Our look at four topics — players, issues, numbers, trends — that are impacting and, in some cases, changing the game.
First Quarter: Stephen Curry's defense
Who knows if Stephen Curry is better than his 2016 MVP season — probably not nearly as devastating or a supernova, but statistically he’s having a worthy campaign right after turning 33 on Sunday.
But he’s certainly been better on the defensive end, being more engaged this season as the Warriors have to do more of the little things to stay involved in games compared to the clown suits they put on opponents in seasons past.
Two plays against Donovan Mitchell on Sunday seem to highlight the effort and awareness that we see far more consistently.
Early in the first quarter, Curry stays with Mitchell, forcing an errant pass compared to a blow-by is a tone-setter.
And in the second quarter, he’s always been good in the passing lanes, clogging the space to get a deflection and a steal.
The Warriors are certainly figuring things out — Draymond Green’s aggressiveness, Andrew Wiggins turning into a plus player, James Wiseman’s role — so expecting a deep run from them this season wouldn’t be realistic.
But if this sets them up for Klay Thompson’s return next season and more comfort across the board, now there’s something dangerous brewing in the Bay.
Second Quarter: Trade targets
The trade deadline is 10 days away, and this season feels more wide open than ever — at the top of each conference and at the bottom of the playoff picture, where the new format has added contenders looking to make splashes.
Here are a few names to watch out for as the deadline approaches.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto: There’s a sense around the league the Raptors are gauging Lowry’s value in the coming days and could be open to moving him. He signed a one-year, $30 million extension before the end of the 2019-20 season, a valuable trade chip especially as the Raptors fall out of the playoff picture. If they can get something in return and send him to a true contender, they’ll explore it and present it to Lowry, sources around the league believe.
Andre Drummond, Cleveland: He’s on ice right now, having been inactive since Feb. 12 and in the last year of his max deal he signed in Detroit. Of course, the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers are front-runners, along with — stop if you’ve heard this before — the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have a traded player exception worth $28.5 million after Gordon Hayward’s offseason defection. A couple of league executives believe the Celtics’ need for size could send them to Drummond, if he isn’t bought out.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando: Gordon is just making his way back from a left ankle sprain that has sidelined him for several weeks. He has one year remaining on his four-year, $76 million deal that kicked in before the 2018-19 season. His shooting has improved, while his rebounding and passing have also stepped up, even if his talent leaves you wanting more. Seems like he’d be a better fit in the West, given the 3-4 types he would have to guard in the playoffs. Sources also said Minnesota has big needs at the big forward spot, and getting Gordon at his number and contract length, makes sense.
P.J. Tucker, Houston: Tucker and the Rockets have reached an impasse — clearly Tucker was under the belief he would be dealt and the Rockets have not done so, leading to his inactivity. Tucker’s shooting numbers (31% from 3) are down across the board, but that could be attributed to the new parts in Houston and the losing. League sources told Yahoo Sports Miami’s shown strong interest, but Houston hasn’t given any inclination to its plans. The Milwaukee Bucks are also in the running for Tucker, according to sources.
Third Quarter: Jayson Tatum's progression
It’s been an offensive explosion across the league this season, with 38 (!) players dropping 20 or more a night. Five years ago, that number was 20. Same for a decade ago.
It’s hard to put numbers into proper context, if history is our guide. It’s even more difficult for players to put their individual successes in context, if it’s not under the guise of winning.
So someone like Celtics forward Jayson Tatum isn’t able to fully appreciate another All-Star appearance and statistical jump (25.1 points, 45% shooting), with the Celtics hovering around .500.
“It’s two-fold, honestly. Having a career year, career numbers,” Tatum told Yahoo Sports recently. “But at the same time, expectations of our team and where we want to be aren’t where we are right now. I know what we’re capable of. So it’s trying to figure it out and get on track.”
Tatum has picked up the slack in terms of playmaking with Gordon Hayward’s departure to Charlotte, averaging 4.5 assists and his assist percentage jumping to 20.8. Although it feels like some positional duplication to have Jaylen Brown developing on the same trajectory, Tatum believes it’s an “iron sharpens iron” situation.
“Since my rookie year, we’re both kind of in the same position. We push each other,” Tatum said. “The last two guys in the gym, shooting every day. Always getting extra work in the weight room and not envious of each other’s success.”
Tatum and Brown have been mentioned in the trade rumors for years now, especially as the Celtics were in the thick of the East and on their rookie contracts. But Tatum said it didn’t bother him then or now.
“I was just grateful to be in the NBA,” Tatum said. “I thought getting traded was just a part of it, if I was to get traded and still play basketball and do what I love, it wouldn’t bother me.”
Four Quarter: Hall of Fame locks
We can keep this one short and sweet.
Chris Webber, in.
Tim Hardaway, in.
Ben Wallace, in.
Swin Cash, in.
Put them into the oh-so-secretive Naismith Hall of Fame.
New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy put it succinctly on Twitter over the weekend, championing Hardaway’s case. Van Gundy was in Miami during Hardaway’s second act on the rough-and-tumble Pat Riley Heat teams in the late '90s, so it certainly makes him biased.
But it doesn’t mean Van Gundy is wrong. Not by a long shot. Hardaway’s unfortunate comments about the gay community were regrettable, but it’s been well over a decade and he’s done the work in the LGBTQ+ community since, a vocal advocate.
Even with missing 1993-94 with a torn ACL, he still averaged 19.0 points, 8.9 assists and 1.8 steals for the '90s — on par with Gary Payton’s 1990-2003 stretch (18.3 points, 7.4 assists, 2.1 steals) and John Stockton’s 1989-2000 run (14.7 points, 11.6 assists, 2.6 steals).
And you can’t tell the story about point guards from the '90s without any of them, with totally different games but long-lasting effects on how the game is played today. Payton and Stockton are in, no-brainers. So is Hardaway.
Get it right, Hall.
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