The NBA’s All-Star Weekend just concluded and we’ll soon be entering the point in the season where contests actually matter; teams are jockeying for that prime and elusive playoff position, hoping to earn a favorable matchup that can propel them to a solid playoff run. Within the entanglements of the playoff hopefuls, there will also be individuals and teams who know their seasons have a pretty firm expiration date on them.
Regardless of the scenario, there’s an underlying race for the statistical leaders in each category and below we’ve laid out the current leaders at the halfway point of the season. Usually, the only category that really gets talked about is the scoring champ, but we find the other categories just as interesting. Read more after the jump.
Another key reason, however? The emergence/steadiness of James Johnson.
JJ, who’s normally difficult to find a role for, is thriving as a versatile defender & playmaker off Coach Spo’s bench. JJ’s varied skill set is utilized well in Miami – he’s given enough control to create action on the fly (if necessary) & seems a bit more deliberate attacking off the dribble.
And every night, seems like he surprises us w/ one of these:
Much has been made of the recent LeBron Jamesmedia tirade, in which he directly and indirectly berated his teammates, coach, and front office all in one jumbled post game speech. However, there’s multiple shots and subliminal to extract from his very calculated responses to media questions. Delay of Game Hoops will break it down for you…
What LeBron said:
“I just hope that we’re not satisfied as an organization…I just hope we’re not satisfied.”
What LeBron meant:
“We just lost to a 18-28 Pelicansteam without Anthony Davis.…after losing to the Warriorsand the Spurs…and collectively losing 5 out of the last 7 games. If I put up 26, 10, and 12, Kyrie puts up 49 points, and Kevinputs up 22,16, and 6 and we still lose? What are the rest of the guys on this roster doing to contribute.”
What LeBron said:
“We’re not better than last year,” he said, “from a personnel standpoint.”
What LeBron means:
That Cavs lost Mozgov and Dellylast year and while those aren’t names that will change the course of a season; they were integral pieces to a science-experiment gone right. Mozgov had very sporadic playing time last year but made contributions when the Cavs needed a big body down low.
Dellevedova played his role like a maestro, filling in as the prototypical backup point guard; coming into the game with two missions in mind. Run the gameplan, and scrap.
Those voids are being felt tenfold in the doldrums of the season when the Cavs’ big three shouldn’t be expending as much energy as they are, losing to run-of-the-mill teams missing their superstar. LeBron played 44 minutes..Kyrie played 42 minutes and Love played 38 minutes.
The Cavs are in the unique position in the East this year (as well as any year and team LeBron is on) that they’re not only guaranteed a playoff spot, but a top 2 spot as well. At this point in the season, LeBron is more into minute management than barnburners with the Pelicans in January.
What Lebron said:
“It’s great to have bodies. Obviously, in the playoffs, you go down to what, eight max? And if somebody gets in foul trouble, you go to nine. You’re not playing back-to-backs. You have two days in between. You’re able to lock in.”
What he meant:
The bodies LeBron is demanding here is indicative of the word. They’re bodies, not superstars. So once the playoffs hit, these “bodies” aren’t going to play a ton anyway. He just wants the superstars on the squad to get some rest when the season doesn’t really matter.
What Lebron said:
“It’s like when you don’t have bodies. It’s tough,” James said. “The f—ing grind of the regular season. We’re a top-heavy team. We have a top-heavy team. We top-heavy as s—. It’s me, Kyrie, and Kevin. It’s top-heavy.”
What LeBron meant:
“Our bench and role players are playing like a pile of dirt right now.”
Sidenote: You know what else is also top-heavy about the Cavs, Lebron? Those contracts.
Lebron: $64 million guaranteed
Kyrie: $56 million guaranteed
Kevin Love: $67 million guaranteed
What Lebron said:
“We need a f—ing playmaker,” James said. “I’m not saying you can just go find one, like you can go outside and see trees. I didn’t say that.”
What LeBron meant:
This specific quote has been a large topic of discussion because it lends itself to LeBron lobbying for a backup point guard to be added to the team. But his ensuing comments shed light on the fact that he probably doesn’t mean a floor general, backup point guard type.
What LeBron said:
“They’ve got bodies,” in reference to San Antonio when LeBron was asked about the Spurs’ beating the Cavs without Pau Gasolor Tony Parker. They’ve got bodies. For the most part, all championship-contending teams has got guys that are ready to step in. Knock on wood, what if Ky goes down? For two weeks. Let’s say two. What if I went down for three weeks?”
What LeBron meant:
LeBron wasn’t just sending shots to his teammates. He was sending hollow tips. Harpoons. Reading between the lines, he’s directly questioning the skills and abilities of his CURRENT roster in the middle of the season when he still has to practice and play with these guys on a night in, night out basis. Which, in totality is completely okay. As the alpha of the Cavs, Lebron should let his team know when their play is consistently lackluster. But to vent out to the media about your team can have extremely adverse effects.
What LeBron said:
“I don’t know what we got to offer, I just know me, personally, I don’t got no time to waste. I’ll be 33 [next] winter, and I ain’t got time to waste. That’s what I’m talking about.”
What LeBron meant:
“I’ma tryna get these rings and I can’t leave Cleveland a second time so you guys need to figure this out soon. In case you didn’t realize the Warriors got KD and they’re 39-7.”
How the Cavs have fared the game directly after LeBron’s media melee?
An overtime loss to the 18-24 Sacramento Kings. The Cavs have now lost 6 of their last 8 games and also have lost two straight in which they were leading heading into the 4th. This speaks directly to mental lapse and minuscule errors that become paramount late in games.
Instead, AD’s former UK running mate Terrence Jones stole the show w/ 36 points, 11 boards & 3 blocks.
‘Nawlins snuck away w/ a W & now sit just 1.5 GB Denver for 8th out West.
Here’s a few more notes from last night:
Shot for Shot • It’s no secret New Orleans struggles to consistently cash the long ball – 18th in the league – not many natural shooters on the roster. Last night, however, Coach Gentry got 4 from Jrue Holiday, 3 apiece from Langston Galloway & Jones, and a pair from Dante Cunningham.
NO finished w/ 16 triples, compared to CLE’s 15 – one proven formula to beat the champs. Is it fool’s gold or can Gentry bank on his shooters finally turning the corner?
Go-To Guys • AD missing time could end up a blessing in disguise. During this stretch, both Holiday & Jones are getting a taste of more touches w/ the opportunity to build confidence after each performance. At times, Holiday is brilliant commanding the rock – extremely patient, always looking to attack off the dribble. And Jones specializes in breaking down opponents, while also teasing triples from downtown. And since they’re both threats from deep, there’s room to put the duo in a ton of PnRs.
The West is WIDE open – New Orleans’s offensive pieces are starting to fit, can Holiday & Jones consistently support Davis when he returns?
Traditionally, ownership of NBA teams are treated as more of profitable business ventures than a passion project. Owners range anywhere from families to distant business partners who have more money than any one individual would ever know what to do with. The trend in these highly marketable, money-printing sports conglomerates is to seek wherever the dollar takes you. Even worse, the owners that tend to own these teams feed off of the emotional investment that your causal, everyday individuals bring to the table.
Owners will make roster transactions and frame it for “the sake of the team.” Often times, if you read between these lines, it has a lot more to do with salary cap and aligning numbers than tangible improvement of a roster.
You’ll also hear about moving a team to a new city for new opportunities. New opportunity for who? The pockets of the rich?
Today the Utah Jazzownership has developed a counter-culture in this cutthroat ownership world. It was announced today by current owner Gail Miller that at legacy trust would be created, ensuring the Utah Jazz stay within her family for generations.
Speaking of her late husband, Gail recalled a proclamation from Larry approximately 30 years ago: “The Jazz can’t leave Utah. We’ve got to do everything we can to keep them here.” And that’s exactly what Gail is doing.
Gail is taking her sole ownership out of the Jazz and putting it into a legacy trust comprised of the Miller family members. The caveat? One you might not expect from a billionaire.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
“Officials said the formation of the trust means all profits from the NBA franchise will be reinvested in the team so that the ‘trust will not provide any material benefit to the family from the Jazz.’”
The intriguing aspect of this story is the nature of the deal. Normally headlines concerning teams and their business affairs finds its own way of directing back to revenue streams and corporate shenanigans. This story is rooted in the belief that a small market team deserves to keep its team and at the same time finding a creative and innovative way of making sure it stays that way.
Future decisions concerning the team will have to be settled with a majority vote system; 4 out of 6 to be exact.
“It is as close as possible to there being perpetual ownership of a professional sports team,” Miller’s son, Greg Miller, said. This announcement is a first in the NBA; there has never been a family trust established with the main purpose of keeping a team in one city until the foreseeable end of time. Adam Silver is a proponent of the restructuring as he has been a long time supporter of small markets having a place in the NBA.
The Utah Jazz currently sit atop the Northwest division at 29-17 with an eye on the 4th overall spot in the eastern conference as they are only a game behind the Clippers.
Joel “The Process” Embiid was forced by the lower half of his body to take in the “first two years” of his NBA career with a permanent seat on the bench. His real rookie season began on October 26th, 2016 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The process has been a long one but they payout has been sweet; for Philly fans and for fans of basketball. The traditional big man won’t go extinct any time soon, and Embiid embodies that as well as a new age twist.
Since game 1 of the ’16-’17 season, Embiid has dazzled with how fluid he looks out on the court. He’s extremely nimble and graceful for a 7-footer, let alone a 7-footer with multiple foot injuries to plague the beginning of a young career.
So far Embiid has showed the total package, the ability to score with his back to the basket, turn over from either shoulder, drop steps, up-and-unders, hook shots, 15 foot jumpers, 3-pointers…etc. What more can you ask for out of your big man? Did I mention he’s leading the league in 3-point percentage?
Embiid is really starting to separate himself from the rest of the rookie class this year and you can tell the NBA wisdom he’s soaked in throughout the past two years has done a lot of good for his progression as a player since college.
Brandon Ingram is still trying to earn the trust of Luke Walton, as he is still coming off the bench and averaging about 19 minutes per game; a bit low for a #2 overall pick. His best game of the season only had him amass 12 points. He’ll be good for sure, but it probably won’t be widespread apparent until year 2 or 3 for Ingram.
Jaylen Brown has been pretty impressive, so far with a career high of 19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. AlthoughBoston has a deep roster, Jaylen Brown ha clearly earned the trust of Brad Stevens and has cracked the rotation in a meaningful way.
Kris Dunn is in a pretty ideal situation with Ricky Rubio currently sidelined with injury, giving the rookie the opportunity to start and be groomed by Tom Thibodeau. In his first start of his career, Dunn notched 10 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 5 steals.
Buddy Hield is was a huge bright spot for the Pelicansthis off-season in the draft, but he now finds himself on the 0-7 Pelicans who are desperate for some cohesion to their offense and defensive schemes. He is a viable candidate for ROY, but probably won’t get it because the Pelicans as a team are poor. His best game garnered 18 points, 1 assist, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and 2 steals.
But with all the little razzle dazzles that these rookies have put up, they pale in comparison to the work Embiid has been doing in Philly.
Check out the nasty dream shake he put on Jeff Withey last night:
One of Embiid’s most impressive games of the season occurred three days ago against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It featured a plethora of previously mentioned fluid moves, but also a monster block on Mr. Block Party himself, LeBron James.
Barring any injury, you can hand Embiid the ROY trophy now. Unfortunately for Philly fans, the Sixers are still losing, but at least they can actually have fun during the losing witnessing a star in the making.
Embiid is averaging 17.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and almost 3 blocks.
Steph Curry did one major thing last night but it was surrounded by a bunch of other smaller things wrapped into that one. The large thing you’ll hear about, and it certainly isn’t just a ‘thing’, is how Curry broke the single-game three point record last night against the Pelicans, splashing in 13 threes.
But after assessing last night’s game, it makes a lot of sense. The Warriorswere coming off of a crippling loss dealt by the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday night. Curry played terribly, losing his streak of 157 straight games with a three pointer made, missed all ten 3’s overall, and shot 29% from the field.
This type of response separates what makes the good from the great. Last night he shot 61% from the field, (76% from three!!!), scored 46 points, and still managed to grab 5 rebounds and dish out 5 assists…in only 35 minutes. Curry’s energy from the opening tip looked electric and the crowd could tell. Almost every three he made was incredibly difficult, often coming off curl’s with a player closing tailing him or a beautiful pump fake and setback in order to create the separation. Steph was clearly feeling it and was emotionally invested into this one.
Even better, players often like to pretend like they don’t know they’re on the brink of history but after Curry hit his 13th three, all his emotion came spilling out. He knew. And the fans loved it.
Of course Curry found the perfect way to demoralize the New Orleans Pelicans even more, dropping them to 0-7 and doing it in historic fashion.
“Nothing you can do about it. He was being Steph,” Pelicans all-star Anthony Davissaid.
This win actually does a lot more for the Warriors’ psyche because as of late it seemed like this team needed a jolt to jumpstart their chemistry journey with all their new pieces. Don’t be surprised if a historic run by this team starts from this night forward. Although teammates and fans lauded the arrival of KD, it’s time for this team’s rightful owner to continue the heroics in his two-time MVP DNA.
The Warriors were at their best last year when Curry played this electrifying, and once defenses started to load up on him, dishing out assists like an octopus. This is where swapping Harrison Barnes for Durant becomes more of a benefit than just giving the ball to Durant and hoping he does good things for you.
Curry now sits on top of the 3-point history throne, no longer having to share it with Kobe Bryant, and thank the lord, no longer with Donyell Marshall.
“That was quite a show. Not at all surprising the way Steph bounces back from bad nights,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.
Paul George: “We’re all out of whack. There’s no trust, there’s no chemistry, there’s no belief. We’re kind of just lifeless right now.”
Strong words for a team that received so much herald and praise this offseason for their ability to challenge the throne in the eastern conference. But Paul George hits the nail on the head, the Pacers just don’t look good right now.
The Pacers currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, with a 3-4 record. A large part of this slow start? Defense.
Their defense has been dismal, allowing over 100 points in every game except one, since the start of the season.
10/26 vs. DAL: *121
10/28 vs. BRK: *103
10/29 vs. CHI: *118
11/01 vs. LAL: *108
11/03 vs. MIL: *125
11/05 vs. CHI: *94
11/07 vs. CHA: *122
In the process of a new coach and new players, the Pacers seem to have lost their defensive identity which was once upon a time firmly in tact under coach Frank Vogel. Now current coach Nate McMillan is tasked with his first test of the season; steering this ship on the right course.
When Paul George is kicking basketball’s at fans and getting ejected, things are definitely headed for the wrong direction. It’s early in the season, but hopefully the Pacers don’t continue to dig themselves into a hole they won’t be able to fully climb out of.
Yes you read that correctly. One of the league’s most prolific scorers known for his ball-dominant tendencies and 40+ point games can add another bullet-point to his resume; assist leader.
Although the 2016-’17 season has only been underway for approximately 1 week, Harden is averaging 12.3 APG, sitting ahead of LeBron James (10.7 APG) and John Wall (10 APG). This uptick is largely in part of D’Antoni’s new system which has catapulted Harden into a legitimate point(s) guard role, holding the ball more than he ever has before.
The downside of a seemingly positive uptick in assist production is a higher-turnover rate. Sure you can question some of these turnovers in relation to Harden’s natural play-making ability but most of this is just volume.
On most Houston Rocket possessions, Harden is holding the ball at least 41% of the time, per shot clock. So by volume alone, he will most likely stay in the top tier of players turning over the ball but that shouldn’t necessarily overshadow his newfound responisiblity of passing.
From a holistic view, most people don’t realize that Harden has actually improved his assist numbers every single year since his rookie season with OKC.
Season 1 (w/ OKC): 1.8 APG
Season 2 (w/OKC): 2.1 APG
Season 3 (w/ OKC): 3.7 APG
Season 4: (w/ Houston): 5.8 APG
Season 5: (w/ Houston): 6.1 APG
Season 6: (w/ Houston): 7.0 APG
Season 7: (w/ Houston):7.5 APG
Season 8: (w/ Houston): 12.3 APG
It’s unlikely to believe that Harden will stay around the 12 APG mark for the duration of this season but if the last 7 seasons tell us anything about probability; this will be another year of improved passing from a man who generally isn’t known for his passing.