NBA Three Things to Know: Is Orlando for real or a mirage?

Associated Press
3 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while watching Yu Darvish cost the Dodgers a World Series.

1) Are the Orlando Magic for real? Wednesday night saw the battle of the surprise starts: Orlando vs. Memphis. Both teams were projected to miss the playoffs by most (myself included), and both teams had started out 5-2, which had people re-thinking what the postseason might look like. The Grizzlies were without Mike Conley (out with a sore Achilles, which is concerning considering his injury history) while the Magic still had Aaron Gordon. Ballgame.

Orlando is off to a 6-2 start… but are they for real? Or, is this an illusion of great basketball, much like the illusions that draw millions to the city each year?

Orlando has the second-best offense in the NBA so far this season, averaging 109.9 points per 100 possessions. However, they are doing that via the jump shot mostly — they are 26th in the NBA in percentage of shots at the rim with just 29.5 percent of their attempts from there (stats via Cleaning The Glass, which eliminates garbage time from their stats). In the modern NBA the goal is to get efficient shots, which are the ones at the rim or from three (ideally corner threes, but good defenses are better at taking that away now). Orlando is 20th in the league in the number of corner threes taken and 15th in threes overall, but they take the ninth most midrange shots.

What the Magic are doing so far is hitting those jumpers — Orlando is shooting a 41.8 percent from the midrange overall, and a very good 48.4 percent on long two pointers (second in the league). Plus they lead the NBA shooting 45.3 percent from three (again stats via Cleaning the Glass, so no garbage time in there).

When you ask if Orlando’s offense is sustainable, the question becomes: Can they keep hitting jumpers at that rate? Probably not. Last season the Magic did shoot 40.8 percent from the midrange overall, but the best team in the NBA hit just 45 percent on long twos (Warriors). Also, the best three-point shooting team in the NBA last season hit 39.3 percent (Spurs). The Warriors hit 37.9 percent from three. I like Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, but they are no Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson from deep. The Magic will return to earth with those jumpers, they will not keep falling at this rate.

A lot of the basis of this note was done better by Ben Falk earlier this week. He is the guy behind Cleaning the Glass, and he noted that defensively the Magic are doing a good job defending the arc but are giving up a lot of shots at the rim, teams are just not hitting those shots at a high rate. That likely changes, too.

Are the Orlando Magic for real? Define real. Are they going to stay at the top of the East all season? No. The jumpers will stop falling as much, opposing teams will start to shoot better, and things will return to earth a little. But are they a playoff team in the East? Very possibly. Frank Vogel has gotten the pieces on this team to fit much better, Gordon is far better playing the four, Fournier has found more space, Jonathan Simmons has been fantastic, and the Magic are starting to put it together. This is a good team — maybe not as good as their start has looked, but a good one nonetheless.

2) Now it is time for our daily “what the heck is wrong with the Cavaliers?” segment. Turns out, a team “clear the air” meeting was not the only thing the Cavaliers needed.

The Cavaliers have now dropped four in a row after falling to the pesky Indiana Pacers 124-107.

Indiana carved up a Cleveland defense that is now second worst in the NBA overall allowing 111.3 points per 100 possessions — and the Cavs are worst overall if you take garbage time out of the equation. Cleveland is terrible in transition, plus they are doing a poor job running teams off the three-point line (and teams are knocking down those threes, shooting 43.8 percent against the Cavs from deep this season). Indiana did that to Cleveland Wednesday, hitting 16-of-26 from three (61.5 percent). The Pacers moved the ball and got the looks they wanted, and they carved up the Cavaliers with the pick-and-roll in the halfcourt and forcing rotations Cleveland was slow to make. As has been the pattern all season.

On offense, the Cavaliers were not moving the ball and were just trying to beat guys one-on-one.

It’s hard to say how serious the Cavaliers’ problems really are right now because they just don’t care yet. Call it a Finals hangover after having gone three years in a row, blame the injury to Isaiah Thomas, heck blame Donald Trump if you want, the answer is the same — until the Cavaliers not named LeBron James (who has been phenomenal this season) start to show up and perform, it doesn’t matter. Yes, there are serious questions about this team, it’s defense, and it’s playoff rotations (can they survive with Thomas and Derrick Rose defending at the point against good teams?) That’s not the issue yet. Brian Windhorst of ESPN had a great point on the Lowe Post podcast — the Cavaliers right now cared more about their Halloween costumes for LeBron’s annual bash than they did the games on either side of it. The team meeting didn’t change Cleveland’s focus, so we continue to wait on them. Eventually, they will wake up, but who knows when.

3) Jahlil Okafor and Sixers still at odds over future. Jahlil Okafor wants out of Philadelphia — “It could be a buyout, it could be a trade. I just want something to happen rather quickly.”

The Sixers, however, are not going to rush things. They shot down the idea of a buyout because they still think there is a trade for him to be made. Okafor’s camp thinks a reasonable trade offer has already been made, but Byran Colangelo and the Sixers front office don’t see it that way, and they have the hammer. At this point, what kind of offer can the Sixers really expect beyond a second round pick or two? They didn’t pick up his fourth-year option, so Okafor can be a free agent next summer. That killed any trade value. There are rumors Boston would like to bring in Okafor but they are willing to wait until he’s a free agent. Why give up an asset for him when you know he’s going to walk in July?

So Okafor sits on the Philly bench, out of the rotation, and just wanting a chance somewhere. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can reshape his career somewhere else — he can still get buckets around the paint. The game has moved away from his skill set — Okafor doesn’t space the floor and doesn’t defend well — but as a poor man’s Zach Randolph as a sixth man, he could carve out a nice career. There is a place for him in the NBA on some teams.

The only question is when we will get to see him try to find that niche in another uniform. It could be a while.

Wembanyama scores 37 Scoot Henderson 28, both make case to go No.1

0 Comments

The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

2022 NBA All-Star - NBA x HBCU Classic Presented by AT&T
Getty Photo
0 Comments

After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

0 Comments

Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.