

60. Gerald Henderson has shown a really impressive ability to find space in the flow of the offense. He’s not going to create off the dribble much outside of layups, but he spits around screens and catches and shoots really well.

61. Luol Deng looks just about as good as he did last season, if not better, which should terrify everyone.

62. DeJuan Blair is still not a good enough interior defender.

63. Tiago Splitter might be, though.

64. It’s not so much what David West is giving the Pacers as what he’s allowing them to do.

65. I’ve crowned Paul George Mega-Man. The guy came into the league with very few abilities and it seems like every game he defeats and gains the powers of his opponent. I’m expecting him to have a buzzsaw for an arm soon.

66. Gerald Wallace has been good at just about everything involved with playing basketball. Shooting, scoring, defense, steals, blocks, rebounds, you name it.

67. Ryan Anderson, Most Improved Player?

68. Turns out Stan Van Gundy can still coach a team up. Even one featuring Chris Duhon in a big role.

69. Luis Scola, pretty good.

70. Denver is 26th in points allowed per game, but 10th in defensive efficiency, which is points per 100 possessions. Stats are good, people!

71. Jason Kidd is shooting a lot of threes, which is not how the Mavericks offense should work, even if his clip is pretty good the last few years.

72. Kevin Love drawing fouls is just weird.

73. Kyle Lowry has been even better than last year, and that’s saying something.

74. Greg Stiemsma, block machine.

75. Marvin Williams is averaging 14 points per game and 20 per 36. My mind = blown. I don’t care if it’s three games.

76. The Hawks are first in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency. Weak schedule, but still. Impressive for three games.

77. It’s been really good to see Anderson Varejao back on the floor.

78. I’m trying to think of something that the Jazz do well. I’ll be back in an hour.

79. Russell Westbrook has had an emotional rollercoaster of a first week.

80. Would the Celtics have been better if they’d worked out together this summer? Or is it just Pierce?

81. I miss Jeff Green. I know most of you don’t, but I do.

82. Ben Gordon is actually passing really well and running an offense. It’s like Soviet Russia. Ben Gordon should be point guard and Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey should be shooting guards.

83. Tyreke Evans hasn’t made the jump and that’s disappointing considering the injuries healing were supposed to help.

84. MOAR JEREBKO.

85. Imagine how good the Nuggets will be offensively when they find their range?

86. The Knicks slid back so severely after such a good first game. Says more about Boston than them.

87. The Bulls are 20th in defensive efficiency. Small sample sizes for the win!

88. Manu Ginobili got healthy, which is, you know, death to defenses.

89. At one point this week, Renaldo Balkman was guarding Kobe Bryant. That went about as well as you’d think.

90. Teams are not handling back to backs well early on. Good thing they’ve only got 30 more of them.

91. The Heat are a flying death machine.

92. Deron Williams doesn’t look right, whether it’s injury, fatigue, or disinterest.

93. And the Nets’ problems go so much further than Brook Lopez’ absence.

94. Caron Butler has played better than most thought he would. Hasn’t been a difference maker but has played well.

95. Jeremy Pargo has been better than expected.

96. Defending LeBron James right now is exceptionally difficult. Even more so than usual.

97. Timofey Mozgov has actually played pretty smartly for as inexperienced as he is.

98. John Wall is really struggling at just about everything. He’s just not able to make the plays he should be able to.

99. Brandon Rush…?

100. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert. Get better soon, rook.

Watch LeBron James get blocked at the rim by Jarrett Allen

Getty
2 Comments

LeBron James is seemingly and ageless wonder. The Los Angeles Lakers forward is still one of the most athletic players to ever grace an NBA court, and despite his obvious physical decline, that’s not to say he’s a slouch out there. He’s not exactly late-career Boris Diaw just yet.

But LeBron is now 34 years old, and as such there are other players on the floor with him at any given time that have a bit more bounce than The King. James found that out the hard way on Tuesday night as the Lakers took on the Brooklyn Nets in New York.

During a play early in the first quarter, James drove to the basket only to be rejected by Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen at the rim.

The result was striking.

Via Twitter:

Good for Allen. It’s one thing to say you have played against the best player of all time, but it’s another thing altogether to swat him on a play that creates a turnover.

Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore fined $10,000 for bouncing ball into stands

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It wasn’t intentional.

With 9:09 remaining in what would be a Nets win over the Hawks in Brooklyn, D'Angelo Russell and Eric Davis completed a 2-on-1 fast break that Kent Bazemore could not stop. The Hawks called timeout, Bazemore had the ball in his hands and, in frustration, tried to throw a hard bounce pass off the stanchion and back to himself.

Except Bazemore missed and the ball went flying into the stands.

Tuesday the League announced Bazemore was fined $10,000 for “throwing the ball into the spectator stands.”

It’s understandable why the NBA does not want players launching the ball into where fans are sitting, so they fine players when it happens. And, thanks to precedent, those fine are whether the move was intentional or not. So, Bazemore takes a hit.

Bucks, 76ers, other teams practicing with “4 point line” to improve spacing instincts

Getty Images
2 Comments

Space is the name of the game in the modern NBA.

Milwaukee is thriving in part because of the addition of three-point bomber Brook Lopez (still weird to type that) and a coach in Mike Budenholzer who encourages his players to shoot from deep, opening up the floor for Giannis Antetokounmpo to drive the lane.

How Budenholzer reinforces that spacing — adding a four-point line on the practice floor and color-coding parts of the court — is part of a fascinating story by ESPN’s Malika Andrews on how coaches are “gamifying” practices to get through to players. The 76ers, Hawks, Nets, Bulls, and Bucks are the teams we know are using a four-point line in practice right now.

To explain how the Hawks’ 4-point line — which is painted onto the floor 5 feet beyond the regular 3-point line — helps his team, [Atlanta Hawks coach Paul] Pierce walks onto the court to physically demonstrate. The condensed version of Pierce’s 36-minute explanation, which is punctuated by wild gesticulation, is this: “Spacing changes the whole game.”

Atlanta targeted Young out of Oklahoma in the 2018 draft lottery, with hopes of building an offense around his long-range shooting and passing skills. Because Young is willing and able to shoot off the dribble from well beyond the 3-point arc, defenders are forced to step out to defend him almost as soon as he crosses half court. Although he already had that range before he joined the Hawks, Young acknowledges that not everybody has the natural instinct to pull up from that deep, so it helps to have a visual reminder…

Lloyd not only wants Young to shoot from the 4-point line but to make plays from there, too. Expanding the floor outward, in turn, creates space in the paint for big men such as second-year breakout John Collins. If a guard like Young can initiate a play from behind the 4-point line, defenses are forced to cover more ground and, eventually, make difficult choices and compromises.

While Young is struggling with those deep shots this season — 24.1 percent from three — the principle is still valid, and just his and the Hawks’ willingness to shoot from there has stretched defenses (they just don’t have the talent and experience yet to exploit those defenses properly). It’s what Stephen Curry brings naturally to the Warriors (that team has the talent and experience yet to exploit defenses).

It’s not just the four-point line. In Philadelphia, the corner-three spot on the court is a different color, a reminder to players they want to be and shoot from there. In Milwaukee, there are five taped-off boxes on the court, each about the size a person takes up standing there, a reminder of where Budenholzer wants players to be in a five-out offense.

For young players raised on computer learning and video games, the color coding — what Brett Brown called “gamification” of the court — works as reminders. Ones that, ideally, carry over into games themselves.

Don’t forget, Boston reportedly “hawking” Anthony Davis, too

Getty Images
1 Comment

If Anthony Davis hits the trade market — and that’s still an “if” because the Pelicans are pushing to win now, they are active on the trade market, and they will put a $235 million guaranteed contract in front of him next July, $40 million more than anyone else can offer — there’s been a lot of talk about how the Lakers are poised to pounce.

But don’t sleep on Boston — GM Danny Ainge has eyed Davis for a while and the Celtics have a lot of assets to throw in a deal. Something Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on the Woj&Lowe NBA trade season broadcast special recently.

“Boston has been hawking Anthony Davis for years. They always hoped that it would be—whether it’s the end of this season or the beginning of next before the trade deadline—that they would gather up all those assets, all those picks Danny Ainge has, young players, and they’d be the team to be able to get Anthony Davis.

“But now you have L.A., and if they get shut out in free agency, they’re going to have to take all their young players to try to use them to get Anthony Davis.”

If Davis becomes available, the Celtics and Lakers will be at the front of a very long line.

Boston would throw their best assets in a trade for Davis — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and draft picks — that may be more interesting to New Orleans than Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. (Boston could have four first-round picks in next June’s draft, but trading them is complicated because the draft is weeks before July 1 when the Pelicans make their offer to Davis, it’s possible to delay signing the rookies to keep them tradable but that’s not the norm; also if the Clippers miss the playoffs this year then Boston has their 2020 pick lottery protected).

Also, know that other teams are going to jump in with offers, the way Oklahoma City did with Paul George and Toronto did with Kawhi Leonard. New Orleans is obligated to get the best trade for New Orleans, not to send Davis somewhere he wants to go. If another team comes in with an over-the-top offer the Pelicans may jump at it.

Right now, NBA GMs are just watching what is happening with Davis like hawks. Or, maybe more accurately, vultures.