Brandon Ingram

The long-awaited Brandon Ingram breakout is here in earnest. So far this season, Ingram is averaging 25.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, while shooting 55.2 percent from the field, 48.6 percent from three, and 74.3 percent from the free-throw line (all career highs). Ingram is not a legitimate 48 percent shooter from three, especially on five attempts a game. The dreaded regression to the mean is coming. Before this season, he had never shot 40 percent, topping out at 39 percent on 1.8 attempts a game in his sophomore season. Even with that in mind, there is reason to believe he’ll shoot better this year. Ingram’s field goal percentage has improved each season he’s been in the league and he entered the NBA with solid form and touch. The Pelicans play at a fast pace. They are currently sixth in the league in pace and increased transition opportunities should lead to more lightly-contested shots. Furthermore, when Zion returns the Pelicans will have yet another ball-handler who commands defensive attention, which could lead to more spot-up opportunities for Ingram.

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Kawhi & The Clips

Kawhi Leonard entered the 2019-20 season as a first-round fantasy talent and one of the best two or three players in the NBA. He’s lived up to that billing and then some to start the season. Over the first four games, Kawhi is averaging 27 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He’s shooting 51.9 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from three, and 84 percent from the free-throw line. The 7.5 assists per game are particularly noteworthy since prior to this season, Kawhi had never averaged more than 3.5 assists a game, which he did in the 2016-17 season. Yes, the sample size is microscopic, but the evidence is hard to ignore. In the second game of the season against the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi matched his career high for assists in a game with nine. In game three against the Phoenix Suns, he set a new career high with 10 assists. This is no blip on the radar. Of the very few weaknesses in Leonard’s game, playmaking was the largest.

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I maintain, that when Steph Curry gets going, he’s the best show in the NBA. There are certainly other contenders for the NBA’s best show on hardwood, but Curry’s blend of fundamental and evolutionary NBA skills are what separates him from the competition. Curry walked into the league as an offensive engine in the mold of Reggie Miller, who shot 35.5 percent from three in year one and 40.2 percent from three in his second season in the NBA. Curry shot 43.7 percent from three in his first season. As a young player, Curry was not the statistical outlier he has become, as he only attempted 4.8 threes a game his rookie year. Miller took 2.2 threes as a rookie, but he was up to 4.4 attempts in his third season. Curry’s early career numbers were the result of the game’s natural evolution and increased acceptance of the three-point shot. In Curry’s early years, he did a lot of his work off-ball, running off screens and mirroring more traditional shooting guards like Miller and Ray Allen. It’s part of the reason many people insisted Curry wasn’t a true point guard. His conditioning allows him to run around for part of or even the entirety of some possessions. This non-stop movement draws a lot of attention and fatigues the defense, both mentally and physically—hence all the back-cut layups for Curry’s teammates. Check out this illuminating breakdown from the 2018-19 NBA Finals by Ben Taylor.

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I’m fascinated by the 2019-20 Pacers. They lost their two best wing-defenders (Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic), two veteran point guards (Darren Collison and Corey Joseph), and two other wing scorers (Tyreke Evans and Wesley Mathews), and Zach Lowe thinks they’re in trouble. He’s probably right, but I don’t care. I’m in on these new-look Pacers. As long as they don’t wear those hideous Hickory jerseys too often, they should be a lot more fun to watch this season. I like that they, and other teams are getting weird and starting two big men. I like that they seem to be counting on TJ Warren as an integral piece after the Suns gave him away for nothing. Victor Oladipo will eventually return. This team has three TJ’s, two Holiday’s, and the almighty Dougie McBuckets. Myles Turner is ascending and yet he or Sabonis could get traded? Maybe the on-court product turns out to be less thrilling than I expect and this team falls flat on its face. Either way, the the storylines are here.

My best guess at a starting lineup sans Oladipo: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner.

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Back when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh were in town, long before the Vice City uniforms and the jersey-swap retirement tour, four iterations of dynastic “Heatles” teams dominated the league and our collective sports consciousness. It was a glorious time. For Miami. For the NBA. For every sports media outlet in existence. Since then, a tidal wave of viral events have swept over the NBA—LeBron James’ homecoming and championship in Cleveland chief among them.

The Heat enter the 2019-20 season with the most buzz since their four-year run of NBA Finals trips. Jimmy Butler has arrived, all of his brashness and baggage in tow. Tyler Herro is set to become the new white-baller-du-jour, though he may have some unexpected competition from Alex Caruso. And the #PointWinslow movement is on the verge of boiling over its sweat and blood-stained cauldron. Let the new post-Bron, post-Wade, cautiously optimistic about Jimmy Butler era of Miami Heat basketball begin.

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The 2019-20 Grizzlies are going to be a lot of fun to watch. Ja Morant is going to be dunking on fools and buzzing screaming lefty passes by defenders’ ears. Jaren Jackson Jr. is going to keep bombing from deep and blocking everything in sight at the rim. Brandon Clarke is the perfect pick and roll lob partner for Morant, as he’ll have plenty of opportunities to sky above ten feet and throw down feathery Morant passes. Kyle Anderson is going to keep cheekily breaking down defenses with his awkward, dawdling euro-step game and random bursts of quickness. The Grizzlies are also going to be bad this season, but that’s okay. A great League Pass team doesn’t always rack up the W’s, take last year’s Sacramento Kings for example. The Kings were a fast-paced ball of fun even though they ultimately wound up missing out on the playoffs—expect the same from this year’s Grizz.

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The Chicago Bulls play in the Central Division alongside the Milwaukee Bucks and the reigning league MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and yet, the Bulls are the most intriguing team in the division. This offseason they added veteran leadership, some talented young players, and the returning young guys are all a year older and more experienced. They should certainly be healthier than they were last year. Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. missed significant time last season. Zach Lavine also missed a stretch of games before being shut-down at the end of the season. Ditto for Chandler Hutchison. Denzel Valentine never even got rolling. Here are the major additions and departures from last season:

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