Walton Creating New Lakers Culture

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Post-Kobe-era Lakers were supposed to slip even further into the abyss that they crawled into last season but the young talent on their roster has other plans for this season. The Lakers are officially above .500 after defeating the Phoenix Suns last night and also notched their first three game winning streak of the season, a feat they only achieved once all last year and didn’t achieve until the halfway through the year.

The biggest difference about this years Lakers team, other than Kobe Bryant retiring, is the level of excitement exemplified from the players and new head coach Luke Walton. There’s a different air in the Staples Center and this young Lakers team almost looks polar opposite to the product fans witnessed last season.

Last night against the Suns, the Lakers rallied in a way that a veteran team would; absorbing attempts at knockout punches in the 4th and always responding swiftly and tactfully. Luke Walton has implemented a much more fast-pace style of offense, giving the young players the flexibility to take wide-open shots if they have them which is leading to a lot of easy transition baskets.

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Russell, Clarkson, and Randle are all playing terrifically, elevating their level of play from last year and serving as a tremendous catalyst for the spirit and morale of this year’s team. Not to mention Nick Young has found his mojo again, surprisingly not only on offense but also on the defensive side of the ball as well.

Although it’s early, the future looks bright for this Lakers squad and that’s not even taking into account their #2 overall pick Brandon Ingram who is still slowly getting acclimated to the NBA game. He often doesn’t touch the ball much but if you watched him in college and the preseason, you know the talent is there. For Ingram it there will come a point when the timing is right for him to elevate his role into the Lakers scheme, and when he does so it could provide the deadly element to have them dreaming about some playoff aspirations.

#delay

Darryl F

Part 1 of Westbrook vs. Durant Sizzles, Then Fizzles

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Durant and Westbrook essentially ignored each other all night. (Getty Images/2016)

The first ever matchup featuring Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on opposing teams lacked the lighting and thunder most people expected. To say the least, it was a pretty uneventful, old-fashioned beat down. The Warriors put the Thunder back in their place, punching in a commanding 122-96 victory, and Kevin Durant scored his career-high with the Warriors, 39 points. Here are some quick takeaways from part one of this Westbrook-Durant  Oklahoma City Thunder/Golden State Warriors matchup.

Durant’s teammates were more fired up for this matchup than Westbrook’s teammates.

Draymond Green made it very clear about his team’s stance on trying to get a win for KD:

“I think it’ll be a lot of emotions. They’re going to want to beat him really bad. He’s going to want to beat them really bad. In turn, we’re going to want to beat them really bad because we want him to beat them really bad. It’ll be a lot of emotions, but it’ll be a fun game to play in. It’s always a high-intensity game against them and I expect nothing less.”

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors

There was essentially crickets on OKC’s end. This intensity that Green spoke of before the game led to a spirited defensive effort; many possessions left Westbrook running into three defenders and coughing up a turnover.

Zaza Pachulia played his increasing role of enforcer, getting tangled up with Adams early on in the contest. Steve Kerr got a tech in the first quarter. Green got a tech for for yelling after Durant thew down a big dunk. Clearly, having an emotional investment in this game served a greater purpose than Westbrook taking the stance of “I play every game the same”, which while true, can be a gift and a curse.

Enes Kanter tried to get his Joakim Noah on.

Enes Kanter did some jawing from the bench yesterday, and seemed to be perturbed by having no choice but to soak in a thrashing from his ex-teammate on the bench. Kanter was very vocal about Durant leaving OKC in the summer and at least you can credit him here for being consistent. But the trash talking from the bench is such a bad look; you at least need to be in the game…

Anybody remember Noah jawing at LeBron back in ’09? Well here’s your daily dose of deja vu.

Durant tied the most points scored in a player’s first game against their former team in league history.

Durant was extra amped up for this game. He most likely had it circled on his calendar back in the summer when the backlash started to befuddle him. Last night served as Durant’s real coming out party, establishing himself as the Warrior’s most dynamic scorer. After last season, I’m sure no one thought it was possible to make Curry’s game look less dazzling but Durant has achieved just that.

Curry put up a very quiet 21 points, (7 of those coming from the free throw line), and didn’t have to do much else. Durant carried that heavy lifting, scoring essentially half of Golden State’s points in the first half. Once this team hits its offensive stride, which shockingly it’s not even close to yet, those unstoppable sentiments will really come to light.

Part 3 of this matchup might be a lot more interesting than the first (or even second).

Russell Westbrook had a very frustrating game. As stated earlier, he constantly ran into brick walls on defense, had 6 turnovers, and never really got into a rhythm in the game. Although he flirted with another triple-double, he shot 26% from the field. After the game, Westbrook had this to say about the Warriors:

“The Warriors were doing a lot of trash talking. Apparently I guess they talk a lot of trash now. You know, we’ll see how that goes. But you know, we’ll get ready for the next game. This is one game, one loss for us. We move on, and get ready for the next one. … We’ll see them again.”

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Russell Westbrook returns to Oakland on Jan 18 for part 2 of this series, but the real treat will be Feb 11th, 2017 when Durant returns to OKC for the first time. OKC has some extremely passionate fans and Durant will have to adjust to the emotions of playing in a building he used to call home that has been converted to a home of hostility. It’s a very different than being in the comfort of Golden State’s home crowd and something tells me OKC will be more emotionally invested in that game.

#delay

Darryl F

 

11/1/16 • Quick Notes: “Are the Bulls Good?”

Don’t look now! The Chicago Bulls are 3-0 on the young season, with victories coming over Boston, Indiana & Brooklyn. Quality victories? Maybe.

BOS & IND were on the second night of back-to-backs and BKN just isn’t very good.

3-0 is nice but it doesn’t tell the entire story • CHI leads the league in points/game (113.7!), is second in rebounding (53.3) & assists (28.3)

The chemistry seems to be a lot better – Fred Hoiberg’s lineup is coming along nicely. Here’s a few notes from last night’s 30-point W over BKN:

  • Taj Gibsonis in line for a monster year • Gibson started off strong v. BKN, hitting his first four shots and working on the glass. Even though Taj doesn’t shoot threes, he’s a great fit next to Robin Lopez because Lopez is a threat to knock down open Js – giving Taj room to roam the paint, flash, and finish roll catches after screening.

Taj finished w/ 14 & 11, his second double-double in 3 games


  • Jimmy Butler & Dwyane Wadeare Hoiberg’s second-unit shot creators • Last night, Hoiberg subbed out Wade around the 5-6 minute mark, shifting Jimmy to SG & bringing Doug McDermott in at SF. Once the quarter wound down, Wade was inserted at the 2 & MCW* came in for Rajon Rondo, giving D. Wade more responsibility to create (MCW & Wade also play well together defensively – deflections on deflections).

Later on, Hoiberg subbed Wade for JB and brought in Isaiah Canaan at the one, giving Jimmy a chance to create. So far, Hoiberg’s found a way have 1 of the 3 Alphas on the court at all times.


  • Isaiah Canaan…is instant offense? • Canaan is finally playing shooting guard, his more natural position. When MCW, Wade, Jimmy and/or Rondo are out there, they look for Canaan spotting up for ‘hop triples’ – Canaan hit three straight bombs to help Chicago blow the game wide open. He finished w/ 15 points and 6 assists in 22 minutes:

*MCW left the game with a sprained left knee, expected to miss 3-4 weeks

#delay

-Jabari J.

10/31/16 • Quick News: “Extension, Extension”

Rudy Gobert & Gorgui Dieng are amongst a few extension candidates who cashed in. (USA TODAY Sports)
Rudy Gobert & Gorgui Dieng are amongst a few extension candidates who cashed in. (USA TODAY Sports)

Today marks the deadline to extend players before they could hit the market as restricted (or unrestricted if their qualifying offer is rescinded) free agents next summer.

Let’s take a quick look* at who inked long-term deals this afternoon:

  • C Rudy Gobert (UTA) • 4 yr./$102 million • 100 mil may seem a bit egregious but there’s no question Utah made the right move here. As a small market team, you MUST retain your stars (or future stars in this case) – at age 24, Rudy is already one of the league’s top interior defenders & is showing signs of improvement offensively 
  • C Steven Adams (OKC) • 4 yr./$100 million • Steven Adams was a breakout star this past postseason, providing ‘roll finishing’, strong defensive activity in Billy Donovan’s five. Adams, similar to Gobert, is young (23 yrs. old) & hasn’t scratched the surface on offense  – more opportunity/touches this season, avg. 13 points & 9 boards early on
  • G Victor Oladipo (OKC)4 yr./$84 million • Adams’s new teammate, Vic Oladipo, clearly has a few fans in OKC’s front office. After dealing for Oladipo this summer, Sam Presti made sure to lock in his new SG to a long-term contract. The pressure’s now higher than ever on Vic • He needs to consistently hit spot-up triples to maintain Russ’s driving lanes – (25% from downtown thru 3 games)
  • F/C Gorgui Dieng (MIN) • 4 yr./$64 million • The exact contract awarded to Timofey Mozgov (LAL) over the summer, MIN’s Gorgui Dieng has gotten better over the course of four seasons. Still, 64 million is a lot for the 4th/5th option in Thibs’s starting five. Better focus (stop fouling, guy!) & preparation on defense will help Gorgui live up to (now) loftier expectations moving forward

*first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical

#delay

-Jabari J.

10/31/16 • Quick Notes: “Weekend UnderDOGs”

The year of the UnderDOG? (Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports)
The year of the UnderDOG? (Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports)

2016-17 has gotten off to a flying start – it seems with each (final) box score, there’s some crazy line turned in. But it’s not just stars setting the bar.

“Halloween weekend” featured its share of notable UnderDOG performances. Let’s take a look a few:

Sean Kilpatrick • 10/28 v. IND • 18 points (10 in the 4th), 5 rebounds, W

  • An upset victory in BKN’s home opener? Kilpatrick has looked impressive so far in 2016-17 – he closed out 2015-16 strong (avg. over 17/game in April), is looking to separate himself as Kenny Atkinson’s best shooter. He was perfect from beyond the arc v. Indy and provided a huge 4Q lift.

TJ Warren • 10/28 at OKC • 30 points (13/18 FG), 9 rebounds, L

  • PHX squandered away an opportunity to pick up victory no. 1 but it was no fault of TJ Warren, who’s looked much improved. Fully recovered from his season-ending foot injury last season, Warren is the latest Suns wing to see an uptick in production, eclipsing Devin Booker‘s production so far. TJ’s avg. a little over 22/night in 3 contests – his herky-jerky style becoming more and more difficult:

Jeremy Lamb • 10/28 at MIA • 16 points, 8 rebounds, W

  • There’s a reason we pegged Lamb as CHA’s undisputed X-Factor in 2017. His ability to score off curls & create his own looks is valued in Coach Steve Clifford’s second unit. Charlotte came away w/ a big road W riding Lamb’s hot hand in the 4th • Lamb pulled his hamstring a night later, out 1-2 weeks

Doug McDermott • 10/29 v. CHI • 23 points, 8 rebounds, W

  • CHI’s surprising 2-0 record might not be a thing if Doug McDermott doesn’t pour in one of his best games as a pro. McDermott scored 23 off the bench (5 triples) as he helped break open a tight contest in the 2nd quarter • You know how it was a good night? Doug went coast-to-coast after ‘stopping’ Glenn Robinson III‘s fast break!

Patty Mills • 10/29 v. NOP • 18 points, W —– 10/30 at MIA • 18 points, W

  • With the way, Patty Mills is going, he won’t be classified an UnderDOG for long. He took charge v. the Pels on Saturday (filled in for Tony Parker – rest) and didn”t miss a beat coming off the pine yesterday afternoon (18 points in 25 minutes). Mills is a much better alternative than Parker but it won’t be a major issue til the Spurs lose.

Honorable Mention

Rashad Vaughn  • 10/29 at BKN • 22 points (off the bench), W

John Henson • 10/29 at BKN • 7 points, 12 rebounds, GW tip-in

Austin Rivers • 10/30 v. UTA • 19 points (8/11 FG), W

#delay

-Jabari J.

San Antonio’s The First to 4-0

4-0. (Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports)
4-0. (Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

If you thought the Spurs would take a step back in 2016-17, you’re absolutely wrong…so far, at least.

San Antonio’s the first team to 4-0 after defeating Miami earlier today, 106-99.

Kawhi Leonard continued his scorching-hot start to the year w/ another impressive line:

27 points – 16 in the 4th, 10-12 FT • 6 dimes • 50% FG

Kawhi’s blazing his own trail to start the year – calling him anything less than a top 5 player is impossible at this point. Offensively, he’s grown leaps and bounds (avg. over 28 points/game) and on defense, he’s done a nice job of exploiting weak points.

Just ask SAC‘s Ben McLemore:

Kawhi’s confidence (& usage) is through the roof. Here’s a couple other observations from San Antonio’s 4-0 start:

  • Introducing…Jonathon Simmons. Simmons made a nice first impression when (unofficially) introduced to mainstream audiences during SA’s 29-point burial of GS on Opening Night. He scored a team-high 20 points off the bench, including a monster flush over JaVale McGee:

Simmons is a relative unknown to most – he’s a crazy athlete at SG, runs the floor, finishes well, and competes on defense. Danny Green‘s starting spot is in jeopardy down the line.

  • Mills > Parker. Ahh, Coach Pop is faced w/ a dilemma moving forward. It’s tough to say but Tony Parker may no longer be a starter. His game log hasn’t been too kind so far:

9 & 4 at GS – W • 4 & 2 at SAC – W • DNP-REST v. NOP – W • 3 & 4 at MIA – W

Now, Parker competed during international play this summer, so fatigue is an early factor. But looking deeper than the numbers, TP hasn’t passed the eye test – he’s consistently slow on defense & has been passive offensively – Parker’s elected to ease his way back into things rather than force the issue.

It may be time for Coach Pop to consider making the switch to Patty Mills, who’s capable of handling a larger role. Mills is able to play more uptempo & is one of the better reserve defenders in the league.

With Manu Ginobili heading out the door in 2017, is TP a viable candidate to take over Manu’s 6th Man* role?

*Manu isn’t first off the bench every night but still has the title

#delay

-Jabari J.

10/30/16 • Quick Notes: “Sacramento is 2-1”

The Sacramento Kings are off to a pretty hot start in 2016-17. When deal-maker Vlade Divac brought in Dave Joerger, he hoped they would adapt a defensive identity while becoming a bit more versatile w/ offensive strategy.

A 2-1 start is a small sample size but Sacramento looks improved in both areas. They’re still a work in progress (have excelled limiting paint points, 4th fewest in the league; rotations aren’t as tight as they should be) but took care of business v. a young/bad Suns team in GM. 1, competed hard in a close loss to SA in GM. 2 & defeated Minnesota at home last night.

Here’s a few observations so far:

  • DeMarcus Cousinsis a bonafide MVP candidate – he’s utterly unstoppable, just like last year. As I mentioned in our Pacific Division preview, perhaps Boogie was motivated by winning a Gold Medal in Rio this summer. Surrounded by recent champs (Barnes, Green, Klay, KYRIE), it looks like Cousins is applying the experience he gained to help shape SAC’s new culture (Joerger’s played a huge role too). Boogie’s steamrolled thru PHX, SA, & MIN, avg. 30 points & 9.7 boards/game.
  • Rudy Gay isplaying very well? Gay, forever the subject of trade rumors, is getting the job done for Coach Joerger. Rudy’s shot selection is still an issue, particularly in close games, but he’s proven a reliable 2nd option next to Cousins. Rudy’s avg. 22.3 points/game thru 3 • Seeing plenty of time at the four, maintaining efficiency (51% FG).
  • Sacramento’s Winning Despiteavg. just 28 rebounds/game, good for 29th in the league. SAC is 2-1 despite getting crushed on the glass – Boogie grabs the majority of boards but aside from him, Coach Joerger doesn’t have any sort of specialist in his lineup. Winning consistently is impossible if you don’t control the glass – SAC has done a better job limiting paint points (4th fewest in the league) – can someone like Willie Cauley-Stein key in on the glass?

Current Outlook: Optimistic

#delay

-Jabari J.

10/27/16 • Quick Feature: “Anthony Davis Almost Scored Half the Pels’ Points Last Night”

What an Opening Night for New Orleans Pelicans superstar (& possible android) Anthony Davis, who put up ungodly numbers in a narrow defeat on Wednesday. It’s obvious AD wanted to make some sort of statement and set the tone for his squad after mustering only 30 wins a season ago.

And if you look at the opponent (home opener v. DEN), last night was a very “get-able” game on paper – the Nuggets are still discovering themselves, regardless of the Pels’ early injury woes (Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans both out).

AD came out like gangbusters, cruising to 28 points, 5 rebounds & 5 steals by HALFTIME. A night’s worth of stats in just under 24 minutes of action.

With his team trailing, Davis didn’t let up after the break – he was just in that kind of groove (via FreeDawkins; Oct. 2016):

50 points, 16 rebounds, 7 steals, 5 dimes, 4 blocks*…all for naught. The Pelicans went on to lose (107-102; Davis committed a late turnover, down 3, that no one will/should vilify him for) because, well, when one guy has to score half your points, you’re probably not a very good team.

But it’s okay – maybe we’ll see more performances like this as a result.

*1st player since 1973 w/ such numbers 

#delay

-Jabari J.

10/26/16 • Quick Notes: “The Knicks’ Bench”

NY's bench is led by Brandon Jennings in '16-'17.
NY’s bench is led by Brandon Jennings in ’16-’17.

In sports, the common rule of thumb is to avoid overreacting to extremities. That said, after one game, it’s clear the New York Knicks will really struggle to produce bench points.

New York’s undisputed X-Factor, Brandon Jennings, is the most reliable shot-maker but he’s a career sub-40% shooter himself.

Let’s take a look at a few notable bench performances from last night*

*lost to CLE, 117-88

  • Brandon Jennings…finished w/ 7 points in last night’s blowout loss to Cleveland. The Knicks made a point to run as soon as Jennings entered the game but guys like Lance Thomas (2 points, 16 minutes) & Kyle O’Quinn (2 points, 15 minutes) struggled to finish.
  • Justin Holidayis (officially) a fantasy sleeper in 2016-17 – in Game 1, Holiday played the most minutes of any Knick reserve & saw some action running w/ Derrick Rose & Carmelo Anthony in the 2Q (Holiday hit back to back triples during that stretch). On the night, he finished w/ 8 points & 6 boards. He has value once he settles into a possible Sixth Man role.
  • Mindaugas Kuzminskas…finished w/ 7 points in 9 minutes of near-garbage time. New York’s 27 year-old rook came in early in the fourth – he made a triple off a drive & kick and was active on defense. If Thomas & O’Quinn continue to struggle (especially from downtown), Kuz could join the rotation sometime soon.

#delay

-Jabari J.