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NBA Overreaction Tuesday
Too early to truly take stock of what we're seeing? Probably. Will that stop us? No chance
Monday night delivered the rarity of 15 games involving all 30 teams.
On Tuesday night, with #thisleague intentionally on pause to try to help keep the focus nationwide on the midterm elections, I eventually found myself staring at the standings with no games to check in on.
Conventional NBA wisdom says you're supposed to wait 20 games before drawing firm conclusions about your team. Good luck adhering to that old-world maxim in the Overreaction Era.
Here, then, are a handful of premature conclusions and declarations in the wake of the busiest November evening in memory and based on what the East and West ladders show with teams leaguewide having played from nine to 12 of their 82 games:
The Bucks have to impress you even after they just got blasted in Atlanta.
Unbeaten no more? That's true after the Hawks trounced Milwaukee last night even without the resting Trae Young (right shin soreness). It also doesn't matter much when the Bucks are 9-1 despite having Khris Middleton on the floor for zero minutes and zero seconds thus far. Home-heavy schedule or not, Milwaukee has my attention with its very serious start.
The Cavaliers are who I thought they were.
As in: Damn dangerous. Maybe there is no single Cav who can approach Giannis Antetokounmpo's stratosphere, but Cleveland boasts four All-Star candidates (Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Darius Garland and newcomer Donovan Mitchell) and has useful vets galore to complement them (like Kevin Love, Robin Lopez and Cedi Osman). Chances are, no matter what's going on health-wise, they’re always going to have at least two very good players on the floor to build a game plan around. I'm a believer. (The Cavs are also the league’s only team in the top four in both offensive and defensive rating if you dare to care about those placements this early.)
The Trae Young/Dejounte Murray backcourt is meshing.
Skeptics about Murray’s limitations as a long-distance shooter and how that might create fit issues for Atlanta's new guard pairing, at least so far, have been hushed by the 7-3 Hawks.
I truly have no idea what to say about the Utah Jazz.
They've got a West-leading nine wins. I was there for one of Utah's three losses (in Dallas) and encountered a team official or two that night who didn't know what to say about the Salt Lake City Cinderellas, either. Lauri Legend, Jordan Clarkson & Friends would have to do some Herculean tanking from here, if that's even the plan anymore, to sink to the Brick For Vic region of the standings where we all expected them to land. As hard as the Jazz play for first-year coach Will Hardy, it's getting harder and harder to even picture that. Who doesn't love surprises?
I am not worried about the Golden State Warriors ... yet.
There is just too much experience, pedigree and know-how in the Bay Area, on and off the floor, to project their 4-7 woes to continue. It is reasonable to assume that fatigue — from a championship run followed by a preseason trip to Japan — has made it challenging for Golden State to come roaring into a new season, with further issues caused by the young players who are getting a chance to provide the energy to combat that (including Jordan Poole) all struggling so badly. Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr and Co., however, have obviously earned the long-range benefit of the doubt.
By contrast: I am struggling to stifle my mounting concern about Minnesota.
I wasn't a fan of pairing Rudy Gobert with Karl-Anthony Towns from the jump, because KAT just isn’t a 4-man, but I was also convinced that the Timberwolves would be a regular-season force just by virtue of Gobert's regular-season presence. The jumbo-sized frontcourt tandem isn't working, Anthony Edwards is stagnating and realistically not enough has been said about the state of the Wolves’ playmaking led by an uneven D’Angelo Russell … and with so little behind him.
Luka Dončić has gone to a new level — again.
I crossed paths with Dončić in a hallway at American Airlines Center briefly last week, after (I think) the seventh of his nine 30-point games in a row to start the season. I jokingly called him Young Wilt — certainly not as a stylistic comparison but purely in a nod to his Chamberlain-esque scoring streak. It is impossible not to marvel nightly at an offensive repertoire that the 23-year-old has somehow expanded yet again with more play in the post, myriad incomprehensible stepbacks and fallaways and even the odd hook shot. Yet I naturally remain a Champion Worrier and thus can't help but think about where Dončić's gas tank will be in April if he has a usage rate essentially equal to Dirk Nowitzki's iconic No. 41. Dončić is flirting with just the third usage rate to cross the 40 threshold in league history to compensate for the Mavericks' considerable loss of ballhandling options in the wake of Jalen Brunson's defection to New York. While Luka dazzles, Dallas looks even farther away than anticipated from identifying a clear-cut successor to Second-Best Maverick Brunson.
I'm proud of myself getting this far without mentioning the Lakers or Nets.
I was there Monday night for the Kevin Durant/Dončić duel and have to say this much: It was breathtaking to watch Durant, at 34, take on such an end-to-end, Luka-centric defensive role in the second half when the Mavericks were swarming Durant at the other end. Give the Nets this much: Interim coach Jacque Vaughn certainly has the players on a very limited roster playing harder than they were. As for the 2-8 Purple & Gold: I should see them three times this week at (what I still want to call) Staples. It also should be rather clear, 10 games into the Darvin Ham Era, that #thisteam is more than an infusion of Myles Turner and Buddy Hield away from being fixed. Way more.
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G League Goods
I wanted to make a fuss about the G League's 22nd season when it opened Friday. The constant chaos that has engulfed the NBA big leagues over the past two weeks prevented that from happening.
Please allow me now, though, to share some things I'm looking forward to monitoring throughout the NBA's official development league in 2022-23 beyond the obvious fascination with the Scoot Henderson-led G League Ignite and the scouting attention Henderson will surely attract.
Mexico City will be a fully fledged G League participant that plays its home games south of the border.
Perhaps you'll recall, when I wrote this for The New York Times way back in December 2017, that the original motivation for putting a G League franchise in Mexico City was to use it as a first-hand pilot for the market's feasibility as a potential future NBA market. As a bonus, while we watch Capitanes de Ciudad de México finally operate out of Mexico City after the franchise, due to COVID-19 restrictions, was based in Fort Worth, Texas, last season: Former No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor, now 26, is on the Capitanes' roster alongside former No. 24 overall pick Shabazz Napier.
Okafor and Napier are not the lone high-profile vets in the G League this season.
Can’t help it: The basketball romantic in me always gravitates to older players trying to resuscitate their careers at this level. Emmanuel Mudiay, 26, is playing for the Iowa Wolves (Minnesota's G League affiliate). Willie Cauley-Stein — still the only Stein to log regular-season minutes in NBA history — can be found (at age 29) with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston). Two more recent first-round picks who are trying to keep their NBA prospects alive: Delaware's Sekou Doumbouya (selected No. 15 overall in 2019) and Maine's Luka Šamanić (No. 19 in 2019).
Coach Andre Miller!
Jason Terry served as the head coach of the Grand Rapids Gold (Denver's G League affiliate) last season and did such a good job connecting with an array of veterans from Lance Stephenson to Isaiah Thomas to Nik Stauskas that he coached his way onto Utah's staff. Terry's successor is Miller, another highly respected former NBA guard whose coaching career is just beginning.
There are some very famous names on two-way contracts.
Scotty Pippen Jr. is on a two-way deal with the Lakers. Ron Harper Jr. is on a two-way deal with the Raptors. I covered both of their fathers too long and too closely not to be riveted by this. (A few more two-way names of note: Atlanta's Jarrett Culver, Indiana's Trevelin Queen and Utah's Johnny Juzang.)
The compensation for G League players is legitimately starting to get better.
The maximum salary in the G League has climbed marginally from $37,000 to $40,500, but the ever-increasing use of Exhibit 10s by NBA teams generally results in bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to players who stay with their G League teams for 60 days. Exhibit 10 deals are essentially training camp contracts NBA teams use to secure a player's G League rights. None of the G League's 30 teams this season has fewer than two players who are poised to receive additional pay on top of their G League salaries ... while some G League clubs have as many as eight players getting an Exhibit 10 bump.
With Lou Williams (drafted No. 45 overall in 2005) currently a free agent and Dwight Howard (No. 1 overall in 2004) headed to play in Taiwan after 18 NBA seasons, eight All-Star selections and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, LeBron James is the only active player in the league who was drafted directly out of high school. Williams' draft was the last in which high school players were eligible for selection.
James, though, is shooting a career-worst 21.0% from the 3-point line for the 2-8 Lakers and had to miss Monday's home loss to Utah as the 37-year-old (who turns 38 on Dec. 30) deals with left foot soreness.
The Jazz improved to 9-3 with their two-game road sweep of the Lakers, tying Milwaukee for the league lead in wins, and had already impressed @StatMuse just by getting to 8-3.
Kevin Durant had made 62 consecutive free throws before his late miss Monday night after being fouled on a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation and Brooklyn trailing host Dallas by 3. The 62 makes in a row represent Durant’s longest such streak at the line in 15 NBA seasons, according to my pal Justin Kubatko’s new Substack.
Paolo Banchero's Rookie of the Year campaign is well underway in Orlando as my buddy @MicahAdams13 underlines:
James Harden missed only 29 games total through his eight seasons in Houston. His year-plus in Brooklyn was filled with hamstring issues and a right foot tendon strain is expected to sideline Harden for at least a month in Philadelphia.
This is the first season in G League history that the NBA's developmental league will have as many teams as the NBA itself. Also notable: There are G League franchises in three countries thanks to Raptors 905 (Canada) and the Mexico City Capitanes.
If my math is right, ESPN is using eight different reporters — plus an editor, presumably, to compile the work they send in — to assemble their weekly NBA Power Rankings. I wonder if The Committee (of One) can apply for back pay somehow after doing the rankings solo for (gulp) 15 seasons. The four-letter network also stunned me by moving their rankings to Wednesday after more than two decades as a Monday operation.