The Small Sample Size Overreaction
Most of us here at Basketball Insiders do a lot of sports radio. By virtue of doing so many shows on many different stations, we get the pulse of what some of the average, non-diehard sports fans are thinking. While one game is one game and every team in the NBA has a long road ahead of them, some things jumped out in the first game that are worth watching as the season gets underway.
Anthony Davis Is Pretty Good
Any player who can kick in 50 points is impressive, but how efficiently Davis notched his 50 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and five steals was breathtaking. The problem for the Pelicans is no one else on the roster seems to be able to play at even half of Davis’ level.
You can win a couple of games in the NBA with a lone superstar – in fact, you can even crack the postseason – but to be anything more than a contestant in the dance, the Pelicans need another guy who can complement Davis.
When Tim Frazier (and no offense to Tim, who has been outstanding for the Pelicans) is the next most productive guy, the Pelicans have a problem. Maybe that gets solved when Tyreke Evans gets back, or maybe when Jrue Holiday returns he can help. But the Pelicans’ season hinges on someone else at least competing at Davis’ level, and that did not happen last night.
Warriors Have Issues
Never buy into the hype. If history on superteams has taught us anything, it’s that it takes time for everyone to figure things out and preseason is hardly the environment for it. The Warriors have the best starting five in the world. That’s almost without question, but what they seem to be missing is the glue. Maybe that was Harrison Barnes, maybe that was Andrew Bogut, maybe that was Marreese Speights. The Warriors have to find the intangibles that made them so good last year.
Here is another thing to consider: The Warriors are no longer the darlings of the NBA. They are now officially the hunted and hated. More nights than not, they are going to get every teams’ best punch. Teams are going to challenge them to be unselfish, and that may not be as easy as it sounds.
There is also another thing to consider– the proverbial elephant in the room. When do the Warriors players want their shine? We have seen this too. In the beginning, it’s special. The friendship, the magic bond that makes it work. But when that goes away and it’s hard, how long before the Draymond Green schtick gets old? When does Klay Thompson start believing the hype, that maybe he is one of the best two-way players in basketball? When does the pressure of being Steph Curry become too much?
The Warriors are the best team in the West, without question. They will figure this out because they have a roster full of great team guys, but it’s clear that some of the special sauce that made the Warriors historically good a year ago is gone. They have some issues on the bench they’ll have to sort out, and this isn’t going to be the magical run to the Finals season that everyone thought it would be. It’s going to be harder and time will tell how long it takes the Warriors to figure it out.
Milwaukee Has A Problem
Outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo (who was a monster last night), which guys in Milwaukee want to step up? Like Anthony Davis, it was glaring how much better Antetokounmpo was than anyone he played with. He seemed to be the only guy playing with bounce and energy, and that’s going to be a problem for a Bucks team that wants to make the playoffs.
Maybe it was the early foul trouble that turned Jabari Parker so passive. Maybe it was putting so many minutes into guys like Michael Beasley and Greg Monroe, or maybe it was missing Khris Middleton that much. The Bucks have some issues to work out, that’s for sure. Maybe in Game 2 they will see more life from the team, and maybe they’ll shoot the ball a little better from the three-point line.
James Harden Could Lead The League In Assists
When you think about James Harden, you think about his offense and that was on full display last night. What most people do not think about is his playmaking. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni made it clear when Patrick Beverley went down to injury that he was not worried at all because Harden would handle the ball. Seventeen assists later, handle the ball he did. The Rockets ultimately lost to a very solid Lakers team that showed off its depth and three-point shooting, but the Rockets showed they could move the ball around at a pace that suits Harden well. Harden struggled with the three in the preseason, and he hasn’t found his range yet in the fast-paced offense Houston is running. If Harden finds the three and continues to dish dimes like this, he could lead the league in scoring and assists. Who would have thought that?
Bitching About The Triangle Already?
It took exactly one game before the primary players on the Knicks had less than flattering things to say about the offense. Now mind you, most quotes are a response to a question, and no question gets asked in New York more than, “How’d you like the Triangle?” So balance any quote given against it being an answer to a leading question, but there is no escaping that Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony would rather see more traditional pick-and-roll basketball than the free flowing Triangle system Knicks president Phil Jackson believes is the key to success. The Knicks hardly looked ready for prime time in their first game. Maybe that turns a little in game two, but Joakim Noah didn’t look very good in his first regular season game. The only guy shooting the ball well was Anthony, and if Courtney Lee is going to run the offense that much, the Knicks are going to have long-term problems.
How About Sergio?
Raise your hand if you thought Sergio Rodriquez would be the third-leading scorer for the Philadelphia 76ers? How about notching nine assists in the opening game? The big question surrounding the 76ers was who could make the offense go. The belief was it would be the top overall pick, Ben Simmons. Then he went down to injury, and many thought it might be Jerryd Bayless. Then he got hurt too. While Rodriquez isn’t going to leap tall buildings or anything like that, he was the calm, steady hand to make plays the 76ers have been missing for a few years. He shot the ball well, contested on defense and posted a surprisingly good game. The 76ers hung around for most of the game against the Thunder and had anyone posted a big game, they might have pulled it out. The 76ers looked a lot better in game one, let’s see what their second contest brings.
Throughout the regular season, Basketball Insiders will have instant reaction to trades, transactions and news from around the NBA. We’re ramping up our weekly NBA Chats, and we’ll be doing a lot more video and “insider” driven content. So with the NBA season upon us, make sure to swing by early and often. New content drops throughout the day, every day of the week, so follow us on Twitter (@BBallInsiders) or bookmark the homepage.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @OMaroneyNBA, @Ben_Dowsett, @ JabariDavisNBA and @CodyTaylorNBA .
PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More
Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.
Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia
Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.
After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.
On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.
Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.
When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.
“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”
While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.
“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”
The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.
Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.
Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.
So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.
“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”
In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.
Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.
“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”
On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.
“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”
After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.
“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”
Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.
“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”
NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics
With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.
After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.
“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”
Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.
“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”
While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.
“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”
With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.
“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”
While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.
“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”
With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.