NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tomahawk Tuesday: Are the Clippers the best team in Los Angeles?

The Western Conference has been pretty wild and the Los Angeles Clippers leading the pack just underscores this fact. The Clippers have won 8 of their last 10 games and are in first place in the Western Conference with a 13-6 record, ahead of the Golden State Warriors (15-7), Denver Nuggets (14-7), and Oklahoma City Thunder (12-7). With Blake Griffin going to the Detroit Pistons and DeAndre Jordan going to the Dallas Mavericks, many people including myself saw this Clippers team entering a rebuilding phase. Instead, they are holding their own and showing they intend to compete in the here and now.

What accounts for the Clippers' early success is their balance. While Tobias Harris is the top scorer averaging 21.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, he has a lot of help around him. Danilo Gallinari (18.6 points), Lou Williams (17.8 points), Montrezl Harrell (15.8 points), and even rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10.5 points) are also scoring in double figures on average. When you have this kind of balance, you become tough to prepare for because of all the different ways you can beat opponents.

While we rarely see teams with this kind of balance, that doesn't mean it can't be an effective model. The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons won an NBA championship because of their balance: Richard Hamilton (17.6 points), Chauncey Billups (16.9 points), Rasheed Wallace (13.7 points), Tayshaun Prince (10.3 points), Mehmet Okur (9.6 points), Ben Wallace (9.5 points), and Corliss Williamson (9.5 points) all chipped in and helped to take the pressure off of one another on offense. On defense, this Pistons team was even better, holding opponents to 84.3 points per game on 41.3% shooting from the field and 30.2% shooting from 3-point range.

When looking at this Clippers team, they have a similar scoring distribution as that Pistons team did. While they're allowing 112.5 points per game, they're holding opponents to 43.5% shooting from the field and 33.3% shooting from 3-point range. The potential to play good defense is definitely there. Especially on the perimeter where they have both Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley.

Even though it's too early to say whether or not these Clippers are the next 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, it's not too early to acknowledge the fact that they're playing good basketball.  For all the buzz the Lakers had in getting LeBron James, they're currently 7th in the Western Conference, 2.5 games back of the Clippers. While they don't have the same level of star power, the Clippers are getting it done and until proven otherwise, they have to be considered the best team in Los Angeles.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Windmill: How much better does Jimmy Butler make the Philadelphia 76ers?

The Philadelphia 76ers ended the Jimmy Butler drama by agreeing to acquire the polarizing shooting guard from the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the deal, the 76ers acquired Butler along with Justin Patton while giving up Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.  The 76ers made the move with the hopes of improving their chances to reach the NBA Finals while the Timberwolves made the deal with the hopes of returning to a sense of normalcy.

While the 76ers should be excited to add another elite player to the fold, they run the risk of messing with their team chemistry. Butler's time in Minnesota was controversial and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of his ability to help out a team as a result. Butler will need to prove that he is not a head case and that his beef with Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves organization was legit.

Assuming he's able to prove that he can be a good guy in the locker room, Butler should be a nice fit in Philly. He's a 20+ points per game scorer and an excellent defender, averaging 2.4 steals per game this season. Joel Embiid has become one of the most gifted big men of all time while Ben Simmons is blossoming into a B+ version of LeBron James. When you give those guys an elite wing like Jimmy Butler to work with, you're giving them a real shot to reach the NBA Finals and contend for a championship.

Aside from Butler being a problem in the locker room, the biggest concern for the 76ers is their lack of depth. Covington, Saric, and Bayless were solid pieces that gave them a nice bench. With them gone, they're going to have to rely even more on their star players to carry them to victory. It's a calculated risk that they feel is worth taking, but it's still a risk nonetheless. Guys like Wilson Chandler, J.J. Redick, and Markelle Fultz will need to step up and prove that they are capable of handling more of the load as well.

While there's always a risk in making big trades in the middle of a season, I feel like the 76ers are making the right move here. Jimmy Butler is one of the best shooting guards in the NBA and a legitimate All-Star player. If you have the chance to add a guy like him to your team without giving up another All-Star in return, you should do it every time. As far as how the Timberwolves should feel, I think they should feel good about the move. They added some solid role players to their team and can finally focus on building around Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the most promising duos in the league.

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Sunday, November 11, 2018 Southeast Division Preview

The last division preview on looks at the Southeast Division, home to the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards. Enjoy!

The Atlanta Hawks are in rebuilding mode, but they have a pretty exciting piece to build around for the future in rookie point guard Trae Young, who is averaging 18.4 points and 7.8 assists per game on 42.4% shooting from the field and 80.7% shooting from the foul line. Kent Bazemore (14.1 points) and Taurean Prince (14.6 points) are the other two Hawks players scoring in double figures on this team, taking some of the pressure off of Young.

Giving how young and inexperienced this Hawks team is, they're not going to win a lot of games, but they will be exciting to watch thanks to the presence of Trae Young. They have a piece they can build around for the future, but they don't have enough around him at the moment. This is a team that should be looking to make some moves at the trade deadline so as to acquire more assets for the future.

Kemba Walker is the face of this Charlotte Hornets team, averaging 28.3 points and 6.2 assists per game. He's established himself as one of the best players in the NBA and the Hornets as a result are playing .500 level basketball. Around Walker, the Hornets have some solid players in Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Malik Monk, and Tony Parker, who I'll admit is still weird watching in a non-Spurs uniform.

As presently constituted, this Hornets team has the pieces to make the playoffs and possibly win a game or two once they get there. If they want to go beyond that and actually compete to win a series, they're going to need to get a legitimate number two option to go along with Kemba Walker. The pieces they have around him are nice, but not enough to make them a serious threat. They need someone else who can average around 16-17 points per game.

How the Hornets go about doing that remains to be seen, but they might be wise to unload some players in exchange for some draft picks that could blossom into the type of number two option that they need. There's also the possibility of maybe making a trade for a younger player with more upside. The bottom line with this Hornets team is they're nice and heading in the right direction. It's a just a matter of taking that next step and figuring out how to put the right pieces around Kemba Walker.

The Miami Heat have themselves a couple of really nice players in Josh Richardson (20.8 points) and Hassan Whiteside (14.0 points and 15.5 rebounds), who both look like keepers for the future. In addition to those guys, they also have Goran Dragic (16.1 points), Rodney McGruder (13.6 points), and Dwyane Wade (14.3 points), who help give this team some balance.

Given that this is Dwyane Wade's final season in the NBA, the Heat would like to make the playoffs and be competitive in his final year. However, it's probably good for their long-term future that he's moving on after this year so as to focus on the next chapter of their franchise.

The way I read this Heat team is that if everyone stays healthy, they have the pieces to sneak into the playoffs and maybe win a game or two, but that's it. They have the potential to be really good down the road, but they're still young and in need of more seasoning. The main thing to look for this year is how D-Wade's final season goes and whether or not he has any playoff magic left in him. If he could make them competitive in a first round series, that would be a lot of fun.

The Orlando Magic are another team with a lot of nice young talent in Aaron Gordon (16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds), Evan Fournier (16.5 points), and Nikola Vucevic (17.8 points and 10.7 rebounds). It's just a matter of these guys growing together and staying patient.

I truly believe that if this core can stay together for the long-term, they have the chance to be a force in the Eastern Conference. They're not so much in need of another piece as the are in need of going through the maturation process that all teams have to go through.

One name to keep an eye on this year is second year wing Jonathan Isaac out of Florida State. He hasn't been playing as well as the Magic would have hoped and it's unclear whether or not he'll become the elite scorer that they've been hoping he'd be. If he could have a breakout sophomore year and really turn the corner, that would be huge for this team.

At the moment, I see the Magic as a team that will be in the mix for the eight seed in the playoffs, but nothing beyond that. They're too young to make serious noise in the playoffs, but if they can get there, that'll be progress for them.

Led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards on paper should be the best team in this whole division. Both of those guys are scoring over 20 points per game while Otto Porter, Jr. and Kelly Oubre, Jr. are both evolving into solid players in their own right. On top of that, they added Dwight Howard into the fold, who while getting old is still a pretty productive big man. For whatever reason, this Wizards team is failing to live up to the hype, starting the season 3-9.

For them, they need to not panic and see if they can calmly right the ship. The season is still young and with a division filled with young teams, they should have plenty of opportunities to catch up. If the Wizards do not make the playoffs this year, that will be a major disappointment considering the level of talent that they have. When you have guys as good as John Wall and Bradley Beal on your team, you should be an automatic playoff team. Especially in the Eastern Conference.

How things go for the Wizards over the next six weeks will be really interesting to follow. My money is on them figuring things out and getting back in the playoff race. I really like Wall and Beal and I also really like the pieces they have around them. If they cannot get it together this season, there will be a lot of questions for their front office to answer in the offseason.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018 Central Division Preview

Up next in my division preview series is the Central Division, home to the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Milwaukee Bucks.

After years of rebuilding and putting the right pieces together, the Milwaukee Bucks finally appear to have a team capable of doing some serious damage. They're 8-2 at the moment and anything but a fluke. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on 53.6% shooting from the field, making him one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. In addition to "The Greek Freak", Khris Middleton is averaging 19.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game on 49.3% shooting from 3-point range while guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon give the Bucks some additional weapons in the back court.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the Bucks' 8-2 start is the fact that they're doing this without Jabari Parker, who signed a two-year, $40M contract with the Chicago Bulls last summer.  Parker was viewed as an integral part of their future and for them to be playing such stellar basketball with him no longer a part of their plans is a testament to how good "The Greek Freak" is and also how smart their front office is. Most teams would have had a hard time parting ways with a guy of Parker's caliber, but the Bucks' recognized they could succeed without him and appear to have no reason to second guess their decision.

With the Eastern Conference wide open, the Bucks have to be viewed as serious contenders to reach the NBA Finals. Gianni Antetokounmpo is arguably the best player in the NBA and he seems ready to lead his team deep in the playoffs. This is undoubtedly shaking up to be the most exciting season in Milwaukee in a very long time.

Led by Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers have one of the more balanced and deep teams in the NBA. In addition to Oladipo, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, the Pacers have five players scoring in double figures per game (Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Tyreke Evans). This depth and balance allows them to compete with teams that have more talented players.

Where the Pacers really do damage is with their efficient shooting and ability to force turnovers. They are 4th in the NBA in field goal percentage (49.3%) and tied for 6th in steals (8.5 steals per game). They do a really good job of finding easy baskets for one another, making them tough to stop when they have the ball.

While the Pacers are not a team picked to reach the NBA Finals, they do have the pieces to win a series and make some noise in the playoffs. Especially if they are able to get home court advantage for the first round and stay healthy. Few teams have the depth and balance that they have, making them one of the more intriguing teams in the NBA.

The Detroit Pistons are led by Blake Griffin, who so far seems to be enjoying his time in the motor city. Griffin is averaging 28.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game this season while Andre Drummond is averaging 17.6 points and 15.4 rebounds. Together, Griffin and Drummond form a very formidable front court, making it hard for any team to get rebounds and find success in the paint.

The problem for the Pistons is their lack of depth. Reggie Jackson is a nice player as is Ish Smith, but after that it really starts to tail off. The Pistons need one more weapon in order to be really competitive. The hope for them has been that Stanley Johnson will be that additional weapon, but so far he doesn't appear to be up to the task.

With Griffin and Drummond at the helm, the Pistons should be in the mix to make a playoff appearance, but that's the extent to which I see them succeeding. Those guys simply need more help and right now they don't have it.

Zach LaVine is having a really nice season for the Chicago Bulls, averaging 26.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while Jabari Parker is averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. The Bulls hope that with LaVine and Parker as their core for the future, they can start to move in the right direction.

While they do have some promising pieces like Justin Holiday and Wendell Carter, Jr. in addition to LaVine and Parker, this Bulls team is too young to make any noise this season. They have some growing pains to go through this season before they see the fruit of their labors.

For the Bulls, the main thing to see is if LaVine and Parker can both stay healthy. They've had injury issues in the past, casting doubt on their abilities to carry a franchise. If they are able to play the bulk of the games without incurring any serious injury, it should be a good season in the Windy City regardless of what the team's record is.

In the post-LeBron James era, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expected to struggle. They decided to fire Tyronn Lue early in the season and Kevin Love is out for an extended period of time due to a toe/foot problem. Such a combination is certain to yield a lot of losses. So long as Love is out, this team is going to struggle to find any sort of identity as he is the best player they have.

The main thing to look for this year in Cleveland is how well rookie point guard Collin Sexton performs and who else looks like a good piece to put around him. A combination of Kevin Love and Collin Sexton could be intriguing, but they aren't enough to make this team competitive. They need some pieces around them.

I personally see this as a year of cleaning house in Cleveland. Tyronn Lue won't be the last to go. They'll probably look to find trading partners for J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson and hope to get some assets back that they can use to build for the future. Whether or not they'll find any takers remains to be seen, but they should at least try.

What's frustrating for the Cavaliers is they are cellar dwellers again, but at least they won a championship in the LeBron James era. They've overall had a good run, but now it's time for them to start from scratch and build a team that can once again compete.

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