Clippers vs. Thunder
This game can be explained in two quotes.
Scott Brooks said that OKC's second half was "as well as we can execute a game plan and execute on both ends of the floor, on offense and defense." The Thunder had 17 assists vs. five turnovers in the half, on their way to a 105-91 romp over the Clippers.
Compare that with Doc Rivers' description of L.A.'s first quarter: "'You could see we didn't have it offensively. Everybody was kind of missing shots. We didn't have any rhythm, no speed. When we don't have any pace by anybody, you know that's not a good sign. We didn't tonight.'' It wasn't a complete loss for fantasy owners, naturally -- Blake Griffin wound up with 27 points and 10 boards (the tenth time this year he's notched at least 20 & 10), while Chris Paul had 17 points and 12 assists (his 13th consecutive game with 10+ points and 10+ assists to begin the year, setting a new NBA record).
The Clippers' non-superstars didn't fare as well. J.J. Redick scored eight points on 3-of-11 shooting with zero assists, DeAndre Jordan grabbed 12 rebounds but only scored four points with one block, and Jamal Crawford's 18 points came on inefficient 7-of-16 shooting.
The numbers broke along familiar lines for OKC. Kevin Durant led the way with 28 points, six rebounds and eight more assists, continuing his playmaking tear since Russell Westbrook (12 points, six rebounds, five assists) made his unexpected season debut. Durant averaged 1.0 assists in the Thunder's first three games, but in the eight games since then he's notching 7.1 dimes per game. His assists have climbed each of the past four seasons, peaking at 5.5 last year, but he's on pace to blow away that number.
The Thunder bench deserves special commendation after last night's effort. Steven Adams earned praise from opposing coach Doc Rivers after coming off the bench for six points, seven rebounds, two assists and three blocks in 24 minutes (Kendrick Perkins started again but only played 20 minutes). Reggie Jackson has scored 9+ points in six consecutive games, finishing Thursday with nine points, six boards and three assists. Jeremy Lamb added 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting with one 3-pointer, and veterans Derek Fisher and Nick Collison rounded out the bench effort.
Not counting Perry Jones and Andre Roberson's brief appearances, the Thunder used the 10-man lineup which has become the norm for Scott Brooks. Jeremy Lamb, who barely played last season, is averaging 19 minutes per game. Steven Adams is also averaging 18 minutes per game for a coach who has never shown an inclination to trust his young players. Part of it is necessity -- with Kevin Martin gone, for example, Jeremy Lamb gives OKC necessary spacing from the SG position. In this article from the Oklahoman, however, beat writer Darnell Mayberry argues that "[Scott Brooks] is coaching with more confidence and creativity and, as a result, showing continued growth and maturity on the sideline."
Speaking of growth and maturity on the sidelines, I continue to be impressed by Warriors coach Mark Jackson. I developed an intense dislike for him as a commentator and wasn't convinced that he'd make a great head coach, but there's no denying his leadership and solid in-game decision making. Witness him benching his entire second unit in the final minutes of this week's game vs. the Jazz, saying afterward that they gave an "embarrassing effort" by allowing the starters' lead to be whittled away. Jackson has coached around injuries to Harrison Barnes and Steph Curry, he draws up beautiful inbounds plays, he's done well managing his veterans' playing time (Andre Iguodala leads the team with 38 minutes per game, Steph Curry is under 33 per game), and his team currently ranks fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency by allowing 95.0 points per 100 possessions, behind only the Bulls, Spurs and Pacers. The defense is solidified by Andre Iguodala, a now-healthy Andrew Bogut, underrated Klay Thompson, and guys like Jermaine O'Neal and Toney Douglas off the bench, but Jackson has been preaching defense from Day 1 and surely influenced some of the Warriors' personnel decisions. Well done, Coach.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $20,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Friday night's games. It's just $10 to join and first prize is $3,000. Starts at 7pm ET on Friday. Here's the link.
Bulls vs. Nuggets
The late game featured the Bulls vs. the Nuggets, a game which was close until Denver hit a barrage of 3-pointers to kick off the fourth quarter. Most of them came from Nate Robinson (11 points, three assists, two 3-pointers) and Jordan Hamilton (17 points, six rebounds, three 3-pointers). The solid play of Denver's reserves limited starting SG Randy Foye to just 13 minutes -- he scored 12 points but didn't have any rebounds, assists or steals.
Kenneth Faried posted a skeletal double-double, and J.J. Hickson just missed his own with 14 points and nine rebounds, but that's where the good news ends. Wilson Chandler vanished offensively, going scoreless on two shot attempts in 27 minutes. He was facing an elite defense and is still getting up to full-speed after missing six games with a hamstring injury, so don't panic and cut him. If he is cut by an impatient owner in your league, pick him up immediately. Danilo Gallinari's return date remains uncertain, and Chandler is capable of helping you in points, 3s, rebounds, steals and even blocks, while shooting solid percentages.
Ty Lawson was nearly as disappointing, scoring 10 points with seven assists and four turnovers in his worst game of the season. He ranks 12th in the NBA in 'touches per game', according to NBA.com's new SportsVU tracking, as well as being sixth in assists per game (and third in 'assist opportunities' per game...knock down those jumpers, Faried!). To explain Lawson's hot start this year, beat writer Christopher Dempsey points to his centrality in the offense, decreased reliance on spot-up shots, improved ambidexterity, and stellar transition game. Check out the full column.
The Bulls fell to 6-4 with the loss, despite having four starters in double-digits. Derrick Rose led the way with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists, but tellingly he attempted just one free throw all game while shooting 9-of-20 from the field. He's averaging 2.8 FT attempts per game this season, down from 6.1 per game in 2011-12, and it's hard to dismiss the role his ACL surgery might be having on his willingness to attack the rim with unbridled fury. Fantasy owners would probably be forced to trade him for lesser players at this point, and further patience is warranted.
Mike Dunleavy started at SG with Jimmy Butler (toe) out for roughly two weeks, scoring 15 points with two 3-pointers, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. I'd view this as a best-case line for Dunleavy, who is worth a pickup if you need 3-pointers. Kirk Hinrich logged 31 minutes off the bench, scoring seven points with four assists, and he also stands to gain in Butler's absence. The only starter to miss double-digit scoring was Luol Deng, who shot an appalling 3-of-18 from the field. He grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds but that will hardly assuage his fantasy owners' disappointment.
The Curious Case of Iman Shlumpert
While I'm making slump puns, I must recommend Mike Gallagher's excellent column "Slump Busters," which delves into the struggles of high-profile guys like Derrick Rose and Al Jefferson.
According to multiple reports, the Knicks are eager to trade Iman Shumpert. They are unhappy with the timing of his "secret" knee surgery this summer, which may be related to his equally-unpopular decision to only play in one Summer League game. They also find him obstinate and sometimes uncoachable, and Mike Woodson has repeatedly called him out in public, including after Wednesday's game when Shumpert accidentally fouled a 3-point shooter with his team up by three points. Oops. The latest example came Thursday morning, when Woodson said during a radio interview that he instructed his team to foul on the final possession of Wednesday's game, but Shumpert "chose not to."
I don't take issue with a team calling out a player if he's defying management, ignoring his coaches and freelancing his medical decisions. What confuses me is why New York would so blatantly smear the reputation of a talented player whose perimeter defense is the envy of teams around the league? Do they feel that his trade value is bullet-proof and doesn't need to be coddled and coaxed? Or, perhaps more likely, do the Knicks simply operate with Cassell-dance levels of organizational hubris? I think Nostradamus addressed this in quatrain 4-18, when he prophesied:
Due to many letters condemning the purveyors of the stars,
They will be reproved by ignorant royalty;
Punished by Edict, chased down like criminals,
And put to death wherever they are found.
Yep, he nailed that one.
One Brow to Rule Them All
Aaron Bruski led off Thursday's Dose with the assertion that Anthony Davis will be next year's No. 1 fantasy target in drafts. I wholeheartedly agree, and am willing to say that Davis already is the No. 1 player for fantasy purposes. I'm not sure what the contrarian opinion would be in the face of his transcendental averages: 21.0 points on 50.3 percent FGs and 83.6 percent FTs, 10.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.9 steals and 4.0 blocks per game. He's also turning the ball over just 1.3 times per game, which gives him a tremendous boost in nine-cat leagues.
The Kings are reportedly looking into any and every trade possibility, with the goal of trading veterans for prospects and draft picks. Good luck with that. Jimmer Fredette is an obvious guy they'd like to trade, but nothing about his play the past two years suggests that he'll have value around the league. Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty has a typically excellent article which suggests that Sacramento would love to trade Marcus Thornton, who picked up consecutive DNP-CDs vs. the Suns this week while guys like Jimmer and Ben McLemore stepped into bigger roles. Ziller sums up a few of his points: "No. 1 indicates Thornton doesn't have a role on the Kings going forward. No. 2 indicates that the Kings probably want to move him. No. 3 indicates that might be difficult."
Tom Ziller also wrote a great piece titled, "Pay to Play" which explores arguments for and against public subsidies for sports venues, and seeks common ground. Read it here.
Follow me on Twitter @Knaus_RW for injury updates and random statistical insights.
Nene looked very quick against the Cavaliers and Wolves this week, spinning around slower defenders, delivering on-point passes to cutting teammates, and knocking down mid-range jumpers with ease. He may have been inspired after he and Al Harrington arranged a 'let’s-clear-the-air' players-only meeting earlier in the week, but fantasy owners should hedge their bets given his extensive injury history. Nene's frontcourt partner, Marcin Gortat, hasn't been as hot and is averaging 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in his past four games. "For some reason my offensive game is off -- totally off," Gortat said. "I'm here every day shooting those jump shots. Those jump shots are falling in practice but when game-time comes there's nothing going in." He is a combined 15-of-37 (40.5 percent) on shots 8-16 feet from the hoop this season, and just 2-of-12 from 16-24 feet.
Jason Terry is battling a bone bruise in his left knee, but beat writer Tim Bontemps speculates that Terry may have fallen behind Alan Anderson in the rotation anyway, "and when Andrei Kirilenko returns to the rotation, it seems unlikely both of them will be able to play." Read the full story here.
Kevin Arnowitz of ESPN.com dug up this lump of coal about Byron Mullen's so-called defense: "When Byron Mullens is on the floor, the Clippers are 18.2 points worse defensively. His defensive rating of 120.7 is far and away the worse this season for any player who sees the court regularly." I've often commented on Mullens' offensive inefficiency -- last year he jacked up 3.9 three-pointers per game, but made only 31.7 percent of them, and he shot 64.6 percent at the FT line. At least he's consistent on both ends of the court.
Avery Bradley didn't last long as an experimental point guard to begin the season, but he seems to have fully embraced the 'shooting' guard role -- ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg notes that Bradley attempted 21 field goals per game during the Celtics' recent three-game win streak. He only made 38 percent of his attempts, but Forsberg thinks he should continue to "fire away."
"With [Jeff] Green often content to dance around the perimeter, and most everyone beyond [Jared] Sullinger (and Brandon Bass, too, at times) unwilling to be a consistent post presence, it's often fell on guards like Bradley and [Jordan] Crawford to fire away," Forsberg writes. "What Bradley appears to have realized recently is that teams are giving him the freedom to take that mid-range jumper so when he finds space coming off a pick-and-roll, he's not hesitating. And he shouldn't." When Rajon Rondo returns, delivering pin-point passes on a team in need of shooters, fantasy owners should keep Bradley’s role in mind.
Rashard Lewis has emerged as a consistent part of Miami's rotation, averaging 5.2 points, 0.9 threes, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 19 minutes per game off the bench. It's a wonderful development considering the two-time All-Star almost retired with chronic knee injuries a few years ago. "We talked about having surgery ... It just came to a point where if it continued to feel like this and gets worse and worse, then maybe it might be time for me to hang it up," Lewis said. The 16-year veteran came into the league straight out of high school and his lean frame has taken untold abuse over the years, but he's found new life on the 2013-14 iteration of the Heat. As a big fan of Lewis' during his days with the Sonics, it warms my heart to see him and Ray Allen both playing well off Miami's bench.
Speaking of long-term tandems, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker recently notched their 600th win as teammates. They're already up to 601, making them the fourth-winningest tandem in NBA history. The all-time leaders are John Stockton/Karl Malone (906), while Robert Parish/Kevin McHale (656) are in second place and Bill Russell/Sam Jones (618) are in third. The Spurs are currently sitting pretty with a 10-1 record, so they'd need to finish the year 66-16 in order for Duncan and Parker to claim second place this year.
Is it possible that Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris have pulled a 'Parent Trap' maneuver on NBA fans? Markieff was the Western Conference Player of the Week from Nov. 4-10, having averaged 22.8 points on 69.8 shooting, to go along with 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals. He was knocking down jumpers, beating defenders with shifty post moves, and generally outhustling most players on the court. In four games since Nov. 10, however, Markieff is averaging an atrocious 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds on combined 4-of-21 shooting.
In the past three games, meanwhile, "Marcus" Morris is averaging 15.0 points, 1.7 triples and 5.7 rebounds, while shooting 17-of-26 from the field. I'm not sure who stands to gain from this obvious duplicity, but the NBA league office might need to start requiring blood tests prior to tip-off. Ahem...from a fantasy perspective, Marcus is providing low-end value in nine-cat leagues, while Markieff's blazing start to the season still has him with overall value in the middle rounds. Eric Bledsoe leads Phoenix in assists per game and the absence of his dynamic playmaking surely isn't helping Markieff at all, and fantasy owners should try to hang on for another week or two before giving up on a guy with a very recent history of dominating the competition.
In his first two games after returning from a toe injury, Ryan Anderson is averaging 22.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in under 30 minutes, and he's made a combined 10-of-16 threes. It's no surprise the Pelicans have reportedly rebuffed Houston's attempts to trade Omer Asik for Anderson. His perimeter shooting is crucial for a team heavy on slashers, but which ranks last in the NBA with 14.0 3-point attempts per game. Asik's defense is a welcome addition anywhere, but his 'restricted to the paint' offense would be far worse for New Orleans' spacing than current starter Jason Smith's proficient and voluminous mid-range shooting (currently 81.3 percent of Smith's shots have come outside the paint but inside the arc).
Mark Deeks, who founded the salary-data goldmine ShamSports.com and currently writes for about a half-dozen esteemed sports websites, gives us a salient look at the new CBA's harshly punitive luxury tax for teams which repeatedly exceed the tax threshold. A sample paragraph should pique your interest: "Realistically, Chicago cannot keep its current team together without paying the repeater tax. Unless the Bulls allow Deng to walk, or amnesty Boozer, they will not be able to avoid luxury tax next season, thereby triggering the repeater. And as we've seen, any repeater tax paid will be prohibitively expensive."