The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet
1. This Week In Basketball – Jared Dubin, The Cauldron
The Western Conference has dominated the league since the turn of the century. But this season, the Eastern Conference seems to have turned the corner and currently has a better record than their counterparts by five games. It’s still early in the season, but some of the perceived parity could be due to the number of rookies performing better than rookies normally do (Justise Winslow and Kristaps Porzingis). It could also be because of the relatively easier schedule for the Eastern Conference. According to Dubin, 8 of the 10 easiest schedules belong to teams in the Eastern Conference, and three of the four hardest schedules in the league belong to the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Clippers, all Western Conference teams. One month into the season, it’s clear that the Eastern Conference is improved, but just how much they’ve improved has yet to be seen.
2. What’s Going on in Charlotte? – Adam Yudelman, Nylon Calculus
The Charlotte Hornets were one of the more difficult teams to watch in the NBA last season, and the injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t help the expectations for the team heading into the current season. But, with 13 games in the rear-view mirror, the Hornets sit at 7-6 with a few wins against quality teams. The team has adapted its offense by shooting far more threes (the three-point rate is up to .312 this season from .226 last season) and by playing at a faster pace (up to 96.9 possessions per 48 minutes from 93 last season). But the team’s defense hasn’t fallen off despite missing the best defender. The Hornets end possessions by grabbing the highest percentage of defensive rebounds in the league and have kept teams off the free throw line so far this season. With everything going wrong for the team before the season, the Hornets are one of the reasons the Eastern Conference has improved.
3. Checking in with the Trail Blazers – Andrew Cutler, BBALLBREAKDOWN
The Blazers had an off-season that saw four of their five starters depart for greener pastures leaving Damian Lillard behind. The front office responded well by signing big men to great contracts and knowing that C.J. McCollum was more than ready to step into a bigger role. Most didn’t expect Portland to compete for a playoff spot, but the early season performance has been admirable for the team. Lillard, while still struggling on defense, remains an incredibly efficient player considering his high usage; McCollum is doing his part as a secondary ball-handler; and Mason Plumlee is a very good finisher on lobs from the two guards. There are still things that need to be worked out in Portland in order for the team to have future success — especially defensively — but the team seems to have rebounded well to this point.
4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is The Brooklyn Bandit – David Vertsberger, Hardwood Paroxysm
I made a rule before the season to not, under any circumstances, willingly watch Brooklyn play. I don’t like their style, I don’t particularly care for Lionel Hollins as a coach and while I respect Joe Johnson as a player, watching him isolate from 20 feet time after time isn’t appealing. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has forced me to break my one rule in the preseason for many reasons, as Vertsberger detailed in his piece. Hollis-Jefferson had the reputation as one of, if not the absolute, best wing defender in a draft that hasn’t disappointed. His size, strength and incredible length make him a rare commodity able to guard several positions almost immediately. It’s his offense that has forced Hollins to insert him into the starting lineup, however. After having his jump shot compared to Josh Smith before playing a second in the NBA, Hollis-Jefferson has made over 61 percent of his shots from 16 feet to the three-point line. While that number can’t hold up, it’s certainly one of many reasons Brooklyn fans can look forward to Hollis-Jefferson for a long time.
5. Kristaps Porzingis (and Knicks guards) can learn from the pick-and-pop master, Chris Bosh – Joe Flynn, Posting and Toasting
Another rookie that hasn’t disappointed thus far is the man who was booed at the draft, Kristaps Porzingis. Unlike Hollis-Jefferson, Porzingis was thought of as an offensive project that would be a liability on defense. While he is certainly a project on the offensive end, his defense has been adequate, if not good. Porzingis is averaging 13.7 points and 9.1 rebounds on 52 percent true shooting. While his efficiency isn’t what you’d like to see from a big man, his ability to play on the perimeter allows the Knicks to play Robin Lopez, which helps the team defense. One way Porzingis could increase his efficiency is by learning the ways of Chris Bosh in the pick-and-pop. While Bosh mainly focuses on the mid-range in the pick-and-pop, Porzingis displays the outside shooting touch that Bosh lacked at a similar age. Young players in New York are generally overrated by the masses (Landry Fields, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert), but with Porzingis the praise may be deserved.