The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet
Nothing is going right in Houston. Despite returning nearly all the key players from last year’s playoff run, the Rockets are 4-6, tied with the presumably lottery-bound Timberwolves and only a game ahead of a Blazers team that just lost its franchise player. Things will presumably level out at some point this season, but that does not make the team’s visible shortcomings any less meaningful. Perhaps most significantly for a team dedicated to Moreyball’s “3s and layups only” principle, only Jason Terry and Terrence Jones are shooting above league average from distance, according to NBA.com, and no one is hitting more than 40 percent. Of course, while Rockets fans are rending their garments in distress, detractors of perhaps the league’s second-most hated team would likely point out that watching this team has always been unbearable. Houston’s fans just didn’t realize it because the team was winning.
“Paul George At The 4” was one of the most ubiquitous storylines coming into the season. The Pacers spent years as a brutalist, defensive-minded team that overwhelmed their opponents with size and strength. Their choice to jettison Roy Hibbert and play George as a stretch 4 was seen as the final triumph of pace-and-space basketball, a sign the era of small ball was truly upon us. Things look a little less cut and dry 10 games into the season, as PG13 has slipped back down to small forward for the most part, and the floor-spreading offensive vision hasn’t worked quite as well as some may have hoped. According to Cooper’s analysis, Indiana has suffered mightily on both offense and defense when George plays with a floor-spreading shooter at the 4, due mainly to a significant decline in their rebounding. It is sort of reassuring, honestly. It’s good to be reminded that small ball isn’t a perfect panacea and that what the Warriors do is as much about their unique talents as their style of play.
The Cavaliers and the Warriors are doing their best to suck every bit of suspense out of this season. They’re sitting comfortably atop their respective conferences at a combined 19-2, and the closest thing either team has shown to a weakness is a penchant for playing sloppily when they’re feeling confident. LeBron called his team out on it recently, saying “We give a half-a** effort sometimes and expect that we can just make a run at the end,” a sentiment Wong uses as a jumping off point to examine the team’s attitude this year. He sees an entire organization in the midst of a long, relieved exhalation after a year of intense scrutiny. The pressure of LeBron’s arrival, Blatt’s first year with the team and the integration of all those new pieces has lifted, leaving behind an excellent basketball team that’s only getting better. Cleveland is currently top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they’re playing without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert. It seems safe to say they could still get quite a bit better.
If you’re looking for a non-LeBron reason for the Cavs’ early-season success, Kevin Love’s increased role is a good place to start. After struggling to fit in with his ball-dominating co-stars in his first season with Cleveland, we’re finally starting to see the dynamic offense everyone was salivating over when the trade was first announced. In his piece, Dowsett examines just how that’s come about, citing a variety of usage stats to show how significant Love’s impact has been. Whether this continues when Irving returns remains to be seen, but it’s encouraging to see coach David Blatt making better use of his star power forward. His reputation as an offensive virtuoso spurred a lot of the excitement around this team last season; it’s nice to see them finally starting to sing.
The Internet moves fast, especially in times of crisis, so this brief interview with Thabo Sefalosha already feels old. That doesn’t make it any less worth your time, however. The Hawks forward has revealed himself as a thoughtful and compassionate person in the wake of his assault by the NYPD, and this is no exception. His connection to France makes his compassion all the more striking as he urges careful consideration of the history that may have influenced the attacks. Likewise, his reminder that a terrorist attack does not represent all of Islam is both levelheaded and important. It is a quick read, and there is no reason at all not to take the time.