NBA Quarter Season Review: Eat Crow Edition

Spoiler Alert: The Celtics Are Prettay, Prettay Good

When Gordo Haystack’s ankle was snapped before our very eyes on opening night, I, like most NBA fans, proclaimed the Celtics’ season DOA. Let me tell you, eating crow has never tasted so good. Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum have been a godsend and more than picked up the slack. Jaylens defense is as good as advertised, he’s shooting with confidence, and is proving everyone who thought losing Jae Crowder would be a disaster wrong. His wokeness has also benefited immensely from the presence of wokemaster Kyrie. Tatum has been silky smooth offensively and is showing the polish he already possessed in college. Christ, imagine if the Celtics took Markelle Fultz, who spent the first 6 weeks of the season shooting like he’s never picked up a basketball before and is now on IR. Ainge managed to avoid a complete disaster. In that regards Haywards injury has been a blessing in disguise. Brown and Tatum are jumpstarting their development by playing valuable big minutes they otherwise wouldn’t have been getting with Gordo around.

One of the biggest drivers behind the Celtics success has been Marcus Smart. Despite putting up absolutely abysmal shooting numbers, Marcus Smart somehow had a +11 plus/minus during their 18 game win streak. Marcus Smarts game is legitimately mind boggling. On paper he is among the worst offensive players in the NBA. Yet any Celtics fan will tell you he’s the one guy that absolutely has to be out there in crunch time. His offensive pick and roll numbers have been solid, and teams are literally begging him to shoot by hedging under the screens. The amount of wide open looks he gets is comical. Every time I see Marcus catch and shoot I want to scream. Yet when they take him out I count the seconds til he’s back in. Nerds across the NBA are as confused as they are fascinated by the guy who simply cannot be pinned down by any analytic measure. I am hereby inventing a new metric called “Smart Ratio” which measures the ratio of his true shooting % to how many beers it takes for me to actually consider giving him a max contract next summer.

It’s no secret that what’s keeping the Celtics afloat is their defense. It’s been Brad’s calling card since he entered the league and it seems no amount of roster discontinuity can fuck his scheme or chemistry up. Their per 100 possessions ratings are among the best measured in the last 15 years, ranking up there with the Big Three-era 2009 Celtics and the Tom Thibodeau-masterminded 2012 Chicago Bulls. Their strength truly lies in the versatility of their roster and the way Stevens is able to employ that. They can go big or small, and have length up and down the roster. Smart and Rozier are pure disruptors on the back end, and Kyrie has been much more engaged on the defensive end than advertised. The similarity comparisons between him and IT defensively were completely overblown. I’ve been super impressed with Roziers play so far. He’s found a reliable stroke from deep and sets the defensive tone for the second unit. They gave the Splash brothers fits in their win over the Warriors last week. Brown, Tatum, Marcus Morris, and Semi Ojeleye are all versatile and long on the wing, and have no problem switching a pick and roll or defending a post up.

(Side note: Semi Ojeleye is a brick shit house. Look at his fucking biceps. DO NOT touch this man!)

Horford has been great in the middle, and they are getting great minutes from Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis down low. Amazing to think they can grab these two fucking goons off the scrap heap and turn them into contributing rotation players. Bayes has a soft touch for a fucking samsquamch and Theis is essentially the German Birdman. Al Horford is another one of those guys who looks pretty average on paper, yet the advanced stats and the eye test show just how valuable he is. He can guard 1-5 no problem and is shooting a little less that 50% from three. Simply ridiculous. The smell test for anyone from Boston who says they know Celtics basketball is their opinion on Al Horford. If they wonder why he’s only averaging 13 points a game and less that a block per game they either aren’t watching the games or they read too many box scores. Most likely they are just reading counting stats, which is basically like the SparkNotes of stats. First, his advanced stats are elite. He’s 10th in the league in plus/minus, 6th in defensive rating, and has a 60.1% effective FG% (for reference, KD is shooting 60.1% and the Brow is shooting 58.4%). But beyond the advanced stats, Horford is meeting the eye test. He facilitates the offense. He handles the balls as much as any traditional big man I’ve seen. He doesn’t take bad shots. And he defends the pick and roll at an elite level.

It’s scary that their offense hasn’t even clicked yet. They’re pretty pedestrian offensively at this point. Kyrie’s scoring on a whole different plane of wokeness and somehow his shooting still isn’t nearly at Kyrie-levels yet. He’s meshed with Steven’s ball-movement oriented system effortlessly, putting to rest the notion he is simply an isolation scorer who thrived only because of the attention Lebron commanded. Tatum, for all his polish, is still learning how to score in the NBA. He’s taking a lot of midrange shots for my taste, however with experience comes range and improved shot selection. Marcus Morris has only been healthy for a few games, and in his brief time has shown he is a reliable outside shooter that can get his own shots. And who knows if Marcus Smart’s shooting will ever come around. It probably can’t get any worse. Once this team begins to click on the offensive end, it’s not a stretch to think they can make a run to the finals and give the Warriors as run for their money. They are built to beat teams like the Warriors, able to match their pure scoring power with an army of versatile defenders. And mark my words, as someone who has personally experienced two ankle injuries on the magnitude of Gordo’s, I wouldn’t completely rule out a mid-April return. Gordon is a motivated world class athlete with the industries best doctors, trainers, and facilities at his disposal. I am an unmotivated stoner and I was running and playing rec center ball within 5 months. Not a stretch to think he could be back for a playoff run. My guess is they are giving him a generous timeline to return in order to keep the public’s expectations low and discourage him from rushing back. (Side note: Gordo’s wife Robin is a must follow for all things Gordo Haystacks. She’s like Miko Grimes except instead of semi-racist diatribes its videos of their cute kids and Gordon playing video games)

Andre the Giant

The Piston have been one of the NBAs surprise teams through the first quarter of the NBA season, and I think much of that can be attributed to Andre Drummond and his improved free throw shooting. Drummond, a career 39% free throw shooter, is shooting a little over 63% from the line so far in the season. While those numbers are objectively very bad for a professional basketball player, he has pulled himself out of the ‘foul on sight at all costs’ type of player. Although this translates to only an additional 1-2 extra made free throws, the Hack-a-Dre is no longer a viable option when playing against the Pistons. Defenses can no longer be bailed out by Drummond at the line. What’s his secret? My guess is eliminating off court distractions like his girlfriend Jeanette McCurdy, of iCarly fame. They got together after a well-chronicled DM sliding, but sadly broke up last year after Dre reportedly leaked her nudes following a disagreement (she said he was a bad kisser on comedian Pete Holmes’ podcast). Ostensibly this has left him more time to practice free throws. And yes, the offseason addition of Avery Bradley (I miss u AB!!!!!), the resurgent play of Tobias Harris, and Reggie Jackson taking a backseat are probably more important factors to the Pistons early success, however its Drummond and his hairy shoulders that is the straw that stirring the proverbial drink in Detroit. It’s crazy to think a year ago Drummond was borderline unplayable in crunch time and his max contract seemed like it would hamstring the Pistons for years to come.

Ball Gazing

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Lavar Ball’s antics have hurt the collective perception of Lonzo and his game. His dad certainly didn’t help his case by proclaiming him the second coming of Magic Johnson and guaranteeing the Lakers make the playoffs this season. Nor did he help the cause when he asserted that he could coach the Lakers better than Luke Walton. Lavar has almost forced his son under the microscope of the media and NBA zeitgeist, further magnifying his struggle to adjust to the NBA. His jumper is trash (we knew this). He can’t beat anyone off the dribble (we also knew this). He looks lost on defense (like all rookies do). These are normal things that happen to virtually every rookie trying to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA, including Lonzo. I wish people would just leave him alone. The Lakers are objectively a bad team who deserve to be bad in peace. The only reason we give a shit about them is Lavar. He’s not an idiot. He knows what plays on the morning shows and First Takes of the world, and he knows eyeballs are what bring in the dough, not necessarily performance. He’s turning the Lakers into this post-Trumpian nightmare, a once storied franchise with a championship pedigree that has devolved into a reality TV sideshow where putting asses in seats and selling overpriced sneakers is more important that the product on the court.

Also, I need a Ball Family vs Trump Family Wrestlemania Hell in a Cell match more than anything (Wait….What’s that?….IS THAT KIM JONG UN’S MUSIC?). The thought of Lavar getting Donald Trump in a rear naked chokehold while LiAngelo pummels Eric Trump and his fucked up tooth/gum ratio is too much to bear. The Lavar vs Donald feud is so 2017 it’s sickening. These two have been on a crash course since day one and it was only a matter of time before they began to circle and size each other up. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Joel Embiid: Lord of Memes

Joel Embiid is the NBA’s most entertaining player thus far and it’s not even close. Not only is he absolutely dominating on the floor, he’s become a must-follow on IG/Twitter and is the reigning post-game interview champ. His per 36 numbers are simply unworldly, mainly because hes on a “bullshit” (his words) minutes restriction. He’s dream shaking and finger wagging and euro stepping like some kind of mutant Hakeem/Harden hybrid. If you built a prototypical modern NBA center in a lab somewhere, you would probably build JoJo. He is also coming into his own as an excellent shit talker. His deep-ass voice with the slight accent yelling “HE CAN’T GUARD ME” at Willie “Whose Mans This” Reed, who he proceeded to destroy on instagram a few days later, is the embodiment of Embiids attitude. He will roast you on the court just as well as he will roast your online. He’s gone at everyone from Draymond Green to Lavar Ball to Hassan Whiteside. He has no fear. His persona is fed by this Lebron-like self-awareness, except instead of subtweets and out-of-touch memes he trolls with the best of them. He cares about Harambe. He’s the first digital native to average a double-double in NBA and slide into Rihannas DMs in the same season. He’s the Great Millennial Hope. Let’s hope he can put together more than 50 games this season.

 Goodbye Lebron

The Cavs are playing like any old team in November can be expected to play. They are simply too old to give a fuck at this point in the season. As we saw last season, Lebron can just shift into another gear for 3 weeks and bring the Cavs back into contention. Look for that come January when Dwyane Wade, who currently looks like the Monstars took his basketball skills, gets his powers back after Lebron puts the team on his back for a couple weeks. IT is still hurt and god only knows when he gets back. D-Rose still can’t stay healthy and is actually considering retirement (Sad!) Watching Iman Shumpert pretend to play point guard is borderline torture. There are a lot of holes in the line up as it stands. But this is par for the course for Lebron and the Cavs. He’ll send a few passive aggressive tweets out, IT will come back, and all will eventually be right in The Land, right? I’m not so sure. Everyone except Brian Whidhorst knows Lebron has one foot out the door, and the Cavs are still a piece away from not getting Gentlemen Swept by the Warriors. Hell, they might not even be the best team in the east anymore. The east didn’t turn out to be the cakewalk everyone suspected it would. I’m not confident Wade will ever come around, and the unknown quantity of Rose makes the backcourt situation dire. The Nets 2018 pick essentially the Cavs insurance policy against Lebron leaving, and I don’t see them cashing that in to get better now knowing he full-well he’s probably going to leave in 8 months. Their best chance was making a play for Eric Bledsoe, who might have solved their perimeter defense issues and bench scoring woes in one fell swoop. Was this inaction the source of his now infamous Angry Arthur Fist Meme? Lebron is playing the most minutes in the league and I’m not sure the roster is strong enough for him to do it all alone.

The Knicks: Actually Good

The Knicks deserve a lot of credit. They’ve scrapped to a 10-9 record and made themselves a viable contender to squeak into the playoffs. Much of this success can and will be attributed to the play of Kristaps Porzingis, who seems to have made the jump this season. He has thrived moving into the primary scoring role after the departure of Melo and has showcased the versatility of his game. Thunder cast-off Enes Kanter has been solid as advertised in the low post and surprisingly not terrible on defense. Kanter was essentially an angry Turkish cone while he was with OKC and proved unplayable down the stretch, however he has turned over a new leaf in New York. They two big men complement each other’s games well. Kanter is the traditional bruiser down low, allowing Kristaps to filter inside and out as he sees fit. Rookie Frank Ntilikina has also proving wrong the argument for passing over Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr with the 8th pick in last years draft. Frank is completely locking down opposing guards and has generally been a passing lane nuisance for opponents. Offensively he’s still extremely raw, but that’s to be expected for a rookie. Frankly (no pun intended) I thought Lebrons comments on the Knicks passing over DSJ were misguided, and spoke more to his abilities as a talent evaluator and roster constructor (he sucks) than Frank’s play up to that point. Monk has been inconsistent and is wasting away on a middling, guard heavy Hornets team. DSJ is playing 30 minutes and taking 20 shots per game for the worst team in the NBA. If you gave any rookie in the NBA that kind of volume on a team as offensively toothless as the Mavs, they would be putting up comparable numbers. It’s the Devin Booker effect. Sure, DSJ has unleashed some thunderous dunks and had some great games, including 22 against Lebron’s Cavs. However teams are figuring out he can’t shoot or finish with his left hand, which is pretty important to being a good NBA player. In any case, things are starting to look up for the Knicks. Their roster is starting to allow them for some more flexibility moving forward, and they have in interesting mix of unloadable contracts and promising young players.

Doc Rivers Don’t Give a Fuck

The Clippers are bad. After starting 5-1 they have lost 9 of their last 10. This seems to be the last hurrah for Doc, who might be better off on the golf course these days anyways. Sometimes it feels like the NBA has just passed him by, tossed him to the rubbish pile of coaches who couldn’t evolve. DeAndre Jordan’s contract is looking mighty tradeable at this point, and should things continue to go south in LA I can totally see him on the move. (Cleveland perhaps? Let’s hope not!) Poor Blake. On one hand I’m sad that the Clippers suck, and Blake is seemingly resigned to a Paul Millsap-esque existence for the next 4 seasons. But on the other hand I am really intrigued how his game is continuing to evolve. With CP3 out of the equation he’s handling the ball much more and is really showing off his distribution skills. He’s also extending his range out beyond the 3 point line. For someone who came into the NBA basically only knowing how to catch lobs and dunk on people’s necks, the progression of his skills really speak to his commitment to improvement as well as the evolving nature of the NBA. It feels like only yesterday Blake and the gang were holding DJ hostage and Paul Pierce was doing old man on Twitter things:

BoogieWatch 2018

Boogie Cousins has been playing out of his mind despite early indication that the Pelicans’ ‘Twin Towers’ approach is a failed experiment (8-8 thus far). However it has nothing to do with the play of either of their star forwards. Frankly it doesn’t matter who is playing forward when Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo are getting the bulk of your crunch time guard minutes. This leads me to think either Boogie or AD will be on the move in an effort to de-consolidate some of their frontcourt talent. My money’s on Boogie. His contract is much more tradeable (makes around $18M) than AD ($28M) and his play is trending upwards. I would love to see him reunited with John Wall in Washington, reminiscent of their Kentucky days. That would be a pretty scary team in the postseason, assuming they can hang on to either Porter or Beal in the process. A package of Beal, Oubre, and perhaps the corpse of Ian Mahinmi might be enough to coax Boogie away. The Cavs are also in the mix, however I’m not sure they have enough assets to make a convincing offer. Maybe Kevin Love, the Nets 2018 pick, and some filler contracts to make it worthwhile? I wouldn’t count the Lakers out either. They have some tradeable contracts and some assets they seems willing to part with. They made a legit run at Boogie at the deadline last season, and sources suggested the offer they made was much better than the Pelicans package that ultimately landed him. To me it seemed like it was the erratic hand of Vivek Randave (their owner) that guided Boogie away from an interstate rival. I don’t think the Pelicans give a crap about where they ship him off to as long as they get a decent package in return. A package of Brandon Ingram, Brook Lopez, Jordan Clarkson, and a couple picks here and there resemble what the Lakers offered Sacramento last season, and I could see the Pelicans cashing in where Vivek and the Kings could not.

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