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 Nov. 4 – Nov. 10.
1. The 76ers will visit Utah on Wednesday in a game between two great defensive teams. Who has the edge offensively?
Michael Regan: Theoretically, these two teams should be pretty close offensively. Donovan Mitchell has become an elite offensive player, and the Jazz added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic to help lift the offense around him. Unfortunately for Utah, Conley has disappointed so far, and the offense has struggled. I’ll give a slight edge to the Sixers, who added the very effective Al Horford this summer. They don’t have many shooters, but the sheer talent of Joel Embiid and the passing ability of Ben Simmons is enough to beat out the Jazz.
Jack Trachtenberg: Both the Jazz and Sixers are highly skilled offensively. While the Jazz have the shooting advantage with Bojan Bogdanovic (45%), Joe Ingles (33.3%), and Donovan Mitchell (44.4%), the Sixers have a stronger front court with Embiid, Horford, and Tobias Harris. That being said, I would take the Jazz with stronger shooters, Mike Conley, who is still yet to turn it on, and Rudy Gobert holding down the front court.
Noah McCreery: The Utah Jazz really only have two consistent offensive options in Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic. Mike Conley has unfortunately not lived up to expectations yet this year. As for Rudy Gobert, he can’t even be found in the top 50 for second chance points per game yet this season (after ranking 4th in the league last year), so the 76ers need not be concerned even if he starts racking up a few offensive rebounds. The 76ers really don’t have a weak link offensively in their starting roster— it’s always nice when you have at least four guys that you can count on to give you 15+ points a game. Furthermore, Joel Embiid returns from his two-game suspension in time to travel with the team to Salt Lake City. The 76ers should easily be the dominant offensive force Wednesday night.
Tyler Riese: Looking at the statistics of each team, it seems as though the Sixers and Jazz should be about as equal on offense as two teams can be. The Sixers and Jazz are shooting an almost identical 46.5% and 46.3% from the field and 33.5% and 37% from three respectively. However, looking past this, I’ll also give the edge to the Sixers as the better offensive team. They lead the Jazz in assists on the season (157 to 138) as well as total turnovers although that is a much smallerdifference (114 to 125). In order to beat great defensive teams, you need to move the ball well and not turn it over. With that, the edge goes to the Sixers.
Ethan Perlmutter: The numbers give the edge to Philly so far. The Sixers rank 14th in the league with 107.4 points per 100 possessions, whereas the Jazz are struggling with 101.7 points per 100 possessions, good for 24th in the league. Mike Conley has had some better games after a miserable start, which is forgivable considering he spent each of his previous 12 seasons with Memphis. The Conley-Mitchell backcourt could cause problems for Philly’s weird, oversized starting lineup.
Garrett McPhillips: Joel Embiid is one of the most unstoppable forces in the entire NBA. He is surrounded by outstanding overall players, most being known for their two-way ability or defense. The Jazz are carried offensively by Donovan Mitchell. Though he has another great surrounding cast, the team has only scored 100 or more points in 4 of their first 7 games. Meanwhile, the Sixers have done this in each of their first 6 games. This could be due to their schedules and streaks, but because of the height and dominance in the paint of the Sixers, they get the edge.
Colin Bradley: Donovan Mitchell has been showing what the offseason hype was about keeping a field goal % of 52% and a PER of 27.6 thus far this season. However, look for Joel Embiid to erupt in a matchup of talented bigs due to having fresh legs off of a 2-game suspension. Though the Jazz are undefeated at home and will put up a fight, look for the 76ers to win a tight one in this rematch of 2018 ROY contenders.
2. The Bucks take on the Clippers on Wednesday in a potential Finals preview. We’ve been robbed of the Kawhi-Giannis matchup, but let’s pretend it’s still happening. What would be one thing to watch during this game?
Michael Regan: The obvious answer is the Kawhi-Giannis rematch, but I’ll go with the depth of both of these teams. These are two of the deepest teams in the league, and the ability of the supporting casts to make a difference will probably decide this game.
Jack Trachtenberg: Watch out for how the Clippers plan on guarding Giannis. It will be interesting to see who starts off on him, and how they attack him throughout the game. With no Paul George, I predict a healthy mix of Montrezl Harrell, Leonard, and JaMychal Green attempting to stay in front of the Greek Freak.
Noah McCreery: This matchup is all about the stars. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis channeled his inner Ben Simmons, as he shot a whopping 21% from 4+ feet. From Kawhi, his lock-down defense on Giannis is once again crucial to his team’s success in this matchup. (Giannis shot 35% when guarded by Kawhi during the first 5 games of the ECF last year.) Expect this game to get interesting if Giannis can get his jump shot going.
Tyler Riese: The Bucks and the Clippers are a very exciting matchup to watch this early in the season. Obviously everyone wants to watch who will win the Kawhi-Giannis showdown, (hint it won’t be Giannis), however I truly believe that this is not what will win the game. The one thing to watch for me is the guard play in this game: Eric Bledsoe and Wes Matthews versus Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams (with all due respect to Landry Shamet). The ball will be in Kawhi andGiannis’s hands a lot but what happens around them will win the game. I think the better duo in terms of offensive and defensive rating will indicate the team winner of this game.
Ethan Perlmutter: Will we see a dominant Giannis performance? This Clipper team is built around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, possibly the two best perimeter/wing defenders in the association right now, but neither of those two will be playing in this game due to load management and a torn rotator cuff respectively. Through seven games, Giannis’s traditional and advanced stat lines look a lot like they did in last season’s MVP campaign. He is averaging 27.7 points a game, exactly like last season. We’ve already seen some dominant single game performances from LeBron, Kawhi, Kyrie, and Harden. The game at Staples Center airing on ESPN should be an excellent chance for the Greek Freak to defend his MVP title while the Clippers are recharging the Kawhi-bot.
Garrett McPhillips: Landry Shamet. Landry is currently shooting 31.7% from 3, while he shot 42.2% last season. He does not offer too much on defense, and offensively he has obviously not been great so far in the small sample size. If he is able to figure it out and shoot like he is capable, the Clippers instantly become a much more dangerous team in this game and moving forward.
Colin Bradley: In a game full of talented role and bench players, I think Lou Williams will be the X-factor in this game. With the unfortunate benching of Kawhi Leonard due to load management, look for Lou Williams to continue to prosper as he has kept an average of 20.3 PPG while only starting in one of the team’s seven games.
3. The Heat play the Suns on Thursday in a matchup of two of the most surprising teams of the season so far. Which squad has been the biggest surprise?
Michael Regan: I’m taking the Suns. Kendrick Nunn has come out of nowhere to make the Heat real contenders, but the Jimmy Butler trade put them on a lot of radars. No one was talking about the Suns coming into the year, but Devin Booker has taken some big steps and their free agent additions (Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky) have been huge despite getting little attention this summer.
Jack Trachtenberg: The Suns have been the most surprising team so far. The Suns are young, have a new head coach in Monty Williams, and are playing without their #1 overall pick in Deandre Ayton. Free agent additions of Rubio and Baynes have been great for the Suns, and future hall-of-famer Devin Booker is off to a great start.
Noah McCreery: The Suns are off to an amazing start this year, especially since at this point last year they were still searching for their second win. However, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Even though they had the second-worst record in the league, we were all witness to the scoring wizardry of Devin Booker and got to see Deandre Ayton assert his dominance in the paint, as he was the only rookie last year to average a double-double. Sure, the Suns may not have signed the most desirable free agents on the market in the offseason, but they got some missing pieces that added depth to their roster, not to mention an upgrade in the coaching department as well.
As for the Heat, we all know Jimmy Butler is among the league’s best. However, I expected them to struggle after they lost a trio of important players in the offseason: Dwayne Wade, Hassan Whiteside, and Josh Richardson (who started showing improved offensive aggressiveness getting to the stripe more often last year). Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have been giving the Heat massive amounts of production so far this season compared to what was expected— and as a result, Jimmy Butler looks like a different player so far this season than the player he has looked like his entire career. He is averaging his highest rebounds, assists, and steals per game in a season ever and his lowest points per game since 2013-14. The Heat have been the biggest surprise for me not only because of the success they have achieved so far, but the way in which they have achieved it.
Tyler Riese: The Heat were a popular pick to make the playoffs in the east this season. The Suns? Again were projected to be a bottom feeder fighting for a lottery pick. The Heat are playing great basketball so far and I am heavily impressed with the trio of Herro, Nunn, and Butler. But this is still a team coached by a world champion in Spoelstra and should be contending for the playoffs. Back to the Suns. They have started this year off with crazy wins over the Warriors, Sixers, and Clippers, and even had a one point loss to the Jazz. This is a young team with a great coach in Monty Williams that I thought were being underestimated. Did I ever think they’d beat two title contenders in the Clippers and Sixers with an Aron Baynes campaign for Most Improved? You would have thought.
Ethan Perlmutter: The Suns have to be the biggest surprise out of these teams. If they keep this up, they are one of the biggest surprises in recent memory. Devin Booker has always put up points, but his net rating is up from -6.9 to 9.4. The ball movement is much better in Phoenix because of their offseason moves. Last season, Booker took 54.1% of his shots after 3 or more dribbles. This season, that number is down to 41.5%. His effective field goal percentage for catch and shoot situations is 80%. Booker’s efficiency is on a completely different level from where it was, and this Suns team is not at all what any reasonable person expected.
Garrett McPhillips: Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio seem like they could be two of the most surprising pickups of the summer. The Suns seem like they hit the lottery this offseason. Meanwhile, the Heat are getting support from rookies and youngsters like Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo. Because of the unpredictability of young players and the presence of Jimmy Butler, the Heat were always a question mark with upside. The Suns were the more surprising team so far because no one had high expectations going into the year.
Colin Bradley: Though the Heat have opened the season with some amazingly surprising performances that no one saw coming, the Suns’ success thus far has been not only unexpected but confounding. Since losing one of the team’s supposed best players to a 25-game PED suspension, it has exploded to win big games against the Clippers and 76ers while keeping games against the Jazz and Nuggets to a one point loss. It will be interesting to see how these two teams ride out this early success the rest of the season.
4. The Spurs host the Celtics on Saturday in a game of fringe title contenders. Which team has the best chance to make a run in the playoffs?
Michael Regan: The Celtics, by virtue of being in the Eastern Conference, will have the much easier road in the playoffs. Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward have looked really good to start the year, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have made some noticeable improvements. It’s hard to pick the Spurs here, even though they have a deep team with players that can fill a variety of roles.
Jack Trachtenberg: Going to have to agree with Michael here. I will take the Celtics simply because they play in the Eastern Conference. The Spurs are not deep enough to make it out of the first two rounds.
Noah McCreery: Although the Spurs gave the Nuggets a run for their money in the playoffs last year, I can’t see them getting out of the first round. Realistically, they would be seeded 5th at most in the West, in which case it’s a toss up whether they make it to the conference semifinals. Kemba Walker is fitting in nicely in Boston and the whole team looks much more cohesive than last year. I feel the Celtics have higher potential to be legitimate title contenders. If the Celtics feel the same way by January, expect them to make an attempt to further solidify their roster by shopping for a big man like the Raptors did last season with Marc Gasol.
Tyler Riese: This question seems like a no brainer as the answer is definitely the Celtics. All that needs to be considered is will the Spurs even make the playoffs. Currently I have the Spurs ranked as the 7th team in the west behind the likes of Utah, Nuggets, Houston, both LA teams, and the Blazers. I’m not counting out teams such as the Mavericks and Warriors (if healthy) to somehow sneak in. That being said I never like to count out Popovich and seem to always be wrong when I bet against the Spurs. The Celtics on the other hand seem like a sure fire top 5 team in the very weak Eastern Conference. I expect them to make a pretty decent sized playoff run riding on the backs of Kemba and a newly improved Taytum.
Ethan Perlmutter: The season is still young, but there are 9 teams in the West with a winning record, as opposed to 6 in the East. Even if San Antonio is the better team, Boston’s path to a deep playoff run is a lot easier.
Garrett McPhillips: The Celtics definitely have pieces that are looking great so far, especially Gordon Hayward, and have the benefit of playing in the Eastern Conference. Though the Spurs have many pieces, it’s tough to see them making a run in the playoffs with so many borderline playoff teams and sleepers in the west. Though they are comparable talent-wise, the Celtics get the edge because they are one 4 game run away from a deep playoff run, while the Spurs would have to play consistently great basketball against better competition.
Colin Bradley: With the vast improvements across the board on the Celtics’s roster this season, it’s hard to imagine they would have an early exit in the playoffs. Gordon Hayward has exploded this season, scoring 16 in the first quarter in their last game against the Cavaliers, starting 8/8 shooting. Though the Spurs have more playoff experience across the roster, it will be extremely hard for them to make a deep run in the talent-loaded Western Conference.
5. The Raptors will play the other Los Angeles team this Sunday when they take on the Lakers. Pascal Siakim has looked like a star to start the year. Is there a chance of a second consecutive Finals appearance for Toronto?
Michael Regan: We’ll see. Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry have been really good to start the year, and Siakim is averaging 26 points and 8.5 rebounds on 43% shooting from deep. Their depth is a big question mark, but Toronto should be a player in the East this year.
Jack Trachtenberg: No, I do not predict a second consecutive Finals appearance from the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors lost too much in Leonard, and the Bucks, Celtics, and Sixers are too deep to allow a repeat appearance from the Raptors.
Noah McCreery: Toronto knows they’ve got big shoes to fill this year with the loss of Kawhi Leonard. Pascal Siakam has stepped his game up again this year, but he can’t put last year’s Raptors on his back for another championship. The Raptors’ Finals hopes are a stretch but realistic if VanVleet can continue shooting the three ball well, if Lowry can prove that last year’s postseason inconsistencies were just a fluke, and if the bench can provide meaningful production.
Tyler Riese: As stated above, the East is very weak this year, so it’s not inconceivable to imagine the Raptors making a run back to the Finals. They are a battle tested team with a great coach and star player in Siakim to get them there. However, this is not the same team from last year. As the Raptors got worse with the loss of Kawhi, it seems the Bucks and Sixers got better. Again, not inconceivable for the Raptors to make a run, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Ethan Perlmutter: No.
Garrett McPhillips: Kawhi Leonard was masterful in the playoffs last year. Sure, the surrounding pieces like Siakam and Gasol were important, but without Kawhi they were nowhere near a Finals appearance, let alone championship. Siakam has taken an expected leap forward, but he is no Kawhi. For this reason, they are no more than a decent playoff team in the Eastern Conference this year.
Colin Bradley: The Raptors have seen various surprising improvements this season, including gaining a defensive powerhouse in OG Anunoby, who is in the 96th percentile in the league in steal percentage. However, unless these improvements get vastly larger, it’s hard to see their defensively weak backcourt stop the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference in a playoff series. I expect a second round exit in a tight series for Toronto.