Five early season NBA trends to be thankful for

10 Comments

We are 10 games or so into the NBA season and one thing is clear — this is fun. Not everything is fitting neatly into the preseason prediction boxes and that is the best part of being a sports fan.

We at PBT are thankful for a lot of things. All of you who read us, for one. That Rasheed Wallace is back in the NBA and yelling things at free throw shooters again. That some key players — Wednesday night it was Kevin Love and Nene — are getting healthy.

Here are five NBA early-season trends we are really pumped about:

1) The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers are legitimate. While we may yet see a Lakers vs. Heat finals, but if that happens you want those teams to have to really earn it. Before the season started we thought a Lakers vs. Thunder Western Conference Finals was inevitable — Now the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers stand there as legitimate threats. Memphis is a physical, scrappy team built for the playoffs but they have reinvented their offense with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol more as playmakers for others. Also, lesson here for NBA fans and GMs is that continuity matters.

We knew the Clippers could put up points and entertain — Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are always a threat, and now Jamal Crawford has stepped up as a shooter and playmaker — but the question was defense. And could DeAndre Jordan step up his game? So far the Clippers have the second best defense in the NBA (if you go by points by possession) and Jordan is having a career year so far. If those hold, the Clippers are contenders.

2) The Knicks and Nets have brought quality basketball back to New York. There was a time when if you wanted to see entertaining basketball in New York you were better off heading to Rucker Park than Madison Square Garden. Not anymore. The Knicks are sporting the NBA’s best offense (111.7 points per 100 possessions) and they are top 10 in defense. Carmelo Anthony has been more than a scorer as the four, he has been a leader on both ends of the floor. Raymond Felton has been a star, a legitimate star. Plus, Rasheed Wallace.

Then there are the Nets — they are 6-4 so far and have been entertaining with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams leading the way. Plus Gerald Wallace is becoming a cult hero for doing things like trying to goad Kobe Bryant into taking free throws with his eyes closed. The Nets are not contenders, they are not the best team in New York, but they are respectable and playoff bound.

3) The Charlotte Bobcats don’t suck this year. The Bobcats — who won 7 games last season total — are 6-4 to start the season. Kemba Walker has taken a huge step forward with his game, Michael Kidd-Gillchrist brings nightly energy on both ends and Ramon Sessions is the sage, savvy veteran leader. There will be some regression, but this team is fun to watch, pushing the tempo with their athletic guards, and they have real hope now.

4) Small ball lineups are finding their way. A lot of has been made of small-ball lineups, but they work. Well, except in Boston but that’s not about size. The Knicks move Carmelo Anthony from the three to the four and they are 8-2. I think we all pretty much knew the Heat would be a force going small. Philadelphia is 7-5 without Andrew Bynum. Milwaukee is leading (and well could win) the Central Division with an undersized backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

All of this is more entertaining than watching the Sixers throw the ball into Bynum in the post and see if he can back down his man and take a little jump hook.

5) That the Lakers are providing plenty of entertainment if not great basketball. Admit it, you like seeing the Lakers struggle.

Outside of some delusional Lakers fans — and there are more than enough of them in the world — nobody thought this would be easy for the Lakers. But man it has been a soap opera beyond imagination — a 1-4 start, Mike Brown fired as coach, his disaster of a Princeton offense out and Mike D’Antoni’s more instinctual offense is in. The Lakers defense is inconsistent. At best. Bernie Bickerstaff now has a higher winning percentage as Lakers coach than Pat Riley. And even when you think they are playing well and maybe starting to figure it out they can go out and give you 20 turnovers and lay an egg in Sacramento.

Through it all we’ve seen an efficient Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace knocking down threes while other teams have leaned on hack-a-Howard. It’s been fun to watch.

The Lakers are 6-6 and it feels like the 2010 Heat. A team that did eventually figure it out. But we’ll see if the Lakers can withstand the storm, get Dwight Howard fully healthy, and then we’ll see if they play good enough defense to really contend. Because if you look at the first thing we are thankful for, the Lakers road to contention has some big mountains in the way.

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum on playing at Disney World: ‘Still not excited, not thrilled’

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum wasn’t going to sit out the NBA’s resumption due to injury concerns. Players like Tatum got the enhanced insurance they wanted, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean Tatum is eager to go to Disney World.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

I don’t blame Tatum one bit. Players are facing tight lifestyle restrictions, including be separated from their families and friends for weeks. Coronavirus is an ever-present threat. There’s a very important protest movement sweeping the country.

Who can easily focus on basketball at a time like this?

Of course, Tatum decided the pros outweigh the cons. The money is substantial (for players collectively more so than Tatum individually, though there’s a case for all players to do their part for each other), and the Celtics have a chance to win a championship.

But before coronavirus, Tatum thought he’d get that money and title opportunity. The only new aspects are the downsides.

I appreciate Tatum’s openness about the situation. He’s certainly not alone in feeling this way.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It’s just the unfortunate reality of the pandemic.

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie done for season after coronavirus diagnosis

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie
Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

No Kevin Durant. No Kyrie Irving. No DeAndre Jordan. No Wilson Chandler. No Nicolas Claxton.

And now the Nets will be without Spencer Dinwiddie, who has been battling a symptomatic case of coronavirus.

Spencer Dinwiddie:

The Eastern Conference playoff race is shaping up to be ugly. The Nets are decimated. The Wizards won’t have their best and second-best players, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. The Magic will probably be without Jonathan Isaac (who looked so promising) and Al-Farouq Aminu.

I don’t know how Brooklyn will proceed. Tanking raises ethical questions in normal times. When sending players to an uncomfortable bubble in the midst of a pandemic, it’s especially troublesome.

But the Nets have a clear incentive: They’ll keep their first-round pick only if they miss the playoffs. Otherwise, it goes to the Timberwolves (via the Hawks from the Taurean Prince trade).

Presumably, Brooklyn – with a healthy Durant and Irving and maybe a third star – would convey a much later pick next season (when the pick is still lottery protected).

In the meantime, Caris LeVert can step up as lead guard with Irving and Dinwiddie sidelined. Chris Chiozza should get an opportunity at point guard. Garrett Temple can play a larger role. Tyler Johnson adds backcourt depth.

Jordan’s and Claxton’s absences leave Jarrett Allen as the Nets’ only option at center (which could be freeing after a season of having to look over his shoulder). But he could use a backup. Maybe Amir Johnson.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Johnson, 33, hasn’t played in the NBA this season. He spent the last couple seasons with the 76ers, becoming gradually less effective. But he’s a savvy veteran who should fit in quickly.

Wizards: Bradley Beal not playing in resumption due to shoulder injury

Leave a comment

The Wizards (24-40) were selected for the NBA’s resumption at Disney World despite their lousy record. They were the only Eastern Conference team outside playoff position to qualify, and the league set up a relatively easy path for reaching the playoffs. Washington (5.5 games behind the Magic, 6.0 games behind the Nets) just had to get within four games of eighth place to force play-in games. Brooklyn will be without  Kevin Durant, Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler and Spencer Dinwiddie.

What a golden opportunity for the Wizards.

But their highest-paid player – John Wall, who declared himself 110% healthy – won’t play. Their second-best playerDavis Bertansdecided to sit out. And now their best player – Bradley Beal – is done for the season.

Wizards release:

The Washington Wizards announced today that guard Bradley Beal will not participate in the NBA’s 2019-20 season restart in Orlando due to a right rotator cuff injury.  The decision was made in full consultation with Wizards Chief of Athlete Care & Performance Daniel Medina, Wizards Orthopedist Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, Beal and his representation.

“Bradley did everything possible to be ready to play, but after closely monitoring his individual workouts we came to the conclusion that it was best for him to sit out the upcoming games in Orlando and avoid the risk of further injury,” said Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard.  “Although he was able to play through the majority of the season with the injury, the layoff from March until now did not leave any of us feeling comfortable that he would have enough time to be ready to perform at the extremely high level we are all accustomed to seeing and agreed that not participating in the games in Orlando was the right decision.”

Beal experienced discomfort with his shoulder early in the season and worked with the team’s medical and performance staff to manage the injury.  The symptoms worsened over the course of the hiatus and he began to rehabilitate the injury with the intent of returning to play.  He will not travel with the team to Orlando and will continue his rehabilitation process over the summer.

“This was a difficult decision and one that I did not take lightly as the leader of this team,” said Beal.  “I wanted to help my teammates compete for a playoff spot in Orlando, but also understand that this will be best for all of us in the long term.  I appreciate the support of my teammates, the fans and the entire organization and look forward to returning next season to continue the progress we have made.”

Pacers guard Victor Oladipo became the first star to choose to sit out. Is Beal the second?

It’s a gray area.

Oladipo missed more than a year with a torn right quad tendon, returned for just 13 games then had another long layoff due to the season being suspended. He increased risk of future injury as his reason not to play.

Washington is citing a current injury. If Beal isn’t healthy enough to play, he’s not healthy enough to play. Players get hurt all the time. It could be that simple.

But players are also incentivized to claim injury here regardless of their actual reason for not playing. Given Beal’s standing in the organization, of course the Wizards would go along with whatever he wants.

If deemed to be missing games due to injury rather than personal choice, Beal would protect at least $2,376,581 in base salary. (With league-wide revenue way down, no players are getting their full base salary this season.) Beal would also protect an additional $297,073 of base salary for each play-in and playoff game Washington plays up to a total of $4,159,016 in base salary.

But get real. The Wizards were already the worst continuing team. And that was with Beal.

Though anything can happen in this high-variance setup, Washington looks like it belongs in the second bubble.

Free agent Gerald Green had offers, chose not to play in Orlando restart

Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gerald Green is a free agent veteran wing who shot 35.4% from three last season — the kind of player a lot of teams could have used heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. He was traded by the Rockets and waived by the Nuggets at the trade deadline because a foot injury and surgery that sidelined him for the season, but the delay before the restart gave him extra time to get healthy and he was medically cleared.

However, as teams start to land in Orlando today, Green is still at home.

This is by choice, several teams were interested reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

The Rockets had traded Green at the deadline as part of the four-team Clint Capela deal, which took them out of the running to re-sign Green.

Green will have offers come free agency this October, but for now he will be home watching the NBA restart on television, just like the rest of us.