Connect with us

NBA

Areas Of Concern: Northwest Division

David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ “Areas Of Concern” series with a look at the group of five in the Northwest.

David Yapkowitz

Published

on

While it’s still early in the NBA season, there’s been enough games played so far to get a little sense of some early trends.

This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re kicking off a new series titled “Areas of Concern.” This series is intended to highlight some of the bigger issues in each division in the NBA. We started off this week with the Central Division. Our next installment takes a look at the Northwest Division.

The Jimmy Butler Trade Saga

Perhaps the most pressing issue in the Northwest Division centers around the Minnesota Timberwolves and Jimmy Butler’s trade request.

When they first acquired Butler last season, the Timberwolves looked like a team ready to being their ascension in the Western Conference. For a while, they were fighting for a top-four seed in the West. Butler got hurt and they ended up plummeting to the eighth spot.

By now, Butler’s offseason trade request is as well known as his outburst during the team’s first day of practice. Since then, he’s shown up and played his role on the team. Minnesota hasn’t played up to par, however, and they currently hover near the bottom of the West standings at 4-7. Until he’s traded, the entire ordeal is going to continue to be a distraction, and it’s probably best for both parties to move on sooner rather than later.

Defense In Denver

There actually isn’t much to complain about regarding the Denver Nuggets. A team that just barely finished outside the playoffs last season, the way they’ve shown up this season makes it look like that won’t be an issue.

The Nuggets currently sit near the top of the Western Conference at 9-1, behind only the 10-1 defending champion Golden State Warriors – and a big reason for that is their defense. Last season they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They’re a top three defensive team this season.

One could say that, in order to keep up this pace and really establish themselves as an elite team in the West, they need to continue putting in this defensive effort. They’ve yet to incorporate Isaiah Thomas into the lineup and he hasn’t always been known for his defensive output. He seemed to do alright in Boston, though. Once he returns from his injury – if the Nuggets can keep up this lockdown defense – they’ll be that much more dangerous than they already are.

Trouble On Both Sides Of The Ball In Utah

Coming into this season, the Utah Jazz were a team that many thought would take another leap and really establish themselves as an elite team in the West. In the early-goings, however, they aren’t really resembling last season’s team.

Floor spacing and three-point shooting have been an area of concern for them. They’re currently in the bottom half of the league in three-point shooting percentage, shooting 34.8 percent as a team. As a result, their offense has suffered and they’re currently mired in a slump that has seen them lose four straight games at home. They’ve had a tough schedule to start the season, but if they were hoping to be an elite team, these issues need to be addressed.

They’ve also been an average defensive team, a far cry from the elite defensive group they were last season. Teams are shooting near 50 percent from the field against the Jazz. That’s not going to cut it, especially in a conference as tough as the West. Again, it’s still early in the season, but they’re going to need to sort these issues out as soon as possible.

Hot Start In Portland

The Portland Trail Blazers, another team that doesn’t quite have much to complain about, are off to an 8-3 start and sitting near the top of the West. Maybe one concern is whether or not the Blazers are able to keep this up.

There were a few teams that some thought to be better than the Blazers who are currently underperforming. That’s not a knock on the Blazers at all, but it’s going to be interesting to see if they can keep up this pace especially if some of those other teams start to pick it up a bit.

Another point of concern could be their lack of assists. Now, low assist numbers don’t necessarily equate to a lack of ball movement, but it can be alarming – especially once defenses settle in and start to focus on Portland’s isolation scorers. The Blazers were last in the league in assists per game last season, and they’re near the bottom to start this one off. It’s something to take note of that may end up coming back to haunt them as the season plays out.

Shots Not Falling In Oklahoma City

Three-point shooting was a weakness for the Oklahoma City Thunder a year ago, and this season so far hasn’t proved any different. They started off the season 0-4 and have since won five in a row, but adequate floor spacing remains a concern.

They’re currently shooting 29.9 percent from the three-point line. With today’s offenses geared more and more around consistent outside shooting, the Thunder need a jolt in that department. The good news for them is that it appears as if Patrick Patterson is rounding back into the player that made him one of the better backup big men in Toronto. He’s shooting 40.6 percent from downtown.

Aside from him, someone else is going to have to step it up. Alex Abrines might be that guy as he’s shooting 35.7 percent from three. They’re still going to need more. Paul George is only shooting 33.3 percent. For his career, he’s usually shot in the high 30’s from beyond the arc. Russell Westbrook has made strides with his shooting since coming into the league, but he’s all the way down at a measly 10 percent. If they hope to keep pace in the West, they’re going to need to address this.

It’s worth reiterating that this is still very early in the season, A lot can change between now and playoff time. But these issues here are some of the more noticeable ones as we get close to having a full month of NBA games completed.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

Published

on

Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

Published

on

Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

Continue Reading

Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

Published

on

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now