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NBA Look Around: 10 Observations From the Start of the Season

Basketball Insiders’ Bobby Krivitsky examines the NBA landscape, sharing 10 observations from a look around the league.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Nearly three weeks into the season, here’s a look around the NBA landscape, with ten observations ranging in impact from having a direct effect on the chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, teams who are exceeding or failing to meet expectations, examining the play of some of the league’s top rookies, taking note of milestone accomplishments and much more.

1. The Return of the Slim Reaper

In the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason opener against the Washington Wizards, it quickly became evident Kevin Durant is the same player he was before tearing his Achilles. He was slithering through the defense, stopping on a dime for pull-up jump shots and getting to the rim in a couple of strides.

Then, during a Christmas matchup against the Boston Celtics, Durant erupted for 16 points in the third quarter. He finished with 29 points, helping the Nets earn a 123-95 win. In Brooklyn’s next game, the former MVP poured in a season-high 33 points, en route to a 145-141 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

The only questions Durant has left to answer are how he’ll hold up as we get deeper into the season, and later, as the Nets advance further into the playoffs. Those questions are matters of durability. In terms of performance, Durant’s playing like an MVP candidate.

2. Joel Embiid, Early-Season MVP

The early-season front runners for MVP are Joel Embiid and Durant. You can certainly argue the latter’s in the lead, but the former is an offensive force who’s also making a compelling opening statement in his case for Defensive Player of the Year. 

Defensive stats are flawed, so it’s best to avoid relying on one or two of them to paint the entire picture of how a team or individual is performing on that end. Yet, across the board, Embiid’s registering numbers that speak glowingly about the impact he’s making defensively. According to Basketball-Reference, Embiid’s yielding the third-fewest points per 100 possessions.

Additionally, he ranks fifth in defensive win shares and eighth in defensive box plus-minus. Embiid’s blocking 1.8 shots per game this season, the seventh-most in the NBA, and he’s corralling 10 defensive rebounds per game, which are the third-most in the league.

Offensively, Embiid’s producing 24.6 points per game while shooting 52.5 percent from the field and averaging nine free-throw attempts per contest, which are the fourth-most in the NBA, and he’s converting them at an 83.3 percent clip. Though the sample size is small, Embiid’s shooting 45.8 percent from beyond the arc while taking a respectable three attempts per game. For the last three years, he’s been a below-average three-point shooter.

What matters more for Embiid’s development and the Philadelphia 76ers’ title chances is his improvement in passing out of double teams in the low post. In previous years, he’s struggled to read where the second defender was coming from or how the defense would subsequently rotate. Last season, he lost confidence his teammates would make opponents pay when he kicked it out to them after drawing two defenders.

Now, Embiid is flanked by Seth Curry, who’s a career 44.9 percent three-point shooter that’s splashing 59.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season. He’s also showing trust in Danny Green, a career 40 percent three-point shooter that is converting 37.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season.

This season is in its infancy and the Sixers have mostly feasted on bad teams. But surrounded by players who are well-suited to complement Embiid’s game, he’s playing the best ball of his career, turning in an MVP-caliber performance that’s helped place Philadelphia in a four-way tie atop the NBA standings. For further reading, that’s even why Basketball Insiders’ Drew Maresca is calling to speed up the process.

3. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are Evolving

Jayson Tatum has an impressive ability to get significantly better at weaker parts of his game during the season. Last November, he shot 51.9 percent at the rim, and he took considerable flak for it. The next month, Tatum improved by 11 percent.

Being named an All-Star lifted a weight off Tatum’s shoulders, and his game subsequently soared to new heights. As his scoring average rose to over 25 points per game after receiving that validation, Tatum had to adapt to regularly dealing with double teams; especially, when operating out of the pick-and-roll. 

Here’s an update on how that’s going:

Tatum’s also working on breaking his habit of settling for step-back three-pointers with the game on the line. Fortunately for him, a week after that exact shot clanked off the rim, sealing a 108-107 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Tatum got an opportunity to redeem himself.

As for the other half of Boston’s burgeoning duo, Jaylen Brown, who’s even more impressive off the court than he is on it, continues to maximize his time in the offseason to achieve significant growth every year.

With Kemba Walker injured and Gordon Hayward now on the Charlotte Hornets, the Celtics rely more heavily on Brown to facilitate their offense. He’s risen to the challenge, demonstrating improved handles and better court vision, allowing him to create quality scoring chances for himself and his teammates.

Brown’s averaging 26.3 points per game; shooting 59 percent from inside the arc, while taking 5.7 three-point attempts per game and connecting on 42.1 percent of them. After never dishing out more than 2.1 assists per game in the first four years of his career, the 24-year-old is averaging 3.5 assists per contest to start this season.

4. The Improving New York Knicks

One of Tom Thibodeau’s strengths is he can immediately change the culture of a franchise. In his first season with the Chicago Bulls, the team won 62 games, tying the NBA record for the most wins by a rookie head coach. He was named Coach of the Year, and the Bulls won their first division title since Michael Jordan was on their roster.

In 2018, in his second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he helped guide the franchise back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

Fast forward to this season, and while it’s early in the campaign, it’s clear the New York Knicks are reaping the benefits of buying into what Thibs is preaching. 

They beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 20 points and came from behind to earn road wins against the Pacers and the Hawks. Those two victories away from Madison Square Garden, along with their home win over the Utah Jazz, meet NBA.com’s definition of clutch wins, meaning the game was within five points in the final five minutes.

The Knicks performed so well in crunch time of those games, their plus-minus rate in the clutch is seven, which is second-best in the category. 

That is the result of a stingy defense yielding 3.7 points per game in its first three opportunities of the season to play in contests that came down to the wire. Furthermore, New York has yet to allow a point off a turnover, fast break, or surrendered a second-chance basket in the clutch. The Knicks’ late-game success is also a testament to an offense that ranks in the top 10 in crunch-time scoring, averaging 10.7 points in those wins against Indiana, Atlanta and Utah. 

In terms of individual performances, RJ Barrett is averaging 17.3 points per game, and opponents can’t keep him out of the paint, where he’s scoring 55.1 percent of his buckets. Those drives to the paint are often getting Barrett to the foul line – and he’s averaging 5.1 free-throw attempts per game and converting on those opportunities at a 71.7 percent clip.

As for the rest of his game, the former third overall pick is averaging 7.2 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per contest and he’s contesting 4.6 three-point attempts per game, which ranks fifth in the association, and is a sure-fire way to win over his new head coach.

Barrett’s also forming an effective tandem with Julius Randle:

Speaking of Randle, he is playing like an All-Star, averaging 22.6 points, 12 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, which is a testament to him passing up shots to play a more unselfish brand of basketball. Randle’s also exerting more energy defensively, limiting opponents to 105 points per 100 possessions. The sample size is small right now, New York has played nine games, but his defensive rating is lower than it has ever been in his career.

The Knicks are also getting quality minutes from their point guards: Elfrid Payton’s producing 14.8 points, 4.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. Austin Rivers is generating 13 points per contest while shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc, providing much-needed spacing for the likes of Barrett and Randle. And rookie point guard, Immanuel Quickley, is off to an impressive start to his NBA career, including a 16-point performance against the Hawks, a game he played 18:47 minutes.

Barrett and Randle ranking first and second in minutes per game, respectively, is concerning, yet not a surprise, considering who their coach is. However, the Knicks are off to an expectation-defying start to the season, and Thibodeau appears to be living up to his reputation as a head coach who can quickly change a franchise’s culture. 

5. Standout Rookies

Anthony Edwards: 15.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists

The decision to make Anthony Edwards a part of the second unit is paying off for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s shooting 51.4 percent from inside the arc, and while he has a lot of work to do to round out his game, averaging 26.3 minutes and not having to deal with the opposition’s starters as often as he would be if he were starting, helps that cause.

James Wiseman: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks

James Wiseman’s NBA career is off to an impressive start. As a shot blocker, he times his leap well, and he can quickly cover a lot of ground around the rim. Wiseman runs the floor well in transition, and he generates easy points for the Golden State Warriors when he dives to the cup. If the defense leaves him open from beyond the arc, he’ll make them pay for that decision, as evidenced by him shooting 42.9 percent on 1.6 three-point attempts per game. And as if that wasn’t enough to earn the second overall pick rave reviews, he’s also comfortable making plays off the dribble.

Simply put, Wiseman looks like the total package.

LaMelo Ball: 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists

On Jan. 9, Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, putting together a 22-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance.

 

Ball’s three-point shooting and his defense are noticeable blemishes, but he’s a 19-year-old rookie who’s ten games into his NBA career. He has a preternatural feel for the game and delivers highlight-reel passes with regularity.

Deni Avdija: 7.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists

The ninth pick in the draft has started every game for the Washington Wizards, making a positive impact on both ends of the floor. 

Deni Avdija’s 6-foot-9, he sets his feet quickly and he has a fast release. That combination makes it difficult for defenders to challenge his shot. What’s worse for his opponents is he’s knocking down 45.7 percent of his three-point attempts. Shortly, expect him to increase his current average of 3.5 shots from beyond the arc per game. 

The other part of Avdija’s offensive repertoire that requires mentioning is he’s a flashy passer, especially off the dribble. 

Defensively, Avdija’s effort doesn’t wane. According to NBA.com, he’s contesting 7.5 shots per game, which is the fourth-most among rookies this season. He’s also averaging 1.9 deflections and 1.1 steals per game.

The Wizards have gotten off to a slow start this season, and even their most optimistic fans probably don’t envision them getting past the first round of the playoffs. However, Avdija’s play has been a bright spot, and he’s quickly proving he can be a part of this team’s turnaround.

Tyrese Haliburton: 12.1 points, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals

Tyrese Haliburton is playing like he’s a 10-year veteran. He has a tremendous feel for the game, he’s decisive, and he’s a threat with and without the ball. 

At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan, Haliburton’s long strides allow him to quickly get to the basket, where he effectively utilizes his length to finish at the rim. As a shooter, despite unorthodox mechanics, the former Iowa State Cyclone is averaging 4.8 three-point attempts per game and making 50 percent of them. His deep range permits him plenty of space when he shoots, but when defenders close in on him, he’s unfazed.

Defensively, even when shooters create space against Haliburton, his length typically allows him to recover quickly enough to challenge their shots.

Payton Pritchard: 8.6 points, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals

The most surprising name on this list is Payton Pritchard. He plays like a veteran point guard, rarely picking up his dribble, patiently probing the defense until he finds a weakness to exploit. 

Pritchard’s provided the Boston Celtics with a much-needed boost off the bench, serving as the catalyst for their comeback win over the Pacers and tipping in the game-winning shot against the Miami HEAT.

For more on how this season’s freshman class is performing, Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco wrote in-depth about the race for Rookie of the Year.

6. Steph Curry’s 62-Point Bonanza

In a Jan. 3 showdown with the Portland Trail Blazers, Steph Curry put on a scoring clinic en route to a career-high 62 points, which remains the highest individual scoring output in the NBA this season.

Curry was in rhythm from the opening tip, setting the tone for his milestone performance by scoring 21 points in the first quarter. The two-time MVP had 31 at the half and 45 after three quarters. Curry scored 17 points in the final frame, guiding the Warriors to a 137-122 win. 

The anatomy of Curry’s career night is as follows: He shot 58.1 percent from the field, made eight of his 16 three-pointers and converted 18 of his 19 free-throw attempts. This season is in its infancy stage, yet it would hardly be a surprise if no one tops Curry’s performance.

7. Bradley Beal’s Career Night

The Washington Wizards don’t win many games, but no matter how much they’re trailing by, they seem capable of making the matchup competitive. That is mostly thanks to Bradley Beal, who in a Jan. 6 tilt with the Sixers, nearly helped his team overcome what at one point was a 21-point deficit by going supernova for the first three-quarters of a career-high, 60-point performance. 

In the opening frame, Beal had 13 points. He finished the first half with 32. Entering the fourth quarter, Beal had 57 and seemed poised to break Gilbert Arenas’ franchise scoring record of 60 points. Surprisingly, in the final frame, Beal shot 1-for-6 from the field, missed all three of his three-point attempts and he went just 1-for-2 in his lone trip to the free-throw line, meaning he had to settle for tying rather than surpassing the franchise’s single-game scoring record.

At the end of the Wizards’ nearly miraculous comeback win in Philadelphia, Beal had made 20 of his 35 field goals, good for 57.1 percent. He hit 7-for-10 on three-point attempts and 13 of his 15 free throws. For good measure, Beal also chipped in seven rebounds and five assists – but will he end the year as a Wizard?

8. The Chris Paul Effect

Where Chris Paul goes, winning follows. After missing the playoffs his first two seasons in the NBA, his team has only failed to make the postseason once in the last 12 years. Now, the future Hall of Fame floor general is elevating the Phoenix Suns, who are in a tie for the league’s best record.

Paul is averaging 13.2 points, 8.5 assists, the fourth-most in the league, and 4.6 rebounds per game. The stingy Suns are yielding just 106.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranks seventh in the association. Offensively, they’re scoring 112.5 points per 100 possessions, the ninth-most in the league. That two-way production has led to Phoenix having the fourth-highest net rating in the NBA.

Paul is an ideal option to run the point alongside the Suns’ young cornerstones, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, and catch-and-shoot three-point threats such as Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder. They’re making the 15-year veteran’s job easier; in turn, each one of them is benefitting from playing off the nine-time All-NBA point guard.

9. Toronto Raptors Stumbling Out of the Gates

Even those anticipating the Toronto Raptors would regress after finishing with the second-best record in the NBA last season probably didn’t forecast them losing six of their first seven games to start the 2020-21 campaign.

Eight games into their season, they have the fourth-worst record.

As the first team to arrive at the Orlando bubble, the Raptors spent two grueling months there. They had little time to recover, thanks to a condensed offseason, and they’re playing their home games in Tampa Bay this season, creating more strain than usual for organization members who didn’t bring their families with them. 

In the offseason, Serge Ibaka signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Marc Gasol joined the Los Angeles Lakers. The Raptors signed Aron Baynes to start at center, yet he’s getting outplayed by Chris Boucher, who’s slender frame restricts how head coach Nick Nurse can utilize him. 

While Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet continue to perform at a high level, Pascal Siakam is yet to shake off the struggles that plagued him in the bubble. The Raptors need Siakam, whose $130 million maximum contract extension kicked in this season, to snap out of his funk. Perhaps, his 32-point performance against the Suns is a sign he’s thawing out from his ice-cold start to the season. 

10. Los Angeles Lakers’ New Additions Fitting in Seamlessly

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are wisely pacing themselves with the big picture in mind. They’re also two of the best players in the league, meaning they can still average over 20 points and eight rebounds per game. 

The Los Angeles Lakers’ new additions, Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and Wesley Matthews, are veterans who know their roles, helping them mesh quickly with James and Davis. 

Though Talen Horton-Tucker isn’t new to the team, he’s already played in more games than he did as a rookie, and he’s contributing quality minutes as well as 7.1 points per game this season. He’s another new member of the Lakers’ rotation, helping keep them atop the Western Conference standings without taxing its superstar duo, which should pay dividends in the postseason.

While the season is still in the early goings, there’s plenty of worthwhile tidbits to dig through. From impressive rookies to future all-timers, the NBA and it’s revolving carousel of parity never fails to disappoint – and it hasn’t thus far through a fraction of the frantic 2020-21 campaign.

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NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – Jan. 21

Basketball Insiders’ Tristan Tucker provides an update on some of the rookies around the league and which are truly in contention for the Rookie of the Year award.

Tristan Tucker

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Through the NBA’s first month, the rookie class has continued to show what they can do on the court. While some have faltered or succumbed to injuries as the games have piled up, others have shone bright and even cracked their team’s starting lineups as the race toward the Rookie of the Year award heats up.

With that in mind, let’s take a third look at Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year ladder stands and see where they stand.

1. LaMelo Ball (Previous: 2)

Through the first month of play, Ball has been, undisputedly, the Rookie of the Year. With numbers that could rival some NBA veterans — 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game — Ball has found a way to impact winning for the Charlotte Hornets without starting a game thus far.

While much of the hoopla around Ball has come from his offensive, he’s been pretty solid on the defensive end as well; his 1.5 steals per game are good for 13th in the NBA, while his 21 total steals tie him for 10th.

On Jan. 9, Ball also made history as the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. An eventual move to the starting lineup should only further promote his game.

He could stand to improve his efficiency, as Ball has shot just 40.3% from the field, 33.3% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line. That said, the sky’s the limit for the young rookie. With Ball at the helm, Charlotte and their fans should feel pretty confident about their group going forward.

2. Tyrese Haliburton (Previous: 1)

Haliburton’s late-lottery selection was a surprise, as the point guard that reportedly shot up draft boards late in the process had always played with a hardworking and winning mentality at Iowa State. Still, he hasn’t missed a beat with the Sacramento Kings and paced the Rookie of the Year race from the start.

His 11.1 points, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, along with his 51.6% mark from the field and 51% clip from three (on over four attempts a contest) are mightily impressive. Meanwhile, lineups that have featured Haliburton with the Kings’ usual starters have fared exceptionally well; when he’s replaced Marvin Bagley, the Kings are a plus-10.6 and play at a torrid pace.

Haliburton and Ball have comparable stats, with Ball being a better rebounder and Haliburton being a better shooter. But Sacramento’s 5-10 record has kept him out of the top spot for now, as leading his team to a positive record — and a potential playoff spot — will almost certainly work in Ball’s favor when voting commences at the end of the season.

3. James Wiseman (Previous: 3)

After taking a year away from competitive basketball, the fact that Wiseman has been able to contribute at such a high-level right away has come as a pleasant surprise for the Golden State Warriors. Wiseman’s 10.7 points per game place him fifth among rookies, while his 6 rebounds per game place him second.

Fresh off a career-high 20 points against the San Antonio Spurs, Wiseman has continued to learn more each day. Draymond Green’s role in Wiseman’s development could also pay some extreme dividends for the Warriors, as the young center might prove unstoppable were he to incorporate Green’s court vision and handle into his own game.

With numbers comparable to Kevin Garnett’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s age-19 seasons, Wiseman has helped put the Warriors in prime position to push for a playoff spot despite the loss of Klay Thompson prior to the season.

4. Tyrese Maxey (Previous: Not Ranked)

With a move into the starting lineup, Maxey has rapidly climbed the board as he’s earned more and more praise. He was always going to be an impressive piece for the Philadelphia 76ers — in fact, Maxey was seen as so crucial to Philadelphia’s future success that he was held out of any potential James Harden trade package — but his 39-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets has seemingly sparked more trust from the team in Maxey early on.

For the season, Maxey has averaged an impressive 11.4 points on 47.7% shooting from the field. But his numbers have spiked since he moved into the starting-five: in six starts, Maxey has averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and assists and has shot 46.7% from the field.

If he can sustain that kind of productivity as the 76ers’ health improves, Maxey might be a lock for the All-Rookie First Team. Likewise, expect him to hold down a spot on this list for the foreseeable future.

5. Patrick Williams (Previous: 5)

Despite his late rise, many saw Patrick Williams’ selection by the Chicago Bulls as a reach. But, so far, Williams has proven the doubters completely wrong, as he’s started every game in which he’s made an appearance for the 6-8 Bulls.

That isn’t to say Williams hasn’t been perfect, as many of Chicago’s groups that feature the young forward are net negatives by a good margin. But, so far, Williams has already brought the confidence and energy that you want to see out a top pick. He hasn’t shied away from tough matchups, either, as Williams took to the task of guarding both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Bulls’ recent games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, valuable experience that should only further improve his game.

His 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 48.5% field goal and 87% free throw percentages are nothing to slouch at, either. So, while it may be a while before he reaches the height of some of his classmates, Williams has look of a special NBA talent.

6. Anthony Edwards (Previous: 4)

Edwards has put up some incredible scoring numbers off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he’s averaged a rookie-leading 12.2 points in 25 minutes per game.

However, Edwards’ shooting splits have disappointed, while he hasn’t been able to do much to turn around the Minnesota Timberwolves 3-10 season in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns.

Edwards’ placement on this ladder is contingent on how the Timberwolves both fare in Towns’ continued absence and how different they look upon his return; they showed plenty of promise when he was on the court and Edwards’s standing could improve drastically if the team can turn it around and win some games.

Each year, it would seem as if that the next group of young talent is more exciting than the last. And, with so many talented rookies in the fray, almost any of them could crash the Rookie of the Year party. Make sure to check back on our next update to see who might do just that.

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NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises

The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.

While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.

The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.

The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.

The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.

Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.

Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.

Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.

Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.

Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.

Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.

When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.

Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.

The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.

Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.

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NBA Daily: Reggie Jackson Staying Ready for the Clippers

Reggie Jackson hasn’t had much opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Still, he’s ready for whenever the team may need him.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s an old saying: “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” That saying would certainly apply to Reggie Jackson this season.

Jackson, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers last season after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, re-upped with team on a one-year deal. A once-promising young guard that the Pistons pried away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015 with a five-year, $80 million contract, his time in Detroit was unfortunately marred by injuries and inconsistency.

Still, he was coveted on the buyout market. When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the prevailing thought was that he would provide the Clippers with extra guard depth and an additional ball-handler and solid playmaker off the bench. They even had competition from the Los Angeles Lakers for his services.

And, for the most part, Jackson did just that in his 17 regular-season games — including the Orlando bubble seeding games — that he suited up with the Clippers. He put up 9.5 points per game and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.

But the playoffs were a different story. Inconsistency reared its ugly head and Jackson’s numbers dropped to 4.9 points and 0.9 assists while his field goal percentage dipped to 43.8 percent. The Clippers as a whole were inconsistent, especially in their second-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, and it was unsure if Jackson would be back with the team for the 2020-21 season.

He did come back, although it looked as if this year he was going to have some competition at the backup point guard spot with second-year guard Terance Mann. When the season began, new head coach Tyronn Lue alternated between the two from game-to-game, but eventually settled on a rotation that didn’t necessarily include either of them.

For a young player like Mann, finding yourself out of the rotation might seem like necessary growing pains as your career is in its infancy. But, for a vet like Jackson, it can be tough. Lue admitted as much in a recent call with media.

“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he had been playing well,” Lue said, “but we couldn’t play all the guys, we knew that coming into the season.”

“He took it well. I think when you’re a veteran, when you’re a pro, when you want to win you do whatever it takes to try to win. I just told him to stay ready, it’s a long season with Covid, with injuries and things like that, you got to be ready.”

To Jackson’s credit, he’s done just that and stayed ready for when his next opportunity should arise.

And, luckily for him, it came maybe a bit sooner than expected.

Last Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers found themselves without both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. And, so, Jackson found himself in the starting lineup.

In the win against the Kings, Jackson finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, shot 50 percent from long-range and even threw down a dunk in traffic. After the game, he joked that his teammates had been teasing him for not dunking and for being 30 years old. That moment made him feel like he was younger again.

“It feels good, especially at 30. Seeing the open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I’ve had an injury-plagued career these past few years, I just feel like I’m getting my legs back under me and feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there to get a dunk.”

“I’m just glad to get it in there. I got a little nervous.”

Before being told he was going to be out of the rotation, Jackson had strung together some solid games off the bench as Lue was experimenting with the lineup. In the Clippers Dec 29 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.

He followed that up with another strong performance in a win against a good Portland Trail Blazers team with 11 points, 2 assists and 66.7 percent shooting from the field including 50 percent from downtown. Jackson understands that some nights he might not see any playing time while other nights he may be called upon to provide a spark.

“I just want to be ready, I’m just trying to stay ready for anything and whenever my name is called this year,” he said. “I just try to manage the point guard like a quarterback, on wins. There’s things I can improve on, things I could be better at. For the most part I just want to find a way to help my team get a win.”

With the return of Beverley, Jackson only played 13 minutes off the bench in the Clippers most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Still, he figures to be a regular in the rotation with Williams still day-to-day and Lue has liked what he’s seen from him in these recent wins.

“He’s a point guard, he did a good job with catch and shoot, distributing the basketball, but also running the team,” Lue said. “That’s what we expect him to do. I’m happy for Reggie, staying ready and being a professional.”

For Jackson, one of the things that have helped him the most this season is having two championship-caliber point guards on the sideline in Lue and assistant coach Chauncey Billups, as well as assistants Larry Drew and Kenny Atkinson who were solid point guards in their playing days, too.

Although he’s a veteran, he’s always trying to learn and always trying to improve and he feels like this is the best group for him to learn from.

“They’re helping me day-in and day-out. Having a slew of point guards and great minds at the helm is just helping me with my maturation and seeing the game,” Jackson said. “Having somebody to bounce ideas off of steadily, I think it’s working really well right now. I’m just fortunate to have their minds and try to pick their brains as much as possible. I know I’ve been doing this 10 years but to have those guys in my corner, they’ve forgotten more basketball than I know. I always try to soak it up.”

And if Jackson can continue to refine his game — to pick up what he can as he picks the brains of Lue, Billups and the others — and stay ready, he just might come up big for Los Angeles when they need him most.

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