The Surprising and Unexpected:
My social news feeds are and will for the foreseeable future be dominated by the election of Donald Trump. To say many are surprised at this most unexpected of results is an understatement. So, I’m going to run through my rosters and talk about the surprising and not so surprising aspects two weeks into the season.
Brooklyn Nets (4-5)
It’s fortuitous that the first team I am writing about has also provided the most surprising results. If you told me Brooklyn were going to be 4-5; beating the Pacers, Pistons, Wolves and Suns at the start of the season, I would have thought you were as crazy as my mate who bet me $50 that Trump would win the presidency. As David covered in his roster review the Pacers are struggling, but no one would have guessed to the point of losing to Nets. Brooklyn then overcame the Pistons, with Lin sitting out half of the game with a tweaked hammy.
So how did this unexpected start happen? The Nets led by Head Coach Kenny Atkinson are playing tough cagey basketball led by Trevor Booker. Lopez’s injury prone body is being managed effectively and the rise of Sean Kilpatrick has ensured that their second unit has had some surprising firepower. But with Lin and Vasquez out for at least another week minimum and Lopez increasingly becoming the focus of double teams. The upcoming five game road-trip will show if these Nets will continue to be bothersome in the East.
Charlotte Hornets (6-3)
Charlotte’s 6-1 start was a franchise record. That is a little unexpected. Whilst the calibre of their opponent’s start hasn’t been of the highest ilk, they have dispatched the Jazz, Heat and Pacers, not considered easy wins. Then they lost a close one to Toronto and the reigning NBA champs the Cavs.
We all knew Coach Clifford is an elite coach but the production he is getting out of players (like Hawes) has been surprising. The Hornets defensive 98.2 points per 100 possessions is good for 2nd best team in the league. Whilst not surprising given Clifford’s well-known defensive orientated nature, it is surprising given they have defensive sieves like Bellineli, Sessions and Hawes all playing serious minutes. The concerns lay with offence and whether they can produce enough points against high calibre teams, currently after Walker’s 23.9ppg their second highest scorer is Batum at 12.7ppg.
Chicago Bulls (6-4)
Two weeks is a long time in basketball. Nobody knows this more than the Chicago faithful. As do I. I went from canning the Bulls in my off-season review, to being slightly surprised and back to being unimpressed. Whilst I’m not surprised at their recent 1-4 slump, I was at Wade’s ability to consistently fight father time, and to add a genuine three ball to his game. He has hit 12/28 this season good for 43%.
I was a little surprised by their trade for MCW (who is now out for 4-6 weeks) but given their Head Office’s recent distaste of genuine shooters, it was no surprise. Another not so surprising aspect of the Bulls first two weeks has been its suspect defence. They are currently ranked 15th for points allowed per 100 possessions. And I’m not surprised by Rondo’s contribution to this, currently the Bulls are rated 107.5 with him on the court and 91.1 with him off it. This may not improve either as from Wednesday the Bulls are on a 6-game road trip facing the likes of Portland, Utah, Clippers and Denver.
Denver Nuggets (3-7)
The Nuggets are 3-7, most surprising is that they are 0-3 at home. Yes, that’s right, The Pepsi Centre, the same court NBA GM’s have listed as the second-best home court advantage (first to the Dubs ) due to location and the lack of oxygen in the mile-high city.
Another surprising element in the Nuggets first nine games is the spectacular failure of the ‘Balkan Buddy Ball’ starting lineup of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. Before today’s game against Portland the +/- of Denver’s two centres is:
Nurkic and Jokic: -34
Cleary Malone needs to reconsider his lineups and minutes allocation. And having Kenneth Faried play serious minutes against genuine big men like Marc Gasol and Andre Drummond is not the solution as shown in Gasol’s game winner over Faried below:
Finally, Nuggets fans must be getting a little concerned at Emmanuel Mudiay’s apparent regression in his sophomore season. Whilst his 16.4 ppg is improved, he has regressed in most other categories. Most notably his TS% of 41.4%, 4.9 TOs and his 86 points per 100 possessions on offence. It’s still early on but Mudiay’s assist to turnover ratio of 0.73 is by far the worst of any of the leagues starting point guards.
Memphis Grizzlies (4-5)
Memphis have started the season at 4-5 with star recruit Chandler Parsons only playing in three of the nine games this season. Memphis season has so far been defined by poor shooting. Averaging 41.2% this has Memphis ranked 29th in the league. But most surprisingly is Memphis’ leaky interior D. ZBo, whilst still valuable, acts like a sieve on the defensive end. This was no more evident when Memphis allowed the Pelicans bench of Lance Stephenson, Buddy Hield, and Langston Galloway to score 57 points. Off the small sample size, it appears that ZBo’s boost to the second unit’s offence is not outweighing his liabilities on the defensive end, with opponents 1.6 points per possession better with ZBo on the floor.
Sacramento Kings (4-7)
4 games into the 2016/17 season the Kings embarked on a 5-game road trip including a loss to the woeful Pelicans and ending in a back to back in Toronto. However, these Kings whilst showing some old #Kangz tendencies are also exhibiting signs of new life for this often-maligned franchise. They lost in OT to the young and talented Blazers. Forfeited a 17-point lead to the Lakers 5 days ago at their new $550m new Golden One Centre. Yet there’s some signs of a positive culture. This has been the most surprising and pleasant part of the Kings season that we haven’t seen in Sacramento for a long time. Player only meetings, the use of “team” instead of “I”, the willingness to play defense and to follow game plans are all good signs.
Yet of course due to the Kings history there are the rumours that will never cease. Willie Cauley Stein’s unhappiness at playing time, the never-ending trade speculation of Boogie and Gay. It is a watch this space.”
Toronto Raptors (7-2) and DeMar DeRozan:
DeMar DeRozan is making me question my NBA acumen. Covering Toronto in the off-season review, I was dubious on DeRozan’s 5 year $139m contract. Unexpectedly however, he has scored more than 30 points eight of the Raptors first nine games. He’s averaging 34 points per game from 53% from the field, and whilst only 3-14 from deep he currently has a true shooting percentage of 59%. Oh, and he is only averaging 2.6 TOs per game.
Dubs (8-2) and Cavs (8-1):
Does the King ever sleep? Last week, Lebron became the youngest player to reach 27,000 points and also over took Charles Barkley to become tied on 25th for all time steals.
The Dubs have spent the week dispatching the Nuggets. And whilst the quality of opponents hasn’t been great, the Dubs game against the young Nuggets was nothing but superlative. Curry’s shot has returned to devastating effect, and even JaVale McGee looked somewhat like a NBA player after Zaza has faced recent foul trouble.
Roster Game of the month:
The greatest match up of my rosters was Charlotte vs. Toronto. Charlotte’s stingy defence vs. The Bees 4th best defence against the DeMar led Raptors 5th best offence. However, with MKG ruled out due to a back complaint, this battle was not as herculean as could be, but not surprisingly given their hot starts, Kemba and DeMar gave in monumental performances.