We’re roughly a quarter of the way through the 2015-16 NBA season, so Today’s Fastbreak Managing Editor Jason Patt and Assistant Editor Kelly Scaletta got together to take stock of some of the things that have gone down thus far.
Jason: What’s been the biggest surprise of the year to date?
Kelly: There’s a lot to choose from. The Warriors being THIS good. I mean, we knew they were good, but THIS good and the level that Steph has taken his game to has to be a surprise. The Rockets being as horrible as they’ve been is up there. The Mavericks not being horrible is a bit of a surprise, as is the fact they’re better than the Clippers (haha). The return of Paul George to being better than he ever was. The Knicks’ improvement and the emerging status of Kristaps Porzingis as well as the early season struggles of Washington. Cleveland is struggling relative to expectations.
But maybe the biggest surprise encompasses a lot of that, and that’s that the relative balance of power between conferences has seen a pretty dramatic shift. I mean, all last year and all this summer, it’s been about the West and how much more dominant the West is. But if the playoffs started today and the Clippers were in the East, they’d be gone fishin’. Who saw that coming?
Jason: We’ll get to the Warriors later, but the FIRST thing I thought of was that West/East dynamic. There’s basically the Warriors, Spurs…and then everybody else. The Thunder have shown flashes of being great, but KD’s injury hurt them and something just seems off. Their bench is bad, Serge Ibaka has stagnated and the crunch-time offense looks downright Brooks-ian.
The Clippers have dealt with injury issues and Doc can’t seem to figure out his rotations. Who knew that adding volatile and aging players to that bench may not be the magic elixir? The Rockets’ problems have been well-documented. The Grizzlies have woken up from hibernation, but have been roundly thumped by the best teams in the league. The Pelicans have been killed by injuries.
Meanwhile, I’m not really sure who’s actually good in the East, but it’s clear a number of teams are better. The Knicks, Magic, Pistons, Hornets and Pacers have all been nice surprises. The Bulls, Cavaliers, Heat and Hawks are there as suspected, although they do have their flaws. It’s almost like the NFL. Mediocrity abound! Cleveland has shown its warts lately, but I’ll wait to see them with Kyrie Irving before panicking about them.
Kelly: “Who knew that adding volatile and aging players to that bench may not be the magic elixir? ” Was that a softball?
Yeah, the East is just so much more interesting than the West right now, and it’s amazing. We came into the season thinking the Finals were going to be Cleveland for sure, and whoever comes out of the West. But now it’s looking like Golden State and whoever comes out of the East. Of course for the right to lose to the 94-0 Warriors.
Hassan Whiteside has really established he’s a dominant player and has given the Heat a new version of a Big 3. The Bulls’ offense hasn’t ignited yet, but if it does, they could be as good as anyone. Until then it’s looking like the same elite defense, stagnant offense that was there under Thibs (who is probably snickering right now on a beach in the Bahamas asking the bar lady for ICE!!!).
Every night there’s a thorough shake up in the standings, and I find the Eastern Conference race is looking far more entertaining. The Spurs have four losses and are getting lapped. And after those two, it’s like “who cares” is in third.
Jason: So looking at the East, which one of the “surprise” teams interests you the most and which one(s) have the best chance to keep this up?
Kelly: Charlotte because they were supposed to be done without MKG. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!!! They’ve managed to turn that into a blessing by becoming a vastly improved offensive team. They’re fourth in the NBA in offensive rating! FOURTH!!! Their small-ball lineup isn’t one that gets talked about, but it’s effective (as Bulls fans will attest).
Apart from them and the teams which we were expecting to compete (i.e. Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta), I think the team that could genuinely be a breakout team is Indiana. Paul George would be an MVP candidate if Curry hadn’t already won the award (I’m being facetious people, settle down).
Jason: Paul George has been ridiculous. He may slow down a bit because he’s shooting insanely hot right now, and we saw this happen a few years ago with him where he got off to a hot start and cooled off in the second half of the year, but it’s hard not to be extremely impressed by his play after that inury. You can definitely make a case for him as No. 2 in the MVP “race” behind the alien that’s Stephen Curry.
And really, when you look at the three-point shooting, George is having a CRAZY good start to the year. He’s making 3.4 per game at a 45 percent clip (and quietly, C.J. Miles is at about three a game on 43 percent shooting), but it’s kind of like whatever because Curry is insane.
Kelly: It is crazy and this puts things in perspective.
PG is on pace to hit 276 threes this season, which would be the most in history by anyone not named Steph Curry.
Curry, btw, will “only” be at 274 AT THE ALL-STAR BREAK. If he “heats up” he could actually have a new record by then.
It’s like, the only appropriate response to what Curry is doing is just laugh. He had a stretch in two games where he hit 17-of-25 threes. Like, if David Stern is going to block the CP3 trade, you’d think Adam Silver could do something about this (like he just did about #TheProcess).
Jason: Ohhhh that’s a fun game. “Best ways to make Stephen Curry stop being unfair.” Put weights in his shoes? Blindfold him for the entire game? Make him shoot left-handed?
Kelly: I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled out the, SURPRISE, I’M REALLY LEFT-HANDED move if you did that. I’m thinking the best way to slow him down would be to allow tackling in basketball. Tackle basketball would probably be a lot of fun.
But seriously, he might be having the greatest shooting season in history. And by “might” I mean he actually is, but you have to qualify it so people don’t think you’re being unreasonable. But when a man is breaking the record for true shooting while scoring at a per-minute rate only bested by Wilt Chamberlain in his 50-point season, do you really have to say might be?
He stands to be the first player to lead the league in scoring and true shooting in the same season. He’s actually only taking 20.2 shots per game, and not many free throws. I think what makes him so remarkable is his ability to score bulk points without being a volume shooter. I have to admit, I’m not a Warriors fan, but I find myself marking off my week by the next time the Warriors play.
Jason: They’re a must-watch every night. I’m sure some people are sick of them by now, but I’m not.
IF Curry keeps this up, can definitely make the argument that it’s the best offensive season in history.
Kelly: On the other side of the coin, Brow seems to have regressed a bit, even if he’s actually added a three. What do you think about that?
Jason: That whole team is just…I dunno. The injuries have obviously been a killer, and Brow seems to always be dealing with nagging things, but it’s still stunning how bad their record is.
Davis’s raw numbers are still pretty marvelous. 24/11/3 on 49/38/74. His efficiency is a bit down, but not by a lot. The bigger issue is the defense. The Pelicans have THE WORST defense in the NBA. Again, injuries, but if Davis was as dominant as expected, they wouldn’t be as bad as they are. The defense is better with him on the court, but not by much and it’s still bad.
Kelly: Yeah. I don’t know what to make of that. The defense is such an (insert your favorite expletive here) mess that it’s hard to really evaluate one person’s defense. I mean, would DeAndre Jordan be any better?
Speaking of defense, and this has gone below-the-radar, have you noticed the Rockets’ Twin-Tower lineup with Dwight Howard and Clint “Awe” Capela? The pair have been starting together and boast a net rating of 15.8 when they’re playing together. I find this fascinating because 1) it works and 2) it flies in the face of all the small-ball that’s permeating the league.
Jason: I had NOT noticed that. Interesting to say the least in this age of small-ball. I guess I’m not surprised that it works well defensively given the two players involved, but offensively it seems there would be problems. Did Bickerstaff make that move or did McHale try that before he got his pink slip?
Kelly: It’s all J.B. And they’ve won four of the five games they’ve run with that duo as well. And the offense is shockingly good — 113.8 offensive rating with the two on the court. There was another where Terrence Jones started and Howard sat, as the Rox are playing Howard cautiously this year.
I think a lot of their success has to do with them both being versatile defenders, but also they’re both great rebounders. The Rockets have a 38.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage with both guys on the court, which is just crazy. When you get to hit the reset button that often, it makes missing a few shots a little easier to take.
Jason: Well that’s mighty impressive indeed. I still don’t know if I can buy the Rockets as legitimate contenders (although how many legitimate contenders are there, really?), but they’re finally starting to string some wins together. And playing better defense is paramount to keep surging up the standings.
Finally…let’s talk Kobe. It’s been ugly basically every night for him. Do you see him changing AT ALL? Will Byron play him any less moving forward? Or is this going to be a season-long mess that’s essentially an unintentional tank job.
Kelly: I don’t see him changing at all. I don’t see him wanting to. I don’t see anyone asking him to. And there’s a certain kind of poetry to his career going out like this. I mean, is there a better way for Kobe’s career to end than hurling up shots with a devil-may-care attitude?
Jason: I guess not. Our own Grant Hughes wrote about him doing that very thing right after the season started. It’s just like, at some point, you’d think he’d tone it back even a little. But it just keeps happening, game after game. And Byron Scott’s ability to make excuses and shift accountability is incredible. He’s almost as big a problem as Kobe, although part of me still wonders if the organization is telling him to coach like this. It’s weird.
But that whole Lakers thing is weird. They lost to the mess that’s the Sixers for cryin’ out loud, and now two of their young players are getting moved to the bench. They’re like a reality TV show, which is quite fitting, really.
Note: This conversation took place before the games on Dec. 7