Hey guys, so how was Thanksgiving? Mine wasn’t half bad, I got to spend it in Florida, far away from the Maryland cold. And with the season heating up, it’s time to pass out some more Progress Reports. We have some big-time stars this time around and a couple of early drops that we need to discuss, so let’s get started.
Stars of the Class
Los Angeles Lakers
To make a long story short, the Lakers are rolling. Coming off of a recently-snapped 10-game winning streak, the Lakers are currently ranked top ten in offensive (8th) and defensive (3rd) rating per 100 possessions. These ratings can be equated to two crucial stats: they are ranked second in the league in field goal percentage on shots less than 5ft from the basket (67.7%) and are still currently ranked first in blocks per game with 7.1. Long story short, they lock the paint down on both sides of the floor. They also rank fourth in assists as a team, with LeBron leading the league with 11.0 per game, which can be attributed to the lobs at the rim they get every night. They’ve also benefited from having AD and LeBron play in all but one game up till now. Maybe the goal was always to have a quick start out of the gates and coast to 50 wins. If so, they’re looking good.
Their only two problems, which might be seen as nitpicking, are still their bench scoring (currently ranked 18th), and their percentage of baskets they score unassisted (currently ranked 21st), so if they can pick up a player that can create baskets off the dribble for their bench (Jamal Crawford?), then they’ll be that much closer to being title favorites. But at 18-3, they are the team to beat in the league.
The Bucks are the class of the East, currently at 18-3 and riding a twelve-game winning streak. Giannis is looking like he’s going to repeat as MVP, and proving to a few doubters out there that maybe he was only 60% of the way to his full potential. His team is currently ranked 2nd in both offensive and defensive rating per 100 possessions, as well as ranked 2nd in points per game at 120.8. They are also ranked 1st in pace, which explains why they rank 2nd in fast-break points per game. And I don’t have to tell you how much fun it is to watch Giannis on the break, even if it does SOMETIMES (don’t @ me Bucks fans) look like/might be a traveling violation. A big surprise is that they went 7-0 without Khris Middleton, which proves that maybe they can get by without Malcolm Brogdon, although this team would be scary if they’d have just paid him. The stats weren’t particularly eye-popping, but Donte DiVencenzo did a great job of proving that guards out of Villanova can be good stabilizers, even if they don’t become superstars.
Giannis covers a lot of their issues with his freakish wingspan on both ends, but their three-point shooting (ranked 20th in percentage) and free throw shooting (ranked 29th in percentage) could stand to improve with how many of those they shoot. Fixing those specific shooting woes will bode well for them going forward. But right now, they are the most complete team in the Eastern Conference.
Just for fun, try playing with the Raptors on 2k right now. I’ll go ahead and let you know that there is no conceivable reason as to how the Raptors are winning based on trying to play with them on 2k. Seriously, if they haven’t done it yet, their roster should be a segment on Inside the NBA where Chuck has to guess which guys are on the Raptors or the Raptors 905. But that’s why video games aren’t real life. The Toronto Raptors missed Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, two integral players on last seasons’ title run, for about 10 games and went 8-2 in their absence. Rico Hines All-Stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are the most interesting dynamic duo that has emerged this season, and they do an incredible job of leading this team to top-10 rankings in both offensive rating (7th) and defensive rating (5th) per 100 possessions. Again, go play 2k and be amazed at how the hell they do that in real life, especially on offense.
One word describes the Mavs season up till now: HalleLuka!!!! As the guy in the TDC Fantasy Basketball league who had the pleasure of drafting Luka Doncic, he’s all but dragged my team this season (currently in 4th place after a rough week). I don’t have to tell you about the stats, but just watching how he plays is so much fun. The Mavs currently have an offensive rating of 117.0, first in the league. But he isn’t doing it alone: the Mavs have a stable (see what I did there) of competent guards that are doing a great job of playing within Carlisles’ famed offense. My personal favorite is Delon Wright: his stats aren’t eye-popping (8.1ppg, 3.6rpg, 3.5apg 1.3spg), but when he’s on the floor, he’s all over the place. He doesn’t try to do too much but still makes an impact. You can say the same for JJ Barea, Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Jalen Brunson.
A few knocks against them: The defense is woefully average (ranked 15th), and Kristaps Porzingis is still getting used to playing basketball after his injury. Both of these issues can be solved with time and continuity that’s gained by just playing more games. The Mavs could also use a wing and Jalen Brunson has also fallen out of the rotation a bit, so there might be something there come trade season. Either way, the Mavs train is running way ahead of schedule and if they are already playoff-bound this early in the Doncic era, look for them to be title contenders for the next 10-15 years.
So, good news. I’m a lenient teacher at times and I realize that some teams that should be considered class clowns are going through injury issues. It’s hard to do the work when you’re out sick, so Chicago, Sacramento, Portland, congratulations and happy holidays.
New York Knicks
Oh, Knicks. To be honest, I talked myself into them maybe, just maybe, winning more than 25 games because there are legitimate NBA players on their roster. Good thing I wasn’t man enough to put money to that bet. As much as I like Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton, and Franky Nicotine, this team has no point guard. It’s a team full of score-first guards, score-first power forwards, and Mitchell Robinson (someone please save him). And because everyone looks to score first (and in some cases, only) the Knicks are ranked dead last in assists. The lack of ball movement results in the Knicks being dead last in offensive rating per 100 possessions and points scored per game. It’s an incredible form of irony that a team full of score-first players can’t score. They also rank 24th in defensive rating per 100 possessions because all they do is foul, the one thing they lead the league in. Oh, and they had that incredibly awkward press conference after the Cavs game on November 10th.
In summary, this is just business as usual for the Knicks. So, you know, you might as well just come back next semester Knicks fans, we wouldn’t think any less of you. The good news is that maybe the front office knew this team wouldn’t work, so none of the new contracts they signed this summer have long-term commitment, aside from Julius Randle. The bad news is that there is no proof that they won’t find a way to fail next semester either. Good luck Knicks fans.
Golden State Warriors
No Steph, No Klay, No D’Angelo, no surprise. No need to make this complicated either. See you LOYAL Warriors fans next season.
I listen to a lot of podcasts. I remember a lot of people this summer talking themselves into the Hawks making the playoffs because the Southeast division sucks and someone had to come out of it. The Hawks are currently 5-16; there’s only so much winning you can do with only one player who can create their own shot. When that player also has to create the shots for everyone else, the Hawks might be lucky to have the five wins they do. Trae is still fun to watch, but the Hawks may want to reign him back a little to develop their rookies so that when the moment comes in three, four, maybe five seasons, Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter are ready for the moment and the team isn’t so reliant on Trae offensively. They’d also benefit from Trae focusing a little more on defense: he’s currently the 11th worst defender in the league by defensive box plus-minus at -3.0. Yeah, he’s small, but at least have him in the right position on defense so that when he isn’t totally carrying the offensive load in the future, he’s at least a competent defender. It’s quickly turned into a development year, but let’s develop some good habits for the guys they see as franchise cornerstones.
Dropping early is in Atlanta’s best interest, especially since they lost their second-best player to a 25-game suspension, that’s more-or-less a built-in excuse to pack it in. But if they can turn this lost season into hometown hero Anthony Edwards, then I’d consider that a blessing in disguise.