Welcome to The Stat Pad, a weekly roundtable discussion about the storylines surrounding some of the week’s biggest games. Here is the roundtable discussion for Feb. 3 – Feb. 9.
1. The trade deadline is on Thursday. Give me one bigger trade you see happening.
Michael Regan: I keep coming back to Dallas here. The Mavs are slipping after a hot start, largely because of their inability to seal the deal late. They rank 5th in point differential and expected record, yet their actual record is only the 12th best in the league. Luka Doncic can only do so much, and another go-to scorer and playmaker could help add a few wins over the second half of the season and into the playoffs. On the other hand, with a young core in Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavs are ahead of schedule with their competitive window. They have time, and that could make it hard to pull the trigger on a win-now trade that wouldn’t guarantee a jump to the level of the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. Bogdan Bogdanovic is the best option with that in mind, as the Mavs can match any offer for him this offseason if they can’t agree on an extension. Bogdanovic would add the playmaking the Mavs need, with more long-term viability than Marcus Morris or Derrick Rose. The only problem is making the trade happen. Bogdanovic is only making $8 million and the Mavs can’t give up a first rounder until 2023, so a package of Dorian Finney-Smith or Maxi Kleber, Ryan Broekhoff, and two second rounders (2020 from GS/HOU and 2021) might be the best they can do. The Kings might not be convinced by that.
Garrett McPhillips: The 76ers are currently performing below expectations. Despite being just 3 games out of the 3 seed, they are only the 6 seed currently. They were expected to be an elite team and one of the favorites in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Wizards are doing about what was expected at 17-31 and unlikely to make it to the playoffs. The Sixers need a shooter to help their team, and the Wizards need young pieces to help their team in the future. Davis Bertans is shooting 42.2% from 3 this year, ranking 16th in the NBA. His TS% of 62.0% is also top 20 in the NBA. He would certainly help the 76ers. To get him, the Sixers would have to give up a promising young player in Zhaire Smith, Mike Scott, and potentially additional assets such as a draft pick. This trade would firmly cement another team as a title contender, something anyone who wants to see competitive playoff basketball should want. However, Bertans appears to be difficult to land according to the Wizards front office. We will see how any potential trade involving him pans out.
Jared Wolff: One trade that needs to happen is Marcus Morris going anywhere. Not trading Marcus Morris when his value is the highest it has ever been would be the most Knicks thing ever. Woj is also saying the Knicks would like to get a new deal with him done this summer. Trade him to a contender. The Clippers, Lakers, and many other teams could use a great scorer like Morris. He has been terrific this year, shooting 43.8% from downtown, while averaging 19.4 points per game.
Colin Bradley: With the trade deadline coming up, I expect the Rockets to move Clint Capela out East. The Rockets are currently sitting in 5th place in the West. As a team known for pulling the trigger in order to make The Finals, I have to imagine they are not particularly comfortable staying in 5th. They have been winning games recently with Capela sitting out including wins against the Jazz and Nuggets, other contenders in the West. With a plethora of interest in the East for a solid frontcourt player such as Capela, including the Celtics and Hawks, expect a big deal centered around him this week.
2. The 76ers and Bucks will face off on Thursday. Philadelphia controlled Giannis and hit a franchise-record 21 threes in a Christmas Day win over Milwaukee. Can they repeat that result in their second meeting of the year?
Michael Regan: I’m going to say no, at least to the second part. First off, if the Sixers hit from deep at a franchise-record rate in consecutive games against the Bucks, then something’s up. Secondly, this game is in Milwaukee. While Philadelphia has thrived at home, they’ve been awful on the road. Lastly, teams have only shot like the Sixers did against the Bucks roughly five times in roughly forty-five games. All of those factors mean that Philadelphia’s offense is unlikely to produce like it did on Christmas. That said, it will be interesting to see if Joel Embiid can replicate his defensive performance. He smothered Giannis Antetokounmpo at times, and his ability to do that again, on the road, would have major implications for a potential Bucks-Sixers playoff series. That’s the key match-up to watch on Thursday night. I see Giannis coming out inspired and making a statement, but the stage is there for Embiid and the Sixers to show why they were among the title favorites heading into the season.
Garrett McPhillips: The 76ers will face the Bucks away after tough road matchups against the Celtics and Heat. The Sixers are a mere 9-17 away from home, while the Bucks are 23-3 at home. The Sixers are only making 10.8 threes per game, and haven’t looked great lately. However, they’ve been doing their job in defending opposing forwards. They dominated the Lakers recently, and held Siakam to 18 points in their matchup. Their struggles come from shooting and defending opposing guards. This suggests they can do a decent job defending Giannis, like they did on Christmas when they held him to just 18. This will be their key to success. Even if shots are not falling, if they can control big men like they have been they should be fine. Meanwhile, the Bucks have simply been dominant. They lost to the Nuggets recently, but are 9-1 in their last 10. In that stretch they beat the Celtics at home and Nets away. It is tough to bet against this team. For this reason, expect the Bucks to be comfortably favored. At the least, it should be closer than it was at Christmas.
Jared Wolff: I think the Bucks will go into this game with a major chip on their shoulder. Christmas Day was an embarrassing showing. The Sixers have not been playing well, losing to the Hawks and Celtics in the past few days. Philadelhpia plays elite defense, but ranks 20th in the NBA in team offensive rating. The game being in Milwaukee is another factor that leads me to predicting a comfortable Bucks win.
Colin Bradley: The Bucks started off the season extremely hot and have not slowed down since, remaining on pace to win 70 games this season. They sit at 42-7, 1st place in the East. Though the 76ers have a history of peak performances that can keep up with the best in the league, including a double digit win against each conference leader (Bucks and Lakers), they have not looked nearly as consistent as the Bucks this year. Expect Giannis and the Bucks to take care of business at home.
3. The streaking Raptors will visit the Pacers on Friday night. Toronto has taken control of the East’s 2 seed after the returns of Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Norm Powell. What are their chances to repeat as Eastern champs?
Michael Regan: It really depends on matchups. The Raptors, with everyone playing, needed 36 points from Kyle Lowry to keep it respectable in Milwaukee. They will have three more regular season chances to prove otherwise, but it’s hard to see them getting through the Bucks as things stand. As a result, a major key will be holding onto the 2 seed. This would lead to a much easier first round meeting with the Nets or Magic, rather than the Sixers or Pacers. It would also create a second-round match-up against a non-Bucks team. This would give the Raptors the best possible chance to get to the Eastern Conference Finals and give themselves a shot. Regardless, everything really centers around Milwaukee. The Bucks have easily been the best team in the East this year. The conference is theirs to lose. That said, if they manage to slip up, the Raptors will have as good of a chance as anyone. I’m not looking at anyone other than the Bucks as a clear favorite over Toronto. The Raptors will, at the very least, go down with one heck of a fight.
Garrett McPhillips: The Raptors have been great lately, led by Pascal Siakam and overall great team performances. However, unless Siakam can get back to his level of play early in the season, it’s difficult to envision them winning the playoffs. The teams that win the playoffs always have a star to play through. Last year, it was Kawhi Leonard. This year, it is difficult to see the Raptors beating a Giannis-led Bucks, Jimmy Butler-led Heat, and Embiid-led Sixers. However, their defensive rating is second best in the league right now at 104.3 and their offensive rating is in the top half of the league. The one team that is better than them in defensive rating is also in the East – the Bucks. If the Bucks are beaten, the East is wide open and I give the Raptors a good chance to come out of the conference. However, it’s tough to see the Raptors beating the many stars in the East, especially Giannis and the Bucks.
Jared Wolff: I mean I’m never going to count Toronto out with Nick Nurse at the helm and the great team basketball they play, but I don’t see them repeating as Eastern Conference champions. Milwaukee is the team to beat this year, and I think there are a number of Eastern Conference teams that would give the Raptors trouble. The one chance the Raptors have is staying completely healthy and riding their terrific defense.
Colin Bradley: The Raptors have been turning heads all season as many ruled them out with the loss of Kawhi Leonard. However, his 2019 counterparts have all taken yet another leap this year with Siakam budding into a star and Kyle Lowry playing as well as he ever has, representing the team in the All-Star game. The East, however, has too much talent to imagine the Raptors making The Finals a second year in a row. They will almost surely have to play the Bucks, as well as either the Celtics or the 76ers, in a seven-game series, all teams that are simply more talented. I expect another tough second round exit in a six or seven game series for the Raptors.
4. The Timberwolves will play the Clippers for the second time this week on Saturday. Karl Anthony-Towns, as of February 1, has not won an NBA game since November 27, a stretch that would be over 70 days long if it continues up until this game. What is going on in Minnesota?
Michael Regan: As I write this, Towns has lost fifteen consecutive games over a two-month stretch. That’s not good. The major problem in Minnesota is actually pretty simple. There’s just not enough talent. The Timberwolves have five players averaging double-digit scoring for them on the year. One, Jeff Teague, is now in Atlanta. Another, Jake Layman, has only played 14 games and has been out since November. That leaves three guys, and that won’t cut it no matter how good those three are. Towns can average 27 points, 11 boards, and 4 assists per game on 40.6% from deep. Andrew Wiggins can put up roughly 23 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists per game. Robert Covington (12.8 points, 5.9 boards) can be a reliable starter. None of that matters when your fourth and fifth leading (and healthy) scorers are Shabazz Napier and rookie Jarrett Culver. There’s some room for internal improvement. Culver has shown some promise, as has Josh Okogie. But this is a team that is lacking talent and star power, something that is very hard to acquire in Minnesota. The problem may be simple, but that doesn’t mean the fix is easy.
Garrett McPhillips: The Timberwolves have their star in KAT. They are fourth in the league in steals and blocks per game. They are below average in offensive rating, but right around league average in defensive rating. However, they are bottom 6 in both TS% and EFG%, suggesting their shots are simply not falling. It’s tough to reason just why this is happening and why they are performing quite so poorly, but it does not seem like this will be an easy problem to fix. A trade might be necessary just to press reset on the season and team.
Jared Wolff: There’s just not enough talent in Minnesota for them to contend in the West. The roster is full of awkward fits and needs a lot of revamping. D’Angelo Russell is a name that keeps coming up in trade conversations and would be fun next to Towns. A real teardown might be what is best for this franchise.
Colin Bradley: The struggle of the Timberwolves this season is not anything new to fans of the team. The culture of losing is something they have been used to ever since Kevin Garnett was traded away back in 2007. It is a disappointing culture that is rooted much deeper into the organization and cannot be blamed on the current players. In order for the Timberwolves to find success, they need to be patient and build around Towns rather than competing for a bottom spot in the playoffs every year just to continue the cycle of mediocrity.
5. The Celtics visit the Thunder on Sunday. How much noise can Oklahoma City make in the playoffs this year?
Michael Regan: OKC is sitting in the 7 seed, but only trail the 2 seed by about four games. A lot is in play here in terms of seeding, and matching up with the right opponent, or just someone other than the Lakers, might be crucial for their chances. The Thunder are 5-8 against the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Nuggets, Mavs, and Jazz, or the other six teams that join them in the West’s top seven. What does that mean? The Lakers are 10-4 in those games, including three wins over the Thunder. The Clippers are 7-6. The Rockets are 7-7. The Nuggets are 7-4. The Mavs are 4-9. The Jazz are 4-6. That leaves the Thunder near the bottom. Oklahoma City also trails all of these teams in net rating and average point differential, but here’s something to consider – the Thunder have one of the best five-man groups in the league. Danillo Gallinari, Steven Adams, and, especially, the trio of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have been overwhelmingly positive in their minutes. The Paul-Schroder-SGA three-man combo is the best in the league by net rating. In the playoffs, when benches shorten, the gap between the Thunder and the rest might not be as big as it seems now. I don’t think this team has the firepower to rule the West, but don’t be surprised when they push a team to their limit.
Garrett McPhillips: The Thunder have been a surprisingly good team, riding their backcourt trio of Chris Paul, SGA, and Dennis Schroder to the 7th seed in the West. Since New Years, their games against playoff teams have included losses to the Mavs, Heat, Raptors, Lakers, and 76ers. Their wins have been against the Magic, Rockets, and Nets. Yikes. This does not seem promising for a team with playoff aspirations. This, combined with a likely first round matchup with a top seed like the Lakers or Clippers means that Thunder fans should not have high hopes for the playoffs. Regardless, the organization should be proud of where they are considering the trades that took place this offseason and the way they are set up for the future.
Jared Wolff: I really like this Oklahoma City Thunder group. Right now they are seventh in the West, but are only 1.5 games out of fifth. With a great home atmosphere, this team could win a series in the right match-up. They’re in the top half of the NBA in both team offensive rating and team defensive rating.
Colin Bradley: The Thunder have been another team to pleasantly surprise their fanbase this season with unexpected success, landing themselves a spot in the current playoff standings. With Chris Paul returning to form and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showing he could be a future superstar, things are looking up for the organization as a whole. As for as this season goes, however, the Thunder will most likely have to face off against one of the LA teams, the Clippers or the Lakers, if they do make it into the playoffs. These are two teams I simply believe they will not be able to keep up with.