SNAKES & LADDERS
It’s already nearly Christmas! Christmas means presents, and who doesn’t have a memory of unwrapping Snakes and Ladders on Christmas morning?
OK maybe it’s just me, but the opportunity to revisit my childhood and splice it with NBA was too good to pass up. We will check in on the 4 teams that have climbed the ladder and the 4 teams that have slid down a snake (why a snake? Chutes make much more sense) and the one team that has stayed put.
DETROIT PISTONS – Full Record (14-15) / Since Last Time (7-6)
On the one hand, Detroit are finally whole. Reggie Jackson had an emphatic return, and the #fullsquad has had some impressive wins against Eastern Conference Playoff contenders (BOS, CHI, ATL, CHA). They are still stingy on the defensive end of the court – 6th in defensive rating per NBA.com – and they have one of the best value pickups from the off season in Jon Leuer.
Then you consider this team has lost to the Sixers, Wizards and Magic in their last 8 games. The offence and defence are both worse since Jackson has come back compared to it’s season averages. SVG just can’t get any consistency out of this group, and the start has to be mildly disappointing for a team that should have been expecting a top 4 seeding come the end of the season.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS – Current Record (19-6) / Since Last Time (8-4)
The Cavs continue to cruise along, unimpeded in the Eastern Conference and comfortably perched at the top of the table. LeBron has continued to tick off accomplishments, and Kevin Love is looking like peak Love right now. JR Smith might have finally broken out of his slump, and Coach Lue seems to be comfortable enough with his team’s current position to rest his entire big 3 when the mood strikes.
At this point, the only thing the Cavs need to worry about is health. Irving complaining of heavy legs is a mild concern, and Love’s back has been on and off for a while now. LeBron being 4th in the league at 36.8mpg is also not ideal. But they seem to be back on track after that 3 game skid, and have the rest of the East firmly on notice.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS- Full Record (11-19) / Since Last Time (3-11)
Remember when the Lakers were in the top 8 and people were making noise about Luke Walton actually being a Jedi and mind-tricking these Laker Kids into being way ahead of the curve and possibly making a playoff run? 8 straight Ls later, they are still ahead of most expectations but the reality check was rough.
The team missed D’Angelo Russell a lot, the offensive rating drops from 110 to 103 with Russell off the court. The defence continues to be an absolute mess; only Portland have a worse defensive rating. All in all, this shouldn’t be a surprise – this Laker team was expected to finish bottom 5 in the league by FiveThirtyEight and ESPN.
The bright spots? Walton has been able to experiment more and more with Brandon Ingram, Lou Williams has been on fire (understatement), and Larry Nance did this:
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS – Full Record (24-4) / Since Last Time (11-2)
Fresh off thumping my beloved Portland team, Golden State continue to grow into the indestructible #superteam that the Collective Bargaining Agreement keeps trying to prevent. Every game it seems like someone is going OFF, and the defence is finally catching up to the O:
At this point, opposing teams just have to hope they are bored or playing them a Staples Centre, where apparently Steph Curry isn’t allowed to bring his jump shot past security. With 4 Top 15 players in their starting 5, there isn’t much more you can do. The Durant transition has gone incredibly smoothly, and the bench is finally starting to chip in (when required).
The only real disappointment so far is that their league leading 118ppg hasn’t translated into the league’s most efficient offence.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS – Full Record (9-20) / Since Last Time (3-10)
Jrue Holiday came back, and all of a sudden everything was looking up. But 3-9 in their last 12 games, including Ls to the Sixers and Mavs, have quelled the little momentum Nola was mustering. Despite Anthony Davis having a career year, the Pels just don’t have enough around him to be competitive consistently.
Despite appearances, the Pelicans’ defence has actually been middle of the road, sitting 15th in the league. But their offence is bottom 5, and the lack of weapons after Davis and Holiday has been glaring. This team desperately needs a dependable 3rd option and a centre who can be a threat on the low block or as a roll man in ball screens.
The silver lining is 2-fold. #1, Anthony Davis has avoided severe injury so far, despite being # 2 in minutes per game. And Buddy Hield might just be turning the corner. He has looked more decisive off the catch, and if he can harness the confidence he displayed against Indiana, he will justify his draft selection and provide some much needed shooting for Alvin Genrty to work with
ORLANDO MAGIC – Full Record (12-17) / Since Last Time (6-8)
How on earth does the worst offence in the League bust out scores of 118, 131, 125 and 113? Diversity. While Orlando might not have a lot of household names or be high up on the appointment viewing list, Coach Vogel has a plethora of players capable of scoring anything from 11-30 in any game. In their 5 highest scoring games, the fewest players they have had in double figures is 5. The scout should be simple: make Fournier, Ibaka and Vooch work for their points, don’t let anyone else get hot.
That has been easier said than done for the opposition lately. Elfrid Payton has unleashed his ugly jump shot to surprisingly effective results, Aaron Gordon has looked like a bona fide 3 man at times, and Vogel has shown a willingness to play Ibaka at the 5 with Gordon at the 4, allowing for more spacing. Jodi Meeks has returned almost out of nowhere to rain triples like he is making up for lost time.
Whilst the record over the past 25 days doesn’t necessarily reflect a team on the rise, Vogel seems to be finding a comfort level more and more with this roster. Jeff Green has been surprisingly good (thank god he isn’t starting still though!), and you don’t hear the complaining about roles that you do from some other squads which points to a good culture (and low media coverage perhaps). The Magic still need to trade Vucevic, but if he continues to play good employee he should keep his value and net a good return.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS – Full Record (13-16) / Since Last Time (5-7)
First, the bad news. Festus Ezeli is likely done for the season, and his Blazer tenure could be over before it starts. Just when the Trail Blazers need him the most, Festus will likely elect for season ending surgery on his troublesome left knee. This seems so long ago.
The worse news? Portlan (there is definitely no D here) are still ranked 30th in defensive rating. They are 25th in defensive rebounding, 24th in steals, 27th in opponent 3pt%, 29th in opponent FT attempts, 28th in points against per game and 24th fg%. Just let those numbers sink in. For all of their offensive potency, this roster just seems ill equipped to defend.
Plumlee tries hard, but is undersized and without superior length to scare opposing players at the rim. CJ and Dame are too small as a combo and still can’t navigate ball screens, spending too much time with straight legs instead of being in a stance. The communication seems off, and the schemes haven’t worked. The attention to detail just seems to be lacking, and that is killing a team that can’t cover mistakes the way a Utah or Memphis can.
Portlan won’t get it’s D back until the defence improves. Until it does, expect Blazer players to keep speaking like this.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS – Full Record (12-14) / Since Last Time (8-5)
If you had bet me $50 that after a month, the Wizards would be the most improved of my core roster group, I would be $50 short right now. Despite a flawed roster and an inconsistent rotation, Scott Brooks has this Wizards team moving in the right direction, at least for now anyway.
It all starts with John Wall, who detonated for 52 points against Orlando and has generally been having a career year in relative obscurity:
With his increase in shooting accuracy, Wall is forcing teams to play him tighter, which is opening more lanes for teammates and himself. Beal has recovered from his early struggles to average per game career highs in minutes, points, assists , 3PFG and TS%. Otto Porter was already discussed as a breakout player who is lining up a $20+ million per season contract if he can keep up his stellar play.
Scott Brooks has shown a willingness to downsize more, with Oubre Jr soaking up 30.4 minutes per game in his last 5 contests and Otto Porter spending some time at the 4 spot. The risk here is a severe lack of depth. Satoransky has fallen out of the rotation, and Thornton and Burke are not a recipe for sustainability. The Wiz already have to now deal with Oubre Jr going into the concussion protocol. With Wall, Porter, Beal and Gortat all logging heavy minutes and having spotty health records, Brooks needs to be careful with his workloads. But after a shocking start, the Wizards look to have turned a corner.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS- Full Record (7-20) / Since Last Time (3-9)
The word out of Philly is not great at the moment. The team has lost some of it’s early season luster, losing 8 of it’s last 10 games and dealing with the reality of it’s roster composition. With Noel finally healthy and a frontcourt rotation that includes Embiid and Okafor starting at the 4/5, Saric and Ilyasova battling for time at the 4 and Richaun Holmes as an overqualified 4th string C, things are getting hard for Coach Brown to juggle.
Over to you, Nerlens:
All of a sudden, Noel is out of the rotation for the foreseeable future.
Then you have Saric, sounding less than confident in his move to the 3 spot:
Finally, there is Woj stating that teams aren’t the crash hot on Noel, which severely hinders his trade value. Noel recently changed agents too, so you bet he is looking for the biggest payday in RFA, and this puts a lot of pressure on
Jerry Brian Colangelo to find a reasonable trade package for the mercurial centre. Add to this losing Bayless for the season, and you have things spiraling out of control a little bit.
But hey, Ben Simmons shot some free throws in shoes (no moon boot) and Embiid hasn’t gotten injured (yet). Things could be worse.