Hello and welcome to the second installment of the Last Two Week Report, in which I take a look back at the last two weeks of the NBA season and hand out four titles for some player and team trends during the term. For the players, there are “MVP,” which – shockingly is given to the best player of the two-week term. I also give out “Small Sample Size Superstar,” which is given to a player who has played surprisingly well during the last two weeks. For the teams, there are “Most Impressive Team of the Term,” and “Most Disappointing Team of the Term”. Those should be self-explanatory to anyone familiar with the English language. Each one of these titles will also have a runner up, so less people will yell at me for not picking a representative for their favorite team.
Much like the first installment, due to regular season ball resuming on Thursday, February 21st, we will be working with a smaller sample than usual. But because it is the NBA, there is still a lot to write about. And I guess that’s why you’re here. This term, not only will I give out this weeks awards, but I will also look at last term’s report to see what has trended and what has ended.
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
With 26.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists, the counting stats show that Giannis Antetokounmpo has been his regular self. His 56.3 percent shooting percentage and 62.5 percent true shooting percentage support that notion as well. However, the Milwaukee Bucks have somehow performed 12 points per 100 possessions better with him on the sideline. The Bucks are putting up a -2.8 net-rating with Antetokounmpo is on the floor. This is clearly not a trend, and I doubt that this is anything more than a sample size issue. But it is something that happened, which is just hilarious to me.
Last Term’s MVP: Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Playing just three of the Thunder’s six games, Oklahoma City has gone 2-4, with George playing some rather inefficient basketball. He’s shooting 37.8 percent from the field, 27.8 percent from three and 51.3 percent true shooting. However, being that every NBA player has bad shooting streaks, this is forgivable. Even without his shooting, George has found a way to maintain his impressive assist percentage, which was 21 last term and 22.1 this term. Due to this, the Thunder have been 8.9 points per 100 possessions better offensively with George on. If he continues to pass like this, the Thunder will be an incredibly difficult matchup in the playoffs.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Even with a notably poor performance against Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz, Jokic has continued to be one of the most powerful offensive forces in the NBA. He’s averaging his usual 22.6 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. He has improved the Nuggets by 19.6 points per 100 possessions on offense. Plus, despite an underachieving 3-2 record for Denver, the team still put up a 5.8 net-rating, and picked up a signature win against the Thunder. Jokic was awesome in that game, with 36 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists.
Yes, the Jazz game was disconcerting. Jokic taking a backseat to the Nuggets’ offense is never an ideal situation. Gobert’s length was noticeably bothering Jokic throughout the game. However, despite what people may be saying, I do not think that Jokic necessarily has a Jazz problem. On Nov. 3, the Nuggets beat the Jazz, with Jokic dishing out 16 assists. On Jan. 23, Jokic put up 28 points and six assists against the Jazz.
Therefore, I do not think that Gobert is some kind of Jokic antidote. But I do think that Jokic had the wrong approach against Gobert in their last game. In the Nuggets’ first two games against the Jazz this season, Jokic took one-third of his shots from three. That number was under one-fifth in their last contest. Despite shooting just ten percent from deep in those two games, on the perimeter, Jokic had more room to make plays without being bothered by Gobert’s length in tight. Plus, with Gobert away from the rim, there was more room for Nuggets cutters.
With a plethora of willing shooters and cutters on the Nuggets, Jokic was able to assist hunt:
Even with his subpar play against Gobert, Jokic’s overall play has been terrific this term. He has continued to be one of the best offensive players in the league. And the Denver Nuggets have still played like one of the best teams in the NBA.
MVP: Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Yes, the Atlanta Hawks are nowhere near the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The team has only gone 3-3 with a -.1 net-rating this term. With Trae Young on the court, their net-rating skyrockets to 6.7. He’s also put up an incredible 32 points per game on 51 percent from deep and 65.8 percent true shooting, and dished out 9.5 assists per game.
Though I doubt he’ll fully turn into it, Young really is playing like the Stephen Curry/Steve Nash hybrid that general manager Travis Schlenk thought he was drafting. This term, Young has been shooting even more deep threes, and hitting them at an insane 48.1 percent clip. With him shooting this high of a percentage from this far, Hawks’ bigs have gotten a lot more room for rolls.
It’s not just Young’s shooting that’s given him a good term. His restricted area field goal percentage has jumped from his typical 52.8 percent, to 58.3 percent. Due to this jump, Young’s been more aggressive getting to the paint not just to shoot, but also to pass.
Defensively, Young has been a lot better than his slight frame would suggest. He has held opponents to field goal percentages 2.6 percent lower than average. Meanwhile, the Hawks have been 9.9 points per 100 possessions better on defense with him on the floor.
Plus, in a particularly Sheedian fashion, he got ejected for a stare down.
And even in a triple overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls, “both teams played hard. God bless and good night.”
Even with his team’s mediocre performance this term, Young is the deserved MVP this term. I hope he continues to be one of the most exciting players in the NBA.
Small Sample Size Superstar
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Bojan Bogdanovic, Indiana Pacers
Bogdanovic has continued to be used as the Indiana Pacers’ first option with Victor Oladipo out for the rest of the year. He’s averaged 24.5 points per game on 52.9 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from three and 62.8 percent true shooting. His 30.2 percent usage percentage is once again leading his team. The Pacers have been 5.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor. However, the Pacers have gone 3-3 with a 2.1 net-rating this term, which cannot continue if they want to remain a top four seed in the Eastern Conference. With centers Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner missing three and two games, respectively, I wouldn’t pay too much mind to their underachieving this term.
Last Term’s Small Sample Size Superstar: Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Despite putting up lower points per game, at 18.8, to last term’s 24, Siakam has remained incredibly hot on offense. He’s shooting 57.9 percent from deep on 3.8 attempts, with 63.8 percent true shooting. Siakam was particularly hot from deep on Feb. 26, when the Raptors blew out the Boston Celtics by 23 points, going 4-for-5 from range. The Raps have been 23.6 points per 100 possessions better with Siakam playing, second on the team to Kawhi Leonard. Though his 3-point percentage will definitely come back to earth at some point, I do not expect Siakam’s scoring volume to go down by much.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
On a team with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the player most essential to the Trail Blazers 5-1 record, 9.3 net-rating, 116.1 offensive rating and 106.8 defensive rating is Jusuf Nurkic. Nurk put up 19.7 points on 63.1 percent from the field, and 71.8 percent true shooting, while chipping in with 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
He is leading the team in net-rating, at 27.7. He has been an absolute beast defensively, reducing opponents’ field goal percentages by eight percent from less than six feet. He’s also reducing opponents’ field goal percentages by 10.8 percent from behind the arc. Read that again. It’s definitely not sustainable, but it cannot be understated just how good Nurkic has been as a perimeter defender for someone of his stature.
Offensively, he has been one of just three players this term to average 15 points and three assists per game on 60 percent shooting. He has been even more of a beast inside, finishing well in the pick and roll, and performing post moves galore. If Nurkic can take his perimeter defense with him to the playoffs, the Trail Blazers can definitely make the second round. If he maintains this level offensively, they might just end up in the Conference Finals.
Small Sample Size Superstar: Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Despite almost everyone else on the team playing subpar basketball, something has awaken in Ingram, allowing him to score a consistent 27.8 points per game on 57 percent shooting from the field. He also shot 52.9 percent from three on 2.8 attempts and 65.2 percent. And by consistent, I mean he hasn’t scored under 23 points in any game this term. He only shot under 50 percent from the field once.
With the increase in volume, Ingram has also seen increased his field goal percentages in the non-restricted painted area and mid-range, shooting 55.6 percent from the former, compared to his 48.1 percent over the year. And 42.9 percent from the latter, compared to 37.8 percent on the year. For Ingram, a man with the body of Pink Panther, a good field goal percentage in the non-restricted painted area is not only helpful, but necessary, as when he cannot body his way to the rim, it allows him to still extend over his opponents for a high percentage shot.
He’s playing aggressively, taking what the defense gives him, and it’s working. Even though the Los Angeles Lakers probably won’t make the playoffs, Ingram’s performance makes me confident that he can still be a very effective player next to LeBron James.
Most Impressive Team of the Term
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Detroit Pistons
If I didn’t already award them with an honor last term, I surely would have done it this term. For the team putting up a 5-1 record, with a 10.3 net-rating, and first in the league 117.9 offensive rating. Despite a bad term from Blake Griffin, the Pistons back court has been awesome, with Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard and Ish Smith all playing great basketball. Plus the Pistons got another revenge win against the Toronto Raptors for Head Coach Dwane Casey. With Jackson playing this well, and Griffin having himself a great year, I could see the Pistons making it really hard on a higher seed in the playoffs.
Last Term’s Most Impressive Team: Orlando Magic
With a record of 3-3, and a 1.2 net-rating, the Magic have not been tearing it up as much as they did last term. With three great wins against three great teams, in the Raptors, Golden State Warriors and Pacers, the Magic have proved to be legitimate playoff contenders – even with their three losses coming against the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Their 106.9 defensive rating has been incredibly impressive. With the sheer amount of length on that team, I could definitely see that sustaining. They’ve dipped on offense. Jonathan Isaac has continued to make himself useful offensively. Also, Nikola Vucevic is back up to his usual averages.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Chicago Bulls
With a 4-2 record, one net-rating, and 114.4 offensive rating, it seems as if the Chicago Bulls are doing the impossible by actually trying to win basketball games. With 27.3 and 26.3 respectively, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen became one of just two duos in the entire league to each average 25 points while playing all of their team’s games. LaVine has also chipped in with a team-leading 5.7 assists. Meanwhile, Markkanen grabbed 12.3 boards.
With LaVine and Markkanen playing this well, no wonder the Bulls were so good this term. Outside of them, Otto Porter Jr. has averaged 17 points on 48.1 percent from deep, playing in all four of the Bulls wins. His dependable defense and 3-point shooting have shown to be incredible helps for the young Bulls. It also seems as if Robin Lopez is at least enjoying his time on the court again, scoring 15.3 points per game on 62.9 percent from the field and 66.6 percent true shooting.
It’s a little too late for the Bulls to make a playoff push. Since arriving in Chicago, the trio of LaVine, Markkanen and Porter has been blowing out opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions. Maybe if that trio had started the year together, Fred Hoiberg would still have a job.
Most Impressive Team: Utah Jazz
With a 4-1 record, six net-rating, uncharacteristic 113.6 offensive rating and wins against the Nuggets and Bucks, the Utah Jazz have proved themselves once again as a legitimate force in the NBA. This term, Donovan Mitchell has gone crazy, with 33 points per game on 43.9 percent from deep and 58.5 percent true shooting. Joe Ingles has put up a terrific 14.6 points per game, and 7.4 assists per game on 45.7 percent from three, and 61 percent true shooting. Also, Derrick Favors has chipped in with 16.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, on 70.1 percent shooting.
With the Jazz being this good on offense, I can see this team going incredibly deep in the playoffs. However, I feel like I’ve said this about almost every team in the Western Conference. Either way, the Jazz have been awesome this term, so shout out to them.
Most Disappointing Team of the Term
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have continued to struggle, with a 2-3 record, and -1.9 net-rating. However, their defensive problems last term have morphed into offensive problems this term. They had a 108.4 offensive rating, despite great performances from LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. The source of these problems has been the declined performance of three of their best 3-point shooters, in Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills and Davis Bertans. With their two most ball-dominant players being non-shooters, in Aldridge and DeRozan, it is important that they are surrounded by knock down shooters. Despite the aforementioned three players typically being great threats from deep, that was just not the case this term.
Last Term’s Most Disappointing Team: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have taken their ridiculously hard remaining schedule, and made it even harder by losing to the Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns. They’ve put up a terrible 2-4 record, with a mediocre 108.9 offensive rating, and awful 113.6 defensive rating. Despite writing about the Lakers’ need to have their rim protectors play last term, they have further cut Tyson Chandler out of the rotation, while playing JaVale McGee 3.9 minutes per game less. Despite everything wrong with this team, as a fan of the NBA, I would still very much like to see it in the playoffs. With Luke Walton’s ever changing rotation, I’m not sure if we will be able to see that.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Golden State Warriors
What? The Golden State Warriors have been disappointing? Yes. With a 3-3 record, and .5 net-rating, the usually invincible Warriors have been…vincible – is that a word? Just looked it up, yes it is.
They’ve lost against both Florida teams and the James Harden-less Houston Rockets. At 60.3 and 56.9 percent true shooting respectively, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have both been less efficient than usual on offense. Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins have each missed a game. With the state of their bench, one of them missing a game means big minutes for Jordan Bell and Damion Lee. Despite playing well in their short times on court, they should not yet be depended on for key minutes.
Although Cousins has put up great counting numbers this term, with 20 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, the Warriors have been 18.9 points per 100 possessions better with him sitting this term. In fact, the Warriors have been 7.4 points per 100 possessions better with him sitting throughout the year. This leads me to thinking that perhaps the Warriors should not be playing their big five all at once. Perhaps Jonas Jerebko and Kevon Looney’s ability to switch onto quicker defenders is more helpful to the Warriors starting lineup against pick and roll heavy teams than Boogie’s ability to create offense. They already have two dudes who can do that better than him. This proved to be the case against the Rockets, who abused Cousins in both the pick and roll, and pick and pop.
There’s this play, where a miscommunication between Cousins and Thompson leads to a wide open three from Kenneth Faried:
But in case you want proof that it’s just not Chris Paul and the Rockets abusing Cousins in the pick and roll, here’s DJ Augustin and Nikola Vucevic getting in on the fun, using Boogie’s drop to get a lately contested step back three:
The fact is, with Curry and Durant both on, Cousins is made inessential, as they are both better playmakers. Those lineups work better with Jerebko or Looney as the big, as both are better at defending switches. Also, Jerebko is a better pop out shooter, while Looney is a better diver.
Before you discount my take, citing Boogie’s admittedly superior offensive repertoire, take a look at the numbers. When Durant and Curry are on with Cousins, the Warriors outscore teams by 3.9 points per 100 possessions. When they’re joined by Looney, that number is 15.8, and for Jerebko, it’s 24.8.
Cousins can still very much have a role on this team. However, he is made redundant when Curry and Durant are both on the floor with him. Thus, further staggering the Warriors big five could very well be the solution to getting them out of their funk.
Most Disappointing Team: Boston Celtics
Well, well, well. One of the most morose and inconsistent NBA teams in the NBA is at it again, putting up a league-worst 1-5 record, with a -6.5 net-rating, and last in the term with a 102 offensive rating.
Everyone not named Al Horford, Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart has played subpar basketball. Marcus Morris has averaged 10.8 points per game on 35.8 percent from the field, 21.1 percent from three and 43.9 percent true shooting. Jayson Tatum has averaged 12.7 points per game on 45.1 percent from the field, 23.5 percent from deep and 50.7 percent true shooting. Terry Rozier has averaged 5.6 points per game on 28.2 percent from the field, 11.1 percent from three, and 33.3 percent true shooting. It turns out, Gordon Hayward was not resurrected last term, with his 17/5.2/4.8 on 61.2 percent from the field, 50 percent from three, and 74.7 percent true shooting percentage. He scored just 5.2 points per game this term, on 30.8 percent from the field, 12.5 percent from three, and 42.2 percent true shooting.
On Sunday, Bleacher Report’s Adam Wells wrote an article entitled “It’s Time to Stop Treating the Celtics Like a Contender.” Yup. For although the Celtics did suffer four of their losses to very good teams, in the Bucks, Raptors, Trail Blazers and Rockets, contending teams find a way to win.
The Celtics have a lot to figure out before playoff time. Perhaps most importantly, the team needs to improve their chemistry. For it seems as if whenever Irving talks to the media, the team goes on a massive cold streak.
Because of that, may I suggest a few activities to bring the Celtics closer together?
Two truths and a lie? Na. It might get awkward if President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge says he’s ‘not’ trying to trade Jayson Tatum for Anthony Davis.
Trust falls? Kyrie doesn’t believe in gravity.
This team is doomed.
As I previously mentioned, this term has further shown just how fun the playoffs will be. The big four in the East (or big three, if the Celtics continue to play this badly) all seem to be foaming at the mouth for playoff basketball. The depth of the Western Conference has really displayed itself. I can see three Western Conference first round series coming down to the wire. And now, the bottom of the Eastern Conference has gotten its crap together, with Detroit and Orlando playing well. Furthermore, the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are getting key members of their rosters back.
This postseason might also be significant for what comes after it. In the East, the Raptors is playing for the direction of their future. A good playoff outing might make Giannis the newly crowned “best in the world.” There is a chance for a dog fight between the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. In that case, I could see both teams making significant changes if they were to lose.
At the bottom of the East, a good first round series from the Brooklyn Nets could be the perfect culture pitch to free agents. Vucevic’s future with the Magic might be dependent on whether or not the team can steal a couple games in the first round. Also, maybe the Pistons blow it up if the climax of their Blake Griffin trade is a first round sweep.
In the West, every team is gearing up to find the perfect antidote against the Golden State Warriors. And I wonder what trolls will say if or when LeBron misses the playoffs.
No matter what, the playoffs are in sniffing distance, and I cannot wait to get there.
All statistics are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
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