Cavaliers Quest For Repeat
By Moke Hamilton
He stood in disbelief. With tears in his eyes and the weight of the world off his shoulders, now, a three-time champion, the all-time great had never experienced this type of glee.
“Cleveland… This is for you!” LeBron James said.
It took the squandering of two 3-1 series leads and quite a few injuries for this dream to come to fruition, but at this moment in time, James had somehow further ascended. With the championship delivered to the City of Cleveland, he was now universally revered as a Top 10 player in NBA history.
Now, the question that everyone has about him and his Cavaliers is whether they can repeat.
Giannis Antetokounmpo in Rare Air
By Cody Taylor
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd stood in front of reporters Sunday night in Orlando and didn’t seem to have an answer when asked why one of his players isn’t getting more recognition from around the league.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is perhaps one of the NBA’s most exciting players to watch these days, but he isn’t mentioned very often alongside the other top up-and-coming players in the league.
While the fourth-year player out of Greece is officially listed as a small forward, the Bucks have used Antetokounmpo at virtually every position this season. Take a quick glance at any given box score and it’ll show that he can impact from all over the floor.
The Chris Bosh Problem
By Steve Kyler
The Miami HEAT currently sit at 5-12 on the season and roughly three games out of the playoff picture. The HEAT are competitive, which is something you expect from Miami, but they are not going to be much more than a borderline playoff team on their best day. That means, at some point in the not-so-distant future, they are going to have to make some tough choices.
By now, you have likely heard all about HEAT forward Chris Bosh and his medical status. He suffered a second blood-clot-related issues last February and has been taking blood thinning medication to keep that very serious condition under control. His hope was that he could find a balance in when in the day he took medication and how much, so he could play again.
The problem with Bosh’s situation is it’s not a physical one. He is not nursing a sore knee that won’t get better or a problematic bone that won’t heal. For all purposes, Bosh feels great and is ready to play. His issue is internal, something he does not feel every day, which makes hanging it up tough – especially for a player who has spent his life getting to this point.
Billy Donovan Starting To Believe In Anthony Morrow?
By Susan Bible
It’s rather fitting that Anthony Morrow was named North Carolina’s “Mr. Basketball” as a high school senior in 2004. The term suits Morrow, because he represents everything good about the game of basketball. Morrow – also known by the nickname “A-Mo” – is notoriously kind, all about team and happens to shoot the ball exceptionally well. Currently ranked fourth among active NBA players in three-point field goal percentage (42.4 percent), along with career averages of 47.2 percent on two-point field goals and 87.6 percent on free throws, it’s hard to believe the four-year Georgia Tech product went undrafted in 2008.*
Even with his “elite shooter” status, it’s been quite the challenging NBA journey for 31-year-old Morrow, who has played for six different teams since the 2008-09 season. His start with the Golden State Warriors was promising, as he was the first rookie to ever lead the league in three-point shooting at 46.7 percent. He was pretty solid with the Warriors for two years (averaging 11.6 points, 1.7 in three-pointers) and with the New Jersey Nets for the next two years (averaging 12.6 points, 1.8 in threes), but the reality became clear: Morrow, 6’5, is an effective knockdown shooter with a crazy-quick release, but it doesn’t seem to quite make up for what he lacks in playing defense. And while his all-around shooting percentages have remained relatively consistent with each team he joined, his playing time plummeted after his stint with the Nets.
Dwight Howard Brings New Layer to Hawks’ Defense
By Ben Dowsett
By the end of July 2016, the worst-kept secret in Atlanta basketball was how different the Hawks’ defense would look down the middle. Franchise cornerstone Al Horford was gone to Boston, replaced at the center position by hometown product Dwight Howard. The two couldn’t have been more different stylistically; Horford the savvy, undersized-but-mobile defensive fulcrum and Howard the glass-eating, shot-blocking interior pillar.
Centers are the most important defensive players in the NBA on balance, and Horford’s skills in particular made him indispensable to Atlanta’s approach. The Hawks didn’t have that traditional rim protector in the paint, but they made up for it and then some by leveraging the mobility of Horford and Paul Millsap into a harassing defense that applied pressure in the right places, making it hard work for offenses to ever find their way to the rim (or their other preferred spots) in the first place.
The All-NBA Teams (So Far)
By Joel Brigham
From a statistical standpoint, this has been one of the more entertaining NBA seasons that any of us have seen in quite some time. The league’s top players absolutely are pouring in buckets, hauling in rebounds and dishing out assists at rates that we really haven’t seen in the modern NBA era. Who knows if these guys will be able to keep it up for an entire year, but even to have performed this well through the first fifth of the season has been quite an accomplishment.
If All-NBA teams were to be named at this point in the season, the following are the players that would most likely earn the honors. About 20 percent of the way into the season, here are the league’s best players at each position:
Sean Kilpatrick Opens Up About NBA Journey
By Michael Scotto
Sean Kilpatrick earned the game ball after scoring a career-high 38 points and grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 127-122 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
After the game of his life, Kilpatrick reflected on his journey and how Nets general manager Sean Marks changed his life.
“Every night I really sit here and say to myself, ‘Where would I be without him?’” Kilpatrick told Basketball Insiders. “It’s like my emotions toward Mr. Marks are kind of crazy because I always say he saved my life, and he did. He really sat here and said, ‘This is a team I want you to be a part of, and just make sure you just play your game and be who you are.’ I think that’s something no team has ever done for me and once I had that type of comfort, it made things a lot easier for me.”
Marks signed Kilpatrick to a 10-day contract for his first transaction as general manager of the Nets. Before joining the Nets, Kilpatrick struggled to find his footing in the league.
Time to Stop Doubting Butler’s Greatness
By Lang Greene
The probability of an NBA team finding its franchise player with the last pick of the first round in any draft is typically slim to none. However, the Chicago Bulls managed to strike gold when they selected All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler No. 30 overall back in 2011.
Butler appeared in only 42 games as a rookie, tallying just 359 minutes on the season, and most were hoping he would eventually develop into a niche role player on a team featuring former league MVP Derrick Rose.
But over the years, as Rose’s physical abilities were hampered due to recurring knee trouble and former All-Star center Joakim Noah endured his own injury woes, Butler slowly began to rise to the forefront and today the former Marquette product is undoubtedly one of the top 20 players in the league.
How NBA Teams Are Fighting Fatigue
By Oliver Maroney
The average NBA team will travel anywhere from 35,055 miles to 53,575 miles in a season (based on data from the 2015-16 campaign). That’s a lot of miles for anyone, let alone professional basketball players who have to play an 82-game season and sometimes play the same day or within 24 hours after a flight. But it’s not just the travel. It’s the sleep (or lack thereof), fatigue and change in scenery that impacts a traveling team.
“Yeah, just imagine how it feels,” Utah Jazz point guard George Hill told Basketball Insiders. “To play a game and use the amount of energy that we do, then get on a flight in the middle of the night, arrive in a different city with a different hotel and a different food menu, then having to play not even 24 hours later, it’s really tough.”
Most players around the league won’t play the blame game when it comes to back-to-backs and road trips, but the truth of the matter is it affects them greatly. This season, an average of 16.3 back-to-back games are played per team. And while we’re only 20 games in, the statistics already show the impact back-to-backs have on a team’s success. So far, teams are a combined 44-78 in games away from home in back-to-back situations. In fact, only three teams – the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors – have a winning record in road back-to-back games. The Spurs are the only undefeated team in these scenarios, and they’re also most known for resting players.
Chandler Parsons Talks Free Agency, Memphis, Acting
By Alex Kennedy
One of the moves that turned heads over the offseason was the Memphis Grizzlies’ addition of unrestricted free agent Chandler Parsons. Memphis signed the 28-year-old forward to a four-year, $94.8 million maximum deal in an effort to find another offensive weapon and someone who can stretch the floor since he shot 41.1 percent from three-point range last season.
Entering this season, Parsons had career averages of 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3 assists from his stints with the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. With Memphis’ core returning and Parsons joining the mix, the Grizzlies hoped to once again make noise in the Western Conference. They have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, advancing as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2012-13.
Analyzing How Westbook, Harden Dominate
By Jake Rauchbach
Russell Westbrook and James Harden are each playing excellent basketball and filling the stat sheet this season. Westbrook is averaging a triple-double with 31.2 points, 11.3 assists and 10.5 rebounds per game; Harden has posted averages of 28.7 points, 11.9 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Harden ranks first in the NBA in assists and fourth in scoring, while Westbrook is second in the league in both scoring and assists. Westbrook is leading the league in triple-doubles with eight, while Harden is tied with LeBron James for second-most with three this season.
The great Oscar Robertson is the only NBA player to ever average a triple double over the course of an entire NBA season. During the 1961-62 season, Robertson made history when he posted 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. The Big O has obviously set the standard for the triple-double. However, Harden and Westbrook are on a historic tear too.
Joel Embiid Better Than Advertised
By Jesse Blancarte
The NBA has shifted toward a smaller and faster style of play over the last decade. An inherent and obvious result of that shift is the apparent marginalization of the center position. That’s not to say that there haven’t been star-quality centers in the NBA over the last decade. However, it’s hard to deny that centers are, for the most part, no longer focal points on offense, nor are they usually the most important player on any given team.
There are a few exceptions of course – DeMarcus Cousins is far and away the best and most important player for the Sacramento Kings and Marc Gasol has been a focal point on both offense and defense for the Memphis Grizzlies for years. But in today’s NBA, teams generally need a top-tier point guard, a star-quality wing player, a power forward who can space the floor reasonably well and a center who can protect the rim and ideally switch out onto the perimeter when necessary.
Miami’s Struggles About More than One Player
Drew Maresca assesses the Miami HEAT’s early-season struggles and their statistical slide from the 2019-20 campaign.
The Miami HEAT appeared to successfully turn the corner on a quick rebuild, having advanced to the bubble’s 2020 NBA Finals. It looked as though Miami took a short cut even, rebounding from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh era incredibly quickly. Ultimately, they did so through smart drafting – including the selections of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro – plus, a little luck, like the signing of Jimmy Butler and smartly sticking with Duncan Robinson.
But despite the fact that they should have improved from last season, the tide may have turned again in South Beach.
Through 15 games, the HEAT are an underwhelming 6-9 with losses in each of their last two games. Miami is also scoring fewer points per game than last season – 109.3 versus 112 – while giving up more – 113.1 against 109.1.
Miami has played the 14th-toughest schedule in the NBA, and there are some embarrassing and noteworthy loses thus far. They lost by a resounding 47 points to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season, with extra harsh defeats of 20 points to the lowly Detroit Pistons and the mediocre Toronto Raptors.
What’s to blame for Miami’s woes? Unfortunately for the HEAT, it’s a number of things.
First of all, they need more from a few of their stars – and it starts at the very top. Jimmy Butler was Miami’s leading scorer in 2019-20, posting 19.9 points per game. But this season, Butler is scoring just 15.8 points per game on a sub-par 44.2 percent shooting. While Butler shot poorly from three-point range last season, too (24.4 percent), he hasn’t connected on a single three-pointer yet in 2020-21. This, coming from a guy who shot 34.7 percent from deep in 2018-19 and 35 percent in 2017-18.
But it’s not just his lack of scoring that’s hurting. Butler is also collecting fewer assists and rebounds as well. He’s averaging only 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, down from 6.7 ad 6.0 last season.
However, Butler’s main struggle this season has nothing to do with any statistic or slump. Butler has missed seven straight games due to COVID-19 protocols. Although to go-scorer wasn’t playing particularly well prior to isolating from the team – scoring in single digits twice – the HEAT are always in better shape if their leader takes the floor with them.
It’s not just Butler either. Tyler Herro also needs to regain his bubble form, at least as far as shooting is concerned. After connecting on 38.9 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts in 2019-20, he’s sinking only 30.2 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts per game this season.
While Herro is scoring more – 17.2 points per game this season – and doing so more efficiently, he’s doesn’t pose the same threat from deep this season. So while he’s sure to pick it up sooner than later, he must do so to put more pressure on opposing defense.
It’s fair to assume Herro will solve his long-distance shooting woes, but the fact that he’s also struggling from the free throw line is concerning because it speaks more to his form. Herro is still well above the league average, connecting on 76.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, but he shot a scorching 87 percent on free throw attempts last season.
So what’s behind the slump? More importantly, which Herro can the HEAT count on for the remainder of 2020-21? As much as Herro is on track to grow into an incredible player, Miami needs his efficiency to return to last season’s form if they expect to compete. But like Butler, a major part of Herro’s struggles are off the court.
Herro is currently dealing with an injury, having missed the last five games with neck spasms. Coach Erik Spoelstra noted that giving the injured Herro so many minutes before his big layoff likely exacerbated his injuries.
“There’s no telling for sure if this is why Tyler missed these games,” Spoelstra told the South Florida SunSentinel. “But it definitely didn’t help that he had to play and play that many minutes. We didn’t have anybody else at that point. If he didn’t play, then we would have had seven.”
But the HEAT’s struggles are about more than any one player – and that’s a big part of what makes Miami, Miami.
Still, their team stats are equally puzzling, like that the Miami HEAT currently ranks 20th in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating. In 2019-20, they were 7th in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Obviously, something isn’t translating from last year, but what is it that’s missing?
Firstly, the HEAT are only the 18th best three-point shooting in terms of percentage. Last season, Miami was 2nd by shooting 37.9 percent. Herro returning to his old self should help quite a bit, and Butler making at least a few threes should improve spacing, too.
But it’s not just three-point shooting as the HEAT ranked last in field goal attempts last season, tallying just 84.4 attempts per game. And while they’re last again this season, they’ve managed to average even fewer attempts per game (81.7) despite maintaining nearly all of their roster.
The HEAT are also last in offensive rebounding, which translates to fewer field goal attempts and fewer points. And while Miami was 29th in offensive rebounds last season, they’re corralling 2.1 fewer rebounds this season (6.4) than in 2019-20 (8.5). What’s more, Miami is now last in total rebounds with only 40.9 per game. A number that also represents a fairly significant change as the HEAT were 17th a season ago with 44.4 per game – whew!
Lastly, Miami is turning the ball over more often than nearly any other team – sorry, Chicago – in 2020-21. During the prior campaign, the HEAT were barely middle of the pack, turning the ball over 14.9 times per game, a mark that left them 18th-best in the league. This season, they’re 29th and turning the ball over 17.7 times per game – dead last in terms of turnovers per 100 possessions.
It’s not all bad news for the HEAT, though. Bam Adebayo looks great so far, posting 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Second-year stud Kendrick Nunn is averaging 21.5 points on 56 percent shooting through the past four games; while Duncan Robinson is still a flame thrower, shooting 44.4 percent on 8.4 three-point attempts per game.
The HEAT’s upside is still considerable, but it’s easy to wonder if they captured magic in a bottle last season.
What We Learned: Western Conference Week 4
It’s only been a month, but the NBA season has already seen plenty of ups and downs. In the Western Conference, especially, the 2020-21 season has been a smashing success for some, but a complete and total slog for others.
But which teams have had it the best in the West so far? The worst? Let’s take a look in the latest Western Conference installment of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.
The Clippers Hit Their Stride
Los Angeles’ holdovers from a season ago have often pointed to their regular season complacency as to why they fizzled out during last year’s postseason. And, because of that, they’ve made a concerted effort to play hard on every possession so far in the 2020-21 season.
So far, the results have been good. More than good, even; the Clippers, tied for the best record in the NBA with their in-house rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, are on a six-game win streak. Paul George has played like an MVP candidate, while Kawhi Leonard has looked healthy and at the peak of his powers. Offseason additions Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard have all made strong contributions as well.
With so many versatile players and a roster as deep as any in the NBA, anyone can be “the guy” for Los Angeles on any given night. And, tough to guard because of that versatility, they’ve managed the NBA’s second-best offensive rating through the first month.
After last season’s let-down, the Clippers have played without much pressure this season — and it’s showed. Still, with Leonard a potential pending free agent (Leonard can opt-out after the season), it’s paramount that the team play hard and show him they’re good enough to compete for a title in both the short- and long-term.
So far, they’re off to a great start.
Injury Woes Continue in Portland
Portland’s been bit by the injury bug. And badly.
Already without Zach Collins, the Trail Blazers have lost both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum in recent weeks. They couldn’t have come at a worse time, either; Nurkic had turned a corner after he struggled to start the year, while McCollum, averaging 26.7 points on 62 percent true shooting, was in the midst of a career year.
It would seem, once again, like Portland has put it all on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. But, in a brutally competitive Western Conference, he may not be able to carry that load alone. They do have some solid depth: more of a featured role could be just what Robert Covington has needed to get out of a rut, while Harry Giles III, the former Sacramento King that was signed in the offseason, has a ton of potential if he can just to stay on the court. Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter should see expanded roles in the interim, as well.
But will it be enough? We can only wait and see. But, if that group can’t keep the Trail Blazers afloat until Nurkic and McCollum can return, Portland could be in for a long offseason.
Grizzlies Are Competitive — With or Without Ja Morant
Memphis, on a five-game win streak, is just a half-game back of the West’s fifth seed. And they’ve managed that despite the sheer amount of adversity they’ve had to deal with to start the year. Jaren Jackson Jr. is expected to miss most of if not the entire season, multiple games have been postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and Ja Morant missed eight games due to an ankle sprain.
However, head coach Taylor Jenkins has the Grizzlies playing hard, regardless of who is in the lineup. They have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 106.1 and have managed huge wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
Of course, Memphis is glad to see Morant over his injury and back in the lineup, but they might be just as happy to see how their entire core has progressed. Their success this season has, in large part, been a group-effort; rookies Xavier Tillman and Desmond Bane have been strong off the bench, while youngsters Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen have all proven integral pieces to the Grizzlies’ core for years to come.
As the year carries on, Memphis might not stick in the playoff picture. But, if their young core can continue to develop, they might not be on the outside looking in for much longer with Morant leading the charge.
What’s Going On In New Orleans?
The Pelicans have struggled and there wouldn’t appear to be an easy fix.
5-9, on a three-game losing streak and having dropped eight of their last nine, New Orleans just can’t seem to figure it out. The rosters fit around cornerstones Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram has proven awkward at best, as the team ranks in the bottom-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Lonzo Ball has struggled offensively to start the season while JJ Redick can’t find his shot. Newcomer Eric Bledsoe has been fine but, as one of the team’s few offensive creators, his impact has been severely minimized.
Despite their stable of strong defenders, Stan Van Gundy’s defensive scheme, which has maximized their presence in the paint but left shooters wide open beyond the arc, has burned them continuously. Williamson’s effort on the defensive end, meanwhile, has been disappointing at best; he hasn’t looked like nearly the same impact defender he did at Duke University and in short spurts a season ago.
They still have time to work it out, but the Pelicans need to do so sooner rather than later. If they can’t, or at least establish some sort of consistency, New Orleans might never see the heights many had hoped to see them reach this season.
Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.
NBA Daily: Lonzo Ball Presents Difficult Decision For Pelicans
Lonzo Ball is struggling early in his fourth NBA season, leaving the Pelicans questioning whether he will be a part of the team’s long-term plans moving forward.
Lonzo Ball and the New Orleans Pelicans failed to reach an extension prior to the deadline entering the 2020-21 NBA season – which made this season an important year for the former second overall pick to prove his worth.
But things have not gone according to plan for Ball. Originally acquired by the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball has failed to get going early in the current season. After a few years of what seemed like positive progression in the guard’s shooting stroke, this 2021 has brought up the same questions that surrounded Ball in his earlier scouting reports.
In his first three seasons, Lonzo saw his three-point accuracy increase each year. It started at a 30.5 percent accuracy rate and had jumped to an impressive 37.5 by his third NBA season, 2019-20.
Now well into his biggest campaign yet, he sits below 30 percent for the first time in his career, though there is a lot of time left to see that number increase. If Ball expects to be part of the Pelicans’ long-term plans, improvement is absolutely vital.
Obviously, shooting is a key part of the NBA game today, especially as a guard. Simply put, a player needs to give his team the proper floor spacing needed to maximize their scoring output in an offensively driven league.
That point is especially true for Ball, who needs to prove he can play alongside franchise cornerstones Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Both players are showing the skillset to be a dominant one-two punch for years to come, and the biggest need around them is proper floor spacing.
So even with all the positives Ball brings to the defensive side of the floor and as a playmaker, he cannot fit alongside Williamson and Ingram unless he’s a threat to hit shots from behind the arc. He’s obviously trying to prove himself in that regard as he has never averaged more three-point shots per game than he currently is – and yet, the result has been concerning.
When the two sides failed to reach an extension this offseason, it was abundantly clear that the Pelicans needed to see consistency before they’d tie long-term cap space to the guard. In the early going of the season, Ball is perhaps playing his most inconsistent basketball since his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But will the Pelicans benefit from not signing Ball prior to the season? Maybe even by getting him to agree to a team-friendly contract if his struggles continue all year?
That seems highly unlikely. First off, not all teams are as desperate for a good shooting guard as the Pelicans are. As previously stated, Williamson and Ingram are in place as the franchise cornerstones. That means every player brought in on a long deal from here on out is brought in with the plan to fit alongside the forward combination.
Most teams with cap space don’t have the luxury of already having two franchise cornerstones in place. That means they are more likely to build around a player they sign – that’s especially true for a player that will hit free agency at a young age as will be the case with Ball.
While there’s almost no way the Pelicans won’t make a qualifying offer to Ball this offseason, it becomes a whole different question when pondering if they’ll match any contract he signs, depending on the financials involved.
He’ll offer significantly more value to another franchise than he might to the Pelicans because of the fit. The New York Knicks, for example, will be among the teams with cap space this offseason, they could see Ball as a player they can build things around moving forward.
That instantly makes him much more valued by the Knicks than he currently would be by the Pelicans. Of course, New Orleans would maintain their right to match the contract, but what good would it be if he isn’t going to fit next to the stars of the team? At no point will he be prioritized over the likes of Williamson and Ingram, which means he’s on a ticking clock to prove he can play alongside them as the team continues its ascension.
The first step could be adjustments to the rotation that sees Ball play more of the traditional point guard role with the rock in his hands. This isn’t easy for head coach Stan Van Gundy to do though as Ingram and Williamson thrive with the ball in their hands.
In all likelihood, Ball’s future in New Orleans will hinge on his consistency as a shooter, which, contrary to popular belief, he has shown the ability to do in the past. First off, confidence and staying engaged are keys; while Ball has struggled with both of those things in his early NBA seasons.
The second is an adjustment to his tendencies. Instead of settling for the spot-up opportunity every time it is presented, Ball would benefit from attacking the closeout more often and maximizing the chances that come from doing so.
Those options are in areas like finding the next open man for a three-pointer, getting to the free-throw line and finishing at the rim instead of hitting the deep shot. If he does these things, he’ll quickly find himself facing less aggressive closeouts and will be more confident in his game. Naturally, those things could lead to a more successful shooting number as the season continues on.
Ball is as talented as they come and it’s understandable why the Pelicans want to slide him in behind the two franchise forwards they have. The unfortunate reality is that time is running out on pass-first guard’s big chance to prove it’s the right move for the Pelicans moving forward.