For a long time, the narrative about the Eastern Conference has been that it’s quite weak compared to the Western Conference. Judging by our Power Rankings, there may be some merit to that, as seven of our top 10 and four of the top five are Western Conference teams.
One thing the East has a lot of, though, is parity. A mere 1.5 games separate the third from 10th seed, and if we’re lucky, the trend will continue as the season progresses. Could you imagine a team losing three of their final five games of the season and go from having homecourt advantage in the first round to being in the draft lottery? Talk about suspense! As five different teams in the conference enter play on December 16 with 12 losses, we must say, every single game counts.
In this week’s rankings, the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks are rising. Meanwhile, we’re hoping that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets get their acts together.
Proof that record isn’t everything: The Mavs and Sixers are each 6-19, but one franchise seems to have bright days ahead while the other might as well begin scouting in earnest. We’re fairly certain you know which one is which.
The only thing better than the Sixers turning the corner is the fact that they may be entitled to the Lakers’ draft pick this season. By virtue of the Michael Carter-Williams trade, the pick is due to the Sixers if it falls outside of the top three. Two more lottery picks in Philly? Imagine the possibilities.
The Nets may have lost each of their games in San Antonio and Houston, but with Jermey Lin returning against his former club, the squad had a real opportunity to steal a victory. They didn’t, but with Lin returning after missing 17 games, the Nets will have a chance to win some games.
If there was one game Tom Thibodeau probably wanted to win, it would have been Tuesday’s matchup at the Bulls. The T-Wolves pulled out the 99-94 victory, but what we loved most about it was that Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns each took more shots than Andrew Wiggins. Wiggy being more efficient and less trigger happy would go a long way toward helping Minny.
The Suns were able to overcome Kristaps Porzingis’ career game on Tuesday night, but not Kawhi Leonard’s 18-point, 10-rebound double-double in Thursday night’s 107-92 loss to the Spurs. Even though New York was missing Derrick Rose, the Suns showed something in beating the Knicks. That’s more than can be said for some of the others.
It took 27 games, but Jrue Holiday finally turned in a double-double in a 16-point, 14-assist effort in Thursday night’s 102-95 win over the Pacers. It took as long for Buddy Hield to turn in a 20-point effort as well. Making up 11 games in the Western Conference is going to be difficult, but if those contributions become normal, it could happen.
The HEAT have begun their six-game home stand by winning their first two and if Hassan Whiteside comes anywhere near the 26 points and 22 rebounds he gave his team in Wednesday’s 95-89 win over the Pacers, the HEAT could find themselves playing for something. They’re just four games out of eighth.
Unfortunately, Sunday’s 118-112 loss to the Knicks meant the Lakers carried a six-game losing streak with them on their SEVEN-game road trip, which has begun with losses to the King and Nets. After the road trip, eight of their following nine will be at home – but until then, things might get even uglier.
The last time the Kings beat a team with a winning record was way back on November 23, when they defeated the Thunder. Since then, the Kings have gone 0-6 against teams with winning records, and that’s a fairly good indicator of where they are as a team.
After finishing up their six-game road trip at 2-4, the Nuggets dropped 132 points on the Blazers (whom they defeated). Even more impressive, Denver had EIGHT players score in double figures. Still, in this league, you need an alpha-male and we’re still not sure who that guy is in Denver.
Elfrid Payton had just one 20-point game all season long prior to being sent to the bench for the team’s November 27 contest against the Bucks. Since then, he’s had two, including in Wednesday’s 131-120 victory over the Hawks—their only win in their last five, unfortunately.
The Wiz have won three of four and, very quietly, only trail the third seed in the conference by two games in the loss column. Fortunately, in the Eastern Conference, it only takes one winning streak to find yourself right back in the thick of things, huh?
The good vibrations from Tuesday’s whooping of the Thunder (and ending their four-game losing streak) were short lived, as the Blazers got shellacked by the Nuggets on Thursday, 132-120. They have now lost four of five and are two games under .500 for the first time this season. They need a shot in the arm.
Maybe we’re jumping the gun, but with the Pacers a game under .500 at this point in the season, we are a tad concerned with Nate McMillan and the prospect of him keeping the gig long-term. He’s planning on moving Monta Ellis to the bench. We’ll see if that can ignite the squad.
With all due respect to the Magic, we wouldn’t have bet they could score 131 points in an empty gym, much less against the Hawks, but it happened on Tuesday night. The Hawks have given up at least 100 points in eight of their last nine. We’re still not sure what’s become of these guys.
Losers of four of their last five, the Celtics suddenly find themselves just one game over .500, which is an unpleasant surprise. It’s no coincidence that the team hasn’t had success without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup due to a groin injury. The floor general’s return is imminent, though. With Thomas, Al Horford and Jae Crowder together and healthy, maybe they can turn things around.
In Thursday’s 108-97 loss to the Bucks, somehow, Dwyane Wade managed to turn in a plus/minus rating of minus-28! Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Robin Lopez were each minus-8, so Wade, apparently, was worse than all three of them? Maybe not. But the Bulls’ 1-2 week was very unimpressive.
The Bucks handled the Bulls on Thursday night. The win broke a three-game losing streak, but perhaps more interestingly, was the first of six games wherein the Bucks play three different teams in a home-and-home: Chicago, Cleveland and Washington. On the floor, effort seems to be improving, though, so we’re happy with their progress.
Charlotte dropped the first three contests of their five-game road trip. We can’t be mad at Saturday’s loss at the Cavs, but given how poorly the Pacers and Wizards have fared this season, we would have expected the Hornets to win at least one of those. They didn’t.
The Pistons are 8-4 over their last 12, but somehow got beat up by the Sixers on Sunday, 97-79. They managed just 12 points in the first quarter and never led the entire game. It only counts as one loss, but we think it should count as three. Even still, it’s hard to argue with their on-court improvements. Plus, the aforementioned eight wins helps a lot in the suddenly jumbled East.
The Knicks have backed into a top-10 ranking. After winning the first two games of their five-game road trip (against the Kings and Lakers), their losses to the Suns and Dubs are excusable since they were without a healthy Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. Tied with the third-best record out East, it’s time to put some respect on Jeff Hornacek’s name. Still, it’ll all come crashing down dramatically if ‘Melo and Rose don’t get healthy, and fast.
Three games in a row with no triple-double for Russell Westbrook, so we’re a tad disappointed, especially since the Thunder went 1-3 over the past week. They’ve taken a step back, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Seven of their next 11 will be played on the road, so if Westbrook (currently averaging 30.6 points, 10.6 assists and 10.5 rebounds) doesn’t get his act together, things could continue to slip.
After going 9-2 over their past 11, the secret is out: Utah is for real. So long as they continue to play dominant defense (they rank third in defensive efficiency across the league), they’ll have an opportunity to beat anybody. They also lead the league in points allowed at 95.2 per game.
The Grizz have scored victories over the Clippers, Warriors AND Cavs, and they’re the only team in the league that can boast that. The Cavs win comes with an asterisk, but even without Mike Conley, they’ve been getting good minutes with rookie Andrew Harrison and spirited play from Marc Gasol.
With four wins in a row, the Raptors are getting great production from Kyle Lowry, who happens to be shooting about 58 percent from the field over his last 10 games. Clearly the second-best team in the conference, the next measuring-stick game doesn’t come until they visit the Warriors on December 28. Between now and then, they’ll only play one team with a winning record.
The Clips are 5-2 since since their three-game losing streak, and the next three (at Miami, at Washington, home vs. Denver) seem winnable. The next litmus test will come next Thursday against the Spurs. Who had the Clips locked in a dead heat with the Rockets at this point? Yet, here we are.
With eight wins in a row, the Rockets are currently carrying the longest winning streak in the association. What makes their immediate outlook even more promising? Seven of their next 11 will be played at home. Of those 11, only five will be contested against winning teams. They don’t play the Clippers until December 30. Safe to say we’re looking forward to that one.
We’ve gotta take the champs to task for leaving LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at home when they traveled to Memphis to complete their home-and-home with the Grizzlies. No surprise, they lost without their big guns, ending their five-game win streak. So long as they remain healthy, the sky isn’t falling in Cleveland.
While everyone was paying attention to what Phil Jackson said about Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook eating triple-doubles like they were cheeseburgers, the Spurs were busy going 15-2 over their past 17 games. Six of their next nine also happen to be against opponents less than .500, so the Warriors won’t be putting much distance between the two teams… Yet.
The Dubs took care of their business on Thursday night, beating up on the depleted Knicks by a final of 103-90. What makes them scariest (and unstoppable) is how they share the ball. On Thursday night, they had 41 assists on 45 field goals. For them, having an assist rate of 80 percent or better is quite routine. It’s also amazing.
The way things have gone over the first six weeks of the NBA season, it would appear that the Warriors, Spurs and Cavs are separating themselves from the pack. As we look ahead to Christmas Day, we can’t help but be a tad excited about seeing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make their first visit to Cleveland as teammates. Stay tuned, and be sure to check back next Friday to see where your team stands.
Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry
Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.
With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and front offices and scouts across the league.
Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Las Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.
It’s Mitchell Robinson.
Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.
He’s just the latest example of things that Scott Perry has done right.
As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts barely worth enough to buy LeBron James lunch on a consistent basis, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.
For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.
Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite. Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.
It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in summer league, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.
So if you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and subsequently strategically managing his salary cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.
With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future, so the task doesn’t appear that difficult.
What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season.
And what it also means for the Knicks is that the performance of Knox and Robinson at the Las Vegas Summer League isn’t the only thing the club should be celebrating.
It’s fair at this point to say that Perry has both improved the team’s future prospects and made a few moves that at least appear to have been the right decision.
Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign.
Perry has given Knicks fans quite a few. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.
* * * * * *
It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.
Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.
In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.
As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.
We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.
That concept has been where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up being effective will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.
Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job.
That much is a fact.
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Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused. Irony is often confused with coincidence.
In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.
In other words, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.
That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.
On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York.
To do you one better, a more recent example of irony can be found in the fact that Isaiah Thomas was traded by the Boston Celtics after recording the highest single-season scoring average of all time among player shorter than six-foot tall.
Irony is fans of the Los Angeles Lakers having no choice but to embrace LeBron James after spending the entirety of his existence downplaying his career accomplishments in order to properly exalt Kobe Bryant.
Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.
Yea. That’s irony. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury.
In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?
Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.
But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns
Looking For A Few Great Voices!
From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.
Looking For A Few Great Voices!
From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.
We are considering adding up to four new voices in 2018, and what we are looking for is very specific.
Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team other than in New York & LA; we are full in those markets.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.
Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.
If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:
The NBA Market You Live Near:
And Why We Should Consider You:
We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful. E-mail that to email@example.com
NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward
Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.
Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.
Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.
“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”
Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.
In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.
“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”
And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.
But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.
During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.
Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.
“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”
Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.
Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.
On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.
“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”
The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.
Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.
“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”
Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.