Happy Wednesday. Yesterday was a 1-1 NBA and 3-5 CBB day. We’ve done worse here. Let’s try to do better tonight. Let’s start with yesterday’s recap.
There were eight games last night after Spurs-Heat was pushed back, and there were a few significant results.
LaMelo (21 points, 9 assists, 12 boards) and Terry Rozier (35 points) starred as the Hornets rode a strong first half to a win over the Pacers. Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis combined for 42, 13, and 25 in the loss. Malcolm Brogdon missed his third straight game, though the Pacers are 4-5 without him, which isn’t very different from their overall record. There’s plenty of time until the deadline, but trade rumors have quieted down in Indy these last few weeks. We’ve talked about how the Pacers are better than their record suggests, but it’ll be a whole lot easier to make some significant moves if they stay down in the 12-13 seed range instead of rising up to the 8 seed, where their expected record suggests they should be.
Saddiq Bey, Hamidou Diallo, and Alec Burks all topped 30 points as the Knicks used a strong fourth quarter that only featured their bench to overcome the Pistons. This happened too –
The Knicks destroyed the Pistons with their bench on the floor and were destroyed with their starters, especially Barrett and Randle, on the floor. It’s been a common theme this year –
The OnCourt column gives New York’s net rating (points scored per 100 possessions – points allowed per 100 possessions) with any given player on the court. The On-Off column gives that value minus the team’s net rating when that player is on the bench. So positive is good in both cases; it either suggests the team is scoring more than it allows overall when you’re on the court or that you’re boosting the team’s performance when you play regardless of how good team is as a whole. The chart tells a pretty clear story. The bench players are largely in the top 8-10, where everyone is positive. The starters – and, of course, Kevin Knox – generally fall below that, where everyone is negative. Now, it’s worth noting that +/-, even adjusted in this way, is far from a perfect individual stat. It’s hugely dependent on who you’re playing with, who you’re playing against (other starters, other benches, etc.), the situations you play in, and a bunch of in-game factors that generally mitigate the individual applicability. It’s also true that, for example, the Knicks wouldn’t be +17 or so per 100 possessions without Julius Randle if they were actually forced to play without Randle for 48 minutes every game. That said, one conclusion that is safe is that there’s an issue when all of your starters are deep in the red while all of your bench players are deep in the green. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
The fix isn’t as simple as switching the two. The Pistons – minus Cade, Hayes, Grant, Stewart, and others on top of not being very good in the first place – were not throwing out your typical fourth quarter lineup last night. Toppin, Gibson, Burks, Quickly, and McBride, or some other mix of Knicks bench players, won’t thrive against most teams’ closing or starting fives, never mind lineups that include Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday or DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Lonzo Ball. But the Knicks are struggling, and their inability to get their best players into their best lineups certainly isn’t helping.
In a game without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart, the Clippers beat the Celtics 91-82. LA is now 18-17 and a game and a half clear of the Lakers for the crucial 6 seed. The Celtics, meanwhile, are 16-19 and tied with the Raptors (with a slight winning percentage edge due to four more games played) for the East’s 10 seed. That’s an ugly spot to be in for a team that played some really ugly basketball last night. That starts with their 4-42 (9.5%) night from three. It was only the third time in regular season league history that a team took 40+ threes and failed to make more than 5 (’19 Nets, last year’s Rockets). It was also just the 88th time a team taking 20 or more threes made less than 10% of them.
Even worse was Jaylen Brown by himself. Brown scored 30 points on 36 shots, shot 1-13 from three, and finished with 0 assists. There have been 1,370 games where one player took 13 or more threes. Six of those games (0.44%) have now ended with just one made three (thankfully all 1,370 games ended with at least one make). James Harden owns three of those six games, including two 1-17 efforts. Mookie Blaylock has one. Ray Allen has another. And now so does Jaylen Brown. Brown also produced the 146th game of exactly 36 field goal attempts. His 30 points rank somewhere in the 130s on that list, depending on how you want to order the ties. Of note here is the legend Joe Fulks, who somehow had five games where he shot the ball 36 times and finished with less than 30 points, including an eighteen-point effort.
Now, this was just one game. Even Ray Allen shot 1-14 from three once. Even Michael Jordan and Jerry West (twice!) have scored just 30 points on 36 shots. Brown will bounce back. But the last part of that stat line, the 0 assists, is more of a long-term issue. It wasn’t that long ago that Smart called out the lacking playmaking ability of Boston’s two young wings, and it’s hard to find a better example of that than this. One game means very little – Donovan Mitchell had a 31-point, 35-shot, 1-11 from three, 0-assist game a few years ago – but the trend of limited passing ability has been following Brown (and Tatum) for far longer than one night. Of the eight players averaging 20+ shots per game this year, Tatum is last in total assists and assists per game by pretty sizable margins. There are 48 players taking 15+ shots per game. Tatum is 36th in apg. Brown is 47th. At least one of them needs to be more than a scorer.
Circling back to the 35+ shots and 0 assists group, there are two fun things to point out. Wilt had 22 games where he took 35 or more shots and didn’t produce a single assists. He once scored 59 on 44 shots (with 0 assists) on Christmas. Hopefully he gave out some gifts in the locker room afterwards. Then there’s our guy Joe Fulks, who finished his career with seven of these games, including maybe the greatest effort of all-time when he shot 56 times and didn’t dish out a single assist. That’s the most shots without an assists ever. Fulks dropped 63 in a 21-point win.
The Bulls rolled the Hawks last night to move to 22-10. They’re just one game back of the Nets at the top of the East. Chicago has won five in a row and doesn’t play a team currently above .500 until January 12. Playing the 17-17 Wizards twice in that span makes it sound a little harder, but like we talked about yesterday, Washington is trending down fast. As for the Hawks, they’ve fallen to the East 12 seed and have lost nine of twelve after briefly seeming poised to turn their season around about twenty games in. It might be a long year in Atlanta.
The Grizzlies came back late to top the Lakers as Ja Morant (41 points) out-dueled LeBron (37 points, 7 assists, 13 boards). Russ finished with his third triple-double in a row, and LA is now 3-6 when he finishes with one, which goes against his career trends. Prior to this season, his teams were 138-45 when he produced a triple-double (StatMuse). More importantly, the Lakers are now 17-19 overall and 4-11 against teams with a better record than them. That includes nine straight losses, which simply won’t get it done. Despite LeBron’s efforts, this isn’t a good basketball team.
The Suns dominated the fourth quarter in an eighteen-point win over the Thunder, and there’s not a whole lot else to say. Phoenix moved back into a tie for the 1 seed at 27-7 after Golden State’s recent loss. Devin Booker’s 38 points matched his previous season high.
The Jazz also rolled in Portland, even without Donovan Mitchell. Six players scored at least 15 points in the winning effort. The Blazers were playing without CJ McCollum, and the 64 combined points from Damian Lillard and Norm Powell were nowhere near enough. They’re now 3-13 in their last sixteen games, which puts them at 13-21 overall. They’re also 2-12 on the road, which is a pretty significant problem when your latest home loss puts you only two games above .500 in your own building. This just doesn’t look like a good team. It’s been a rough year for former point guards acting as head coaches. Both Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd have turned what used to be dominant offenses into mediocre ones. Portland ranks 14th in scoring efficiency after three straight seasons in the league’s top three.
Speaking of Jason Kidd, his team lost again too. The Mavs fell 94-95 in Sacramento. Luka was one of a number of players in protocols, which does take a decent amount of sting out of the defeat, but it won’t change the fact that the Mavs are 16-18 and very mediocre. The step that was expected after pushing the Clippers in the first round in consecutive playoffs hasn’t come yet. If anything, Dallas has taken a step back so far this year.
A lot happened in college basketball last night. Let’s run through some of the highlights.
- Kansas rolled past Nevada while a number of ranked Big Ten teams (Purdue, MSU, Wisconsin) had a little more trouble with unranked, non-conference foes. None saw their night end in disaster though.
- Miami improved to 10-3 with a win over NC State. They’ve missed the tourney three years in a row, but a 2-0 ACC start should have them feeling good about a potential return. The start is taken care of. Now how do you finish?
- Wake Forest (11-2) lost a close one at Louisville (8-4). It’s possible this ends up being a huge statement win for the Cardinals and a temporary roadblock for a Wake team that ends up having a great year, but it seems more likely right now that this was an early key bubble game. Starting 11-1 isn’t easy, but it’s a little easier when a down Virginia Tech, Northwestern, and 2-10 Oregon State are your impressive wins. We’ll learn more soon.
- Memphis was down a number of key players, but losing to Tulane is still a brutal look. This is a Tulane team that hadn’t played in three weeks and had lost to Southern U, Valparaiso, and Charleston (twice). The win over Alabama, the talent, and the brand is always going to keep Memphis alive in bubble talk, but this simply doesn’t look like a team that deserves to be in that discussion.
- DePaul lost a tight one to Butler, which isn’t a great sign for them. They’ve had some decent non-conference runs, including a 13-1 mark two years ago, but they haven’t finished above .500 in Big East play since 2007. A loss to a Butler team that has failed to impress outside of their win over Oklahoma seems like an unfortunate omen.
- Elsewhere in the Big East, Providence picked up a big home win over Seton Hall. It’s going to be interesting to watch the conference this year. The last few years have seen them produce an elite team or two (typically Nova and Creighton), followed by a number of bubble teams that duked it out for bubble positioning. Early results suggest we could see more Big East teams break well into the tourney field this year. We’ll see if this one ends up going down as a seeding scuffle instead of a bubble battle.
- Gardner-Webb beat Georgia, which is less than ideal for Georgia. The Bulldogs weren’t a force under Mark Fox, but they did win 18+ games six times in nine seasons. They’ve yet to top sixteen wins under Tom Crean, and it’s looking like they’ll fall short again in year four. Crean is a good coach, but the switch hasn’t flipped yet in Athens.
- Utah State dropped a 47-49 game to Air Force. Like DePaul, Air Force hasn’t finished above .500 in conference play since 2007. That’s a brutal loss for Utah State and their dancing aspirations. They’re now 9-6 with two bad losses (UC Davis). It’s probably the end of what would be a three-year tourney streak if not for covid in 2020.
- Auburn easily handled LSU and made a big statement at home. With Alabama’s bizarre losses, the Tigers will be the SEC’s leading team in the polls for at least another ten days or so. For LSU, it’s back to the drawing board after their first big challenge of the year resulted in their first loss.
- Alabama likely won’t be far behind Auburn after they outlasted Tennessee to pick up yet another quality win. They’ve now won seventeen of their last nineteen conference games going back to last year. Both of these teams will likely stick around the top 25 all season, but Bama now has a leg up in the SEC title chase. They took care of business at home.
- Kentucky took care of business at home too, crushing a hapless Missouri team.
- The same could be said for Mississippi State, who took advantage of a beat-up Arkansas team to grab a key conference win. They’re now 10-3 and in good early position to pursue an at-large bid. Arkansas, meanwhile, will need to bounce back quickly. This loss won’t mean much, but falling to Vandy or Missouri in the next ten days would leave a more significant mark.
- Furman obliterated a Samford team that I played up as a potential Southern Conference contender the other day. Message received. Furman is still a premier Southern team, and Samford hasn’t proven anything yet.
With that, let’s try to find some winners.
NBA record: 67-65-2 ATS (11-19 Underdog ML), 10-12-1 O/U, 0-1 parlay
CBB record: 52-77-2 ATS (2-10 Underdog ML)