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Dylan Ennis Taking A Different Path

Oregon guard Dylan Ennis speaks to Oliver Maroney about his roller coaster basketball career, brother Tyler and more.

Oliver Maroney

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Dylan Ennis, brother of former Syracuse guard and current Houston Rocket’s player Tyler Ennis, is a coach in a player’s body. He brings excitement, energy and endless passion to the game of basketball. He leads by example, but also with both exhausting and exhilarating play. He doesn’t have a signature move, but rather a number of moves that keep the opposition on their heels. With his bleach-blond hair patch, he pounds the court before games and projects an intimidating presence to opponents.

The numbers don’t fully do his play justice, but do confirm the 6’2 guard is everywhere at once: Dylan leads the 16-2 Oregon Ducks in assists, steals and minutes played Additionally, he is fourth in scoring and third in rebounding.

It all started from the day Dylan was born. His mother would enter labor and eventually give birth to Dylan – all while his biological father was in the same hospital suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Dylan’s father, Jonathan Howell, would end up paralyzed on the left side of his body. Two years later, he would separate with Dylan’s mother. From that point on, Dylan would start to split time with his stepfather (whom he refers to as his father), Tony McIntyre, and Jonathan.

“On the weekends, when I didn’t have basketball, I’d go to Jonathan’s house,” Dylan told Basketball Insiders. “All other times, I’d be with Tony. He coached my basketball teams and so we spent a lot of time together. When I was younger and even now, I never wanted one father to feel more important than the other. Growing up they both gave me the whole world, both of them. Tony, I lived with him my entire life, he was my coach, my best friend, him and I would talk about basketball twenty-four seven. He was my dad, so he helped me grow up into a man. My other father, my biological father, Jonathan, he was there when I needed him, as far as on the weekends. He knew that he was only going to get three days out of three or four weeks with me, but he made the best of it.”

The Ennis’s were a basketball family. Dylan’s older brother Brandon and younger brother Tyler both played basketball. In fact, all members of the Ennis family played basketball in some capacity. His other siblings Dominique, Tyylon and Brittany also play the game. His father was the coach of many basketball teams, including the three brothers’, growing up. But Tyler and Dylan were probably the closest of the siblings as far as basketball was concerned.

“He was a bit older than me, but we were basically twins,” Tyler Ennis told Basketball Insiders. “We did everything together. Even now he’s my best friend, we talk every day.”

Dylan knew he wanted to pursue basketball at the highest level. He’d been pushed by his father and motivated by his family. They all were close enough in age to where the support was mutually beneficial and contributed to their success on and off the court.

“When I was four, I knew I wanted to play in the NBA,” Dylan told Basketball Insiders. “I think that came from playing and watching all my siblings. Growing up, Brandon and I played with each other from the age of four to about 10 years old. Then he went off, got older and got into teams where you start playing your own age group. So then Tyler did what I did when I played up with Brandon. He played up with me for a few years and that’s why I think he developed so well. My dad always coached about two or three teams at a time so we’d be running from gym to gym to make sure that we could watch each other play. Typical tournament weekends we’d leave as a family around 9:00 AM and not get back until about 10:00 or 11:00 at night because we’d all stay and watch each other play. It was a basketball family, everything we did we dedicated to basketball and that was our life. We all loved it.”

Dylan would move on to high school, which is when his dad determined that moving to New York with his uncle Paul Ruddock would be his best move.

When I was fourteen, my dad said, ‘You’re really good, we should have you looking at going to school in New York,'” Dylan said.  “At the time, New York City was the mecca of basketball and my uncle Paul was known in New York City as a coach, so he offered to help me get into a basketball school. Once we went down there, we determined the best school for me to go to was Wings Academy because it was in a public league that everybody loved. It was good competition, it had Lance Stephenson and Sebastian Telfair coming out of it. He had a friend who coached at Wings Academy in the Bronx and we lived on Long Island, so when I went there I thought the coach would drive me up to school but that wasn’t the case.”

Dylan would take two different buses and walk over 30 minutes to get to school, amounting to nearly three hours of travel each way. He’d wake up at 5:30 AM and get to school around 8:30 AM, and while the travel was hard, it wasn’t just waking up early that made the change hard to get used to.

“I just wanted to play basketball at the highest level, so I was going to do everything it took,” Dylan said. “Going there, it sounds great, ‘Wings Academy,’ but it was actually right in the middle of a lot of poverty and bad gang related neighborhoods. We don’t talk about this too much, but there was a time when a couple of my teammates got jumped going to practice. Our school was so small, so we had to go to another gym that was in a really bad neighborhood. So the team decided everybody would travel with these small pocket knives. Me being from Canada, I never experienced anything like that, but they said ‘Dylan, if something happens we have to protect ourselves.’ So we all got these little pocket knives to put in our pockets. Luckily I never had to use it, but we’d be on the train together, on the subway, and get to practice and we always had to be on the lookout for anybody trying to get us. It was a tough two years, and I never told my mom while I was gone because I knew she’d worry about my safety.”

Dylan carried that experience at Wings Academy with him and to this day he’s grateful that he was put in that position. His uncle Paul, with whom he lived in New York City, is like a third father to Dylan.

“He instilled that New York toughness in me,” Dylan said.

After Wings, Dylan would transfer to Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, moving once again to a new city and new surroundings. Only this time, he’d get the full live-in experience before college. He would work tirelessly, getting up at 6:00 AM with his assistant coach and working on every part of his game. Dylan was unsure of where he’d go to college, but was confident that he was destined for a top-five school.

“I never, not one time, said ‘I’m not going to play at a top school in the country,'” Dylan said.

Dylan would be in the weight room every other day getting bigger, stronger and better. Before his junior season at the Academy, mid-major schools started to show interest in the product from Ontario. He would verbally commit to Akron University before his junior year in high school and then later open his recruiting back up before his senior season because he improved and started turning heads. He got “a lot of offers,” but ended up committing to Rice University because he felt he could make an immediate impact as a freshman.

He would graduate high school and attend Rice, where he was a projected starter and go-to leader. But three weeks before the season started he got very sick and missed precious time with the team, which forced him to sit out most of his first seven games. But Dylan proved resilient, and would eventually propel himself to an incredible freshman season. He would go on to be named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team for a rookie season in which he set a school freshman record for assists (144) while averaging 8.5 points to go along with 37 steals and 21 blocks.

That lone freshman season would give Dylan confidence, which would be enough for him to make a change once again. This time, his father and he felt that Rice was going to hold Dylan back from his true potential.

“I knew that I wanted to be one of the top guards in the country,” Ennis said. “I knew I wanted to compete for a national championship and play basketball at the professional level. In order to do that, we just decided that we should take our chances and try and go to a high-major school. Once I had that discussion with my father, I talked to the Rice coaches to tell them how I felt about it. It went back and forth and they tried to make me stay, but I knew it wasn’t the greatest environment for me to become the best basketball player I could be. So, I got my release and then about twenty to twenty-five schools started calling me and my father. Pittsburgh, Villanova, Cincinnati, Virginia, all the schools I wanted coming out of high school. That was really good to hear, it was a sense of reaffirmation.”

He’d moved multiple times over the course of five years to get to that top national level, but nothing was taken for granted. Dylan finally got his pick, and it didn’t take long for him to decide where he’d end up.

“I remember when [Villanova head coach Jay Wright] first called me,” Dylan said. “It was a three-way call with me and my dad, and my dad was like, ‘Coach Wright wants to offer you scholarships.’ And I said, ‘I want to commit right now,’ and he goes, ‘Dylan, you’ve got to wait a little bit, you’ve got to wait.’ Watching Villanova growing up they had amazing guards, but we waited it out and I visited there. I also visited Cincinnati, and I was going to visit Boston College and Virginia as well but I just knew I wanted to go to Villanova after the visit.”

Dylan would go to Villanova, sitting out his first year and working with Billy Lange, current Philadelphia 76ers skill development coach and former assistant at Villanova. They would spend almost every day together – working on strength, conditioning and improving him on the court. As the year went by, rumors around campus were that Dylan was going to be the next big player at Villanova. Everything was looking on “the up and up,” as Dylan explained.

Then, a week before the season, Dylan was playing in a team scrimmage with NBA scouts watching. Early on in the scrimmage, he came off a ball screen and hit his hand on a teammate’s knee.

“I didn’t think nothing of it (the injury),” Dylan said. “I went to the trainer and he said it was just swollen. So, I practiced the rest of the practice and I went to bed. I woke up the next morning and found that it was still swollen. I went back to the trainer again and they ordered me to get an MRI. I waited for the results, and when they got the MRI back they told me it was broken.”

Dylan would eventually make it back on the court during that season, but it wouldn’t be the same. In the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which featured Kansas (with Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins), USC and some other notable national powerhouses, Dylan was regarded as one of the best players in the tournament. In wins against Kansas and USC, he scored 14 points on 80 percent shooting in each game. But during the process, Dylan suffered a sprained finger on his shooting hand, which affected his season and led to inconsistent performances.

That was the same season that younger brother Tyler began attending Syracuse University. He’d would go on to be a Second-Team All-ACC player, First-Team Parade All-American and be regarded as one of the best freshmen in the country. He had such a good season that he ended up declaring for the 2014 NBA Draft, and eventually was selected 18th overall by the Phoenix Suns.

“That was when I started to question basketball,” Ennis told Basketball Insiders. “When you go through so much to get back on the court and get injured again, there’s just a lot that goes through your mind. I don’t have any resentment towards my brother whatsoever because I know how good he is and I know how much he’s worked. But you’re in the same family and you see so much success from your younger brother and you think ‘why’ when I worked just as hard.”

Dylan was the older brother who brought Tyler around everywhere. He knew what his older brother Brandon did for him, so he tried to do the same for Tyler. They would play two-on-two with others, they’d work out together, they’d virtually do everything together. Dylan recalls Tyler getting drafted.

It was definitely mixed emotions when we were sitting in the green room at the draft,” he said. “I think I was happier than he was getting drafted but, at the same time, it dawned on me: ‘I want to be here one day and I’m just waiting it out.'”

That’s when Dylan would push himself even further. He’d put more fuel on the fire and develop into a starting guard at Villanova for his third collegiate season.

“That summer I’d work my tail off and earned a starting spot,” Ennis said.

He would go on to play valiantly for the Wildcats, averaging 9.9 points, 3.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and one steal per game.

But at the end of the season, Dylan would come to another decision as to whether he’d stay at Villanova or leave as a graduate transfer. He loved Coach Wright, the program and his teammates, but decided that he’d make a leap and try something new. He would transfer to the University of Oregon after having a long conversation with Coach Wright. To this day, the two still talk frequently as Wright and Dylan have mutual respect for one another.

“I was shocked and disappointed that he left,” said Coach Wright. “He’s an incredible young man who did everything we asked of him at Villanova. He graduated on time, played great and was an exceptional teammate and outstanding representative of the program. He was very honest and clear about the situation (with him leaving) and I was fully understanding and supported his decision to leave. We still text and talk to each other. I love that kid.”

Dylan left to become the leader of the Oregon Ducks basketball team, but would miss most of his first season with a broken foot. He still would make his presence felt immediately, though.

“Even though he was injured a majority of his first season and summer, he had an immediate presence on our locker room,” Former reserve guard Theo Friedman said. “He’s got natural leadership that I’ve never seen throughout my basketball career. To this day, he’s one of the best teammates I’ve had despite never getting to play alongside him due to the injury. He just knows how to communicate and talk to teammates. I basically viewed him as a coach on the floor. He’s probably the only player I’ve played with who could actually be considered a floor general.”

Going through another season riddled with injuries wasn’t easy for Dylan. But coincidentally, he found someone in a similar situation as him, which made it easier to find the silver lining at Oregon.

“When I got here, this girl (Megan Trinder) on the basketball team had recently torn her ACL,” Dylan said.  “So I see her around, and we talked, hung out and became good friends. Then, not too long after we became friends, I break my foot. Now I’m out and she’s just recovering from her ACL and it’s funny how things work but, from me being hurt to her being hurt, we just became closer and closer until we started to date. Eventually, I’d get back on the court after breaking my foot for a second time last year and she was there throughout to help me. Now, coincidentally, she recently tore her ACL again and I’m playing Nurse Dylan for her. Injuries have just shown me who’s there for you and I think the injuries we’ve both had have only helped us in times of frustration and loneliness.” 

Dylan’s injury history is alarming, but it’s also what sets him apart from other players. He’s been through it all and plays with as much heart as any player on the floor. If you talk to any University of Oregon staff member, there is never any doubt about him or his ability.

“Dylan, pound for pound, may be the most dangerous guard in the PAC-12,” Oregon assistant coach Mike Mennenga said. “His skill and physicality make it very difficult to keep him out of the paint. He has really embraced Coach Altman’s offensive philosophy of making ‘simple plays’ and thus his offensive efficiency has skyrocketed, especially when you consider his three-point percentage and assist to turnover ratio. Defensively, Dylan is built to be an elite defender. His [6’8] wingspan has led our team’s defensive surge with his IQ and communication. Most importantly, Dylan is all about the team. A ‘tough-minded’ gladiator who is loved and respected throughout the program. He makes us and his teammates better.”

Dylan has his imprint all over this Oregon Ducks team, which has won 14 straight, and he’s become the focal point of their locker room. After being out for most of last season, he’s come back this season better than ever, leading the team both on and off-the-court.

“When I got to Oregon I didn’t want [my teammates] to not know my character,” Dylan said. “I wanted them to know that I’m here for the team. A leader doesn’t say, ‘I’m here to take all of the shots’ or, ‘I’m here to tell you what to do.’ A leader says, ‘I want to win, and I’m going to do everything I can for us to win.’ And that’s what I did when I got here.”

Dylan is beginning his final chapter with Oregon and finishing his Master’s Degree in Conflict and Dispute Resolution this spring. He’s managed to balance the thesis project, internship hours and basketball in his final year at the school while pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming an NBA player after the season is over.

Whether Dylan makes it to the NBA is still to be determined, but what is clear is that he is extremely selfless and puts his teammates first. With his leadership qualities, unique experiences and potential, it would surprise no one if he carved out a role in the world’s top basketball league.

 

For more on the Oregon Ducks’ basketball team, read up on Ennis’s teammate Dillon Brooks

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court

Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.

Ben Nadeau

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In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.

Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.

Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.

But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.

“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”

Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.

For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.

“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”

Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.

For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.

“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”

Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.

To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.

“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.

Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.

“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”

While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.

This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.

“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”

Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.

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The Most Disappointing Teams So Far

Shane Rhodes looks at a few teams that have disappointed so far this season.

Shane Rhodes

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Approaching the season’s quarter mark, NBA teams are finally starting to settle into their respective grooves. As more and more players become comfortable, their teams begin to demonstrate what they can really do on the court. While some teams have exceeded expectations, a number of teams have underperformed and are looking worse, in some cases much worse, than expected.

Here are six of the NBA’s most disappointing teams so far this season.

6. Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks were going to be bad this season. They just weren’t expected to be this bad.

At 3-15, the Mavericks currently hold the worst record in the NBA. They rank 27th and 22nd in offensive and defensive rating, coming in at 99.3 and 107.6, respectively. Collectively, they are shooting just 42.2 percent from the floor and 34.7 percent from three-point range, both below league average. Nerlens Noel, whom Dallas acquired at the trade deadline last season, has played sparingly.

But there is seemingly a light at the end of the tunnel. The Mavericks’ three wins have come against the Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards and the Milwaukee Bucks, three teams that made the playoffs a season ago and are expected to do so again this season. Victories against the Wizards — who are currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference at 10-7 — and the Bucks — who boast one of the best players in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo — are especially encouraging.

As of now, though, the team is still a mess on both sides of the ball.

5. Miami HEAT

The Miami HEAT were expected to be playoff contenders after a torrid second half last season that saw them win 30 of their final 42 games. Now, the HEAT are currently sitting at the 11th seed in the East and, with a record of 7-9, are currently boasting a worse record than the New York Knicks (9-7), Indiana Pacers (10-8) and the Los Angeles Lakers (8-10).

The offense just hasn’t arrived yet in South Beach. Miami has an offensive rating of 103.13, good for 26th in the NBA. They are shooting under league average from the field (44.5 percent) and from three (35.2 percent) and are fifth in turnovers per game with 16.6 per contest; not exactly a winning formula. The $50 million man Kelly Olynyk has contributed just 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game while the roster outside its starting unit looks flimsy at best. Dion Waiters hasn’t shot the ball as well as last season, either.

The schedule doesn’t get easier for the HEAT, with four upcoming games against the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in their next seven. Expect Miami to get even worse before they start to get better.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were the sixth seed in the East. They boast one of the best young cores in the league, headed by phenom Antetokounmpo and supported by the likes of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and, eventually, Jabari Parker.

Somehow, the Bucks find themselves at just 8-8.

In a weakened Eastern Conference, Milwaukee was expected to make a play for one of its top spots. Instead, the Bucks have gotten blown out by the Mavericks, while barely squeaking by teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Lakers. The Bucks are 23rd in the NBA in defensive rating with a mark of 106.5, worse than the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls while also sitting at 23rd in net rating at -2.2, behind the Los Angeles Clippers (-1.7) and Utah Jazz (-1.3).

Antetokounmpo has yet to improve his stroke from beyond the arc, an undesirable albeit expected deficiency in his game. But, much of the Bucks roster hasn’t shot well from three. Middleton is shooting just 32.1 percent while big-acquisition Eric Bledsoe is shooting an abysmal 16 percent from beyond the arc since arriving in Milwaukee. If they can’t improve here it will be extremely hard for the Bucks to improve their position in the standings.

With six of their next nine games coming against teams at or below .500, the Bucks have a great chance to rebound from their sluggish start. That doesn’t change the fact that, with one of the NBA’s more talented rosters, the Bucks have been a major disappointment up to this point.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

At the time of this writing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won five straight games. Most would say that would or should exempt them from a list like this.

They would be wrong.

The collective record of the teams Cleveland has played during its five-game win streak? 35-48. It may be encouraging to the fans to see the team rattle off five straight, but the Cavaliers aren’t exactly beating the best teams in the Association. They have been careless with the ball as well, turning it over more than 15 times per game while

Their biggest problem, however, is the fact that they can defend absolutely no one. With a defensive rating of 109.4, the Cavaliers have the worst defense in the league. They have gotten away with a lackluster effort in the past, Cleveland’s current roster, outside of LeBron James, just doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to make up for it. And the offense has been good; Cleveland is currently averaging 110.9 points per game with an offensive rating of 109.4, but that leaves them with a big goose egg for their net rating.

The Cavaliers will continue to struggle to beat teams as they attempt to outpace them on the offensive end. For a team that has made three straight NBA Finals and has one of the greatest of all time on its roster, that should certainly be regarded as a disappointment.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

Another “Big-3” was formed in the NBA after Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were paired with reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook in the offseason. However, the 2017-18 season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Thunder

Labeled as a team to rival the Warriors for Western Conference supremacy, the Thunder have done anything but so far this season. While the individual stats counting of Westbrook, George and Anthony have looked good, the Thunder have not as a collective. The team sits at just 7-9, good for 10th in the Western Conference. They rank 19th, 23rd and 21st in the NBA in points, rebounds and assists per game, respectively while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 35 percent from three, both good for 21st.

Westbrook’s early season shooting struggles have hurt the Thunder as well. Westbrook is shooting just 39.4 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three. The dominance he displayed last season, especially late in games, just hasn’t appeared this season and the team is hurting because of it. If the Thunder want to move up in the standings, Westbrook will need to find a way to improve his shooting numbers; they will go as he goes much like last season, even with George and Anthony on the roster.

On a brighter note, the defense has been one of the best in the NBA. But if the Thunder can’t figure it out on offense and score well as a unit, they will continue to struggle, especially when having to face the high-octane offenses of the Warriors and Houston Rockets.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

When losing a player the caliber of Chris Paul, some regression is to be expected. Fortifying the roster with guards Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic and forward Danilo Gallinari, however, the Clippers were expected to weather the storm, to an extent.

Early on the Clippers did exactly that. The team looked impressive in the early going, winning five of their first seven games and averaging 109 points per. Since then? Everything has seemingly gone downhill in Los Angeles, and fast.

The Clippers have lost nine straight by an average margin of 9.8 points per game. Thirteenth in the Western Conference with a 5-11 record, they have looked nothing like the playoff team they were expected to be and are by far the season’s biggest disappointment. They have played poorly on the defensive end, ranking 20th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 106.2. Opponents have shot 45.4 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three against them.

Things haven’t been the greatest on offense, either. In Paul’s absence, the Clippers have dropped from 15th in assists per game a year ago to 28th this season, averaging just 19.6 per game. While they are averaging 104.9 points per game, they are doing so on just 44.1 percent shooting.

Injuries have played a major role in the Clippers struggles; additions Beverly, Gallinari and Teodosic have all missed or are currently missing time with injury. But it’s discouraging to see that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are unable to elevate the Clippers outside of the Western Conference basement.

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NBA AM: Paul Millsap’s Injury Derails Denver

With Paul Millsap injured, the Nuggets hopes to become a contender take a hit.

Lang Greene

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After missing the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. The team won 30 games in 2015, 33 in 2016, 40 in 2017 and are currently on pace to record 48 victories this season, which would be their most since 2013.

The squad features six players averaging more than 10 points per contest, not including two veterans in Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, both of whom are career double-digit scorers. The Nuggets also boast one of the youngest teams in the league with only three players over the age of 30 (Paul Millsap, Chandler and Richard Jefferson).

But the team was dealt a huge blow this week when it was learned that four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap will be out the next three to four months after suffering a torn ligament in his wrist.

Millsap was extremely durable during his first 11 seasons in the league, missing 10 games just once (2017). This injury marks the first time in Millsap’s career where he will miss significant time while roaming the sideline in designer suits.

Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million deal this past summer and his acquisition was viewed as the next step in bringing the team back into the realm of the playoffs.

After an early season adjustment period, Denver (10-7) has rattled off seven victories in their last 10 games. For the team, Millsap’s injury news couldn’t have come at a worst time.  The veteran was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 16 contests. The points are his lowest since 2013 and the rebounding output is his lowest since 2010, but Millsap’s presence has helped stabilize the young Nuggets on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

The Nuggets do have a plethora of power forwards on the depth chart. Veteran Kenneth Faried has started 366 contests for the franchise since being drafted in 2011. Faried’s future with the franchise has come into question in recent years as his playing time and role in the rotation has consistently diminished. The signing of Millsap likely solidified that fate, however, by not dealing Faried, the Nuggets were able to keep an insurance policy in the fold.

Third-year forward and former lottery pick Trey Lyles is another candidate for an increased workload. Lyles is currently averaging 6.8 minutes in 12 appearances but is shooting a career high from the field (52 percent) and three-point range (42 percent) in his limited court time. Another like candidate for more playing time is second-year big man Juan Hernangomez, who has currently appeared in just six contests.

Offensively, the Nuggets will be able to absorb his loss. Guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray score the ball efficiently while swingman Will Barton provides pop off the bench. The team will also likely ride the back of their franchise player Nikola Jokic a bit more as well, with the big man averaging just 11.6 shot attempts per game—third on the team.

Perhaps the biggest area the Nuggets will have to adjust is on the defensive end.

According to ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (DPM), Millsap ranks 31st overall in the league (1.62). He ranks seventh among power forwards with at least 10 games played this season. Last season, Millsap was fifth among power forward and 14th overall in DPM.

The veteran’s track of improving a team’s prowess on the defensive end is proven and it’s exactly the type of “silent” attribute the Nuggets needed on a loaded young team still learning how to play on that side of the ball.

                              Paul Millsap – Real Defensive Plus-Minus
Season DPM League Overall Rank Power Forward Rank
2013-14 2.06                 63                   12
2014-15 2.22                 43                    8
2015-16 3.26                 12                    2
2016-17 3.35                 14                   5
2017-18 1..62                 31                  9

 

The Nuggets will be tested immediately without Millsap in the fold. The team travels to Houston (November 22) and will play nine of their next 13 games are on the road. This includes a six-game road trip from December 4 to December 13.

The team is currently 7-2 at home and just 3-5 away from the Pepsi center.

They will, for sure, be tested without Millsap.

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