Wow. Just wow. Talk about a complete NBA bombshell. The Mavericks and Knicks just orchestrated one of the most fascinating trades in a long time.
Around 2:25 PM-EST, Adrian Wojnarowski posted an article on ESPN, stating that Porzingis wasn’t sure what his future would be with the Knicks heading into restricted free agency. A little over an hour later, Woj tweets that the Mavericks and Knicks are in talks to send Kristaps Porzingis for Dennis Smith Jr. Within that same hour, Woj adds an additional report, that the Mavericks and Knicks scheduled a call with the league to finalize this deal.
BY: COLIN KRAUSS
Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans, according to his agent Rich Paul.
Paul is part of the Klutch Sports agency notoriously teamed up with LeBron James, although of course LeBron doesn’t add into those discussions, because that would be against the rules. And we all know that the rules do not get broken behind the scenes in the NBA when it comes to free agency, superteams, and inter-state friendships. Jokes aside, this is the story of the season and maybe the biggest since Kevin Durant signed with Golden State or LeBron went to Miami. Conventional wisdom and reading the tea leaves is leading the NBA media superstructure to believe that the front runners to land Davis in a trade are the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
BY: COLIN KRAUSS
Stephen Curry has made a career off of being an unguardable high-volume three point shooter, the first of which the NBA has ever seen, but a trend that is only going to grow. It is largely accepted now that Curry is the best shooter the league has ever known, and not admitting that would be foolish. But he refuses to stop improving.
Curry hit his personal peak in the 2015-2016 season, where he took a leap forward in terms of volume of shots, health, team success, efficiency, and defensive effort. For an entire season, Curry was impossible to stop, until his postseason MCL sprain left him mildly injured through the playoffs. During his unanimous MVP season, Curry posted in 79 regular season games averages of 30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 2.1 steals on historic levels of accuracy. His True Shooting % was 67%. On just over 11 three point attempts per game, he shot 45.4%, which makes no sense how good that is, especially when you consider how many of those three point attempts came off-the-dribble. His Warriors went 73-9 that year, the best record in basketball history. Their offense was historically good, and their defense was a brand-new small-ball switch-approach that has infected many smart teams in the league for the past three years.
Is it possible for Curry to reach that level again?
Short answer: No. But long answer: Yes, it’s a possibility. He’s been performing at that same level or higher in his 34 games this year. That doesn’t mean it’s less impressive than from three seasons ago, he just needs to prove he can play that way for an entire season again.
In the current 2018-2019 season, Curry is producing on the back of legendary efficiency. He has only gotten to play in 34 of the Warriors’ 45 games, which automatically puts his impact at lower levels compared to 2015-2016, when he missed just 3 total games. However, through these 34 games, his numbers are just as crazy. He’s shooting 46% on 11.8 three point attempts. His field goal percentage is a bit lower, 49.1%. In 2016, his two-point accuracy was just as ridiculous as his three point shooting. Using a very diverse range of finishing moves, Curry could not be stopped during his second MVP season. His lay-up package, finger rolls, floaters, runners, and hook shot were automatic buckets. This year, he’s proving that he still has phenomenal touch.
Another critical part of Curry’s ever-developing game is his passing ability as a point guard. People tend to not look at Curry as one of the league’s premiere playmakers. The list of truly special passers has mainly consisted of LeBron, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Nikola Jokic, Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, and James Harden. Even on his own team, Draymond Green is known as the playmaker of the Warriors. But Curry is right there along with this tier of facilitators. This season in particular looks like Curry is reaching a new height in his passing ability. He’s making crisp dimes through impossible angles on a nightly basis. Even with his off hand, he can rocket passes through tight spaces right where it needs it go. Curry has always been a very solid passer, but this season has been magical. Although Steph is averaging his lowest assist numbers in years, 5.5 per game, they are extremely high quality plays and drive effective offense.
In identical minutes this season, Curry is playing slightly less effectively than three seasons ago. He’s averaging less points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game. Lots of this production has been swapped for Kevin Durant’s possessions. This is what holds back Curry from attaining his absolute peak. When Durant is on your team, you don’t need to take the most difficult of your looks because KD can ease the workload and provide a better shot or last resort for a possession. Durant, in his own right, is having an MVP-level season that even he hasn’t reached since his MVP year in 2014. That’s what is holding Curry back. He does not need to go into human torch mode the way he did in 2016, because the team with KD is too good to require it. But he has still shown it’s hiding inside under the surface at several points of this season.
While KD is taking some of Curry’s shine, the true difference between prime Curry and current Curry is how far he can take the offense, and how much the Warriors can destroy the opposition. This season, the Warriors have been dominant. But they aren’t toying with the league the way they did in 2016. That year, the Warriors started 24-0. They were so incredible, every game became an event for the national NBA audience of “How much will they win by today?” and “Can they beat this team before the fourth quarter even starts?” Curry was barely playing in fourth quarters for an entire season. Because he was so awesome, most Warriors games ended after 36 minutes. The Warriors aren’t that deflating for the rest of the NBA this year. Curry is averaging his lowest Win Shares per 48 since 2014. His Box +/- is a full 5 points lower than 2016 (12.5 to 7.4). The Box +/- difference between Curry on the court and off was 22.2 in 2016, compared to 15.5 this year. Curry might be reaching the same efficiency as his second MVP year, but the utter domination of the NBA is not quite the same from the Warriors as a team. Their ceiling playing through Curry is lower than in the past. But...
On the other hand, Curry’s best games this season are perfectly reminiscent of MVP Curry. Against the Washington Wizards in October, Curry turned into a fireball to go off for 51 points on 11-16 three point shooting. The difference between “Unanimous MVP Curry” and “On-Fire Curry” is that he turns off his brain while muscle memory and confidence take over the job. We’ve seen those black-out games this year occasionally, including the 50-bomb on Washington. He stops being a team player and shoots immediately after finding any space to shoot, regardless of how deep the shot is. This was the case against Dallas several games ago. He went 11-19 on threes to pull out the clutch victory over Luka Doncic. It was also on display when the Warriors barely outplayed the Sacramento Kings, where Curry made 10-20 threes in a tight win.
More recently, Golden State decimated the first-seeded Denver Nuggets by over 30 points. Steph was 8-13 from three. Shooting percentages like this are simply crazy, and Curry is making them a nightly surprise just like he did during his second MVP campaign.
The very next game after Denver, Curry went off on the New Orleans Pelicans, torching them in the third as he made 7 of 8 threes in that quarter alone. In the NOLA game with an ESPN audience, he finished with 41 points on 22 shots. The efficiency is off the charts. And the shots are of the highest difficulty too.
Another difference between 2016 Curry and Curry now is the complete takeovers in the clutch. This season, he’s been great in the clutch, but MVP Curry was jaw-dropping. Remember the 2016 Warriors-Thunder regular season matchup where Curry hit 12-16 threes with a 38-foot game-winner buzzer-beater in overtime? Yeah, I don’t think that’s coming back. I don’t know if anyone will ever have a game like that again.
Curry is missing a bit of athleticism, as well. He was 27 years old during his last MVP campaign. 27 is widely considered the physical athletic peak of an athlete, but not necessarily the peak of performance. It showed the most through his shiftiness, lateral quickness, and fluidity dribbling and attacking the rim. He’s now a bit more conservative with his looks. He is finishing about as well near the rim, but on easier makes. In 2016, Curry could eurostep into a left-handed running hook shot, take the hit from a big, and still kiss the ball off the glass and score, inexplicably. Just as amazing as his shooting and finishing was his complete package of dribbling moves. He was capable of getting to anywhere on the court and treated defenders like they weren’t even there. Curry is just too magical with the ball in his hands. Less of these spectacular dribbling and finishing moves have been seen this year, even if it is remarkable how well he can still score from any level of the floor.
At 30 years of age, Curry is still looking quite spry, however. New opinions on playing time, rest games, and recovery are helping him age slower, and he looks eerily close to the peak of his career three years ago.
Will Curry ever get to the 2016 peak that saw the entire league incapable of beating the Warriors? No. There is next to no chance he can mimic that craziness for an entire year a second time. Can he be a less-usage version of it that gets the Warriors their fourth ring in 5 years? Yeah, it seems inevitable they will take the Larry O’Brien trophy in June behind amazing seasons from both Curry and Durant.
What’s working in Curry’s favor is that the workload is smaller, the stakes are lower, he’s still in his prime, and KD can pick up his slack. Due to this, Curry can most likely maintain that historic efficiency on a more selective platter of shot attempts. Even if he won’t peak again, this version of Curry is still, to me, the second-best player in the NBA. That is an honor he’s held for several years as he works his way up the All-Time ladder.
BY: COLIN KRAUSS
On January 19th, the Lakers were dealt yet another heartbreaking loss to the Houston Rockets. To add injury to insult, the Lakers lost Lonzo Ball to a Grade 3 ankle sprain that will see him off the court for 4-6 weeks, and most likely closer to the 6 weeks side of the timeline given how conservative the Lakers have been with injuries. For a team already missing two lead ball handlers, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, this is devastating.
Lonzo was the last remaining natural point guard for the Lakers. Now, the offense will be delegated to Point Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma for the most part. Knowing Luke Walton, he will play a lot of minutes with Lance Stephenson as the engine of the offense as well since he is one of few veterans left. The team has looked ugly at many points this year when such offenses have played without a normal point guard.
The Lakers are out of the playoffs for the moment. Although they are just a half game behind the Clippers in eighth, each team in the playoffs has the tools to outpace the Lakers anyway. LeBron might also still be two weeks away from a return. The Lakers may only be able to manage 2 or 3 wins out of the next 9 heading into the All-Star break. The Suns and Timberwolves are the weakest teams of their upcoming stretch. The other teams are the Sixers, Clippers, Warriors, Pacers, Celtics, Hawks, and Philly again. The playoff teams in the Lakers vicinity can easily remain over .500 until the All-Star break. Expecting that from this LA roster would be too much to ask.
When LeBron comes back, assuming that’s at least a week away and they’ll wait until he’s 100% healthy, he’s going to need to play at his maximum effort to ensure they make the playoffs. Even when LeBron is back, this is still a below-average roster at best without Lonzo.
Without Lonzo or LeBron, the Lakers are pretty safely a non-playoff caliber team. We noticed two major things from the loss to the Houston Rockets. One was that Lonzo running things means the Lakers will have a quality offense. In the first half and for three minutes in the second half, before Lonzo went down, the Lakers were good, really good. Ball contributed 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 11 assists in just 22 minutes and obviously is the reason the Lakers produce. They were dissecting the Rockets defense and not allowing the Houston offense to function normally. They stayed heavily on Harden’s left hand, forcing him to drive right and pass to shooters. The Lakers were up 15 at the time Lonzo went down. Lonzo has an underrated combination of skills. He’s an exceptional athlete when he turns on the jets. He’s obviously a gifted passer, and he’s also an okay shooter although the world wants you to think it’s not a threat. But without him, things went downhill.
The other pretty obvious trend was that Ingram, unlike Lonzo, can not single handedly run an offense successfully alone. He was trying really hard to penetrate and kick or score throughout regulation, but nothing he tried was working. He ended the first 48 minutes with 10 points, 6 turnovers, 5 fouls, and just 3 assists. Ingram was supposed to be a good choice as an offensive hub, which he cemented during last season when he morphed into Point Ingram. That was far from the case against the Rockets. If it wasn’t for a spectacular overtime, this game would have been a complete no-show from Ingram. And even though he did show up in the clutch, it was on really tough looks that probably can’t always be relied on. His jumper also looks unserviceable right now from three.
Some other players will need to step up for the next few weeks. Among the most important players that need to accept some of the burden is Ivica Zubac, Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Michael Beasley.
Zubac has been a nice surprise for Los Angeles. He has played well in the past 15 games, where he saw an uptick in minutes. He’s averaging about 11, 6, and 1 in 19 minutes per game in that stretch. He’s got great touch inside, he can overpower non-centers very well, and he is inexplicably the Lakers best free throw threat (87%). Zubac is a good option to mix it up against teams. He is solid at going straight up and extending for blocks. He can rebound and score effectively, as well.
Hart has been struggling since a hot start to the year. Since December 1st, Hart is only getting 9 points a game on 37.5% shooting from the field. Hart was looking like a good 3 and D prospect, but this long struggle is really hard to overlook. He still brings immense effort to both sides of the ball, and his aggressiveness attacking the rim is something every team needs. With the roster in a crisis, Hart needs to bring it these next couple weeks before the All-Star break. His shot is something the Lakers desperately need, and his defensive energy makes the Lakers a tough team to out-energy.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is in the same boat as Hart. As a young shooting guard with a nice shot and defensive intensity, KCP is exactly what the Lakers need most as well. His shot selection isn’t perfect, exhibited by the ridiculous airballed three with 20 seconds left on the shot clock at the end of overtime against the Rockets. KCP needs to take smart shots and make them while giving LA everything he can on defense.
Michael Beasley has not gotten to play as much as Luke Walton and Magic Johnson had hoped he would so far this season. The theory behind his signing was a low-minute self-starter on offense. He does have the skill set to get buckets on a bench unit. He has been playing with Lance, Tyson Chandler, and other bench guys like Svi and Zubac. In these cases, Beasley is a great choice for some timely points. However, he wasn’t signed to play big minutes. The Lakes could get some tight victories if Beasley can give 20 efficient minutes during the offensive drought sure to come. The Lakers might have a better chance of making it out of the regular season still alive.
Lonzo’s injury puts the Lakers in a difficult spot, and only adds to what were the Lakers’ biggest weaknesses. The next two weeks will most likely decide the season. If they go 0-9, 1-8, 2-7, or 3-6 heading to the All-Star break, the playoffs will be incredibly hard to make. Even if LeBron is going to return during those 10 games, no wins are guaranteed, and the playoffs will be an uphill battle.
BY: COLIN KRAUSS
Through the first five years of Blake Griffin’s career, he was an All-Star. It’s rare to find someone who plays five straight All-Star games to start their NBA career, and then doesn’t make one for the next three.
Blake is 29, normally the dead center of a prime for stars. And no one could have seen this revival coming that he’s experiencing with the Detroit Pistons. After two seasons from 2015-2017 of being mostly injured or limited in some fashion, Blake is having the best season of his life.
by: keith rivas
I get that it’s hard for a lot of Jazz fans to cope with the fact that their team is still flirting with
being .500 at the halfway point of the regular season. Given the kind of sway that took place last
season when the team looked all but a lottery team through three-fourths of the year, there’s still
a weird presence of faith in this team.
A lot of that faith should be placed in Donovan Mitchell. While he’s not at the top of the Western
Conference or nearly in the headlines as much as Ben Simmons or Luka Doncic, he’s doing
more than enough to carry his weight with the team.
BY: MATTHEW EMERY
You may have noticed many players were waived yesterday. That’s because all player contracts become fully guaranteed on January 10. Since a player stays on waivers for 48 hours, where he can be claimed by other teams, and must be waived by January 10 before his contract becomes fully guaranteed, January 7 (by 5:00 pm) was the deadline to waive players for the purpose of clearing team salary. For many teams, this deadline has cap and tax saving implications. With that said, below is a list of the players that were waived on January 7 in anticipation of the deadline.
BY: COLIN KRAUSS
In the modern NBA, we often think of the stars as guards and wings. LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard. Each are incredible talents, but what truly makes a star in today’s NBA is your skill level. Under the radar, a wave of super skilled bigs are making their way up the NBA’s ladder of stars. One of these is Anthony Davis.
Davis has entered the super-duper-star discussion, and has overall become a defacto top 5 player in the NBA. Since it’s already universally accepted Davis is an MVP caliber talent, I will focus on what I believe are the next three great centers.
My discussion today surrounds three bigs with immense skill levels and a career trajectories that should land all of them in MVP discussions within 5 years. For a couple, those discussions are taking place now. These three bigs are Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Karl Anthony-Towns.
BY: JOHN DELEON
Tom Thibodeau has been relieved of his duties as Head Coach and President Of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The decision was made after the Timberwolves defeated the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 108 to 86, leading to a record of 19-21. Thibs had a tendency to run players into the ground. He also brought over some of his former players from the Chicago Bulls to the Timberwolves, including: Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, earning his team the TimberBulls moniker, a combination of both team names.
Earlier this season, Thibodeau traded Jimmy Butler along with Justin Patton to the Philadelphia 76ers for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a 2nd round pick in 2022.
Thibodeau’s record with the Timberwolves stands at 97-107. He also previously was a Head Coach for the Chicago Bulls with a 255-176. He also had assistant coaching experience with the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves.
In a bit of irony that coincides with the TimberBulls, the coach that took over for Thibodeau with the Bulls, Fred Hoiberg, is being considered to replace him with the Timberwolves.
John DeLeon is a contributor for The Up & Under.
BY: AUSTIN KRELL
Manute Bol is no longer with us, but a piece of him is still very much alive. Bol’s son, Bol, is a freshman at the University of Oregon. The fourth-ranked player in the nation coming out of high school is polarizing because of his size--at 7’2” and 235 pounds, Bol Bol is the spitting image of his father. There is one major difference, his game is far-more evolved than his dad’s ever was.