It’s Always Dysfunctional in Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News, Kevin Love, NBA, Trade Deadline, Tristan Thompson

The Cleveland Cavaliers are teetering. An inept franchise for most of its existence, a lucky bounce of a few ping pong balls and LeBron James’ desire to win a championship in his home precinct gave Cavs fans a brief sniff of success. The four straight Finals appearances and the 2016 title are over, however, and the remaining players from those glory days are unhappy with the organization, not long for Cleveland.

Kevin Love’s dissatisfaction with the Cavs franchise has been no secret. He’s pouted on the court and off while sporting a fluctuating effort level. His contract makes him nearly untradeable, as does his attitude. Woj reported on Sunday a trade wasn’t happening; the gulf between what the Cavs feel Love is worth versus how the rest of the league views him is too large. If Love was supportive of the front office and his teammates, I’d suggest keeping him and holding out for top dollar. He isn’t, however, and his poor attitude and disinterested demeanor are hurting everyone involved. The young guys are watching; it’s time to cut bait. Love is poisoning his impressionable teammates. The front office waited to trade Love, hoping he’d help their young core develop and add wins. He’s done neither. The move backfired, and they’re forced to either sell low or deal with his poor attitude for the rest of the season.

While he’s been a good soldier, Tristan Thompson has now voiced his desire for a trade, according to Joe Vardon of the Athletic. Thompson has defended his coach and teammates while giving maximum effort on the court. He sees an escape hatch, however. He’s played well this season and could help a contender with his hustle and championship pedigree. Will the Cavs agree to his demands? The organization covets 1st round picks, but Thompson is unlikely to bring one back in a trade. Will they settle for two second rounders? Can they pry a young player from someone? Since Thompson is a free agent at the end of the season, expect little in return. Chris Fedor reports the Cavs will hold firm with their desire for a 1st rounder. He’s leaving at the end of the season, however. Will Koby Altman stand his ground?

What happened? Two vets who wanted to remain in the organization are running from it. Though the front office expressed a desire to remain competitive after LeBron left, Thompson and Love knew a long rebuild was a possibility. Perhaps they overrated their abilities to produce wins on their own. Maybe, however, this organization is a mess behind the scenes. Dan Gilbert’s best season as an owner without LeBron is 33-49. He’s employed nine coaches in 17 years. Koby Altman was his first GM to get a second contract. Now rumors have surfaced that John Beilein won’t see another year.

This is absurd. The Browns’ organization is the gold standard for ineptitude in all of pro sports, yet the Cavs are begging for consideration. Kyrie Irving, LeBron James twice, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson have run or are running from Cleveland. Players who should be pillars are mere tent poles. Dan Gilbert had eleven years of LeBron James and won 1 title. A consensus top three player of all-time led the Cavs for eleven years and the franchise produced ONE title. Breaking down Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter may be a fruitless exercise. Regardless of how good they are, or how good they’ll become, they’ll never overcome a rudderless organization. The championship years supposedly taught them how to be a stable and consistent franchise. No signs of competency exist, and if Beilein gets canned after one season, just the second season of an arduous rebuild, forget about the Cleveland Cavaliers being anything more than an NBA laughingstock for a long, long time.

What’s What Around the League

1.When viewing Hawks’ games early in the season, one needed to overt their eyes to avoid the disaster that was Cam Reddish. Thrust into the starting lineup at first tip, Reddish lacked confidence, aware he wasn’t ready and didn’t belong. In his first ten games in the league, starting 8 and averaging 23.5 minutes per, he averaged 5.5 points on 25% shooting, 19% from 3, and dished less than 2 assists per. Reddish contributed to the horrid start by Atlanta, predicted by some to contend for a playoff spot. The third wheel last year at Duke behind Zion and R.J. Barrett, Reddish’s reputation as a passive, willing bystander held. Fast forward to last week against Philly, an impressive Hawks’ win. Reddish was key in the victory, canning a 3, scooting back door for a dunk, and dishing to John Collins for the game-sealing slam, all in the last three minutes. His numbers over the last 10 (14 points, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 43% shooting, 45% from 3) represent a drastic change. His confidence is surfacing, and he’s flashing the talent many saw from him in high school. The Hawks have disappointed, but their young quartet of Trae Young, DeAndre Hunter, John Collins, and Reddish at least show a path to relevancy. Last night’s trade for Clint Capela adds interior defense and rim running on a good contract to the young quartet. Atlanta is getting there.

2. Has Russell Westbrook changed his game? The talk after his trade to Houston centered on his 3 point shooting, or lack thereof. Through Christmas, Russ was bad, shooting 23% on 5 a game from deep. Houston loves 3’s, but analytics adores other shots as well; those in the restricted area. While Westbrook can’t shoot, he sure as hell can get to the rim. Since December 25, he’s only taking 2 from deep per game, but is on the attack. In January, 63% of his shots are at the rim, 69% from within 10 feet. He’s shooting 52% from the field and averaging 32 during one of the most efficient stretches of his career. While he’s flourishing, however, his partner has struggled. Over that same span, James Harden is shooting 35%, 27% from 3. Can these two get on the same page? Both are outstanding, two of the greatest with the ball in history. If they can’t meld their games though, another disappointment awaits them in May. Russ has adapted to Houston, no longer being the alpha dog, and their playing style. Is it time for Harden to give a little?

3. This Lonzo assist. Though they’ll struggle to make the playoffs this year, the excitement in New Orleans is palpable. Ball’s game is the perfect complement to Zion.

4. One ancillary effect of referees’ quick whistle on jump shots is the horrid flopping and side jumping of shooters into defenders trying to draw fouls. It’s ugly to watch and embarrassing for the players. Just shoot the ball. Untouched players, humiliated after watching a one-armed heave from the hip careen off the side of the backboard, make themselves look worse by over complaining to the refs for a foul that never occurred. Quit flailing and shoot the ball to make it, not get fouled.

5. The Timberwolves are a disaster, and after trading away point guard Jeff Teague to Atlanta, Shabazz Napier was a big part of the problem. Once drafted by the Heat in a desperate attempt to re-sign LeBron James (oof), Napier took over the starting point guard role after Teague’s departure and the Wolves haven’t won since. Napier misses wide open cutters, takes ill-advised shots, can’t shoot, and is too small to guard anyone. Anything else? Minnesota should be a Western Conference force by now, yet haven’t been able to teach Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins how to play defense, nor have they built a stable roster around them. An effective point guard is a must, yet they handed the reins to someone in danger of being out of the league. The Wolves traded Napier away in the big four teamer last night along with Robert Covington. Perhaps a move to acquire……

6. All the injuries pushed Golden State to the bottom of the standings, but they won’t be there long. Steph and Klay will be back next year, so what will become of D’Angelo Russell? A good scorer and playmaker, this year was a test to see the fit alongside Curry. The injuries nixed that plan, however. The team above, Minnesota, tried signing Russell last summer, but got usurped when Brooklyn swapped him in a sign and trade for Kevin Durant. Now at the trade deadline the rumors are swirling again. Russell and Towns are friends; he would solve their point guard situation. What does Minnesota have that G.S. wants, however? Andrew Wiggins? Please. Minnesota is the desperate party here. The Warriors plan to re-enter the title mix next year with a healthy roster, does Wiggins seem like a championship level player? They’ll need a third team to satisfy all parties. Stay tuned.

7. Kings

8. Julius Randle is a good player and could be an important piece on a contender one day. His focus is lacking, though. He’s chasing numbers instead of wins, which is fine; most young players do. On the court, he’s scatterbrained. In the first half in Cleveland Monday, he twice asked coach Mike Miller to review obvious calls against him, stopped playing to complain to a ref and allowed a Collin Sexton offensive rebound and score, and airballed a 3 with no one around, yelling toward another referee. Randle can be a useful NBA player, maybe even a difference maker. First, he needs to get his head right.

9. The Memphis Grizzlies and Andre Iguodala agreed after they traded for him he would sit out until the Griz found a contender to send him to. Nothing has materialized, and all parties are antsy ahead of the deadline. Iguodala wants to play for a title, and Memphis has stated they won’t release him if a trade doesn’t happen. Memphis’ young guys have spoken on Twitter.

Then Steph Curry clapped back.

10. The NBA, home of expert level pettiness. I understand the young guys feel unwanted, but let’s settle. The team and player were fine with this arrangement in the off-season. No one saw the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt this year. Still, they aren’t winning a title and regardless of how much money he’s being paid, asking a 36-year-old who’s played in the last 5 Finals to hitch up to a rebuild is a tough ask. Here’s hoping a trade to Philly comes to fruition.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers and Black Ice

Cleveland Cavaliers, Darius Garland, LeBron James, NBA, Tristan Thompson

A tough week for the Cleveland Cavaliers ended on Saturday night with a fun win over a toiling Portland team. Whipped in New York, Miami, and Dallas, the team needed a victory for their psyche. The schedule is brutal for a struggling team. The games keep coming and the losses can mount. Self doubt is a sickness that spreads when getting throttled by 40.

For the Cavs to win, they have to outwork their opponents. They lack in talent in almost every matchup; if the energy level is low, they will get blown out. The wins are important to sustain belief. Losing causes doubt. Doubt creates lethargy. Two game losing streaks turn into 10 game streaks in a hurry. Cleveland needs wins to prove what they’re doing can work. The coaching staff needs stuff to point to in film sessions that work. If the young guys lose confidence, they may never regain it. This is John Beilein’s toughest assignment. How do you keep spirits up when you’re losing by double digits on the regular?

To come home after the beat downs on the road and post a win, even against a struggling Blazers unit, is encouraging. Watching the beatings is frustrating, but remember where the Cavs are in the rebuild. Three 20-year-olds are playing significant minutes. A fourth (Dylan Windler) will be once he’s healthy. The improvements made by Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. occur in fits and starts. It is tough, but necessary. No perennial MVP candidate is coming back in free agency. An All-Star duo will not team up in Cleveland. Those players will come through drafts and development.

Oklahoma City is the model. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden were drafted in consecutive years at 2, 4, and 3 overall. They won 20 and 23 games in Durant’s and Westbrook’s rookie years before surging to 50 in Durant’s third year. It doesn’t happen overnight, even for the greats.

When the team is struggling, Tristan Thompson tries to put the offense on his shoulders. This isn’t ideal. Too many possessions end with Thompson dribbling 6,8, even 10 times, probing his way into the paint before turning it over or unleashing an errand shot. Thompson has been fantastic this year. His leadership and effort are a godsend for this young squad, but there’s a point of diminishing returns when he has the ball in his hands on offense. Any possession in which he’s dribbling is asking for trouble.

Thompson is vital to the success of the offense, but use him without the ball in his hands. Pick and rolls with Collin Sexton, Garland, and Jordan Clarkson play to his strengths. Those three are quick with the ball and have shown a propensity to get to the rim. TT provides an outlet if the lane is closed. Thompson has always been a fantastic rim runner, and his improved hooks with either hand give him another weapon to finish in the paint off passes from the guards. Beilein seems to favor dribble handoffs involving a big and a guard versus the traditional pick and roll. These are plays are fine. They help the guards get to the basket, but also make it harder for the big to cut because of the way the defense guards the roll man. Run the hand offs with Kevin Love. He can pop off the pick to the three point line. Give the traditional pick and rolls to Thompson, who’s more dynamic going toward the rim.

Pick and roll between Thompson and Sexton gets Sexton to the rim

While Beilein harps on ball movement and the point guard has to set that example, Darius Garland should take a few games and fire at will from all over the court. He’s still tentative, hoping to satisfy his coaches and teammates instead of playing to his strengths. It’s important for his future development that he sees the floor and gets his teammates involved, but for his confidence today he needs to be more selfish. His aggression peaked in garbage time against Dallas when he posted a career high and lead the team in scoring with 23. Garland’s shooting led the Cavs to take him 5th overall in the draft, and it’ll be the reason he succeeds or fails in the league. Allow him to gain some confidence from his shot. Once he sees his scoring numbers increase, the playmaking will open up.

What’s What Around the League

1. De’Andre Hunter is a perfect compliment to Trae Young in Atlanta. The rookie has had a big week, posting a 27 and 11 against Milwaukee followed by an 18 point performance in Detroit. He’s found his footing in the league, reaching double figures in scoring in his last seven games, with a six steal game thrown in. Most expected Hunter to be a defensive force, and while he’s struggled on that end, his offensive game has Hawks’ fans salivating. The team’s offensive rating is 12.4 points better when he’s on the floor; he’s doing everything on that end. Hunter attacks the basket, a good dribbler who sees the defense well and attacks when a crack in the defense forms for him to exploit. He’s strong when he gets to the rim, able to finish over shot blockers. He shoots 35% from 3 and can post up when smaller defenders switch onto him. With Hunter and Young in the fold, Atlanta is a future contender.

2. When Ben Simmons gets the ball in the paint, he has to shoot. For Philadelphia to be the team it wants to be, Simmons needs more aggression. Can Joel Embiid lend him some attitude?

3. Watching Luka Doncic control every aspect of each game is enthralling. Is it possible that he’s the best player in the league already? Maybe 3-4 guys are better passers, though even that seems high. He shoots 35% from three, 72% in the restricted area, and 75% from 16 to 24 feet (NBA.com). The league is witnessing the blooming of a superstar. His Mavericks are 5th in the Western Conference. He’s guiding an OK roster and has put them in contention to make noise in the playoffs as a second year 20-year-old. If you were drafting players for the next ten years, Luka is the easy 1st pick.

So quick…..and that court vision

4. Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo provided a glimpse of what’s needed from them if the Bucks hope to make the NBA Finals Thursday against the Blazers. By posting a combined 34 points, the duo provided spacing for Giannis to attack the basket while giving him a release when the defense collapsed. With Eric Bledsoe’s inconsistency and a lack of reliable playmaking from anyone else on the roster, Milwaukee has to find role players Mike Budenholzer can count on. Giannis is life changing. The contributions on the fringes will decide Milwaukee’s fate in May and June.

5. The Timberwolves are a difficult team to figure. Karl Anthony-Towns is an offensive blowtorch, scorching teams like no 7 footer in the league’s history. Averaging 26, 12, and 3 assists, Towns is shooting 45% from 3 on nine attempts a game. Just incomprehensible. His shooting chart is a stat geek’s wet dream; nearly all his shots are 3’s or within 5 feet of the basket. Now take a gander at Andrew Wiggins’ numbers. He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists while also shooting the ball better than ever.

And the defense is okay; they’re 15th in the league in defensive rating. So why aren’t the T-Wolves better than .500? It’s too difficult running a team through the center. While Towns is unlike anything the NBA has seen, trying to develop flow through a big man is clunky. Wiggins has improved, but he’s not the guy you want at the end of games deciding wins and losses. Things seem to gum up on them in the fourth quarter. The potential for a good team is there. Will they put it together?

6. The 76ers rank 8th in the league in defensive rating, but when they turn the screws they become suffocating. In Jimmy Butler’s return Saturday night, a playoff-like atmosphere, Philly’s intensity on that end stymied the Heat. Once the playoffs roll around, will anyone be able to score with any consistency against Philadelphia? The 76ers continue to be the most fascinating story in the NBA.

7. A team known for outplaying expectations, the Blazers have reversed course this year. After making the Western Conference Finals last year, they’ve floundered in the first month of this season. Losing a bench core of Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, along with the underrated Al-Farouq Aminu, has hurt more than expected. Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum are still there, however, but a 5-12 start to the season has the Blazers in a hole they may not get out of. Lillard looked disinterested in Cleveland Saturday night and, while he was returning from injury, didn’t play with the passion the team needs from him to win games. Carmelo Anthony isn’t enough to shake Portland out of the early season doldrums.

8. These neon green Timberwolves jerseys burn the retinas.

9. It’s an amazing thing when LeBron James decides he wants to play defense. The Lakers are the best team in the league because of their defense and the effort exerted by James. After the title in Cleveland, he quit playing on that end of the court and his teammates followed suit. LeBron is a force of nature. If he hustles, his teams hustle. If he loafs, his teammates loaf. No one doubted his greatness, even in his 17th season. His regular season effort level was the question. This LeBron makes the Lakers the favorites and gives him one more shot at another MVP. Will he push for 82 games?

LeBron even got the refs convinced

10. Devin Booker is a “go win the game” scorer. Stuck in the mediocrity of Phoenix, the losses have mounted and questions surrounded whether Booker was a good player or just a stat sheet filler on a garbage team. With the Suns’ rise in the Western Conference, he’s proving himself All-Star worthy. Booker is one of the best pure scorers in the game and is doing it efficiently, shooting 52/45/95. When the game is on the line, he can create his own shot. At 6’5”, he has the size to shoot over defenders and the quickness to get to the rim. Despite their hot start, a playoff berth still seems unlikely. If they can sneak in, however, expect Booker to have a Kobe moment or two.

 

Ahead of Schedule?

Cleveland Cavaliers, Darius Garland, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Love, Kevin Porter Jr., NBA, Trae Young, Tristan Thompson, Uncategorized

When a young NBA team expected to lose begins stacking wins together, their confidence level rises. It’s happening right now with the Cavaliers. Regardless of the competition (the Wizards and Knicks are bad) back-to-back road wins by a team supposed to be one of the worst in the league breeds assurance that the system is working, and the effort is worth it.


John Beilein is an excellent coach. This was never in doubt. The questions related to his hiring focused on his age and his ability to sell established NBA players on his “old school” principles. Koby Altman nailed his first coaching hire. Beilein is a master at player development and getting the max out of his roster.


His most important sell, and the reason for the Cavs’ early success, was getting Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love on board. The two title holdovers have grabbed leadership rolls and are taking pride in guiding the young players through the trials of an NBA season. On the court, throughout games, both are teaching, pointing out defensive mistakes to guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, while also praising them when they succeed. Coming into the season, each was a prime target for a trade. Trades may still happen, and both are becoming more valuable as they continue to play well, but the organization is in a great position. Their worth to the young players is clear. The opportunity to bounce ideas off ring owners, players who battled with LeBron and Kyrie against one of the greatest teams of all time, is priceless. The rebuild will be less painful with Thompson and Love embracing the situation.


If the front office wants to trade them, however, the price is increasing. Since the Cavs need not trade either, they can afford to hold teams’ feet to the fire. If, say, Portland or Boston get desperate, Cleveland can extract a high price from someone for their playoff tested vets.


Beilein’s best work has been the rookies’ development. Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. are improving. Small changes are paying big dividends. The most obvious is the aggression of the rookies. Both tentative early, they’re finding their footing while gaining confidence. Garland’s playmaking skills are showing; he tallied 12 assists in two games over the weekend, while also scoring 27. He’s started making shots, which has given him the confidence to attack. On those drives, he’s having success throwing lobs to Thompson or shooting floaters over the defense. Though the 3 ball isn’t falling, with his mechanics and quick release, it’s a matter of time.


Porter Jr. is a herky jerky, “No! No! Yes!” type of shooter, who, if he figures out the league, will be a dynamic scorer. He has size, quickness, ball handling skills, and the shooting touch to average 20 a game. Can he harness his bad habits? This will be Beilein’s greatest test. If he turns Porter into the player he has the talent to be, the Cavs’ rebuild will shorten.

Porter Jr. can score at the rim when the mood strikes


Want a stat that illustrates why the Cavaliers have surprised? Cleveland’s starting five man lineup is outscoring opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions. Only Denver’s is better.


Now the bad.


Kevin Love is the Cavs best player, and the offense must run through him to function well. Love needs to cut out the dribbling, however. When he catches in the post, takes 1-2 dribbles and either shoots or passes, he’s fine. When he pounds and pounds the basketball he gets in trouble. The Celtics guarded him with Marcus Smart and, trying to take advantage of the height mismatch, Love took bad shots while allowing Smart to take the ball from him on multiple occasions. Same on Sunday against the Knicks. Taj Gibson and Marcus Morris pestered him into turnovers when he over dribbled. Love’s a better passer than he’s given credit for. He needs to keep the ball moving after he’s drawn the defense’s attention.


If Matthew Dellavedova plays another minute, it’s too many. He isn’t bringing anything of value to the court. He can’t shoot, is turning the ball over, and gets smoked on defense. At least Brandon Knight can knock a 3 down.


An improved defense has resulted from the team trying harder on that end than last year. While Sexton is better and Thompson has been stronger defending the rim, there aren’t enough natural defenders on the roster for them to be an above average unit. Altman’s next challenge will be to draft long, athletic wings capable of guarding multiple positions to mask the deficiencies of the smaller guards. John Henson’s return will help the bench unit tremendously.


Although he’s a dynamic scorer, Jordan Clarkson’s game is a nuisance. Too often he doesn’t have it, yet is firing away. He’s bringing nothing else to the table, so when his shot isn’t falling Clarkson becomes a burden. Maybe Beilein can get him to look for his teammates more often, but there’s been no sign he’s willing to share the rock. On nights when he’s cold early, the Cavs would be better off with him sitting next to Dean Wade during second halves.

 

What’s What Around the League

1. In Utah, Giannis showed the grit and determination that made him an MVP. Two time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert locked him down in the first half, holding Antetokounmpo to 2 points on 0-7 shooting, with a disrespectful rejection at the rim thrown in for good measure. Giannis awoke in the second half, however, dragging the Bucks back from a 20 point deficit by draining 3’s and re-establishing his dominant paint presence. His 28 in the second half was only overcome by a Bojan Bogdanovic 3 at the horn to give Utah the W. While Milwaukee’s roster remains thin, the Bucks will have the best player on the floor in any playoff series in the Eastern Conference. Is Giannis good enough to topple better rosters in Philly and Boston?

2. With a collection of young talent and a bona fide superstar in Jimmy Butler, the Heat are feisty in the East. Though his shooting numbers are poor, 38% from the field and 25% from 3, the playmaking of Justice Winslow is superb. Despite the lack of shooting, his ability to get to the rim draws defenses’ attention in the pick and roll, allowing him to thread pocket pass after pocket pass to the roller. When the weak side defense sags toward the lane to cut that action off, he’ll whip a cross-court pass to an open shooter. An enigma for much of his early career because of injuries and position confusion, Winslow is establishing himself as a top of the rotation player for a dangerous team.

3. The rules of basketball are hard.

4. Orlando has disappointed, and it’s time to throw more responsibility Jonathan Isaac’s way. The Magic offense is a slog; they’re worst in the league in 3 point percentage and 26th in points per game. Isaac owns Orlando’s best shooting numbers, hitting 36% from deep and 58% on twos while only taking 9 shots per game, fifth on the team. More of the offense needs to flow through him. Long and athletic, Isaac possesses the ideal NBA body type, giving him the versatility to guard anyone on the court and score from anywhere on the floor. His stat line against Dallas, 13 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 5 blocks, is an example of the adaptability of his game. Though Orlando is 3-6, he’s 7th in the league in plus/minus rating. His 92.8 defensive rating is fourth. If the Magic are to rebound, realizing who their best player is needs to occur soon.

5. The trade to New Orleans has been a godsend for Brandon Ingram. Out of the L.A. spotlight, where he never seemed comfortable, Ingram has become one of the better scorers in the league. His 25.9 points per game rank 11th in the league on 53% shooting. A career 34% shooter from 3, he’s shooting 47% from deep to this point. Though the Pelicans aren’t winning, just 2-7, Ingram is becoming more consistent. New Orleans’ future will hinge on Ingram and Zion meshing on the court.

6. If you’re a big in the NBA, do your best not to get switched onto Trae Young.

7. Through the injuries and Boston’s drama of last year, it’s been easy to forget about Gordon Hayward. The best player on the East’s best team to this point, Hayward has re-established himself as the All Star he was in Utah. The league overlooks his size and strength. It allows him to find his comfort zones on the floor where he can shoot over his defender or probe closer to the basket. His mid-range shooting touch is elite. The Celtics were dealt a tough break Saturday, however, when Hayward fractured his left hand, putting him out of the lineup indefinitely. Boston may find their way into Finals contention, but they’ll need Hayward to return from this injury at the level he’s played so far.

8. If you could have made a bet before the season started on which NBA player would eat an edible on the team plane and have a panic attack, Dion Waiters would have been the 1:5 favorite, right? Who else is even on the board? JaVale McGee would make for a good exacta wager, I suppose.

9. While the trade for Mike Conley garnered the headlines, the Jazz signing of Bojan Bogdanovic was as important to the team’s title chances. With Giannis leading a Bucks second half comeback Friday, Bogdanovic shouldered the offensive load, scoring 13 straight for the Jazz and drilling a three at the buzzer to seal the win. Though Conley can take some playmaking pressure away from Donovan Mitchell, Bogdanovic’s clutch shooting is as important. The spacing he’ll provide those two in tight playoff games will be key for Utah to score enough to keep up with Houston and the L.A. teams.

10. Pascal Siakam may have won Most Improved Player last year, but how many expected him to develop into an MVP candidate? The Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Siakam is averaging 27, 9, and 3.7 while shooting 50% from the field and 37% from 3. His Raptors are 7-2, and play like this from him gives them a shot at the Eastern Finals. Though most expected a drop off and consequent tear down of the roster, the Raptors’ organization is proving once again that culture matters. Toronto is taking its title defense seriously.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com