Three things to know: Time to take Wizards, Cavaliers seriously

Milwaukee Bucks v Washington Wizards
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
0 Comments

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) It’s more than just the Westbrook trade, the Wizards are 7-3 after beating Bucks

We’re far enough into the season — around 10 games for teams — that, while the sample size is still small, we can start to draw some conclusions. We begin to get a sense of which teams are, and which teams (that have been healthy) are not for real.

The Washington Wizards are for real.

The Wizards are 7-3 to start the season after beating the Bucks on Sunday. That’s the same record as the Nets and Jazz, and they have done it with the sixth-best defense in the NBA and a lot more depth on the roster thanks to the Russell Westbrook trade. Washington has the seventh-best point differential in the league so far at +4.3, and while maybe that comes back to earth a little, they have done it against a demanding schedule. This looks sustainable.

The Wizards are also off to this start despite Bradley Beal being good — 24.2 points per game — but not his All-NBA, near the league lead in scoring self. Beal is shooting just 25.4% on 3-pointers this season.

The Wizards have been a good defense in part because they defend the arc better than anyone — just 32.8% of opponent shots have come from 3, the lowest percentage in the league. Washington also has been lucky, opponents are shooting just 29.2% on the 3s they do take, a number that will climb over time. The Wizards also have protected the rim will, only 18.9% of opponent shots are come from there, again the lowest in the league. Washington is forcing teams into midrange shots.

That defense held the Bucks to a 94.9 offensive rating for the game, well below a point per possession (via Cleaning the Glass).

The offense comes from everywhere now, although against the Bucks it was Beal breaking out with 30 points (and he hit 2-of-3 from beyond the arc).

Then there are the guys from the Westbrook trade. Montrezl Harrell had 15 points off the bench against the Bucks and is playing like his Sixth Man of the Year self again, averaging 17.7 points a game on 63.6% shooting and adding 9.1 boards a game. Kyle Kuzma added 15 against Milwaukee and has been a solid wing for Washington. The Westbrook trade also allowed Washington to sign-and-trade for Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging 15.9 points a game and is efficiently running the offense.

To be fair, this wasn’t peak Bucks, who are still without Brook Lopez (back) and Khris Middleton (health and safety protocols). The Bucks are not themselves right now, as evidenced by the fact they got a technical for six men on the court Sunday.

That doesn’t take anything away from the Wizards. Washington is a legit playoff team and the East is going to have to adjust.

2) Cleveland has won four straight, including beating the Knicks Sunday

The Cavaliers are good. Not great, but good.

That alone is a bit of a surprise; this was not a team many were high on before the season. However, there is no denying the Cavs have a 7-4 record, a +1.1 net rating, and they have won four straight, including beating the Knicks at Madison Square Garden Sunday 126-109 behind a career-high 37 from the scoring machine that is… Ricky Rubio? He was Sunday, hitting 8-of-9 from 3.

The Cavaliers’ roster construction is odd, starting three bigs in Jarrett Allen, rookie Evan Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen (who is out right now due to health and safety protocols). They start two smaller guards in Darius Garland (who has looked solid scoring and efficient 15.4 points per game) and Collin Sexton (who averages an inefficient 16 points a game and has struggled to find his offensive groove in a different role this season). Off the bench comes Rubio and, when he’s healthy, Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers appear to have something special in Mobley, who is averaging 14.9 points and eight rebounds a game, and showing incredible defensive versatility — he has been one of the most impressive rookies this season (in what has been a deep class). Paired with Garland (who the Cavaliers are very high on), we could be looking at the core of the future in Cleveland.

It will be interesting to see what players will be around them in two years. Sexton comes up in a lot of trade rumors and is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Allen has fit in well, but if Mobley is ultimately a five do they keep a higher-priced, more traditional center on the roster? Love and Rubio are not long-term answers. Markkanen is, well, Markkanen. Isaac Okoro has not found his groove yet.

With all the questions, this was a Cavaliers team few expected to be in the play-in mix, and right now they are firmly looking like that. Staying in the top six all season seems optimistic, but this is still a young Cleveland team taking a step forward this season. They are good. And they are for real.

3) Portland expands, extends investigation into Olshey, which is bad news for the GM

As a general rule of thumb, when the investigator in any case wants to broaden the scope of the investigation and give themselves more time to dig into what they are finding, it’s a bad sign for whoever is being investigated.

Which is where Portland general manager Neil Olshey finds himself.

Last week, Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen opened an investigation into the workplace environment around the Trail Blazers. The complaints that sparked the investigation complained of bullying tactics and intimidation through things such as “profanity-laced tirades.”

Sunday came word that the investigation had been expanded to include people outside just those currently at the Trail Blazers practice facility, and that the law firm doing the investigation needed more time (via Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports).

Just reading the tea leaves from afar, that is not a good sign for Olshey.

If Olshey’s job as GM is threatened — again, we don’t know that for sure, but it has that appearance — it raises a lot of other questions about the future of team roster construction around Damian Lillard (the superstar other teams are still waiting on to ask for a trade, even though he has repeatedly said he would not). What about CJ McCollum and the rest of the roster? What about the job security of just-hired coach Chauncey Billups? New GMs tend to want their own person in the big chair.

All that is getting way ahead of ourselves. The current investigation will last weeks, and the report out of that will guide Allen in deciding the future of the franchise. But Portland remains a franchise to watch as it stumbles through the first part of the season (5-5 record).

Highlights of the night: Buddy Hield‘s jumper takes four spins around the rim

No shot in the history of the game has been more in before going out than Buddy Hield’s jumper Sunday night.

Hield had shots that went in, too — he had 17 points on the night in the Kings’ loss to the Pacers — including a spinning half-courter to beat the buzzer.

Last night’s scores:

Brooklyn 116, Toronto 103
Cleveland, 126, New York 109
Orlando 107, Utah 100
Washington 101, Milwaukee 94
Indiana 94, Sacramento 91
Oklahoma City 99, San Antonio 94
Golden State 120, Houston 107
LA Clippers 120, Charlotte 106

Report: Draymond Green facing potential discipline after fight with Jordan Poole

0 Comments

Warriors practice got heated on Wednesday and Draymond Green reportedly escalated some chest bumping with Jordan Poole and punches were thrown. The team is now considering internal disciple, according to The Athletic.

When a heated interaction with guard Jordan Poole escalated, Green forcefully struck Poole and needed to be separated swiftly, sources said. Green and Poole came chest-to-chest, with both players pushing and shoving each other prior to Green’s escalation of the physical altercation, those sources said.

The two players had been jawing at each other when it escalated and Green punched Poole, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There aren’t details of the incident beyond that description (at least so far), although several reporters have confirmed the was a fight and the two had to be broken up. Poole was seen getting up shots after practice when the media was allowed in and reportedly was joking with teammates.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports Tweeted out what feels like the Draymond Green camp spin on the incident.

Warriors elder statesman Andre Iguodala Tweeted out this on the situation, wanting to keep it all in the family, and adding that “it broke my heart… but it fixed my vision.”

There is a history of tension between Green and Poole, including a public flare-up between the duo early last season, but the two talked after and smoothed things over. At least for a while.

What punishment Green will face from the team remains to be seen.

Poole is on the verge of an extension to his rookie contract, one where Tylyer Herro just set the market.

Green had hoped for an extension from the Warriors this offseason but there were limited discussions between the parties. Green can opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent.

Wizards’ Kispert likely to miss start of season due to sprained ankle

0 Comments

The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.

Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.

The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.

Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
0 Comments

We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.