Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Celtics are locking teams down


The NBA season is starting to develop a rhythm, and while it’s too early to try to draw much out of the statistics (we need to get to 20 games before we draw any serious conclusions) some patterns are emerging, such as the Boston defense. We’ll talk about a couple of those in our five things you need to know from around the NBA on Sunday:

1) Boston is locking teams down. Last season, Boston was an okay defensive team, 12th in the league, and that was enough to get them into the postseason. This season coach Brad Stevens has the Celtics locking teams down early — they are fourth in the NBA in defense, allowing just 94.4 points per 100 possessions (that’s 7.4 per 100 better than last season). Two key areas are driving this. The first is turnovers — Boston is forcing turnovers on 19.4 percent of opponent possessions, the highest rate in the NBA. Sunday against Oklahoma City, Boston forced 18 turnovers and that was one of the keys to a quality win for the Celtics. Jae Crowder leads the NBA in steals (which is stunning). I’m not sold Boston can maintain this pace of turnovers, but they likely remain near the top of the league. The other area is simply forcing other teams to miss shots — opponents have an eFG% of 46.5 percent against the Celtics, fifth in the NBA. Maybe the best illustration of that Sunday was Marcus Smart going up against the powerhouse that is Russell Westbrook — while Westbrook had 27 points, he was 5-of-20 shooting (Smart had 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting). Maybe the highest compliment to Smart’s play was how Westbrook played it down postgame.

Holding Westbrook in relative check was not all Smart, it was a team effort, but that is what Boston has been doing all season and why they again look like a team headed toward the playoffs in the East.


2) Karl-Anthony Towns went head-to-head with Marc Gasol and held his own. The crazy thing — Towns turned 20 on Sunday. Even at that age Towns went head-to-head with one of the best centers in the game in the younger of the Gasol brothers and completely held his own — Towns had 14 points and nine rebounds. Sure, Gasol put up numbers (16 points, seven rebounds) and his wet midrange jumper in the second half was key to the Grizzlies win, but if you’re a Timberwolves fan you have to be excited with what you see. Towns has been the best rookie in the NBA so far this young season (he’s averaging 15.5 points and 10.2 boards a game).

3) Don’t sleep on Charlotte. The Hornets handled the Trail Blazers fairly easily at home on Sunday, and while it’s certainly early it looks like this is a team that will be in the mix to return to the playoffs this season. What they are doing is not beating themselves — they don’t turn the ball over, and they are focused on grabbing defensive boards (best rate in the NBA so far) so the opponent doesn’t get a second chance. Charlotte has the seventh best offense in the NBA this young season, Jeremy Lamb has played well of late (he’s looking like a guy who deserved that extension), Jeremy Lin has fit well as a sixth man (11.5 points a game, a PER of 18.3) and this is a team that is difficult to beat. If you are looking ahead on your team’s schedule and think “Charlotte, that’s an easy win” you will be in for a rude awakening. 

4) DeMarcus Cousins is beasting. Over his last three games, Cousins is averaging 36.3 points and 10.7 rebounds a game, while shooting 51.4 percent. He dropped 36 and 10 on Toronto and they had no answer — Cousins was central to a win the Kings needed before a five-game road trip opens.

5) Anthony vs. Anthony: Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis put on a show at MSG. It was a noon tip at Madison Square Garden Sunday — an early start in a city with great nightlife means a sloppy game (call it the J.R. Smith memorial issue). Despite that, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis put on a show for the fans (and those fans left happy after seeing a Knicks win).

Report: Jonathan Kuminga, top prospect for 2021 NBA Draft, to earn $500K in NBA minor league

Jonathan Kuminga
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Jonathan Kuminga didn’t crack our list of the top 50 players in five years last summer, but he drew consideration and rated as the top prospect in the 2021 high school class.

Now, he’s fast-tracking his ascent – turning pro by signing with the NBA’s minor league and positioning himself for the 2021 NBA Draft.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kuminga will join Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix in this professional-pathway program.

We’ll see how well this setup, run by Brian Shaw, prepares young players for the NBA. But the money is nice. Kuminga ($500,000), Green ($500,000), Todd ($250,000) and Nix ($300,000) have approximate salaries that wouldn’t be allowed by the NCAA cartel system.

Hopefully, the competition forces college basketball to treat its players more fairly.

Washington Mystics: We planned all along to pay Elena Delle Donne

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne
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Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne – per a panel of doctors chosen by the WNBA and its union – doesn’t face elevated risk of severe symptoms if she contracts coronavirus. That meant the Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her if she sits out this season. Delle Donne has publicly argued her Lyme disease should have medically excused her from the WNBA season, allowing her to collect her full salary.

Like many people amid the pandemic, Delle Donne faced a hard decision: Work and risk exposure to coronavirus or miss out on money and stay safer.

The Mystics have solved her dilemma – agreeing to pay her while she remains away from the team.

Mystics general manager/coach Mike Thibault, via Tyler Byrum of NBC Sports Washington:

“She is being paid and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable – enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements. If we don’t feel that she will continue to do the workouts in D.C., and get herself ready for the following season.”

“We can do anything we want,” Thibault said. “We have intended to [pay her] from the start. She’s a major part of our team and she’s making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do.”

“I have told her that there is not going to be pressure put on her to hurry back, I don’t want — I’m in this and she’s in this for the long haul,” Thibault said.

If the Mystics truly planned all along to pay Delle Donne, her public-relations campaign the last couple days seems excessive.

But it’s also possible the public pressure she raised contributed to this decision.

As reigning WNBA MVP, Delle Donne had leverage that other players don’t. That’s why I’m surprised this was up to the Mystics. Other WNBA teams don’t want to face increasing pressure to pay any players who want to sit out. That’s why the panel of doctors existed in the first place.

Perhaps, Delle Donne’s back injury gave Washington a workaround. That’s a reasonable excuse for Delle Donne not reporting while still getting paid. Is the WNBA really going to investigate the Mystics’ assessment of their own player’s physical health when the player agrees?

This is a good outcome for Delle Donne. She made herself so valuable to her employer that it’ll pay her not to work. That’s a heck of an accomplishment by her.

We’ll see how much, if any, of a precedent it sets.

Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox out at least 7-10 days with sprained ankle

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
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For a Sacramento team with playoff dreams, this is a punch to the gut: De'Aaron Fox is going to be sidelined until around the start of seeding games — 7-10 days at least — with a sprained ankle.

The Kings’ announced that their point guard sprained his left ankle in practice Wednesday. While he will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days, he could be out longer. This is the same ankle Fox sprained in November that caused him to miss 17 games.

The Kings’ first game is 16 days away against San Antonio.

Fox, arguably the fastest player in the league with the ball in his hands, averaged 20.4 points, and 6.8 assists this season, playing at a near All-star level once he came back from the sprained ankle. Fox is the engine of the Sacramento offense, it is 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is off the court.

Sacramento comes into the restart in a virtual tie with Portland and New Orleans for the ninth seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. However, the Kings have not been able to get their stars on the court together: Harrison Barnes and Alex Len and remain in Sacramento, quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus. Richaun Holmes is in quarantine on his Walt Disney World hotel room after leaving the confines of the NBA bubble to pick up a food delivery.

All of which combine to make it an even longer shot the Kings end their 14-year playoff drought this season. The sprained ankle for De’Aaron Fox, if it slows him at all, would be a serious blow to those chances.


Spurs: Trey Lyles out rest of season (appendectomy)

Spurs forward Trey Lyles
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The Spurs lost their top big in LaMarcus Aldridge.

Now, they’ll lose Trey Lyles, who often started at power forward next to Aldridge and also played behind Aldridge at center.

Spurs release:

Spurs forward Trey Lyles underwent an appendectomy earlier today in Orlando, Fla.

Lyles will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

San Antonio’s last seeding game is scheduled for Aug. 13 – nearly a month away. Theoretically, Lyles could have tried to return by then.

The NBA dodges a complication with the Spurs ruling him out for the rest of the season.

Lyles left the NBA’s campus for his surgery. (Disney World is in Lake Buena Vista. He underwent surgery in Orlando.) That means he faced exposure in Florida, where coronavirus cases are surging. It would have been tricky bringing him back into the bubble safely while not punishing him for requiring medical attention.

The NBA will probably face this conundrum with someone else later. But the league avoids that situation for now.

San Antonio’s problems are more pressing.

Jakob Poeltl is now the Spurs’ top center, but he fits poorly with DeMar DeRozan because they’re both non-shooters from 3-point range. Rudy Gay should see plenty of time at power forward.

Behind them, options – newly signed Tyler Zeller, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu and Luka Samanic – are uninspiring.

Gregg Popovich truly must muster some magic for San Antonio to extend its record playoff streak.