Nov. 07, 2016
NBA Takeaways: What Has The Opening Week Taught Us?
Welcome to the first installment of 'NBA Takeaways', your weekly wrap-up of the NBA. Every Sunday, I will give you all some random thoughts, tidbits and interesting opinions developed from the week's NBA action. It's basically the bite-sized version of the long-form drivel I usually write.
This week, we're tackling the NBA's opening week, a week that has provided us all with enough entertainment to last for months. I mean, we've already had the debut of Golden State's Death Star (just imagine Kawhi as Luke Skywalker and the Warriors' glaring lack of depth and height being the exhaust port), Anthony Davis putting up unbelievable numbers and the start of the journey for the roaming middle finger that is Russell Westbrook's 2016-17 revenge tour.
Anyway, here's are the things that I've taken away from the NBA's opening act:
Something's Not Quite Right In Oakland
I don't stand anywhere near the likes of Charles Barkley and Colin Cowherd on the anti-Warriors spectrum, but it's hard not to see that something might be wrong with the Dubs. Kawhi Leonard and Jonathon Simmons embarrassed them at home on opening night, and while since then they have picked up back-to-back wins, they were against the lowly Suns and Pelicans, who were the fourth and sixth worst teams in the league last season, respectively.
Their offense no longer looks like the motion-based, ball-moving machine it has been over the past two seasons, but more of an isolation heavy, my-turn-your-turn attack that relies on its stars to make plays for themselves. Their defense -- which lost Andrew Bogut -- looks as if its missing a quarterback. There have been a lot of poor defensive reads, rotations, switches and everything in-between, all of which are backed up by nothing, without a rim protector in place.
What's been most troubling to me has been the Warriors' lack of fire and passion. Everyone loved how even after the Warriors won the title in 2015, they came back the following season with a chip on their shoulder, because they were pissed off that the collective NBA world put an asterisk on their championship. For the last two years, the Warriors have played harder than any other team in the league. But this season, they look lackluster. Everyone looks as if they are going at half speed.
I'm far from being worried about the Warriors. They're only 3 games into a very long season, but things haven't looked great for the NBA's most super of superteams.
The Nets Don't Stink...
As a Celtics fan, I am officially scared. The Nets are feisty!
Kenny Atkinson is a great coach, Jeremy Lin is a competent starting point guard, the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson/Bojan Bogdanovic/Joe Harris/Sean Kilpatrick wing combo is sneakily good, Justin Hamilton looks like the reincarnation of Wilt Chamberlain and they've got a bunch of NBA proven veterans who have already helped to mentor the Nets' youngsters and establish a culture. Add all of this together and you get a win against the Pacers wedged in-between two close loses to Boston and the Bucks.
All the ingredients are there for the Nets to fuck up the Celtics' chances at Markelle Fultz! I'm not happy.
...But The Magic Do
Hey, Rob Hennigan, ever wondered why no other team in the league has 50 big men? Well, watch your team's first three games, that will give you the answer you're looking for.
My goodness, the Magic are awful. Against Detroit on Friday, they scored 31 points in the first half. 31!!!
Their only outside scoring threat is Evan Fournier, who is an excellent basketball player, but should not be an NBA franchise's only remotely threatening three-point threat. Mario Hezonja will get there eventually, but his game is still a year or two away from being ready to contribute meaningful minutes.
Their spacing isn't helped much when Frank Vogel decides to play Aaron Gordon at small forward. Why is that? Well, it's because Aaron Gordon isn't a small forward, not now, not ever! His outstanding athleticism for a big man can only be used as an advantage when matched up against other bigs. As a wing, Gordon cramps the floor with his poor stroke from deep and isn't quite quick enough to keep up with nimble threes.
If you also consider that they've got a point guard who hasn't improved since his rookie season, a Serge Ibaka who doesn't benefit from all of the open looks Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant gave him over the past several seasons and Jeff Green (who has never been good), you've got a recipe for disaster. Now can someone remind me why the Magic gave away Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Domantas Sabonis?
Kawhi Leonard Is Just Plain Unfair
I have to say, after watching a week's worth of Kawhi, I'm feeling a lot better about my MVP prediction. Kawhi has elevated himself from being the best defensive player in the league and a 20 points per game scorer, to being absolutely unstoppable.
Defensively, after being the winner of the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards, he has improved...somehow. Instead of simply sticking his hands in the cookie jar and gambling for steals like a mere mortal, all Kawhi has to do now is hover his super-human, suction cup, magnetized claws anywhere around the ball and it just falls away from topposing ball-handler's hands within an instant. Just ask Ben McLemore:
i kinda feel bad for mclemore. this is two consecutive possessions pic.twitter.com/u4Hdkw9J8r— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) October 28, 2016
And on offense, he has lifted his ability up a couple of stratospheres. He has improved his scoring output to 28 points per contest, is shooting at bang on 50% from the field and has become a far more assertive and aggressive scorer than ever before. Rather than tentatively looking for his shots and picking his spots, he is attacking ferociously on every play, very much like other stars such as James Harden and Kevin Durant do. The best way to show off this new found aggressive nature is his foul drawing. Last season, Kawhi drew just 4.6 free throw attempts per game, compared to the 40 he has put up through 4 games this season. This was clearly an aspect of his game he worked on during the offseason, just check out how expertly he gets to the line against Kevin Durant here:
With his all-around game development complete, Kawhi is about to become the scariest basketball playing mutant on the face of the planet.
James Harden's Spread Pick-and-Rolls Are Hard To Defend
As it turns out, if you surround James Harden with enough above average shooters, good things will happen (at least on offense), who knew? Well, basically everyone, except for Daryl Morey, who games James Harden the likes of Josh Smith, Terrence Jones, Ty Lawson and Corey Brewer to drive-and-kick to. Encasing the league's craftiest penetrator, as well as one of its best passers with deadly three-point shooters like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon will generally produce good results.
Houston's offense has worked like clockwork so far with constant and consistent spread pick-and-roll, an offensive game plan that has generated countless great looks as a result of Harden's playmaking. The Mavericks and Lakers (the Rockets' two opponents so far) have found it incredibly tough to defend a Harden pick-and-roll with a floor as spaced as Houston's. Go under the screen and Harden gets an open jumper, go over the screen and Harden will have a head start on his defender, giving him free rein to do whatever he pleases:
If you switch, Harden will blow by the big man switched on to him and make a play:
And if you bring over help defenders to try and clog the lane for Harden's dives to the rim, he will find the open man without any trouble:
Yeah, this is going to be a problem. Luckily, the Rockets probably wouldn't be able to defend a team of lamp posts on the other end of the court, so your favorite squad should be just fine.
Nate McMillan Needs To Fix His Rotation
The Pacers aren't off to an ideal start. After a solid overtime victory over Dallas to open their account, Nate McMillan's squad lost at the hands of the Nets and then were pantsed by the Chicago Bulls. While there are a number of factors that have contributed to the Pacers' poor start to the season -- including a clear lack of spacing -- a big chunk of the responsibility for those losses has to fall on the shoulders of newly appointed coach, Nate McMillan.
McMillan has continued Frank Vogel's puzzling strategy of always resting his entire starting group to start the second quarter. It's incredibly hard to see why McMillan still thinks this is a good strategy. Vogel's use of it last season wasn't particularly successful and in Nate's first three games, his Pacers have been outscored 25-7 during the 7 minutes and 58 seconds in which his all-bench groups have been in to start second quarters. In a game where momentum is paramount, having your best five players off the court at one time probably isn't the best idea.
Smart teams will continue to exploit McMillan's substitution strategy. Teams have already figured out that they need to counter the Pacers' bench mob with lineups that contain a few starters to take advantage of this strategic malfunction as much as possible. The longer McMillan prolongs this clearly ineffective plan, the more his team will give up big, momentum swinging runs that change the course of the game. Luckily, he still has 79 games to figure it out.
Noah Vonleh's Hair Is Amazing
This was pretty obvious observation to make. I don't understand how one man can look this majestic:
And on that note, see you next Sunday for another round of NBA Takeaways!
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