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Buy or Sell: Exploring Some Early Trends in the 2015-2016 NBA Season

Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY Sports

I once made 15 straight three-pointers in a series of pickup basketball games on the same day. Sure, I consider myself to be a fairly competent shooter, capable of occasionally going on semi-impressive streaks, but for whatever reason, on that day, I was the pickup game equivalent of Stephen Curry. It stands out as one of the highlights of my otherwise athletically unremarkable existence.

But that’s a clear example of something entirely unsustainable; something farcical and with the shelf-life of a ripening banana in the hot sun. I couldn’t reproduce that performance if my life was on the line.

So, with nearly three weeks of the 2015-2016 season now in the rearview mirror, and with fans everywhere entering the pinnacle of the overreaction period that emerges with the start of every year, I think it’s a good time to begin siphoning through the major areas of focus to determine just how sustainable some of the early trends are.

Andre Drummond is THAT good

Drummond is averaging 6.1 full rebounds more per game (19) than DeAndre Jordan (12.9), his closest competitor. 6.1 rebounds.

To put that into perspective, there are only 65 players in the entire league who are averaging more than 6.1 rebounds per game. Robin Lopez and Timofey Mozgov stand out as big names among the group of players averaging fewer than that 6.1. Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert are only averaging 6.2 and 6.6, respectively.

At this rate, if your name isn’t Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond, Jerry Lucas, Bob Pettit or Elgin Baylor, then you aren’t pulling down rebounds at a higher rate than Drummond has early into this season. To add a little more context into that, the last season anyone pulled down more rebounds per game than 19 was Chamberlain in 1971-1972. It just doesn’t happen anymore.

Let’s not forget that he’s also adding 18.5 points per game on 52 percent shooting, in addition to 1.4 blocks and 1.7 steals. Drummond has clearly emerged as one of the top five performers early on. But, the question is, can he sustain this level of dominance?

The short answer, in my opinion is…yes. As long as he remains healthy. Taking a closer look at those rebounds, he isn’t pulling a J.J. Hickson or Reggie Evans and stealing easy rebounds by being out of position defensively. Of those 19 he’s grabbing per game, eight of them are considered to be “contested,” per SportVU. 

The next closest player to that number is Rudy Gobert, who’s pulling down 5.3 contested rebounds per game, so clearly Drummond is in there banging for even the toughest of rebounds. That’s something that results almost exclusively from effort, one of the most sustainable indicators around. Do I think we may see a slight reduction in his overall production? Sure. History tells us we probably will, but then again, history has a funny habit of becoming obsolete as well.

Verdict: Buy

Rajon Rondo is back

I’m an unabashed Rondo supporter, so any opinion expressed on this subject should be taken with a mound of salt, but watching him record three triple-doubles over his last five games brings me back to a happier and much simpler time. The world somehow feels whole again.

Look, I don’t actually think Rondo has somehow propelled himself into the conversation of best point guard in the league again, as some of his more enthusiastic fans have recently expressed, but I do think he’s fully capable of remaining a 12 PPG/8 RPG/6 APG type of guy, even once Darren Collison returns from injury.

The only reason I don’t think Rondo can continue on his current pace is because I’m certain that George Karl prefers Collison, whose style of play is much more in line with Karl’s system. But it’s also hard to argue with results, and the Kings are currently in the midst of their most successful stretch of the season, having won three straight, including wins over two quality teams in the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors. All three of those wins also happened to come with Rondo playing 40+ minutes. Maybe the guy has some gas left in the tank after all.

All that said, I think once Collison is once again in the lineup, Rondo’s production will take a precipitous hit.

Verdict: Reluctantly sell

Jeremy Lamb is a 55 percent shooter

This one is perplexing. Lamb’s 55 percent from the floor makes him the 11th-most efficient in this category in the league. Only Cory Joseph ranks ahead of him in terms of guards, and Joseph makes his living in the paint and from mid-range (51 percent of his shots have been taken within 10 feet of the basket, and 86 percent of them have come from below the three-point line), so his efficiency makes much more sense.

Lamb, however, has been lighting his opponents up from long range, with 54 percent of his shots coming from 16 feet from the rim and beyond. This fact, coupled with the knowledge that Lamb has been a career 40 percent shooter, tells me everything I need to know about the sustainability of this trend.

That’s not to say he hasn’t been impressive — he most certainly has — but I think we see Lamb start to crash back down to earth over the upcoming weeks. He will still have a really valuable role on the Hornets moving forward, but I hope they aren’t relying on him suddenly becoming one of the league’s best marksmen.

Verdict: Sell

Eric Bledsoe is an All-Star

Bledsoe has been on the cusp of stardom for several years now, but due to the Suns’ awkward handling of the guard position, and an obvious need to develop certain aspects of his game, he’s been relegated to that third or even fourth tier of “star players.”

This year appears to be the one where that all changes. Through the first few weeks, only Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kyle Lowry are filling up the stat sheet in as many categories as Bledsoe. Over his last three games, he’s averaging 28 points, eight assists, six rebounds and just under two steals while shooting 68 percent from the floor and 72 percent from three-point range.

Obviously that shooting is unsustainable, but he can be an All-Star pick if he keeps playing well, even in a guard-heavy Western Conference. With the Suns seeming to find their groove, and with Bledsoe and Brandon Knight figuring out how to play off of each other, I actually think this is the Bledsoe we’ll continue to see the rest of the season.

Verdict: Buy

Blake Griffin is a legitimate MVP candidate

I really hope the obvious, and somewhat understandable, bias that exists against the Clippers isn’t precluding anyone from appreciating just how good Griffin has been this season.

In almost every advanced statistical value-added category, Griffin ranks as runner-up to only Stephen Curry. His PER (31.10) ranks behind Curry’s astronomical 35.53. His estimated wins added (EWA) (3.3) ranks behind Curry’s again unbelievable 4.7. His value-added (VA) (99.7) ranks only behind Curry’s 141.3.

If it wasn’t for Curry going absolutely ballistic on everyone he faces, Griffin may very well be the player who everyone is talking about.

All you have to know about how important Griffin is to the Clippers was put on display in their game against the Suns on Thursday night. Even without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick in the lineup, the Clippers were hanging tough in the second night of a road/road back-to-back, pulling to within one point with 2:35 remaining in the first half.

It was at that point that Griffin was ejected, having received his second technical foul of the game. The Suns then went on a 9-1 run to end the half, and then outscored the Clippers by 11 points in the third quarter.

Griffin is what makes this team run — sorry CP3, but it’s true. He’s in the top five for points per game (26.6), top 20 for rebounds (9.0), top 10 for field goal percentage (56%) and top 40 for assists (4.3). He has five double-doubles out of the nine games he’s played and finished. He gets to the foul line 7.1 times per game, and shoots 76 percent from there.

The bottom line is that this guy is having one of the best seasons of anyone in the league, and people aren’t really talking about it for whatever reason. But if the Clippers again get one of the top seeds in the West, it’ll undoubtedly be because Griffin continues the pace he’s currently set. And when that happens, people would be foolish to not consider him MVP-worthy.

Verdict: Buy

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