Howdy basketball fans! We’re just over a month into the NBA season and, for college students, we’re hitting peak exam/presentation/project season. Nevertheless, despite the workload, I’m ready to share with you seven of my NBA shower thoughts from this first chunk of the season.
1. So…Those Jimmy Butler trades…
Tom Thibodeau’s TimberBulls era looks to have ended when Butler was dealt to Philadelphia in exchange for Jerryd Bayless, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and a 2022 second-rounder. It’s a bold move on Philly’s part, as they’ve decided they need something else to take them over the edge in a wide-open Eastern Conference. When we get to the playoffs, that could be huge, because stars are the true difference makers when we get to April and May. Until then, though, I’ve got my worries about the Sixers’ supporting cast. They had a lot of success last year surrounding Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with droves of shooters at all positions. But now, of that sharpshooting supporting cast from last season, they have only JJ Redick remaining. Philly’s good and I have every belief they can make the postseason, but consider me worried for them in the meantime with Redick needing to be a big contributor as a floor-spacer. Nevertheless, Jimmy Butler is one of the league’s best, and if the Sixers are able to contend for the East and get to the Finals, this trade is going to be worth it for them. A Big 3 of Simmons, Embiid, and Butler is quite the trio.
As for Minnesota, they got some nice complimentary pieces in the deal with Saric and Covington, who can provide some shooting prowess for the Wolves. Covington is also a solid defender in his own right. It’s still hard to evaluate if Minnesota’s trade for Jimmy Butler was worth it. However, the pieces they got back show that they’re going all-in on building around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. A lineup featuring Towns, Saric, Wiggins, Covington, and Jeff Teague might be able to score the basketball. However, is Thibodeau’s system the right fit for the new-look Wolves? I’m not so sure. I do have to credit Thibs for finally ending the drama surrounding Butler and getting some decent personnel in return for Butler and his expiring contract.
2. We need to talk about E’Twaun Moore.
Can you believe “Smooge” was the 55th overall pick in 2011? Despite some generally mediocre first few seasons in Boston and Orlando, Moore had a decent two-year stint in Chicago that got him a contract with New Orleans at just the right time. In a year where Evan Turner, Solomon Hill, and Luol Deng all got big deals, E’Twaun got a “modest” 4-year, $34 million deal with the Pelicans. Now, that deal is looking like a bargain. Moore found his groove last year, playing in 82 games and starting 80, and paired with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt is breaking out. He’s dropped 30+ points a few times already this year, and he can be positively deadly with that floater game. He’s currently shooting a .620 eFG%, which is by leaps and bounds a career-high so far. He’s also hitting 3s at a career-best 46% so far. That deal might have looked a bit high back in 2016 based on his past performance, but in comparison to other guys who signed contracts at that time, like Deng, famously playing ridiculously little minutes for the Lakers, Moore’s contract is looking like a bargain for New Orleans right now.
3. I like these new Raptors
“Rental.” We heard this song before when Paul George was swapped to Oklahoma City after reports linked him to signing with the Lakers in 2018 free agency. Even after George re-signed with OKC and spurned the Lakers, we heard the “one-year rental” mantra being thrown around with regards to Kawhi Leonard headed out to LA at the end of his contract, even after being dealt from San Antonio to Toronto. That trade is a bit different considering Toronto sent All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan packing to “rent” Leonard for the season. This is not to mention they fired coach Dwayne Casey after he led them to the top seed in the East and a franchise-best 59 wins (even though they were promptly dispatched by LeBron James in the second round of the playoffs). And yet, it’s working. I’m kind of infatuated with this Raptors roster. Even at his age, Kyle Lowry is playing exceptionally on both ends of the floor at the point guard position. Fred Van Vleet and Delon Wright man the bench guard duties. Jonas Valencuinas is posting an unreal level of efficiency in his limited number of minutes, and just gobbling up rebounds. Then you have the forwards in Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam who can fill up a lot of production in the frontcourt. And, to top it all off, a pretty good collection of wings in Danny Green, OG Anuonoby, CJ Miles, and of course, Kawhi Leonard, who can play shooting guard, small forward, and even power forward in smaller lineups. This is a team I’m resolving to watch more. I’m infatuated with this roster and the possibilities.
4. Steph really is that good
Steph Curry changes the way you guard the Warriors. He’s a gravitational force on the floor that opens the floor up for the rest of the team. I really can’t stress enough how good he is and how impactful he is to the Warriors’ success. As the great Stan Lee himself would say, ‘Nuff said.
5. Was Tyson Chandler the missing piece in LeBron’s Motley Crew?
I’m sure there are a good number of you reading this who wondered why the Lakers, after successfully luring LeBron James, decided to surround the greatest player on Earth with “scrappy” guys like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley on short-term deals. There’s all the talk about keeping the books clean for the upcoming 2019 free-agent class, and I’m aware of that. But still, those guys have their skills, but that is not a lineup to help LeBron do much of anything while he’s still in his prime. That lineup has a notable deficiency in the floor spacing department, which is all-important in today’s NBA. However, since adding Tyson Chandler off waivers from Phoenix, the Lakers have escalated their mediocre-to-bad defense to quite good. That gives the Lakers another important rim protector in addition to McGee, and that’s great. Floor spacing is still a work in progress, but hopefully the Lakers can use shooters like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma to provide a little more space for LeBron’s motley crew. All eyes may be looking ahead to summer in LA, but maybe, just maybe, this motley crew will do just enough to compliment the best player in the league and just maybe the Lakers will make noise in the playoffs. I’m not exactly going to count out the guy who’s been in every Finals since 2011.
6. Aaron Holiday is making me excited.
With Victor Oladipo going out for the Pacers early against the Hawks, rookie Aaron Holiday, the younger brother of Jrue and Justin, got his first chance at significant NBA minutes, and he did not disappoint. He buried a pull-up three in the third quarter to give the Pacers a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish again. Not to mention, he chipped in again on offense in that game and showed up much-hullabalooed rookie PG Trae Young in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Then, two days later in another game without Oladipo, Holiday chipped in 19 points to help the Pacers beat the Jazz by double digits despite Ricky Rubio being possessed by Steph Curry-esque mystical forces.
7. The Clippers are the NBA’s Chargers
Just like in the NFL, one LA team is getting tons of hype and attention, while another good team is resting under the noses of Hollywood. In the NFL, the hype surrounds the Rams, while the Chargers are also pretty good this year, and are just overlooked. The same goes for the Lakers, who will get attention because of the name and the fact that they have LeBron James. Meanwhile, the Clippers are 12-6 through their first 18 games and are currently first place in the Western Conference. Doc Rivers has had a fantastic start to the season, even though the Big Three that comprised Lob City (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan) are all gone. I personally like to see the Clippers doing so well. Give credit to Doc on this one.