Tuesday, February 2, 2016

NBA Knockout: A Look Around the League

It'll be all smiles as the NBA hits its midway point in Toronto next weekend

The Super Bowl is upon us, which means only one thing…you’ve already started having anxiety about what happens when the NFL season is over. Admit it, you looked at the calendar and saw the vast wasteland of your football-less life; it may have even driven you to catch a few plays of the Pro Bowl. Don’t fret, this NBA season is in full-throat and since the All-Star game is nearly here (February 14th) now is a great time to check on some of the more interesting storylines around the league.

New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are finally relevant again.  This is good news, because their poor play didn’t keep them from being a topic of discussion, or from being featured on national television. Their immediately maligned rookie pick, Kristaps Porzingis, has been a talented shot in the arm. At 7’3 he is a shot-blocking presence and his shooting stroke is good enough to make nearly 35% from behind the arc.  But perhaps more surprising than his skill, is the demeanor that defies his novice NBA experience.  He is comfortable in big situations and confident regardless of the environment; he’s an early candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Porzingis has been so good, that no one is noticing exactly how awesome Carmelo Anthony has been.  More than just his usual 20+ points per game that he is contributing, he is averaging the most assists per game of his career.  He has been a leader for a surprising NY Knicks team that is currently battling for the 8th spot in the East.  You can’t reasonably make a case for anyone other than Steph Curry for MVP, but the best pro basketball player in the state of New York has somehow become underrated…weird.

I mean, maybe it was David Blatt's fault Mandatory Credit: USATSI

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs are 5-1 since they jettisoned Head Coach David Blatt.  Replacement Tyronn Lue has stressed that the team must play faster, defend harder, and do more to get Kevin Love involved in the offense.  So far it seems to be working.  The team has scored 110+ points in each of its last five games, the overall effort (particularly from their best player) seems to be up, and Love has averaged more touches at the elbow than he did under Blatt. 

The capes came out for Blatt in a surprising fashion.  The guy that was universally made fun of for not knowing the timeout situation or forcing LeBron to scrap a late game play call in the playoffs suddenly became indispensible because the team won with him while he had the job title of “coach”. The most disappointing part about his firing is that Blatt was brought in there because of his offensive prowess and IQ. He never implemented his system and failed while implementing a boring and heavy ISO offense.  After reports of a players only meeting, the Cavs seemed to have turned the corner.  Maybe it really was Blatt…

Phoenix Suns

Speaking of coaching changes, at around 4AM Monday morning ET, Jeff Hornacek was fired from the Phoenix Suns. This team has been in a downward spiral after a surprising 2013-2014 season that left the team right outside of the playoffs.  Despite various front office moves, there has been no correction in trajectory.  While not particularly good, they are laden with young talent.  Former NC State star, TJ Warren combines with dark horse Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Devin Booker to form an offensively daunting wing pair. Combine that with ACC/Big Ten legend Alex Len’s development at the Center position and Phoenix may be entertaining pretty soon.

The team is still finding itself, but watching Warren's scoring prowess in the NBA is fun

Golden State Warriors

This isn’t new, but the defending champs are pretty darn good.  So far they’re ahead of the ’96 Bulls’ record-setting win pace.  They keep winning, and (in most cases) demolishing teams.  That 30 burger they hung on the Cavs probably aided in Blatt’s departure, and Curry is playing like the best player on the planet.  They are quite simply revolutionizing the game with their rate of three pointers, small lineups, and unselfish play.  Perhaps their consistent winning would be boring midway through the season if the team wasn’t so much fun to watch.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs keep Spurring. Of course, they are doing it in an even more Spurs fashion than usual.  While the trend seems to be to “go small” and shoot the 3s, the Spurs start two 7 footers and are 26th in 3 pointers attempted per game. Kawhi Leonard has emerged as one of the best players in the league; a guy they traded George Hill for. Their much-hyped meeting with Golden State turned quickly into a drubbing, but the 40-8 record that they have amassed would normally be big news if not for the Warriors’ magical run.

Los Angeles Lakers

     The Lakers are on national television FAR too much.  I know the depth to exactly how low they would sink this season is a bit of a surprise but they were always going to be unwatchable. There’s no reason I should know the Lakers roster as well as I do.
The Lakers are in a precarious position. Due to their Steve Nash acquisition years ago, the Lakers will cede their first round pick unless it is in the top three.  So there is not only an incentive to lose, but an incentive to be undeniably terrible—an absolute low for such a prestigious franchise.  In addition to losing, there is a need to cultivate their young talent.  Between Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle, the team has some hope for the future.  Handling these two potentially divergent interests would be difficult for a good coach, but what of a subpar one? While Scott is dutifully leading the Lakers to the basement of the league standings, he’s retarding the development of the young players at every turn; whether he is mysteriously benching them, or just tearing into them publicly, he seems to be incapable of nurturing talent. The conundrum of the situation is that if management gets rid of Scott for the sake of their future, then they may accidentally empower a coach that would win them more games.  It’s a fascinating soap opera that is playing out in the perfect locale.
DMC finally has channeled that passion more positively (USATSI)

Sacramento Kings

Around four years ago I loved to stay up late and watch the Warriors.  They weren’t the fully formed juggernauts they are now, and they didn’t play the free-flowing style they’ve since made popular thanks Mark Jackson.  Still, they were a fun group to watch and I savored every opportunity that I got a chance to watch them—that’s how I feel about these Sacramento Kings. When DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, and head coach George Karl were first put together by management, there was a general consensus that there would be an implosion somewhere in the near future.  Instead, Rondo’s championship pedigree has given fellow Kentucky Wildcat Cousins a mentor.  And after a rocky start, Karl has found his footing with the best big man in the league. Right now, the Kings are on the outside of the playoffs looking in; a first round meeting with the Warriors would mean an early trip home and no pick in the lottery.  Still, wouldn’t a Sacramento vs Golden State matchup be the most fun one the Warriors could possibly see?


At the Cavs’ lowest, I began to look for teams that might be able to supplant them as the Eatern Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals.  While Toronto is riding a 11-1 12 game run, Chicago is probably in the best position to give the King a run for his money.  Jimmy Butler has emerged as a legitimate star on both sides of the ball, Derrick Rose seems to finally be rounding into shape after a slow start, and Pau Gasol might as well have shown up in Chicago in a Delorean the way he has turned back the clock. And, in a surprise to no one outside of former coach Tom Thibodeau, the team has a reliable bench.  Between Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, and Bobby Portis, the team’s secondary options can keep them in games when the starters go to the bench for a rest. Maybe this year is the one where they finally get over the hump.

So enjoy the big game on Sunday, just know that there is plenty more athletic action on the horizon as the NBA season hits its midway point in The Six next weekend.

No comments:

Post a Comment