Assessing the Schedule Change
Heading into the 2015-16 season, the NBA made significant changes to the schedule for each team. The league wanted to address player safety and opted to make a dramatic change in how frequently teams played.
Since taking over as commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has publicly expressed a desire to make a number of tweaks to the league. Silver has mentioned cutting down the length of preseason, readdressing the lottery system and possibly changing the current playoff format.
However, one of the biggest areas of concern for Silver was player health and safety. The league heard concerns from the players and cut down the amount of back-to-back games teams played in, as well as stretches of four games in five nights.
As a result, teams are playing all-time lows in back-to-back games and four games in five nights scenarios. The total number of four games in five nights are down from 70 last season to a total of 27 such instances this season. No team will play more than two stretches of four games in five nights, which is down a staggering 61 percent from last season.
Back-to-back games are down from an average of 19.3 per team last season to 17.8 this season. Several teams will play in a league-low 14 back-to-back sets, while no team has more than 20 such situations.
The idea to change the schedule was first brought up in the Board of Governors meeting last April. Given all of the factors that play into creating an 82-game schedule for every team, instituting such a dramatic change in such a short period of time is the result of hard work from the league.
“I think all teams are taking precautionary measures,” Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap told Basketball Insiders. “They invest a lot of money into their players, so I think it’s in their best interest. I think they’re smart enough to understand that and to take care of players’ bodies and be aware of fatigue or health issues.
“There’s been changes. I think [the schedule is] spaced out a little bit more, but the schedule is still what it is. There are still 82 games, including the preseason. It’s a long season, regardless of back-to-backs or no back-to-backs.”
The rise in four games in five nights last season was said to be from the league extending the All-Star break to a full week. Prior to the change, the All-Star break lasted only about four days long. In order to accommodate the change this season, more games are being played on Thursdays and Sundays.
In addition to playing more games on Thursday and Saturday, Silver has also talked about shortening the preseason in order to help with easing the regular schedule. Currently, teams play eight preseason games each.
An exact plan has yet to be unveiled regarding the preseason, but Silver has said the league and players will meet to discuss their options. The league operates on a 170-day schedule, so shortening or extending the regular season will have financial implications that will need to be ironed out during bargaining sessions with players.
Changing the schedule around will ultimately help keep a fresh product on the floor, which will translate to a more entertaining game for fans. Teams are traveling more efficiently this season as back-to-back games that cross a time zone have been cut by 18 percent, while long distance back-to-backs have been reduced by 25 percent.
“The back-to-backs aren’t as bad, but the four in five nights can be tough sometimes,” Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I think product-wise, if you want a good product out there, you want to make sure guys are fresh and maybe it saves injuries – you never know.
“The fans are paying their money and they want that product to be good. Mr. Silver has done a lot of great things and I’m sure will look at everything. It’s all about growing the game and protecting the product out there and making sure guys are healthy and the best they can be.”
Following the change to the regular season schedule, the league also tweaked the format for the Finals to allow more recovery time. Teams playing in the Finals will now receive two days off in between games in which travel is required. Prior to the change, Finals games were only played on Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday.
With the first season underway in the new schedule format, some players and teams really haven’t noticed too much change yet. They remain locked into playing and taking the season one game at a time.
“I don’t really pay attention to the schedule other than to see how many days you’ll be home for or how long you’ll be on the road for and how long you need to pack,” Washington Wizards guard John Wall told Basketball Insiders.
“Other than that, we just go out there and compete. If it’s back-to-backs or if it’s not, we just know we got to go out there and compete for every game. That’s all you can do is put your hard hat on and go compete.”
Other teams, such as the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic, may not have noticed the change given their overseas game last month. The two teams played each other in London on January 14 as a part of the NBA Global Games 2015-16.
Given the long-distance travel and the time change associated with playing in London, both teams played just one game in a nine-day span, which further compressed the rest of their schedule. The Magic will face 19 sets of back-to-back games this season, while the Raptors will play in 17 such sets.
“For us, it seems like back-to-backs get more and more consistent just because we had that London trip,” Magic center Jason Smith told Basketball Insiders. “Overall, they’ve tried to extend the season and extend All-Star break to give us more time to try and recover. It’s a grueling schedule and you just got to keep on going.
“It gives you that sense of they’re trying to make sure the product stays [high quality] out there. You want to give the fans as best product out there as you can and try to eliminate those back-to-backs. Hopefully, us as players, taking care of our bodies, eating right and getting rest helps that.”
It seems as though most players are appreciative of the measures the NBA has taken in protecting its product. They have praised Commissioner Silver and the steps the league has taken in addressing health concerns.
The NBA season is a long and grueling process, and it’s only further complicated when factoring in preseason and playoff games. Player health has become a hot-button issue across all American sports and it seems like the NBA has been proactive in their approach, rather than being reactive.
Knicks Looking to Make Deadline Deal
At a press conference on Monday, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said the team will be looking to improve with the trade deadline looming next Thursday. Jackson spoke regarding the firing of head coach Derek Fisher, while also addressing the improvements he would like to make.
“We’re looking to improve this ballclub, there’s no doubt,” Jackson said, according to ESPN. “We know that we have some good guys. The chemistry is pretty good. The talent can still be better. It always can, so we’re looking.
“Like any team looking to improve themselves, we are open to discussion. We have to be. That is just the way of the nature of the game.”
While Jackson wouldn’t specify what the team is looking to acquire, the Knicks have been said to be seeking to upgrade the point guard position. The team has been linked with Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings as potential targets.
Jackson acknowledged the team doesn’t have many attractive assets they’d be able to offer in a potential deal, but added that they are weighing all of their options.
It would also seem likely that the team will be cautious when discussing their options. Jackson said that after Carmelo Anthony (no-trade clause), the team likely wouldn’t part ways with rookie Kristaps Porzingis.
Depending on how some player options pan out, the Knicks could be looking at having as much as $31.4 million in cap space this summer. If they miss out on a trade this season, they can also look at bringing in some players through free agency.
Notable point guards like Rajon Rondo, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson and Jordan Clarkson could all be free agents this summer, if the Knicks are seeking a point guard.
NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role
Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.
It was the last game of the 2016-17 NBA season. The Minnesota Timberwolves had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for quite some time. Their opponent that night, the Houston Rockets, had an impressive year and were on their way to the postseason.
Although the Wolves would go on to lose that game, 123-118, Tyus Jones came off the bench to have to his best game of the year. He would finish with 17 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the three-point line, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.
Jones had just finished up his second year in the NBA, which had gone a little bit just like his first; a few games played here and there followed by some DNP-CD’s. Rookie Kris Dunn was ahead of him on the depth chart at backup point guard for the majority of the year. That stat line he put up on the last night of the season, however, should have been a sign of things to come.
Now in his third year, and second playing under Tom Thibodeau, Jones has firmly seized the backup point guard spot. Thibodeau is notorious for playing short rotations, and along with Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng, Jones has solidified himself as one of Minnesota’s most dependable reserves.
“It’s been good, I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as possible,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win more games.”
The Timberwolves have done just that so far. They won 31 games all of last season. This year, they already have 16 wins. They didn’t break that mark last season until mid-January. Jones’ impact on the Wolves this year has been a big reason for that.
His stats may not jump off the page; he’s averaging 3.9 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, and 2.8 assists in about 17 minutes of play. But he’s become a reliable floor leader who is able to anchor the Wolves second unit. He’s also one of their best floor spacers at 38.2 percent from the three-point line, and he’s an improved defensive player.
“For me, having a little bit bigger role this year, it’s what I wanted,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of it.”
Jones has definitely taken advantage of his new role. Starting point guard Jeff Teague missed four games last month due to a sore right Achilles tendon. Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague for the first game he missed, but Jones was the starter for the next three.
In his first ever career start on Nov. 26 in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Jones had nine points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. The following game, albeit in a loss to the Washington Wizards, he finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. In his final start before Teague returned, a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had his best game of the season with 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.
“It was a dream, I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Jones told Basketball Insiders about being a starter. “Once again, take advantage of the opportunity and just do my role.”
Although Jones only spent one season playing college basketball before entering the NBA draft, it was the program he attended that’s allowed him to make a seamless transition. He played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski during the 2014-15 season, winning a national championship alongside fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook.
“It’s the best program in the country. Coach K is the best coach, arguably ever, to coach the game,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “There’s nothing comparable on the college level, playing at Duke. They’re the brightest lights, so that helps prepare you for the next level.”
The Wolves are a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It was the 2003-04 season, to be exact. This year, however, they are hoping to change that. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, fighting for the right to host a playoff series in the first round.
“We’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s our goal right now,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Each year, we’re trying to get better. We’re still trying to take that next step. This organization hasn’t been to the playoffs in a number of years.”
With Jones playing a pivotal role, the Wolves’ playoff drought looks like it will be coming to an end very shortly.
NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17
Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.
The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.
By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.
For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.
A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.
6. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)
Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.
This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.
Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.
Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.
Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.
The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.
In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.
After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.
Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.
Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.
Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.
Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.
At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.
The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.
Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.
As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.
After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.
No big deal.
That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.
Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.
Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.
The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.
James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.
Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.
What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.
On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.
LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.
NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?
The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?
At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work
The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?
Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.
All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:
Not Enough Touches
The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.
That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.
It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.
That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.
Russ Has To Be Russ
When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.
The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.
Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.
Where’d Offense Go?
The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.
There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.
Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.
It’s Not A Selfish Problem
The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.
Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.
But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.
All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.
It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.
That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.
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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .
NBA6 days ago
Fast-Learning De’Aaron Fox Making Life Easier For Dave Joerger and the Sacramento Kings
NBA3 days ago
The NBA’s Teams Should Fear How Good Spurs Will Be When Kawhi Leonard Returns
NBA7 days ago
NBA PM: From Predrag To Parish, Dario Saric’s Rich History Fuels Him
NBA7 days ago
First Quarter Grades: Pacific Division