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The 2016-17 NBA season has gotten under way, and after the month of November (and the last week of October), now seems as good a time as any to size up where the league stands. Below is a commentary on surprises and disappointments, as well as the teams doing exactly what was expected. *All stats include games through November 24, 2016.
Welcome to the show – A lot of players/teams have broken out this season, and have also shown potential to grow even more in the near future. Here is a list with some of the highlights.
1. Joel Embiid – Personally, I fell in love with Embiid the instant he asked to be introduced by a new nickname, “The Process,” before he had even made his regular season debut for the 76ers. After two years plagued by injuries, Embiid has been significantly more talented than what was expected of him when he was drafted as an athletic rim protector with little skill outside of the paint. Embiid is now posting a .485/.462/.778 shooting line, scoring 17.8 points per game, and grabbing 7.6 rebounds per game. He is doing all of this on a minutes limit too, which has been placed to prevent Embiid from reinjuring his legs. Per 36, he averages over 28 points and 12 rebounds. The turnovers remain a significant issue (6.7 per 36), but the 76ers’ net rating with him on the court is a team best -2.1; when The Process is on the bench, the 76ers’ net rating drops to -13.7, which is a team worst. Bonus: It is an absolute power move to wear your own jersey to the club after a win. JoJo is quickly approaching the Swaggy P/J.R. Smith tier of off-court entertainment value.
2. Post-Kobe Lakers – A lot of things have been going very well for the Lakers. The loss of senior citizen Kobe’s lack of ball movement and inefficient offense obviously helps, but other things have really added to the revival of the Lakers. Luke Walton’s scheme has apparently caught on and is producing early returns. Nick Young has returned to being the offensive spark plug he used to be in his younger days, averaging 13.9 points per game on a .455/.400/.939 shooting line. Lou Williams has thrived off of the bench, leading the team with 16.6 points per game on a .473/.432/.821 shooting line, while chipping in 3.4 assists against 1.9 turnovers per game. The team’s net rating with Lou Williams on the court is 6.6, dropping to -11.0 with him off the court. Youngsters D’Angelo Williams, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Brandon Ingram all continue to develop, and it looks like the Lakers will be back to their place among basketball royalty in little time at all.
3. Baby Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker have exploded onto the NBA scene this year. Antetokounmpo still can’t really shoot, but who needs three point shots to stretch the floor when you can euro step into a layup from beyond the three point line, or just dunk without dribbling inside the three point line. The Greek Freak has translated his insane athleticism into 21.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game, and his ability to play literally all five positions has given Jason Kidd all sorts of flexibility in his lineups.
The other Buck of note is Jabari Parker. The former second overall draft pick is now in his third season in the NBA, and should be seen as a rising star in this league. Though not as unique or showy as his more well-known Greek teammate, Parker has had a break-out year, scoring 19.7 points per game with a shooting line of .463/.385/.811. He too is a versatile forward, meaning that the pair of Antetokounmpo and Parker can play alongside literally any three other players, depending on the desired matchups. Now, the Bucks just need to actually put some more talent around this dynamic frontcourt duo.
Disappointments – Not every surprise has been a pleasant one thus far in the NBA, and sometimes we all expected the disappointments anyways. While some organizations thought more highly of themselves than the rest of us, some things about the NBA have genuinely surprised people thus far.
1. Portland – After the Trail Blazers lost four of their five starters from the 2014-15 season, including All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, the general consensus was that they were headed for a rebuild, so naturally they earned themselves the fifth seed in the Western Conference with an incredibly young core with room to grow. Unfortunately, things have not gone well since their second-round loss to the Warriors in the playoffs. Free agency signing Evan Turner is, at his best, not worth four years and $70 million, and he has not played his best. In fact, this may be the worst he’s played in his NBA career. A lot of factors tie into his poor play in Portland, but it all boils down to a bench unit which has been weakened more than it has been strengthened, and a lot of money not being used to address the team’s frontcourt needs. The Blazers now have a top five starting backcourt in the NBA and a 9-9 record to show for it. It’s wrong to put this all on Turner, but he has not helped.
2. Wiz City – Another dynamic backcourt duo in need of help is that of the Washington Wizards. John Wall and Bradley Beal are both locked in to max deals, and have the potential to be the most offensively terrifying backcourt outside of Oakland, but they have not quite meshed for whatever reason, and the supporting cast is sorely lacking. A former Shaqtin' a Fool MVP is not someone to entrust the future with at small forward, but Washington appears content to do that (Yes, James Harden won the 2015-16 Shaqtin’ MVP, but his offense is otherworldly, Otto Porter’s offense is not).
The Wizards do not appear to be looking to rebuild, but the only likely future superstar of the players currently on Washington’s roster is Kelly Oubre. Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi are not getting any younger, either. The rest of the team consists of good-not-great role players. If Scott Brooks cannot get Beal and Wall to work together as the superstar duo they clearly have the ability to be, then things will have to change in our nation’s capital.
3. Pacers – Some thought that Indiana’s offseason moves put them in position to make another run to the Eastern Conference Finals and another shot at LeBron James. Instead, moves which were supposed to improve the offense, have resulted in the 24th best offensive rating in the NBA. The team replaced George Hill with Jeff Teague at point guard, and whereas Atlanta (Teague’s former team) is now second in the Eastern Conference and George Hill has had a breakout season thus far in Utah, Teague has been… fine. Al Jefferson has not been as significant a presence off the bench as was hoped, and is as much of a defensive liability as ever. Part of this can be attributed to Paul George’s health, but the Pacers are 8-9 and reeling. The biggest bright spot has been Myles’ Turner’s hot start, but one stud second-year player does not make a team good.
November Awards – Before injuries ruin one or more of these players’ seasons, or before they inevitably regress to less absurd stats, let’s hand out some awards:
MVP – LeBron remains the best player in the NBA, and is quickly ascending to new heights on the all-time stat lists. James Harden’s transition to point guard was supposed to be a formality in what we had already assumed of the Rocket offense, but Coach D’Antoni’s scheme has placed Harden firmly in both the scoring and assists race with Russell Westbrook, who leads the league in usage rate and has been an unstoppable display of absurd athleticism. At the end of the day, any of these three could win the award, but I’m still pissed at Durant for trying to spin his shameless ring chasing as some chance for personal growth as a man. Winner – Russell Westbrook (OKC)
Rookie of the Year – Ben Simmons will be injured for an extended amount of time, Brandon Ingram was drafted for his potential more than current ability, and Jaylen Brown is in the weird position of a highly touted rookie on an established team, meaning he has to fight harder for meaningful minutes. In the short term, the unquestioned front runner was not actually drafted this summer, but is in his rookie season. TRUST THE PRO-CESS *clap clap clapclapclap*. Winner – Joel Embiid (PHI)
Most Improved – Avery Bradley has become Boston’s best rebounder while Jae Crowder and Al Horford battle injuries, while developing a much more well-rounded offensive skill set to add to his catch-and-shoot game. Giannis Antetokounmpo does not appear to have a ceiling to his abilities. Devin Booker was drafted to be a sharpshooter, but has been doing it all offensively (19 ppg) for the Suns in his second professional season. George Hill, despite turning 30, has posted significant career highs in points (20.6), FG% (55.0%), and 3P% (44.5%). His unexpected surge has gotten Utah’s offense clicking, as well as its top notch defense. Winner – George Hill (UTA)
Coach of the Year – Only one man has somehow resurrected the career of Nick Young, sped up a team’s rebuild to rates which would impress Danny Ainge, and done it under the scrutiny of one of the most historic franchises in NBA history. Winner – Luke Walton (LAL)
Shaqtin’ a Fool MVP – This award values quality as much as quantity, but it’s too early to go by players who have had multiple Shaqtin’ nominations, but it takes a special kind of fool to get posterized, flop without being touched, and still get the ref to call a charge. Winner – Marcus Smart (BOS)
Looking Ahead – Here is my predicted top 8 in each conference, come season’s end.
Way-Too-Early All-NBA Picks – These are whom I personally believe deserve to be on the All-NBA lists. This is not necessarily whom I think will be picked.
- G – Russell Westbrook
- G – James Harden
- F – LeBron James
- F – Kevin Durant
- C – DeMarcus Cousins
- G – Stephen Curry
- G – Chris Paul
- F – Kawhi Leonard
- F – Anthony Davis
- C – Karl-Anthony Towns
- G – Damian Lillard
- G – Isaiah Thomas
- F – Jimmy Butler
- F – Blake Griffin
- C – Hassan Whiteside