Well, here we are, the start of the new year and not far off from the half-mark of the season so its as good a time as any to have a look at where we are situated in the NBA. Apologies for the lack of NBA discussion, this is an area I’m looking to improve on in this New Year. So, let’s have a quick look at what’s working and what’s not, as well as who’s hot and who’s not as we enter the year 2020.
1: AD & LeBron: there were some doubts coming in to the season on how these two would mix. Sure, both are guns, but LeBron had never really played with a guy like Davis before and seemed to prefer having shooters rather than another big around him. Well, it’s fair to say it’s worked so far and worked bloody well. They lead the West, Davis is averaging 27.3 points a game, 9.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game, showing he’s doing it both on offence and defence, whilst LeBron is averaging 25.1 points a game, 7.5 rebounds and 10.8 assists as he controls the offence. They are dominating games and lifting when needed. Huge for them to stay healthy as it drops off away quickly
2: Boston Celtics: As all other players were pulling out of Team USA for the world cup, the Celtics saw 4 of their players in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and new recruit Kemba Walker all attend. It’s turned out to be a godsend as, crucially, it’s given them more chances to play together, to get to know each other and build some rapport, both off and on court. It’s seen them play superbly together and are sitting 2nd in the East and looking as good as anyone on their night. If they can get Gordon Hayward back fit and firing, they will certainly push anyone in the East.
3: The LA Clippers: Doc Rivers has come out and said that the Clippers offence is working at around 60% of what it could be, which is frightening for the rest of the league. 3rd in the West, now have George back and firing, can load manage their players such is their squad depth and have a defence that is perfect for play-offs. Still my favorite to win it all.
4: Miami: Signed Jimmy Butler in the off-season, probably still have a trade to make and are sitting 3rd in the East and playing superbly. Top 10 in scoring, field goal percentage and 3-pt percentage and in Bam Adebayo they have a strong centre in defence. If they can find that final piece of the puzzle with a trade, they are another red-hot chance in the East.
5: Chris Paul at Oklahoma: There was talk at Oklahoma that when they signed Chris Paul, he was unlikely to ever suit up and play. Yet here he is having played every game, averaging 16.6 points a game and 6.5 assists and offering superb leadership for the likes of Gilgeous-Alexander who they acquired from the Clippers in the trade for George. They are 7th in the West and looking at play-offs, which is incredible when it was conceded that when they traded out George and Westbrook that they may look to rebuild.
What’s not working:
1: Philadelphia: 6th in the East so this could be harsh, but this is a team that many thought would be pushing the Bucks for the Eastern title, yet are just going, look completely disjointed, have an overly heavy reliance in Joel Embiid and are still waiting for Ben Simmons to become the player he promises to be. They show at times they are elite, yet at times they look average as hell. Brett Brown had a lot of work to do to get this team to be challenger they were seen to be.
2: New Orleans Pelicans: the NBA world lauded them at the start of the year, getting Zion, getting a strong haul in the trade for Davis including Ingram, Hart and Ball, as well as getting Derrick Favours and JJ Reddick for experience. Whilst Favours has been good on the boards, and Reddick has provided leadership, only Ingram has been a winner for them so far. Just 11 wins to date and 2nd last in the West and this is after 4 straight wins!! Maybe the tide is turning, but it’s too late. At least Zion should be debuting this month.
3: New York Knicks: one of the biggest brands in the world, one of the poorest runs sporting organisations as well. There roster is completely out of shape (who really needs 4 power forwards) and the contract situation for future trades isn’t as good as what everyone originally thought. They have a few solid young players, but it’s not going to be enough to get quality free agents to really make them a contender.
4: Portland: What’s happened here?? Play-offs last year (conference finals) yet aren’t in the play=off picture at the moment, and have seemingly lost all cohesiveness of last year. It’s got so bad, they even signed Carmelo Anthony!!!
5: Golden State Warriors: Lost Durant to Brooklyn, missing Klay Thompson due to knee injury, then lose Steph Curry inside the first month of the season. Won’t get Durant back, but looking at getting a top draft pick, and can slot in the best back court in the history of the game next season. Sucks right now, but next year could be different.
1: Luka Doncic: 2nd season, nearly averaging a triple double (29pts, 9.5 rbs, 8.9 ass), leading his side to 5th in the West and the scary thing is, he’s only likely to get better!!! His current season numbers put him ahead of some of the greats at the same point of their career. Could he be the smokey MVP chance?
2: Giannis Antetokounmpo: reigning MVP and every chance to do it again. 30.3 pts a game, 12.8 rebounds, shooting at 32.7% from outside the arc and is the dominant player in the game.
3: James Harden: continues to increase his scoring output, even with Westbrook there. Averaging 38 points a game, and it’s hard to argue with that too much.
4: Ja Morant: Went No.2 in the draft, and has settled beautifully. He’s averaging 17.4 pts a game, 6.5 assists a game, and a steal, and the way he attacks the rim he’s likely to get seriously hurt before the end of the season, but he’s seems unlikely to change the way he plays. Looks a jet for the long term.
5: Brandon Ingram: as I’ve said previously, he’s been the one shining light so far for the Pelicans. Lifted his scoring output this season, averaging 25.3pts a game (up from 18.3) as well as increasing assists, rebounds and 3-pt attempts and %-made. Really showing of becoming a quality player and at his age, is a huge asset for the Pelicans
1: AL Horford: come across the Celtics and was seen to give the 76ers more defensive protection and support for Embiid. He’s been average at best, 12.4 pts a game and 6.5 rebounds a game, the lowest he’s had for years. He’s yet to really gel and when Embiid is out (which happens frequently) his numbers improve but he’s not providing the support they expected.
2: Kyle Kuzma: People wondered how he’d fit in with Davis and LeBron, and to put it simply, he’s not. He’s dropped in just about every stat line this year, posting the worst numbers of his short career. He plays the same position as those two, and clearly below their standard. Could he be a trade option?
3: Blake Griffen: Another guy whose numbers are the worst of his career, and that’s when he can actually get out on the floor. Points, rebounds, assists, shooting percentage and minutes are all well down
4: Kyrie Irving: Another injured player who just can’t get back on the court. To make matters worse, the Nets are actually looking better without him, as Spencer Dinwiddie is leading the offence better than Kyrie was and they are looking more fluid with him running the ball. Add to that the discord still coming out of Brooklyn and it all paints a pretty poor picture for Kyrie