From 2008 to 2017 the Atlanta Hawks reached the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons. During this time the team never seemed to get the mainstream respect it deserved, but the wins kept flowing. From head coaches Mike Woodson to Larry Drew to Mike Budenholzer. From the team’s revolving door of key players such as Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith and Kyle Korver. The Hawks were able to become playoff fixtures amid a sea of constant change.
But the 2017-18 campaign ushered in the beginning of a lengthy rebuild as general manager and head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk elected to take the franchise into a new direction. Year one of the project wasn’t anywhere close to pretty as the Hawks stumbled to just 24 wins – their lowest victory total since the 2005 campaign. To be fair, massive rebuilding projects, especially at the beginning are rarely attractive to fans.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Hawks have major question marks surrounding the team. The Hawks will look to break in first time head coach Lloyd Pierce and must somehow overcome the departure of last season’s leading scorer and primary floor general Dennis Schroder. The Hawks have a promising mix of youth and a solid mix of veteran contributors but unless the young guns grow up in a hurry, the road back to the land of playoff contention is likely years away.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
In a league where very few teams are truly entering the season already in tank mode, the Hawks are something of an exception. Where even other bottom-feeders from last season have at least made token attempts at on-court improvements, the Hawks have gone the other way entirely. They used big open cap space to absorb and then waive Carmelo Anthony from the Thunder, acquiring a future first-rounder and shedding Dennis Schroder’s contract simultaneously in the process. They acquired another first (top-5 protected from Dallas in 2019) in a draft day trade that saw them move down a couple spots to take Trae Young while sending Luka Doncic to the Mavericks. They mitigated things to a small degree by acquiring Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter in later summer moves to bolster their veteran presence a bit, but the message is clear: The Hawks are building around Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter and their other youth, and their development is the clear priority over winning games in 2018-19.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Ben Dowsett
First-year head coach Lloyd Pierce has a project ahead of him when it comes to flipping the script with these Hawks. That’s not to say they don’t have talent. Granted he stays the course, Taurean Price is a real candidate for most improved player in my eyes. If healthy, Jeremy Lin is one of the more underrated point guards in the league. John Collins is going to blossom into a walking double-double before we even know it. Adding college basketball star Trae Young and national champion Omari Spellman to the squad should excite fans. Even with all of that said, however, the rebuild is only beginning in Atlanta.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Spencer Davies
With Coach Bud and Dennis Schroder out of the picture, the rebuild is in full swing in Atlanta. There’s not much to say about the Hawks at the moment since they’re going to be one of the league’s worst teams. Their whole season pretty much revolves around Trae Young, the most polarizing prospect to come out of the draft, along with their other young talent such as Taurean Prince and John Collins. The Hawks as of now don’t have a young franchise cornerstone until Young proves otherwise, but they have reason to hope for their future.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Matt John
The Hawks lived the NBA purgatory of being just good enough not to be great for too many years not to see something like the rebuild they are in the middle of coming. While no NBA team is going to be as brazen about tanking as the Philadelphia 76ers were under Sam Hinkie, the Hawks are coming in as a close second under current GM Travis Schlenk. The good news is the last two runs through the NBA draft have yielded gems with great upside and the Hawks found a way out of their ugly contract money, clearing the way for the young players to get minutes while not accumulating a lot of wins. The Hawks should be in the Eastern Conference basement for another year at best, so we’ll see if those draft gems turn into cornerstones and how patient ownership will be with a prolonged rebuild. Few front offices survive the tank-method, let alone tanks that don’t produce cornerstones.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Steve Kyler
Last year the Atlanta Hawks committed to rebuilding its roster from top to bottom. This offseason, general manager Travis Schlenk made some bold moves, such as trading the rights to Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks for Trae Young and Dallas’ 2019 first-round draft pick (top-5 protected). Atlanta may come to regret that move if Doncic proves to be a star player and Young’s dynamic skill set doesn’t fully translate to the NBA. Young is now a major part of the young core of talent Atlanta is trying to bolster, which includes John Collins and Taurean Prince, among a few others. Player development and moving forward in their long-term rebuild will be the main focus of the upcoming season, so don’t expect Atlanta to hang around in the playoff race too long. But this team now has a long-term vision and is now fully committed to executing it. So while the team will struggle on the court this season, Atlanta’s fans should take solace in the fact that there is a plan in place to rebuild this roster and a front office that is committed to seeing it through.
5th Place – Southeast Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Trae Young
In 32 collegiate games for Oklahoma, Young averaged a whopping 27.4 points per outing on 42 percent shooting from the floor, 36 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the charity stripe. The dynamic guard was chosen with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Dallas Mavericks and then traded to Atlanta for the rights to Luka Doncic. There are legitimate questions on whether Young’s scoring prowess will translate at the next level and how much time he will need to develop. But since the Hawks shipped Schroder to Oklahoma City during the offseason, playing time won’t be an issue in Atlanta’s backcourt.
Young was up and down during summer league play and its clear opponents’ game plan will be geared toward being physical and not letting him reach his sweet spots. Despite the offensive shakiness, Young still managed to snag second-team All-NBA Summer League honors in Las Vegas.
There are a couple of veterans on the Hawks’ roster with a more refined offensive arsenal, but none possess the immense upside Young has when it comes to putting the ball into the hoop.
Top Defensive Player: Dewayne Dedmon
Last season Dedmon made the transition from promising journeyman to nightly contributor – with relative ease. Dedmon led the team with 7.9 rebounds per contest and finished second in blocks behind rookie John Collins. From a defensive standpoint, Dedmon finished with a team-leading defensive rating of 107 per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference. Heading into last season most would have projected Taurean Prince would occupy this space, however, after a campaign full of defensive lapses, Dedmon proved to be the most consistent Hawks defender.
Top Playmaker: Jeremy Lin
Lin, entering his ninth season, has experienced almost all the game has to offer. From being an undrafted afterthought to a taste of superstardom (Linsanity), to becoming a full-time starter and playoff contributor. Lin is in the final year of his current deal and will presumably be asked to be a veteran presence with Schroder now in Oklahoma City and while Young navigates treacherous rookie campaign terrain. Lin will never be a high volume assist guy but for this young Hawks team and rookie head coach, he just may become a calming influence in the midst of the rebuilding project.
Top Clutch Player: Jeremy Lin
Eventually, the team hopes Young will be the go-to guy down the stretch. But until that time comes to fruition, you can expect the ball to be in the hands of Lin in late game situations. The Hawks are an extremely young team filled of players with less than three years of experience. Veterans such as Lin, Kent Bazemore and to a smaller degree Vince Carter, will be counted on to help cultivate Atlanta’s youth movement.
The Unheralded Player: Dewayne Dedmon
Dedmon easily was the Hawks’ biggest acquisition in 2017. The center attempted only one three-pointer is his first four seasons as a professional. Last season, Dedmon attempted 141 shots beyond the arc and nailed 36 percent of them in an expanded role. Dedmon averaged 10 points and 7.9 rebounds for the campaign in under 25 minutes per contest. The veteran also plays a significant role in the team’s defensive efforts. Guys like Dedmon don’t get many headlines for doing the dirty work, but on a team with plenty of guys learning how to be pros, he provides a good example.
Best New Addition: Trae Young
Schlenk was in Golden State when the Warriors also drafted a guard with a smallish stature coming out of college in the lottery. You may have heard of him, his name is Stephen Curry. Obviously, Schlenk sees similarities between Curry and Young and their styles of play. No one is projecting Young to become Curry, but what the dynamic guard does represent is an explosive talent with very high upside.
Atlanta basketball has been accused in the past of being too conservative or playing it too safe. With the acquisition of Young, the team is swinging for the fences in what could be the ultimate boom or bust scenario in a few years.
— Lang Greene
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kent Bazemore
It’s hard to find much to dislike about Bazemore and his journey from being an undrafted fringe player to a bona fide full-time starter. Bazemore is on the books for $18 million this season and holds a player option for $19 million in the 2020 campaign. It’s unclear of the team’s long-term plans for Bazemore but after a down year in 2017, the veteran responded with a career high in points (12.9), assists (3.5) and three-point accuracy (39 percent) last season. Bazemore is the last holdover from Hawks of years past. When the wing came to Atlanta the team’s leading scorers were Millsap, Teague, Horford, DeMarre Carroll and Korver. Times have definitely changed, but expect the same Bazemore night in and night out.
2. Vince Carter
The Hall of Fame will one day likely come calling for Carter. Until then, Atlanta is the latest stop for the 41-year-old guard out of the University of North Carolina. Carter is just 132 points shy of 25,000 for his career, a milestone he should hit within 40 games played based off of last year’s production. Carter is no longer the high flying franchise player he was during his prime years, but he is the perfect elder statesman for a team of young guys still learning how to be pros. Temper your expectations and don’t expect high usage from Carter on a nightly basis. His role in Atlanta is about veteran leadership and mentorship to the young guys.
3. Lloyd Pierce
Pierce, a former college backcourt mate of impending Hall of Famer Steve Nash, is in his first stint as a head coach after previous stops around the league as an assistant. Pierce worked as an assistant coach with Cleveland, Golden State and Memphis before a five-year stint in Philadelphia. The similarity between the Hawks’ current rebuilding situation and Philadelphia’s own restructuring efforts undoubtedly played a role in his hire with Atlanta. Pierce is Schlenk’s guy and that’s always important for a new general manager implementing a rebuild. The 42-year-old promises to bring a defensive mindset and energy to the team.
4. John Collins
Collins was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team last season and became the first Hawks player since Al Horford to be named All-Rookie. Selected No. 19 overall in 2017, Collins averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 74 appearances.
The potential for Collins to take another jump in 2019 is there for the taking, especially with a new head coach preaching energy and defense. Collins led the Hawks in blocked shots and finished second on the team in rebounding. And when you look at advanced stats such as PER (18.3), true shooting percentage (62 percent) and win shares (5.4) it becomes clear that the Hawks may have found something special outside of the lottery in 2017.
Youth. These young Hawks are going to sneak up on plenty of older teams throughout the season, especially on back-to-backs or short road swings. The reason? Young legs and new head coach Lloyd Pierce’s commitment to defensive intensity. The Hawks are simply too young to know any better and will push teams up and down the court. Atlanta will have its fair share of upsets this season because of their youthful exuberance.
— Lang Greene
Experience. The lack of experience will ultimately hinder the flight of these young Hawks. Jeremy Lin figures to play a prominent role in the starting backcourt, but he played in just one game last season due to a ruptured patella. The team traded away its leading scorer and primary ball handler, Dennis Schroder, in order to make room for rookie Trae Young. Vince Carter is a future Hall of Famer with loads of experience but can no longer be counted on to carry a heavy load nightly. Even rookie head coach Lloyd Pierce, despite plenty of stops around the league, is in his first role as the leading shot caller. The roster is loaded with promising (and unproven) young talent. The Hawks will show flashes of the future, but winning in the NBA comes down to veteran laden teams winning down the stretch. This is where the Hawks will struggle.
— Lang Greene
THE BURNING QUESTION
How long will the Atlanta Hawks’ rebuilding project last?
Rebuilding projects are ugly. Rebuilding projects are painful for the fans to endure. Rebuilding projects don’t help franchises land marquee free agents. Rebuilding projects don’t necessarily equate into securing a franchise player in the draft. So the question is, how long will the Hawks’ project last? It took Brett Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers four seasons to reach the playoffs. But the Sixers also have two generational type of talents at the top of its roster in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Hawks don’t have a player close to that pedigree in the fold just yet. Rookie Trae Young is the wildcard. If Young is ready right out of the cereal box to perform and John Collins doesn’t suffer a sophomore slump the team will be on a positive trajectory. However, any slippage from these two pillars could derail some of the early positives gained from Schlenk’s short tenure at the helm.
— Lang Greene
NBA Daily: DPOY Watch – 11/19/19
A familiar name is back at the top of the Defensive Player of the Year rankings with established contenders and youthful upstarts nipping at his heels.
A month into the regular season, the race for Defensive Player of the Year remains fluid. Even as longtime contenders and preseason favorites further assert their will defensively, a group of position-less wings and dogged guards are making a major impact on that side of the floor, too.
More or less, it comes down to one simple question still: Can anybody dethrone Rudy Gobert and his tenacious, defensive unit-leading prowess?
Here’s where Defensive Player of the Year stands as December quickly approaches.
Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors; Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers; Jevon Carter, Phoenix Suns
5. Jonathan Isaac – Orlando Magic
Only Anthony Davis has more combined steals and blocks than Isaac’s 45. His individual defensive performance against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 6, when he collected five steals and six blocks, is arguably the season’s most impressive.
Isaac, at 6-foot-11 with long arms and an increasingly sturdy frame, simply makes plays the vast majority of defenders can’t, even when the box score doesn’t recognize them. His activity, quickness and instincts routinely allow him to be two places at once defensively. He’s among the game’s most switchable defenders, and there may not be a better help-and-recover player in all of basketball.
It’s not just steals either as both blocks and the ever-important eye test support Isaac’s nascent case for Defensive Player of the Year.
Isaac is the Magic’s only starter with a negative net defensive rating. Better, Orlando — a franchise that goads opponents into more two-point jumpers than any team in the league — forces 5.4 percent more mid-rangers than average with Isaac on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. He’s top-three in defensive field goal percentage allowed at the rim, too, an ode to both his mastery of verticality and penchant for highlight-reel blocks.
Isaac is realizing his potential as a game-changing, all-court defensive force in his third NBA campaign. He’s probably not a big enough name to garner legitimate consideration for hardware this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be worthy of it – or fail to emerge as a perennial DPOY candidate going forward.
4. Bam Adebayo – Miami HEAT
Adebayo’s modest on-off numbers defensively almost certainly aren’t what they would be if the HEAT weren’t subject to so many key contributors coming and going early in the season. Jimmy Butler missed the first three games of 2019-20, and Justise Winslow has been sidelined by a concussion since Nov. 7 after sitting out two earlier games due to back spasms. Derrick Jones Jr. has played in just four games while dealing with nagging groin and hip injuries.
Through it all, Adebayo has been the linchpin holding Miami together on defense. His rare versatility allows Erik Spoelstra to pair him with offensive-oriented bigs like Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard upfront as well. Ultimately, the HEAT have been at their best defensively during the brief time he’s spent at center – a lineup configuration we’re more likely to see when Winslow and Jones return from injury.
Among the numerous attributes that make Adebayo special defensively is his equal penchant for highlight-reel plays and more unspectacular, nuanced ones, both of which make a major impact. He has a keen sense of timing and angles as a pick-and-roll helper, prodding at ball handlers with active hands while splitting the difference between them and the roller.
Adebayo isn’t an elite rim-protector and the statistics say as much. But preventing attempts around the rim is just as valuable as affecting them and the HEAT surrender 9.1 percent fewer shots in the restricted area with Adebayo on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass – the league’s second-biggest discrepancy among high-minute bigs.
As the season continues, don’t be surprised if Adebayo fades from the DPOY conversation. Miami is loaded with quality defenders, and his numbers-based case may grow accordingly thin as Spoelstra gets full use of his planned rotation. Adebayo’s influence, though, will remain obvious to anyone watching the HEAT regardless.
3. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have quietly been among the league’s most disappointing teams, going just 3-5 after winning their first five games of the regular season. But don’t chalk those struggles up to Embiid, who has nipped at his turnover rate and made strides from beyond the arc while remaining Philadelphia’s defensive panacea.
On a roster stacked with stellar defenders like Al Horford, Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson, Embiid’s net on-off defensive rating of -11.3 is easily a team-best among regulars. His individual rim-protecting numbers are still lagging behind career norms, though team-wide data suggests Embiid has been as big a deterrent around the basket as ever.
Why? His rare blend of size, timing and understanding as the last line of defense, which Embiid puts on display in the clip below. Covering for multiple mistakes by Tobias Harris, he first cuts off Cedi Osman’s middle drive despite being in ICE position, then recovers for an effective contest at the basket when his teammate gets beaten backdoor.
The 76ers’ opponents have attempted 7.2 percent fewer shots at the rim with Embiid on the floor, while their accuracy on those tries dips 6.1 percent, per Cleaning the Glass. Also indicative of Embiid’s rippling influence in the paint is Philadelphia’s league-worst opponent free throw rate spiking nearly 10 points when he’s sitting.
Philadelphia is too talented defensively to be anything less than elite on that end for long. And when they inevitably rise the ranks in defense from ninth, Embiid will still be the biggest reason why.
2. Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
It says a lot about the Lakers’ enviable roster of proven defenders that their opponent shot profile doesn’t align with tenets of modern basketball. Los Angeles ranks 11th in preventing shots at the rim and 20th in preventing shots from deep, while forcing only an average rate of shots from mid-range.
But what should be a recipe for mediocrity has instead yielded the league’s top-ranked defense, a ringing endorsement of the Lakers’ personnel and Frank Vogel’s ability to get a veteran team to buy in on that side of the ball.
The presence of Davis, to be clear, doesn’t affect those numbers in an overtly-positive manner. Opponents shoot fewer threes when he’s on the floor, but take more shots from the restricted area. They don’t commit turnovers at a notably higher rate, either, and actually get to the line more often. Davis’ defensive rating is 99.1, the exact same as Los Angeles’ mark with him on the bench and just a hair lower than its season-long rating.
No matter. The Lakers’ wealth of defensive talent and commitment to the scheme shouldn’t affect Davis’ DPOY candidacy to the extent a similar dynamic might others.
The statistics are there, naturally, if that’s how you want to make Davis’ case. His 38 blocks lead the league by a comfortable margin, plus more steals than any other top-tier shot-blocker save Isaac and Andre Drummond. Opponents are shooting a laughably low and league-best 30 percent against him at the rim, interior supremacy buttressed by Los Angeles coaxing a far worse shooting percentage from the restricted area with him on the floor.
Davis is a physical outlier. Other elite rim-protectors, like Embiid and Rudy Gobert, just can’t do what he does across 94 feet.
That alone doesn’t make Davis the DPOY frontrunner — but combined with his sweeping all-around effect and the Lakers’ team-wide dominance, it certainly burnishes his resumé.
1. Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz
Gobert was second on this list two weeks ago and fifth in our preseason rankings. The assumption was that the Jazz’s overhauled personnel, including a full-time deviation from playing another big next to him, would lead to a downturn in their team-wide defensive performance, thus weakening Gobert’s chances for another DPOY award.
Utah owns the league’s second-stingiest defense. Its entire system is based around the premise that Gobert is waiting in the paint to challenge any would-be penetrators, letting Royce O’Neal, Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and more put pressure the ball in a way they otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable.
The Jazz allow 6.9 percent fewer shots at the rim with Gobert in the game and accuracy on those attempts dips by 4.5 percent, per Cleaning the Glass. Their defensive rebounding percentage drops from a dominant 77.6 to 70.8 when he goes from the floor to the bench, with the added bonus of committing far more fouls in that scenario, too.
Gobert isn’t as versatile as Davis and less likely than Embiid to come out of nowhere for soaring weak-side blocks. But to suggest that his impact is limited to tangible and intangible rim-protection would also be remiss. It’s not often, for instance, that Karl-Anthony Towns gets embarrassed in isolation on consecutive possessions.
Look at Mitchell at the end of the clip above. No player in basketball is more prone to inspire his teammates and ignite home crowds by virtue of defense than Gobert. He plays with an arrogant edge that helps make his team’s whole greater than the sum its parts on that end — and it’s once again propelling Utah to the top of the league.
Gobert will face a steep challenge in joining Dwight Howard as the only players to ever win DPOY three times in a row. But as the first month of the regular season has made abundantly clear, any expectation he’d fall from consideration was foolish. For now, then, he’s the leader — but who might come for the back-to-back crown next?
Kyle Collinsworth In Familiar Territory
Kyle Collinsworth has been making his mark for the Salt Lake City Stars, which shouldn’t feel too different to him since he’s dominated in Utah basketball before. Matt John writes.
For Kyle Collinsworth, playing basketball in Utah is nothing out of the ordinary.
The 28-year-old grew up in Provo and went on to become one of the most storied basketball players in the history of Brigham Young University. Since graduating from BYU in 2016, he’s bounced around a bit in the NBA. He’s had stints with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and the Toronto Raptors. When the Utah Jazz added him this season to play for their G League Affiliate, the SLC Stars, Collinsworth was excited for home aspect alone.
“It’s always good to be home,” Collinsworth told Basketball Insiders. “My family’s here. My wife’s here. We’ve got a house here, so it’s just nice to be able to be home and do what I love at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Even though Collinsworth grew up and played college basketball in the mountainous region, he surprisingly didn’t grow up a Jazz fan. In fact, the team he grew up rooting for happened to be the only one that has given him legitimate NBA minutes in his professional basketball career — the Mavericks.
Going from a Mavericks fan to a Mavericks player was an experience Collinsworth truly treasured, especially since he got to play with his boyhood idol.
“It was incredible,” Collinsworth said. “Growing up, (we were) huge Mavericks fans. (With) Dirk being my favorite player, being teammates with him was surreal.”
In 2016, Collinsworth was brought in to play for the Mavericks’ G League affiliate, the Texas Legends, before being called up at various points to play for Dallas. In the 2017-2018 season, Collinsworth played 34 games in Dallas. Collinsworth didn’t mince words when praising the organization and how they’ve been able to get to where they are now.
“It’s just another testament of consistency. Those guys, day in and day out, bring the work, and that’s why they are champions,” Collinsworth said.
Following his stint with the Mavericks, Collinsworth is now back where it all began for him. However, it’s not just the Utah climate that he’s used to. He’s also pretty used to filling up the box score when he’s on the court.
Back when he played for the Cougars, he was renowned for his all-around game. In his four years in college, Collinsworth’s total points scored (1,707) placed him 11th all-time among BYU men’s basketball players, while his total rebounds (1,047) and total assists (703) placed him first. In fact, his 12 triple-doubles are the most any player in NCAA history has recorded over his collegiate career.
His game has continued to shine through in the G League this season. In the three games he’s played for the Stars, Collinsworth’s all-around game has shined for the team, as he’s averaged 12.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Stars head coach Martin Schiller praised Collinsworth for what he brings to the floor.
“His all-around game, offensively and defensively, as well as leadership-wise, his game impacts the team a lot,” Schiller told Basketball Insiders.
With Collinsworth being the oldest player on the roster at 28 years old, his experience has made him quite the influence in the locker room, which has served very well for his younger teammates.
“It stabilizes us,” Schiller said. “The guys listen to him. The guys believe in him. He played legit NBA minutes, so the guys respect him and therefore it’s very important to have him.”
When the Stars faced the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Friday night, they found themselves down by double digits in the second quarter. The Stars rallied back and were able to come up victorious for their first win of the season. SLC was never deterred even when the odds were stacked against them, which is exactly what Collinsworth has emphasized in the example he sets for his team.
“Just (be) Steady Eddie,” Collinsworth said. “Always bring the energy and just stay steady (because) there’s a lot of games…You have to keep your head up and stay positive, through the good games and the bad.”
Previous BYU alumni have opted to go different routes in their professional basketball careers. After failing to find a place in the NBA, Jimmer Fredette has gone on to become an icon for various leagues overseas. His former college teammate Brandon Davies has also played in various foreign professional basketball leagues.
Others have gone back and forth between the NBA and overseas. Eric Mika has played in several foreign leagues before signing with the Stockton Kings this season. For Collinsworth, his path has steadfastly remained the same in order for him to achieve his one goal — to play in the NBA.
“Back in the NBA is the goal for sure,” Collinsworth said. “That’s why I’m back in the G League. I’m trying to make that happen.”
Everyone has to pay their dues to make their dreams come true. For Kyle Collinsworth, that means showing Utah what he’s got in the G League.
It may not be ideal — but for him, at least it’s familiar terrain.
NBA Daily: Five Stats To Keep An Eye On Revisited
Before the season, Basketball Insiders identified five statistics that could be worth watching in the 2019-20 season. Quinn Davis revisits those five to see how they have looked over the season’s first month.
Before the season, Basketball Insiders pinpointed five statistics that could be worth watching in the 2019-20 season. These statistics each helped tell the story of last season and could be vital in determining the standings of the current campaign.
A month into the season, here’s an update on how those five statistics, and the impact they’ve had thus far.
Philadelphia 76ers — Forced Turnover Percentage
After starting the season 5-0, the Philadelphia 76ers fell a bit back down to earth and are now sitting at 8-5. Some of the regression can be blamed on a Joel Embiid suspension and a Ben Simmons shoulder sprain, but there have been some legitimate areas of concern over the last eight games.
Their defense, which was operating at an elite level during the first five games, has fallen now to a good-not-great 11th in the league. Interestingly, their forced turnover percentage has not been the culprit for the decline.
The 76ers are up to 11th in the league in forcing turnovers this season after finishing 28th in that category in 2018-19, per Cleaning the Glass. The new additions Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle, along with an increase in aggressiveness on that end from Simmons, have been in key in forcing loose balls and errant passes.
While this is encouraging, the increased aggressiveness may be a direct factor in one of their biggest flaws over the first 13 games. The 76ers are currently 29th in the league in opponent free throw rate, giving up 25.1 free throws per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.
A high foul rate can be seen as a necessary risk for this 76ers team. An increase in turnovers could lead to more transition opportunities, which could help an offensively-challenged team generate more easy baskets.
So far, though, the risk has not been worth the reward. Despite going from 28th to 11th in forced turnover percentage, the 76ers efficiency and frequency in transition have remained relatively the same. They’ve generated transition opportunities off of 68.4 percent of their steals, just one percentage point higher than last season, per Cleaning the Glass. These opportunities have netted them an additional 1.7 points per 100 possessions, only slightly better than last season’s number of 1.6.
For Philadelphia to get back on track, something will have to change. Going forward, it will be important to see if the 76ers can keep up their rate of forcing turnovers while simultaneously reducing their foul rate and generating more transition plans.
Los Angeles Lakers — Half Court Efficiency
The Los Angeles Lakers have jumped out to an 11-2 record and sport the best net rating in the league. They have done so with a very impressive defense that ranks second in the NBA through the first month.
Meanwhile, their offense hasn’t lagged too far behind, as they rank 7th in the league on that side of the ball. Last season, the Lakers struggled offensively, particularly in the half-court where they were unable to consistently generate open looks.
They were a particularly bad shooting team in 2018-19, finishing last season with an overall three-point percentage of only 34 percent. The Lakers were expected to improve in that department this season with multiple shooters being brought into the fold.
But, while the team has taken a step offensively, it hasn’t been because of their shooting.
While Danny Green has been a marksman, shooting 42.2 percent from three, the rest of the Lakers’ roster has not been up to snuff. Overall, they sit at exactly the same percentage as last season when it comes to three-point shooting, 34 percent.
Their offense has been humming thanks to some old-fashioned domination around the rim. The Lakers are shooting 40.4 percent of their total shots at the rim and finishing 69.1 percent of those attempts, per Cleaning the Glass.
That kind of efficiency around the basket will mitigate any shooting concerns. But, if some of the Lakers’ role players can begin to hit their outside shots, the Los Angeles offense could prove even more imposing.
Denver Nuggets — Opponents’ Effective Field Goal Percentage
One of the harder to project statistics in the NBA is the opponents’ field goal percentage. This number can vary from year-to-year for no reason other than luck.
Last season the Nuggets improved their defense greatly and went from one of the worst units in the league to an average one. But, when digging into some of their numbers, it became clear that some of this may have been due to a lucky streak of opponent shooting, as the Nuggets gave up very similar looks to those they gave up in 2017-18, but opponents simply shot a worse percentage on these attempts.
This season, the Nuggets’ defense has improved even further. They are currently holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 49 percent, third in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.
The Nuggets give a few too many threes, particularly from the corner, but opponents haven’t punished them as they’ve shot just 32 percent overall from three against Denver.
So, looking at the tracking data on NBA.com, it would appear as if some of that luck has carried over from last season. The Nuggets are giving up about the same number of wide-open three-point attempts as last season. On these attempts, opponents are shooting 37.1 percent, which is slightly under the 37.6 percent they managed last season.
That number is not extremely lucky, as 11 NBA teams have had better luck than Denver on wide-open shots this season. Where the Nuggets have gotten particularly good bounces, however, is on open shots, classified as those attempts when a defender 4-6 feet away. On these attempts, opponents are shooting just 26.5 percent, good for the second-lowest number in the league.
The Denver defense has certainly improved this season, but it’s unlikely they maintain their current pace in terms of opponent shooting.
Milwaukee Bucks — Offensive Rating without Giannis
One of the big reasons for the Milwaukee Bucks’ success last season was the performance of their bench. While Giannis Antetokounmpo was certainly the conductor of the team’s attack, the team fared very well when he hit the bench.
But, with the departure of Malcolm Brogdon, there were some who questioned how the team would perform without their MVP on the court. And, so far, it appears as if those reservations were valid, to a point.
This season, the Bucks have felt the loss of Brogdon quite a bit, but not in an overly drastic way. When Antetokounmpo is on the floor, the Bucks boast about a 112 offensive rating, compared to a 107 rating when he sits, per Cleaning the Glass.
Last season, the difference dropped about three points, from 116 when Antetokounmpo was on to 113 when he was off.
Milwaukee’s offense stayed at an elite level last year when Antetokounmpo sat on the back of impressive three-point shooting. But, this season, the Bucks have been getting up a similar number of attempts when he sits, but the shots have just haven’t fallen. From 2018-19 to 2019-20, the bench’s three-point percentage has dropped from 37.4 percent to 32.1 percent, per Cleaning the Glass.
While this is partially attributed to the loss of a 40 percent three-point shooter in Brogdon, the Bucks still have a plethora of solid shooters who should be able to hit more shots as the reigning MVP rests. As the season goes on, it wouldn’t be a shock to see these numbers level out in their favor.
Houston Rockets — Second Half Net Rating
After starting the season in a bit of a rut, the Houston Rockets have ripped off eight straight wins and have played about as well as many expected them to coming into the season. Like last year their success could be attributed mostly to a dominant James Harden, who’s averaged 40 points per game in that stretch.
Last season, the Rockets would often get out to a hot start, but struggle thereon and occasionally give up leads in the second half. The culprit of the second half malaise was theorized to be a tired Harden, given his gargantuan workload, or perhaps a predictable style of play that opponents would catch on and adjust to after a couple of quarters.
Whatever the reason, the addition of Russell Westbrook was to serve as a potential antidote. Last season, Westbrook’s Thunder excelled in the second half of games, as his seemingly boundless energy had a way of wearing opponents down as games went on.
And, in fact, the Rockets have proven much more assertive in second halves. They are currently sporting a 2.2 net rating in the first half, a number that has improved to 3.6 in the second, per NBA.com.
While Harden has continued to take a lion’s share of the work, Westbrook has added a transition threat to the Houston offense and has certainly played a key role in its improvement. If the Rockets can maintain this energy and efficiency throughout entire games, they could prove a major threat come April and May.
Those five statistics are just a few of the interesting trends and storylines to follow across an 82-game season. So, be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders to follow them along.
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