It was a bit of a light week for watching games here in the Hooper house. I know this is a fantasy corner of the internet, but reality always manages to find a way in. The ratio of news to NBA games got flipped in the middle of the week, so instead of longer, deeper looks into one or two specific teams, this edition of Hangin’ will feature check-ins on past (incorrect) statements and some quick hitters on what I was able to catch this week. I’m aiming to get back on track this week — aren’t we all? — so hopefully next time will be less doom and gloom and more dimes and dunks.
As for that doom and gloom…
No Bubble? Trouble
The second Covid-related postponement of the NBA season took place on Sunday, as both the Celtics and Heat had rosters that had been hollowed out by positive tests, players in the Health and Safety Protocols, and run of the mill injuries. Miami only had seven available players, one player short of the NBA minimum; Boston had eight. The day prior, the 76ers played a game with 8 players in uniform, but Doc Rivers only felt comfortable doling minutes out seven Sixers, as Mike Scott was coming off an injury and was only slightly more available to play than I am.
Monday saw additional postponement across the league.
The pandemic’s cold grip is starting to squeeze the association. A non-comprehensive list of players who are Covid-19 positive or subject to NBA Health and Safety protocols include as of Sunday night: Jayson Tatum, Javonte Green, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye, Grant Williams, Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams, Tyler Johnson, Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacono, Lauri Markkanen, Chandler Hutchinson, Josh Richardson, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Michael Porter Jr., KJ Martin, Avery Bradley, Sindarius Thornwell, Seth Curry, Jalen Smith, and Jabari Parker.
Kevin Durant returned to action for the Nets on Sunday after following through with the league’s protocols and sitting out three games. Bradley Beal, who was chatting with fellow St. Louisan Tatum after Wizards-Celtics, was held out of Saturday’s game, though he’s in line to play on Monday.
The Orlando bubble this summer was largely successful at keeping coronavirus at bay, especially when compared to how the NFL and MLB both put their heads down and blasted through their seasons. Now that NBA players are operating without a bubble and traveling around, we’re seeing the same issues that affected other American leagues reoccur with hoops. Given the fact that this is an indoor, high contact game, and that NBA rosters are much lighter than what NFL and MLB teams carry, things could get even more hectic in the coming weeks.
The upshot? Savvy fantasy players are going to have to be even more plugged in than normal (get to know your deep bench and G-League guys, as they’ll be coming sooner or later), and building some flexibility into your roster going forward probably isn’t a terrible idea. In a 12-team league of mine, I’m currently rostering 4 players that I’m viewing as seat-fillers while I wait for studs (MPJ, Kyrie Irving) to return and rotations to stabilize. Regardless of who is getting them, minutes are gold, and Tyrese Maxey got 44 of them on Saturday when he posted a 39/7/6/2 line against Denver. I’ve got Tyrese lined up for Monday night’s tilt against the Hawks, but as bodies become available, Maxey could be jettisoned by the end of the week. In the meantime, opportunity is knocking. Move quickly this year, as the pandemic will likely turn rosters over like breaking waves.
Young and Feckless
Speaking of the Hawks, last week I called Trae Young “the Hawk of least concern.” This week? I’m concerned.
Since walking out of Barclays Center with a W on New Year’s Day, the Hawks have dropped four straight against lukewarm competition (New York, Cleveland, and Charlotte twice.) The reports coming out of Atlanta are anything but peachy.
John Collins, frustrated by his lack of involvement and the overall shoddiness of the offense during the slide, aired some grievances during a film session following the Knicks loss. He was particularly critical of Young and the need to move the ball better and limit heaves early in the clock.
Trae responded to this critique by rolling out his worst game of the season against the Hornets, going 2/9 from the field (0/5 from deep) to account for 7 points, 5 boards, 3 dimes, and 7 turnovers. Post-game Young threw up a “Not wanting to force it” line as cover for a let’s see you try to do it without me attitude. The Hawk of least concern indeed.
Days later against the same Hornets outfit, Young tallied 15 points and 10 assists, while limiting the turnovers to 4. The Hawks lost 113-105 and an ugly trend continued. In the first five games of the season, the Hawks averaged 125.8 points per game. In the losing streak, that number has dipped to 99.5, and Trae’s FG% has been brutal (33%). As if things weren’t bad enough, Trae fell and injured his right (shooting) wrist in the second game against Charlotte. He’s probable for Monday night’s game, but the going is only getting tougher for those of us invested in Young.
Collins, believing that he’s a max man, turned down an extension from the Hawks earlier this year and instead bet on himself. If the Hawks have limited interest in coughing up serious coin for JC, it doesn’t seem impossible that they trade him in-season instead of declining to match a big offer during his restricted free agency and losing him for nada. Meanwhile, Bogdan Bogdanovic suffered a grisly knee injury that’s going to cost him at least a month, maybe more. He now joins Rajon Rondo, Danilo Gallinari, Kris Dunn, Tony Snell, and Onyeka Okongwu on the Atlanta injury report. Suddenly the team that had many new faces is beginning to look a lot like the team that everyone remembered from last year.
Bogi’s injury means more burn for Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, and De’Andre Hunter, as well as a heavier lean on the healthy Hawks, including Collins. It’s not impossible that Atlanta moves on from JC, but the balm that soothes would be Young stepping up into a leadership role and accepting the seemingly valid criticism laid at his feet. If Atlanta is serious about moving forward, they’re going to need the version of Young that’s slightly older and more mature.
More Reality: Kings Edition
As you may remember, I was encouraged when I saw how aggressively Sacramento was pushing the pace in the first few games this season. The best version of this incarnation of the Kings existed when then-coach Dave Joerger put the pedal to the metal in the 2018-19 season. Sac finished in the top 5 in pace that year and was in the hunt for the 8th seed deep into the season. Now-coach Luke Walton tapped the brakes last year, causing the offensive efficiency to dip a bit. Slowing down didn’t help the Kings play better defense, as their efficiency slipped there too, from 108.7 points allowed per possession to 109.6.
The speed has picked up some this year — Sac is playing at the 10th fastest pace (103.7 possessions per game, still down from the Joerger-year high of 105.5) — but offensive success has not come along with it. The Kings are posting an identical offensive efficiency number to last season at 107.8 That number was good enough for 19th in the league last season; this year they’re 16th.
Pace alone doesn’t solve their most fundamental problem: defense. Sacramento repeated as the 20th best defensive team the two seasons prior, but in 2020-21 the floor has completely fallen out. The Kings are dead last and give up 115 points per 100 possessions.
Regardless of how sincerely Sac wants to push after made shots, the reality is that it’s much easier to score against an unset defense. The Kings have the second-worst effective FG% against and only cause more turnovers than the Lakers, Knicks, Hawks, Thunder, and Jazz. They can bust it down the floor all they like, but Sac still has to wait for the ball to come through the net before they can go. Their defensive hemorrhaging is bleeding onto the offensive side of the ball.
De’Aaron Fox’s modest gains in efficiency that had me so excited in the early season have dissolved now that we’re 10 games in. His percentages on 2-pointers (50%) and 3-pointers (28.1%, yuck!) are both down from last year, while the free throw rate is flat at 70%. The lack of growth is conspicuous. After winning three of the first four games and shooting the ball well, Sac has gone 1-5 as Fox has struggled.
Marvin Bagley, who I said had a stable points and rebounds floor has thrown out horrific +/- ratings during the skid (-27, -13, -28) and is being targeted by opposing offenses. Oh, and he’s fending off questions about his dad demanding a trade on Twitter. For what it’s worth, De’Aaron Fox’s dad agreed with Papa Bagley.
Woof. My bad, guys. Kings gonna King.
LaMelo Ball became the youngest rookie to record a triple-double in NBA history. His role should only increase in Charlotte, as James Borrego has talked about using him alongside Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham. Honest question: Do you think Charlotte would flip Ball for Trae Young?
Brandon Clarke is starting to put things together a bit after a really ugly start to the year. Over the last three games, he’s averaging 15.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in more than 30 MPG. He’s a 1/1/1 guy over that stretch too (1.3/1.3/1.3 to be precise). The FT% is a persistent bugaboo though, as he went 1/3 in three games. The season number is a ghastly 48.1%, down from last year’s 75.9% He shot 61.8% in college, so there’s reason to think that it gets better.
Hamidou Diallo is on a mini-heater. In the last two games, he’s hit 66% of his shots and his minutes are up to 26.5 per. He’s averaging 24 points, 7 boards, 3 dimes, and 2.5 rips. He’s currently behind SGA, Luguentz Dort, and George Hill for guard minutes in OKC. The hot shooting will cool, but looking at the rest of the roster I don’t see any reason why Diallo can’t carve out 25+ MPG. That number would only increase if (read:when) Hill gets moved.
Razzball writer Keith told me that Lonnie Walker IV reminded him of Terrence Ross and I think that’s an apt comparison. Walker is getting a healthy share of minutes in San Antonio after Derrick White re-injured his toe. When DeMar DeRozen was absent from Sunday night’s game against the Wolves, Walker racked up 25/4/3/1/1. Eighteen of those 25 points came in the first half. Walker avalanched down the floor in transition against Minnesota and had nice finishes off the glass with both hands. He splashed three triples and also air-balled one. He’s a live wire, but there’s an opportunity there over the next month at least.
Thanks for hangin’.