Troy’s Top Ten

NBA, NBA Bubble

The bubble debut for the NBA has been fantastic. Players are in shape, the games have an outstanding atmosphere, the intensity level is high, and no one has tested positive for COVID-19. The protocols and guidelines the league took months to set up are paying off, and we should commend the players for bringing their A game. A March Madness feel has overtaken the league, with high stakes games being played at all hours of the day. This has a chance, and with the uncertainty surrounding baseball and football, NBA playoffs in September and October may own the landscape. Here’s what was interesting during the first week back:

1.Houston’s size problem may have a Robert Covington solution. The 6’7” forward, always a defensive menace, has flexed his muscle around the rim. Five blocks in their first 2 games have given the Rockets a presence in the paint. He’s rejected 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis and 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo. Add in 6 steals, and the weak Houston defense at least has an active member causing havoc on the back end. Is it enough to change their trajectory? Time will tell if Covington’s body can withstand the pounding he’ll take, guarding bigger guys every night. Most bigs shy away from it. But for now, consider Covington the smallest rim protector in the league.

2. Once the trade from Houston to Oklahoma City occurred last summer, speculation began on who Chris Paul would suit up for this season. The Thunder wouldn’t keep the 35-year-old point guard due $123 million over the next three years in a rebuilding situation. OKC didn’t dump him, however, and now the Thunder may be the third best team in the West. Paul is a conductor, orchestrating the moves of teammates and opponents while dominating games without posting monster stats. His understanding of the game, bettered only by LeBron, is PhD worthy, and he’s been overlooked in the MVP conversation. What he’s done in OKC, after they traded away both Russell Westbrook and Paul George last off season, deserved MVP votes. Paul’s name will hit the rumor mill again, yet Oklahoma City may be wise to keep him. Young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an All Star in the making. Learning from an all-time great point guard will only speed up his development.

3. Though he’s turned it around, Jayson Tatum’s start in the bubble was clunky. A 5 point, 2-18 shooting opener against Milwaukee, following a poor exhibition slate is troubling. 34 against Portland on Sunday may allow Celtic brass to sleep better, but is this the guy Boston is resting future title hopes on? We’ve seen flashes from him before, only to see Tatum revert to a passive entity, flowing in and out of games. He switches between attacking and hanging out behind the three point line. While Tatum has more talent, Jaylen Brown has more fire. Brown doesn’t take plays off. His shot selection is sometimes questionable, but his ability to guard 1-5 on defense gives Brad Stevens tons of flexibility. The push and pull between these two young players, and Boston’s hierarchy over the next few years, will remain engrossing.

4. Most counted Toronto out as defending champs as soon as Kawhi Leonard packed for L.A., yet the strong fit of the pieces collected by GM Masai Ujiri and the heart of Kyle Lowry is keeping them on the periphery of the title chase. A defensive masterpiece on Saturday night against the Lakers is forcing everyone to consider them a contender. Lowry, recovered from the PTSD of so many subpar performances against LeBron’s Cavs in the playoffs, has become a clutch, go to player in crunch time. Anyone Nick Nurse puts on the floor plays defense, and Pascal Siakam is edging toward superstardom. Ask NBA experts who the best coach in the league is, and a majority will answer Nurse. So why the lingering doubt over the Raptors? The defense is trustworthy, but can they count on Lowry and Siakam to get crunch time buckets with defenses designed to stop them? Kawhi garnered the attention last year. But if those two take another step, the Raptors may make the Finals for a second year in a row.

Defending LeBron/Davis pick and roll. Doesn’t get any better than this.

5. New Orleans wants to be careful with their lottery ticket, but is playing Zion Williamson only 18 minutes per game, and sitting him during crunch time, the best strategy? The fear of injury is overtaking sports. Pitchers can’t throw over 100 pitches per outing and prized NBA draft picks get babied mercilessly. How many players handled with kid gloves reach stardom? How many others flame out, or get hurt anyway? And if he’s on a minute restriction, why not save some of those minutes for the end of games? In a near must win in their opener against Utah, Zion sat for the last 7 minutes as his teammates coughed up a double digit lead. On a team NBA execs want in the playoffs, New Orleans’ bosses seem to have other ideas. Question is, when will they unleash the beast? At some point, Zion has to play NBA basketball, or his development will suffer. If he’s injury prone, we’ll find out soon enough.

6. Anthony Davis dominated the Jazz Monday night with a performance the Lakers will need replicated for the next two-and-a-half months. 42 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals, plus multiple wow plays on defense carried L.A. while LeBron ramps up in the bubble. Watching Laker games, the lack of talent behind their top two is glaring, however. Could Dion Waiters be their best bench play? Can they count on Kyle Kuzma as the 3rd option? Davis cannot have games like Saturday night against the Raptors, when he took 2 shots in the first half, and only 7 total in the game. The Lakers may be the favorite, but their margins are razor thin. Davis cannot afford to be passive, especially against smaller teams like the Rockets and Clippers. When he has a mismatch, he must dominate. With no other reliable ball handlers, Frank Vogel will tax LeBron with that duty throughout. AD has to carry the scoring load on offense to allow LeBron to set up their less reliable teammates.

7. Jrue Holiday’s defense gets overlooked. Strong enough to battle bigs in the paint and quick enough to stick on guards, Holiday schooled Rookie of the Year in waiting Ja Morant on Monday in a game the Pelicans had to have. Drawing the rookie on most possessions in the first half, Holiday used his size to push Morant around, forcing him into 3-11 shooting, 0-6 from 3. Morant ended drives off balance, unable to finish at the rim because of Holiday’s presence, while Jrue’s quickness didn’t allow Ja any separation on his jumper. Though New Orleans’ defense has been abominable all season, and may keep him off All Defense teams, Holiday, at minimum, provides an example for the young Pelicans on that end if they are to become a contender in the West. His 1.7 steals per game ranked 7th in the league. His ability to switch gives their defense flexibility. When the Pelicans become a problem, Zion will be their star, but Jrue Holiday will be their backbone.

8. Put Doris Burke on the main broadcast team with Mike Breen, ESPN. Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy complain too much; do they even like NBA basketball? Burke’s understanding of the game is unmatched. She sees all and explains it with an intelligence and charisma that is a joy to listen to. She’s funny, and her love of the game shines. Add that to Breen’s exceptional play-by-play skills and knowledge, and you’ve created the perfect tandem. Van Gundy and Jackson are stale. If they aren’t complaining about referees or players, they’re over-hyping mediocre coaches. Putting Breen and Burke together makes too much sense.

9. Dame Time has arrived in Orlando, and teams out west have a fresh fear. At the controls of Portland’s offense, Damian Lillard has made the Blazers the early favorites for the 8 seed on averages of nearly 27 points and 11 assists per. A lock for an All-NBA spot, Lillard has made his case as the best point guard in the league. With Jusuf Nurkic’s return from a horrible leg injury and Zach Collins back from an early season dislocated shoulder, the Lakers should fear Dame and C. J. McCollum driving the bus. While New Orleans may have been the fans’ pick for the 8 seed, they would pose little resistance to L.A. Not so with the Blazers. A team that reached the West Finals last year, they’re healthy, have added a decent Carmelo Anthony, and possess the best backcourt in the league. LeBron’s path to title four gets tougher if Portland squeezes in.

10. Michael Porter Jr. posted back-to-back 30 point games this week and is the punch Denver’s offense needs in the playoffs. With three starters injured, the Nuggets have relied on Porter during the restart, something coach Mike Malone has hesitated to do. While he makes gobs of rookie mistakes, Denver needs to lean on the talented first-year player more if they hope to advance in the West. Everyone assumes the L.A. teams will meet in the West Finals. If Porter grew up over the layoff, and Malone will trust him, the Nuggets may force their way into the conversation. At worst, the rookie will gain valuable experience for future playoff runs in Denver.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

 

NBA Re-Preview

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, NBA, NBA Bubble, Zion

Can the NBA get this right? 2020 is standing on its head, desperate for attention and getting it. But can basketball steal the focus away and deliver a two-month playoff run unlike anything we’ve seen? The star power in the NBA is strong; no league markets its talent better. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and the rest have an opportunity unlike any other. They will transfix eyes on Orlando, to see if they can pull off a health and safety nightmare, and to see the stars. Will LeBron lead a rickety roster to his 4th title? Can Kawhi go back-to-back? Is Giannis ready to snag ownership of the league away from his older brethren? Can James Harden and Russell Westbrook conquer their playoff demons? What will this look like without fans?


Three teams can win the title. While others will provide interest, only the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks feel like contenders. Forget the notion of a tainted title because of the circumstances. In fact, the 2020 champ will have endured more adversity than almost any other in history. The rings won in October, after the nonsense this year has given us, will be iconic. So who will wear them?

Los Angeles Lakers


Why they’ll win the title: Not rocket science here. LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They’re the best duo in the league. James will finish second in the MVP race; Davis fifth or sixth. Davis will also make either first or second team All Defense. While Davis’ defensive numbers are good, not stellar, what he does for LeBron on that end is unquantifiable. Davis protects the rim, hedges pick and rolls, and closes on 3 ball shooters at a doctorate level. He allows James do to what he does best: roam. LeBron’s defensive numbers are the best since he left Miami. Poor defenders in Cleveland, along with his blasé regular season attitude, created a fair narrative that his skills had slipped. AD’s length covers his teammates’ rear ends and allows LeBron to use his athleticism and smarts to read opposing offenses and react. A team bereft of top line defenders, Davis almost single-handedly vaulted the Lakers to the third ranking defense in the league.


But I have buried the lead. If the Lakers win the title, it’ll come down to one play, LeBron-Davis pick and rolls. The best passer and finisher in the league, the smartest player in the league, the most battled tested player in the league, controlling the offense and dishing to the most devastating finisher in the NBA. When the games slow down in the playoffs, buckets get tough. But LeBron manipulates defenses like few players in history. He’s methodical. He’s surgical. He’ll wait an extra tick before whipping a pass to Danny Green in the corner for an open 3. He’ll push the pace off defensive rebounds if he sees an advantage. He moves his teammates around at will, searching for preferable match-ups and court spacing. James will create good shots for either himself or his teammates when possessions become essential. That ability, to score points in the tightest situations, separates champions. No player is more prepared to play in the bubble and all the challenges it will bring than LeBron James. The playoffs reveal fear every year. There is none in 23.

Look at the options off this pick and roll. Davis dunk or Green 3?

Why they’ll lose: After 1 and 2, this roster is hot garbage. Avery Bradley opted out of the bubble, and his absence hurts, especially on defense. While Danny Green is a powerful wing defender, Bradley is quicker and more capable of guarding opposing point guards. With the injury to Rajon Rondo keeping him out for most of the playoffs, Bradley gave L.A. another ball handler other than LeBron. Now who handles the rock when LBJ sits? Quinn Cook? Troy Daniels? J. R. Smith? Dion Waiters? Have fun with that ragtag mix of misfits. Alex Caruso must step up for the Lakers in the bubble. Solid all season, he and LeBron are the best 2 man combo on the team, at plus 20.9 per 100 possessions. At 18 minutes per game, he’s averaged 5 points and 1.8 assists, however. Is he ready for big minutes handling the rock for a title contender?

Is anyone on this roster? Davis has playoff experience, but none as a title favorite and LeBron sidekick. The pressure on him will be immense. Kyle Kuzma was unsteady in the regular season. Give me Danny Green in crunch time. The rest of the Dwight Howards and Jared Dudleys are all yours.

Los Angeles Clippers


Why they’ll win the title: Kawhi Leonard. He established himself as one of the five best players in the league, with an argument for the one spot, with an epic title run with the Raptors that showcased every talent he possesses. After his switch on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis wilted, along with the Bucks. He carried the offensive load on a team made up of third options, averaging 30.5, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and almost 2 steals per. Now he’s head of perhaps the best talent in the league. Montrezl Harrell is the likely sixth man of the year, Lou Williams has won the award multiple times and is a walking bucket off the bench, and Patrick Beverley is the dog every team needs in the playoffs that will outwork the opposition while barking at them throughout a series. Then there’s Paul George. Injuries are an issue, but the layoff should find him healthy. An MVP candidate throughout much of last year, George only bows to his teammate Leonard as the best two-way player in the league. If the James-Davis pick and roll is the ultimate weapon, George and Leonard provide the best opportunity to neutralize it. Those match-ups in crunch time of a Western Conference Finals will be epic.

Landry Shamet provides shooting off the bench, Ivica Zubac has played sneaky well in the starting lineup, and Marcus Morris is a prototypical body to steal minutes for George and Leonard on defense against LeBron. And Morris shot 41% from 3 on the season. No roster in the league has the combination of talent and experience that the other L.A. team possesses.

Why they’ll lose: Some in-fighting occurred between the holdovers from last year’s spunky Clippers team and the recent additions. Did the layoff allow them to re-focus on what’s important? How will Paul George fare? Early in his career, his playoff battles with LeBron pushed those Heat teams to the brink. Can George sit behind Leonard, or will he disappear at crucial moments? PG13’s so-so ball handling skills rear their head at inopportune times, so he needs to knock down open jumpers and eliminate crunch time turnovers. And can they handle size? Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, and even Steven Adams could give them fits in a 7 game series. Harrell will see 4th quarter minutes at center, yet he’s only 6’8”. Zubac has been good, but does Doc Rivers trust the unathletic big man in high-pressure situations? Will Paul George or Kawhi Leonard have to guard skilled opposing big men? An interesting sub-plot to watch as the playoffs progress.

Milwaukee Bucks

Why they’ll win the title: They’re the number 1 offense in the league. Their defensive rating per 100 possessions also leads the league by 3.3 points. Giannis is the unquestioned MVP. LeBron was excellent in leading his Laker team, but perhaps it’s Giannis’ league now. 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, in only 31 minutes per game. He dominates opponents in the paint with deft footwork and power. He glides in the open floor, the most devastating fast break in basketball. And the defense. He stretches from baseline to baseline, a rim protector, on ball stopper, and rotation expert rolled into one. Bucks GM Jon Horst stacked the roster with excellent defenders (Brook Lopez deserves an All Defense nod, and Eric Bledsoe strong consideration), but Antetokounmpo is on another level. He cares, and it shows by his hustle and desire to gut opponents. Giannis didn’t come to make friends, and a title is the only acceptable outcome for Milwaukee. If the Clippers don’t have the best roster in the league, the Bucks do. George Hill, Khris Middleton, and Kyle Korver all shoot over 40% from 3. Ersan Ilyasova and Wes Matthews are over 36%, devastating shooting to arrange around Giannis. And that number 1 defense? They do things differently that most. Milwaukee has allowed the most 3s made and taken against them in the league, yet they stifle the paint, only allowing teams to shoot 41% against them on the season. They rarely foul; teams shoot the sixth lowest amount of free throws in the league against them. They must keep LeBron and Kawhi off the line in any Finals matchup.

Why they’ll lose: Can they afford to give 3s to Toronto, Boston, or either of the L.A. teams? Mike Budenholzer has been outstanding in Milwaukee, but refuses to budge from what they do in a seven-game series. Being who you are is great, but small tweaks make the difference. The Bucks must adjust their defensive philosophy according to their opponent. If a second round match-up against the Heat, the best shooting 3 ball team in the league, occurs, Milwaukee must adapt. Miami lines up well with them, and a few games of hot outside shooting may put them on the ropes.

Will Eric Bledsoe show this postseason? Describing Bledsoe’s performance in last year’s playoffs as a train wreak would be too kind. He was unplayable against Toronto’s Lowry/VanVleet backcourt, benched in favor of George Hill. Malcolm Brogdon was Milwaukee’s best guard last postseason, but he’s now in Indiana. Bledsoe has rebounded, averaging 15 on 35% 3 shooting and 5.4 assists per game while playing defense at an All NBA level. He has to produce this year, or the Bucks won’t win the title. His defense is too important to be on the bench during crunch time if he becomes a human turnover and brick layer on offense. As he goes, the Bucks will go.

The Rest


Houston Rockets

What will James Harden look like with a four-month rest leading into the playoffs? Perennially gassed by May from the load placed on his shoulders in the regular season, is Harden a playoff choker, or just overused in the regular season? We’ll find out in the bubble. Throw in a rejuvenated Russell Westbrook, and the Rockets are the league’s biggest conundrum. A title would surprise, but any other result would not. First round loss? Sure. Western Conference Finals? Maybe. A roster built to run opponents off the floor and hoist 3’s from everywhere, they’ve once again redefined what small ball means. They start no one over 6’8”, and while Tyson Chandler (7’0”) may see sporadic minutes, look for the Rockets to run opposing bigs off the floor. While Harden and Westbrook will draw the spotlight, the key to Houston’s success will be P. J. Tucker and Robert Covington. Both need to guard above their weight class on defense and punish power forwards and centers on defense by dragging them out of the paint and knocking down 3s. If Tucker and Covington succeed, the Rockets will surprise in the West.

Houston’s starting lineup

Toronto Raptors

The defending champs have mastered carrying a chip on their shoulder. Overlooked as the champs, the fans and players in Toronto are tired of being scoffed at, and they should be. Perhaps the best fit roster in the league, the Raps have length and shooting at every position. Pascal Siakam made MVP noise over the first two months of the season before injuries slowed his ascend to superstar. He’s a perennial All-Star, however, and Kyle Lowry’s clutch Game 6 in last year’s Finals removed the playoff choker tag from his career. Lowry is battle tested and tough. The second best defense in the league, try to find a weak spot. Marc Gasol, Lowry, Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and OG Anunoby are smart, long defenders who lock up opponents. While they lack the firepower to beat Milwaukee, a second round series against Boston could be a classic.

New Orleans Pelicans

Zion Williamson, who else? While my Lonzo Ball love is well documented, and he and Zion are glorious together, Pels games are must watch because of the rookie. Now in shape, the future of the league is here. Though New Orleans’ goal will be to play their way into the 8-9 Western Conference play-in game, the groundwork for their future will begin construction in Orlando. Are Lonzo, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, and Jrue Holiday the correct pieces around the phenom? Can they make a push for the Western Conference Finals as soon as next year? Williamson is that good, but are his teammates? GM David Griffin can’t afford to waste one off-season in New Orleans. Every game played by New Orleans in the bubble will be an evaluation for how high their expectations will be next year.

Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum made the leap in February. 30 points and 8 rebounds on 49% shooting, 48% from 3, the numbers, and his on-court confidence, screamed superstar. Thrust into championship contender talk, Boston seems to be a smidge short. But what if February Tatum makes his way to Orlando? Jaylen Brown has some believing he’s the better of the two players. Kemba Walker makes big shots in big moments, and Marcus Smart wins games. Giannis is a tough match-up on a smallish Boston team, however. Their lack of size, less of an issue against Toronto, will prove costly in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers

We should consider them with the title contenders. What happened? Philly posted the best home record in the league, yet the 20th best road mark. What does that mean in Orlando? Confused? Welcome to the 2019-2020 76ers. Joel Embiid is engaged, sometimes. What kind of shape will he be in? He and Ben Simmons are a janky fit. Brett Brown moved Shake Milton into the starting lineup during bubble scrimmages to allow Simmons to play more power forward. But is taking the ball out of his hands, and deadening his passing abilities, the right move? And why has Al Horford been such a poor fit? His offense and shooting has suffered with less space provided to him by his Philly teammates, and another year on his body has made him 5% less effective on defense. Listen, the Sixers have the talent to make a Finals push. But the questions only continued to pile up throughout the season. How many are too many?

It feels like the Lakers. The Bron-Davis duo is too good on both ends of the floor, and James has stared down more adversity in his career than perhaps any player in history. He was built for this moment, and at 35 his title chances are dwindling. The Bucks and Clippers are deeper, and probably better teams. But when buckets in the closing minutes get tough, I know I can rely on that James-Davis pick and roll. One of the greatest to ever do it gets his fourth ring.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

 

How important to the Cleveland Cavaliers present, and future, is Larry Nance Jr.?

Cleveland Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr., NBA, Patrick Beverley, Trae Young

As the losses for the Cleveland Cavaliers mount, it’s imperative to pull back. View the franchise from afar, with an eye toward the future. What players deserve to be there? When the Cavs are a playoff contender, who from this squad makes an impact? Are there difference makers already in place, guys who do things big and small that affect wins and losses?

Larry Nance Jr. is one such player. He isn’t a superstar and will never develop into one. His skill set, however, is essential to winning. Nance can be a top 4-6 player on a playoff team. While his limitations prevent him from leading a franchise, teams don’t win without meaningful contributions from players such as Nance, willing to do whatever is asked and having the talent to do so.

Nance is a Swiss army knife; not great at anything yet capable of everything. About to turn 27 on New Years’ Day, he’ll enter his prime as a player without an obvious flaw. A poor outside shooter to this point in his career, Nance dedicated his summer to becoming a dangerous option on the perimeter. Bigs who knock down 3’s are among the most valuable commodities in the league, providing space for penetrators to attack the basket on offense and keeping size on the floor to discourage the same on defense. Nance recognized a weakness in his game and worked to eliminate it. Before this season, he’d shot just 168 threes in his career, making 28% of them. He’s already fired 58 this year and his percentage has skyrocketed, canning 39% from deep. A key to the comeback against Milwaukee on Friday night which fell short, Nance Jr.’s 3 threes pulled Giannis and Brook Lopez away from the basket, allowing Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton more space to get to the rack. Because of the diminutive size of Sexton and Darius Garland, opponents’ length has caused each problems early in the season. Nance’s (and Kevin Love’s) shooting will be essential going forward to clear the lane for their teammates.

Nance(22) sets a good screen to free Garland(10). Nance’s man follows Garland to the bucket. Nance makes them pay by burying the 3

Another overlooked aspect of Nance’s game is his passing acumen. A big whose touches can be sporadic, he was 2nd on the team last year, averaging 3 dishes per contest. While his numbers have dropped this season to just 1 per game, Nance sees the floor well, possessing the size to see over defenses and the ability to find the open teammate. He’s adept at pocket passes in tight spaces, quick bounce passes to other bigs or cutting guards that open up the Cavs’ offense.

Perhaps leading to lower assist totals, Nance is scoring in double figures for the first time in his career. His true shooting percentage, 12th in the league at 64.1% according to teamrankings.com, is another sign of his improvement. He’s averaging 2 points per game more than a year ago despite having almost the same usage rate. Nance is scoring more without burdening the offense. He just fits in any lineup John Beilein wishes to put him in.

The enhancements to Nance’s game over a year ago aren’t specific to his shooting numbers. He struggled to stay on the court last year, committing 3 fouls per game. Nance has cut those in half this year to 1.5. His turnover rate dropped from 1.4 to 0.9, all while playing the same number of minutes. He has examined his game and has shown he can improve upon weaknesses. Though he’ll never be an All-Star, the bet here is that Larry Nance will become a valuable contributor to playoff teams in the future.

One fact for the front office to be cognizant of concerning Nance is who he’s on the floor with. At 6’7”, Nance is undersized at the center position and struggles to guard 5’s. The best lineups featuring him include Tristan Thompson. For all his attributes, he cannot overcome his size issue. Talented bigs such as Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid can shoot over him. The Cavs lack of size has become more glaring as the season has progressed and will need addressed in future drafts. A long, athletic 7 footer is a must. In the short term, playing Ante Zizic next to him will help. Zizic is a mystery, though he’s shown flashes of talent during the little time he’s had on the floor. Given the lack of size, Beilein should try to find him some minutes. A healthy John Henson would help, too. Henson gave the Cavs’ second unit a boost defensively in the eight minutes he’s played this year. While counting on anything from the oft-injured center is foolish, his presence in the lineup would help Nance, Love, and Thompson, all over-matched when guarding the center position.

What’s What Around the League

1. If you could transport a player from today’s game back in time, allowing them to play in an era better suited for their game, DeMar DeRozan would be a good choice to ship to the ‘90s. DeRozan’s mid-range game is exquisite. He averages 21.7 a game and shoots 52%, taking nearly all of his shots inside the arc. But on a Spurs team also employing LaMarcus Aldridge, its redundant. San Antonio is 7-13, 12th in the West, and stuck in a time warp. DeRozan would have been more appreciated twenty-five years ago, before math taught us the value of the 3. He makes 27 million this year, with a player option for the same next year. Does anyone want to pay that much for a semi-high usage rate player who has a sketchy playoff history? DeRozan got caught on the wrong side of the 3 point revolution.

2. Brooklyn, 4-7 with Kyrie Irving, is 6-2 since he’s sat with a shoulder injury. Instead of bashing Irving, let’s give credit to Spencer Dinwiddie. Since Kyrie’s injury, Dinwiddie is averaging 24.5 points and 8 assists, up from 17 and 4.5 when Kyrie was on the court, in full control of the Nets’ offense. Dinwiddie has performed this role before, taking the reins of Kenny Atkinson’s squad when DeAngelo Russell went down with injury last year. He’s a pro, respected by his teammates and trusted by Atkinson to get the offense in their sets. He’s also their go to option in crunch time, hitting a game winner in Cleveland at the buzzer on Monday. Did the Nets make a mistake in signing the dynamic, if mercurial, Irving? Let’s see how the Nets fare after Kyrie returns and gains more court time with his teammates before jumping to conclusions.

3. The Toronto Raptors’ defense, and Marc Gasol specifically, held Joel Embiid scoreless this week. Embiid shot 0-11 from the field, and with Al Horford now a teammate, Gasol has become the new Embiid stopper. The Raptors continue to surprise in their title defense. Expected to be a trade candidate at the deadline, why would Toronto trade Gasol now? This Raptors team, with Pascal Siakam vaulting into the MVP conversation, has as good a shot as any Eastern Conference team to make the Finals. Gasol’s defense against Embiid in a seven game playoff series would be invaluable.

4. At 12-7, the Indiana Pacers have continued their success without Victor Oladipo despite a slight remake of the roster over the summer. Domantas Sabonis is a beast in the paint, averaging 18 and 13. Malcolm Brogdon has been better than expected, posting 19 points and 8 dimes a game. Nate McMillan continues to impress, imploring a funky roster to play over their heads. What happens when Oladipo returns? He and Brogdon seem to be a perfect backcourt duo. Both are good defensively and either can handle the ball or play off it. The question will be what Oladipo looks like when he returns. If he can get 90-95% healthy by playoff time, the Pacers could spring an upset.

5. Is there anything better than the Patrick BeverleyRussell Westbrook feud? Started during the 2013 playoffs when Beverley lunged at Westbrook and injured him as he dribbled toward the sideline to take a timeout, which knocked Russ out the rest of the season, don’t look for cooler heads to prevail anytime soon. Both players run hot, which is why I love them. Each’s game is imperfect, but both play with a fire that demands respect. A Clippers-Rockets playoff series is a must.

6. It takes a light brush of the arm or a hot breath in the face of a shooter for the defender to get whistled for a foul. Meanwhile, offensive players in the post get beaten, arm barred, and slapped without so much as a second look. Protecting shooters is important, but players are taking advantage of quick perimeter whistles. Referees need to watch the tape. They’re getting fooled into calling fouls when little contact occurs on jump shooters while allowing big men to get mugged in the paint. While the three point shooting revolution has ultimately been good for the NBA, watching players shoot foul shots isn’t. Give perimeter defenders some leeway.

7. Trae Young torched Indy Friday night with 49 in and O.T. loss before watching James Harden score 60 in 3 quarters on Saturday. Shooters need no help.

8. There seems to be a good player somewhere inside Mo Bamba, but he only appears in fits and starts. Long and athletic with touch from 3, Bamba’s size and skill set fit today’s NBA. He was 5-5 on threes in Cleveland last week and, after looking lost defensively earlier in the year, has become more aggressive on that end, averaging 2.5 blocks in his last 5 games. Orlando’s jammed frontcourt lacks minutes, but they need to find some for the sixth pick in the 2018 draft. Nik Vucevic’s injury has opened up minutes at the center position for Bamba, but he’ll need consistent time on the court once Vucevic returns to continue his development. If not, a smart team with minutes would be wise to buy low on Bamba if Orlando relegates him to the bench.

9. After a so-so sophomore year, Jayson Tatum is turning a corner, although just like a semi-truck. While slow, Tatum is improving his shot selection, taking 2.5 more 3s and 1.3 more foul shots this year over last. These numbers are key for Tatum’s career arc. He’s also taking 5.5 shots more per game overall, another welcome sign, considering his disappearing act in games in the past, going shifts on the court with no one recognizing he was on the floor. Tatum is the key to the future of the Boston Celtics. For the franchise to reap the benefits of the draft pick haul from the Nets, to prove they spent the picks wisely, Tatum must become a superstar. Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown are fantastic; they’re secondary players on a championship team, however. For the Celtic rebuild to be a success and for Boston to win a title, Tatum must get to the level he showed during the playoff run his rookie year.

10. I’m all for fresh ideas to spice up the regular season, but an in-season tournament isn’t it. The NBA has proposed a single elimination tournament, college style, perhaps in December. Christmas Madness, if you will. Rumors are the league would award the winning team a draft pick, yet that won’t be incentive enough to create the do-or-die atmosphere present in the college game. The league struggles with getting its star players on the floor now. Think Kawhi Leonard will play through injury for a semifinal game against the Jazz? Tournaments work only with high stakes. Home court advantage in the playoffs won’t do it, either. Since no team’s season would be over with a loss, fans and players will not care. Back to the drawing board, Adam Silver.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com