Monday, November 13, 2017

Reasons to be NBA cheerful: 1-through-30

A look at the happier points of all 30 NBA teams

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

ONE

TWO

THREE

Atlanta Hawks

Not the Hawks.

2-11 entering Monday

Boston Celtics

The chorus is loud and it is appropriate: Boston approaches opponents with an unimpeachable (for November, at least) sense of day-to-day duty.

Tom Thibodeau must have left it rolled up in a bag, hidden above a ceiling duct in the Celtics locker room, probably had Kendrick Perkins reach up to put it there. Slough off the Celtics as regular-season do-gooders all you want: Kyrie Irving is about to put on a mask and coach Brad Stevens has struck gold in adapting to Irving’s idea of what he thinks danger is:

1. Stevens challenges Kyrie Irving’s sense of deception, his interest in keeping teammates and coaches backpedaling in the same ways defenders do, and not in the traditional sense with blandly breaking plays.

12-2 entering Monday

Brooklyn Nets

Look at our guy.

D’Angelo Russell will miss some time, he landed awkwardly on his knee in Utah as tends to happen, and MRI results are pending. In the weeks prior to that setback he’s established himself in a league that, since Phil Jackson tried to pretend he was in first with the prospect in a Louisville carpark, appears to want the fella to succeed.

Scoring 20 points per game in the NBA at 46 percent shooting is no joke, especially when that work comes from a whippet like D’Angelo, still churning at only 21. His passing is improving (though at the expense of not-yet uproarious turnover spike) and D’Angelo averages nearly seven points per game in the fourth quarter for a team that hasn’t had to think about fourth quarters in years.

5-8 entering Monday

Charlotte Hornets

If this were 1996, we’d have a Most Improved Player out of Charlotte.

Jeremy Lamb is up seven points per game this year, to a career high of 16.7, he’s hit almost 46 percent of his threes so far and he’s settled himself for a series of run-killing answers from the perimeter – Jeremy likes to end your momentum by lining up his jumper.

It’s never enough, the Hornets are too top-heavy to turn the corner as the lacking depth chews up far too many scenes, and Lamb’s per-minute marks are mostly the same – his passing has improved with a 12-minute per game increase, his rebounds and especially turnovers have suffered.

A solid scorer, though, at a needed position.

5-8, entering Monday

Chicago Bulls

There isn’t much. Fred Hoiberg’s work now fully reminds of the Tim Floyd era on the actual court – lots of pointless movement and obvious passes on the way toward the worst offense in the NBA – and they wear red uniforms at home.

If you skipped ahead to this team, though, your heart beats. And that’s something.

2-11 entering Monday

Cleveland Cavaliers

One-third of the way into 2018, an NBA defense ranked in the bottom five (or maybe even bottom three, or worse!) will be chosen by a series of sportswriters to lead the Cavaliers to not only the NBA Finals, but also its second championship in three seasons.

You can take that to have fun with, the idea that those observers might also be correct in their estimations (I mean: LeBron), or you can giggle on this – this Cleveland creature is but a month old, and it has already given us so much. Are you sick of it?

6-7, entering Monday

Dallas Mavericks

Even Bruce Hornsby Dad has his limits: Rick Carlisle is manning a terrible team as he and his front office see fit, and the more and more you see the pitched Dallas prospects play, the more you tend to agree with ol’ Buzz Cut n’ Kill over there. Nerlens Noel is not so much.

The team does cause a fair amount of turnovers, though, which allows us the chance to watch this team try to figure things out on the fly with a rookie point guard (Dennis Smith is up to 15 and five assists with, interestingly, 3.8 rebounds in 29 minutes a game) and a Dirk who just stopped worrying us this week (now at 39.5 three-point shooting, over 40 percent and double-figure scoring for the first time this season).

2-12, entering Monday

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets probably didn’t calm the more risible of us with that win over the (then-stammering) Thunder last Thursday, and some of their wins came off scheduled losses (including the most recent conquest over Orlando, and a dish over Toronto last week) for the opponent, but the record stands and the Nuggets figure to take in more conquests like these as the year moves along.

We’re just trying to get Mike Malone and his frontcourt in a seven-game series. Let them peck for now.

8-5, through Monday

Detroit Pistons

From last week, on Andre Drummond:

If you are of average height and basketball skill, or even less, the next time you see a lowered rim you should run up to it and dunk on it with a basketball, then you should put a clip of that on the internet.

After that, you should take a 15-foot free throw on an 8-foot rim.

It’s like playing darts. With a basketball. And a mean metal rim. And people are watching.

When the rim level matches the height of your raised fingertips, putting an arc on your shot (in the space of fewer than 15 feet!) is damn, near impossible.

Drummond has gotten around this, as so many yuppies in the 1980s did (your Donaldsons, your Sikmas, even converted compact disc baby-boomers like Kareem), but having to worm his way around things. In an NBA world that has gotten kinder to taller people, Drummond shoots his free throws like Andre Drummond trying to make his way into the Uber driver’s Dodge Caliber.

After missing 11 of 17 last week Drummond is down (!) to 63.6 percent.

10-3, entering Monday

Golden State Warriors

This is where the day-to-day becomes a burden. Not the workload, The Second Arrangement is humming (subscribe!), but saving yourself from unloading 1200 words a night on the champs.

Steve Kerr is so goddamned on this. Nobody is rotting on the Warrior bench, every rotation player is taking in strong and significant daylight looks for a team that knows it will have to shore up its length and defensive rebounding issues as the season evolves.

Because Golden State isn’t done evolving. You can be frightened and cheerful at the same time.

10-3, entering Monday

Houston Rockets

James Harden has something so wondrously unexplainable about him, I spent all night on just that line because I’m still so confused.

He loves that ball, he lets it go and it always comes back to him – Harden finds his way toward tips that he shouldn’t, loose balls and defensive rebounds and a pair of waiting hands on a fast break that went far too long with P.J. Tucker in control.

This is probably what watching day-to-day Magic Johnson was like. This isn’t a competition between their abilities, it certainly isn’t a side-by-side comparison and I’ll leave it to history to settle on impact.

With Magic, it almost looked as if he was discarding his sweats on the court – even if he’d been on the hardwood from opening tip. Harden has the same alertness, from the passing times to the spots when he’s supposed to pass the ball.

And he’s averaging 30 points per game. And his team has the best record in the West.

11-3, entering Monday

Indiana Pacers

Thaddeus Young ripped his jersey on the way to the bench Sunday evening, he’s a professional “professional” at this point and it was disheartening to see a good person and talented player understandably lose his cool after being unable to convert with his strong hand in the presence of post defense from Eric Gordon.

That’s where Domantas Sabonis, literally, comes in.

The second-year big man put up 25 points in 49 combined bench minutes against Chicago and Houston in his return from injury this weekend, he had chances in both games to lose focus after some initial bobbles on both ends but he’s sustained his play as not only one of the NBA’s best young bigs, but one of the league’s best bigs, full stop.

All I could ask for is more countable minutes.

6-8, entering Monday

Los Angeles Clippers

We just want the Clippers to one day become Sindarius Thornwell, but Pat Beverley hurt his knee and Los Angeles really did look shuttered without Danilo Gallinari and his left butt injury last week.  

Instead of focusing on the selections that lined up to create this reality, look at how panicked Doc Rivers must be as he leads the team that tops the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage after years of telling his big men not to pay attention to that aspect of the game.

(As if Perk and KG were all fit and ready to crash the offensive glass from 2007 through 2011.)

5-7, entering Monday

Los Angeles Lakers

On Lonzo Ball:

You want a point guard that sees streaks of gold in his sleep. Let the guy scatter for a bit, until he figures it out, because he wants to pass.

5-8, entering Monday

Memphis Grizzlies

 

Dead last and loving it.

7-5, entering Monday

Miami Heat

This is a terrible thing to note, with the Jazz center now out after his avoidable tangle with Heatian Dion Waiters, but I’m very much looking forward to watching how Hassan Whiteside responds to his night spent with Rudy Gobert on Friday.

Whiteside did well to make himself bigger than his already sizeable frame in that Heat win, and I had this note planned out well before the Google search I dutifully just pulled up, one that informs me that, somewhere, Hassan also has a Twitter beef with Rudy Gobert.

Let any further mention of Twitter beefs only come in the form of disarming caveats, to inform you that, no, that isn’t where I got this idea.

6-7, entering Monday

Milwaukee Bucks

Eric Bledsoe aims to please. From Saturday morning’s Behind the Boxscore:

If the Bucks dole out Bledsoe (13 points, seven assists, pointed pick and roll action late) and Giannis Antetokounmpo in staggered amounts, the duo’s hesitancy to pull up from three (Bledsoe clanged four of five in his Bucks debut, Giannis missed his lone afterthought attempt) could be masked by the same sort of pugnacity that seems to be well on its way toward giving Antetokounmpo MVP votes.

[…]

Bledsoe wasn’t afraid to call the entire side of the court to himself down the stretch, while Giannis observed from the weak side.

6-6, entering Monday

Minnesota Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns plays about as loosely as the first kid up on Picture Day and other distressing signs abound, but we’re here to remain cheerful.

The team has, at the very least, compiled wins. This will give them reason to move and, perhaps now that coach Tom Thibodeau has shown consideration to the subject, further tinkering on the court that could inspire actual front office movement as a potential playoff season moves along.

7-5, entering Monday

New Orleans Pelicans

Alvin Gentry, a coach who has been fired before, does not coach, walk, talk or act like a man who is in danger of being fired. He has a group of personalities worth rooting for, and he’s going to go wherever he’s going fighting on this group’s behalf.

More on Gentry as the year moves along.

7-6, entering Monday

New York Knicks

From last week:

Knick games are a bit of a give and take, because while I love watching Kristaps Porzingis play basketball more than just about anything else, the birds never seem to chirp that morning.

7-5, entering Monday

Oklahoma City Thunder

One more OKC excuse, from Saturday morning:

Russell Westbrook had to dedicate himself to a season for the ages last year, Paul George knows what it is like to play all the way until June, and Carmelo Anthony was once a teammate of Jon Barry’s. These fellas have been around long enough to consider November a nuisance at best.

6-7, entering Monday

Orlando Magic

Elfrid Payton is back. From Saturday morning:

Elfrid Payton made Jarrett Jack look like retirement. In 29 minutes the Magic guard contributed 11 points, 11 dimes, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals and two turnovers and, no, he didn’t hit a three-pointer in two attempts.

8-5, entering Monday

Philadelphia 76ers

The team is still way out West and the upcoming schedule is hellacious but, breathe, Ben Simmons is the athlete gone right when so many others his size have gone wrong.

He’s the one that has ability to rebound in traffic – but actually does it. To make the skip pass alongside the fancy, while taking chances along the way.

The point guards who don’t take chances are the ones that retire with eight different NBA uniforms to their name; we don’t have to name the names of these much-admired veterans of yore, they’re good guys!

There’s a place for them, but you’d like ‘em on the other team.

6-6, entering Monday

Phoenix Suns

The Suns are entirely made of characters from Saturday morning TV shows I didn’t watch.

5-9, entering Monday

Portland Trail Blazers

Don’t let the rough spots – and there have been some really rough spots – fool you. Portland is a top five defense statistically (they had some help, earlier in the year) and the hope now is that the team’s core has an idea of what it can now consistently do with its lacking fundamentals and/or interest on that end.

6-6, entering Monday

Sacramento Kings

This is a tough one. Vince Carter is even out with kidney stones, the pain that must have been the thing that kept him on the floor all those times he was fouled in Toronto and New Jersey.

3-9, entering Monday

San Antonio Spurs

If you need a reason to be cheerful about a team Pau Gasol plays on, then you need to raise the blinds a little.

The Spurs are a top-six defense even with Kawhi Leonard resting with an injury that calls for excessive amounts of rest to heal.

8-5, entering Monday

Toronto Raptors

I yelled, nasally as always and into the Subaru’s mic, about why it should still be a steady time to be a fan of Dwane Casey and the Raptors, with the Locked on Raptors Podcast. It was a happy yell!

7-5, entering Monday

Utah Jazz

There will and should be a great deal of strong pieces on the Utah Jazz this week, in the wake of Gobert’s injury, and I can’t wait to read them.

Go into that dread, though, knowing that this team was put in this position by steady hands, forever working with the placement and timing they’d been dealt, I didn’t mean to make a car metaphor but here we are.

This is a good organization and it will have a good year, whatever the turnout.

6-7, entering Monday

Washington Wizards

It’s hard to love these Wizards sometimes, but then Kelly Oubre needs a ride and he talks you into it and, ooh, this team gets to the line a ton.

7-5, entering Monday

Thank you for reading, I hope to see you here on Tuesday.