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. 11 – Nov. 17.
1. The Raptors will travel to Los Angeles Monday to see an old friend in Kawhi Leonard, but the major storyline is the pending return of Paul George. The Clippers are already one of the better teams in the league. Regardless of whether it happens Monday or later in the week, are they the favorites with the return of George?
Michael Regan: As a Bucks fan, I don’t really want to think about it. The Clippers are ranked 7th in both net rating and average point differential as of Sunday morning, but Kawhi has missed three games and George has missed all nine. This is a decent team without both Leonard and George. It’s a very good team with just Leonard. Throwing in George, who averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game on 39% shooting from deep while leading the league in steals last season, seems kind of unfair. Adding that type of production to an already great team could make the Clippers the frontrunners. If George had started the year healthy, there’s a decent chance the Clippers would be 8-1 or 9-0 right now, and that has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league. I will believe it’s the Bucks year until the final whistle blows, but the Clippers are certainly a team to be worried about.
Jared Wolff: The Clippers adding Paul George is a scary thought. The team is already playing great basketball at 6-3, with a team offensive rating of 110.3 (6th in the NBA). Kawhi has been Kawhi, even if he is taking some nights off. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have both been terrific. The team is even seeing big things from Ivica Zubac, who is leading the NBA in true shooting percentage. Paul George will make this team better on both ends on the floor, but I am expecting the defense to become elite with his addition. Currently, the team is 14th in the NBA in team defensive rating. Now they add one of the best defensive players in the entire league. Watch out.
Logan Rudman: The Clippers have only lost one game with Kawhi Leonard on the floor. They’re sitting at 2nd in the Pacific and 6th in the Western Conference, albeit less than 10 games into an 82 game season. The Clippers are already in the top half of the league in Defensive Rating, and Paul George was a finalist for DPOY last year. The team’s defensive numbers will only get better with George on the floor. They’re arguably contenders without George, and in the eyes of most are favorites with him. With a healthy George and Leonard, the Clippers can be the NBA’s best.
Tyler Riese: The Clippers currently sit at the middle of the pack in the crowded West in both points per game and opponents points per game (113.4 and 109.0 respectively.) Although they have been playing well, they know they can play at an even higher level. Enter Paul George: a reigning MVP and DPOY finalist. His impact should bring the Clippers to the level that everyone was expecting as a 1-3 seed in the west. On offense, he will be able to free up Kawhi even more, as teams will not be able to key on him as much. On defense, the ability to switch on almost everything with Kawhi, Beverly, and now George will make it near impossible to find unfair matchups. Although they have been good, I expect the George’s return to make the Clippers great.
Noah McCreery: Simply put, the Clippers will obviously be better off with George in their lineup, but I can foresee there being some issues as far as his compatibility with Kawhi. The two play the same roles offensively and defensively, so it’s possible they might not play well together. However, Harden and Westbrook are playing much better together than I anticipated them to, so the Leonard-George duo has potential to be very effective due to the sheer amount of star-power, but I can also see one or their production going down.
The Trail Blazers take on the Kings on Tuesday in a battle between two Western Conference teams who have gotten off to rough starts. Both teams are sitting at least two games back of the 8 seed going into Sunday. Will either of these teams turn it around and make the playoffs?
Michael Regan: I don’t think so. There are only 8 spots to go around. The Clippers, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, and Rockets are each taking one unless injuries hit, and I’m not betting against the Spurs. That leaves 2 spots, with Dallas, Phoenix, Minnesota, and Oklahoma City all in front of or right around Portland and Sacramento. Dallas and Luka Doncic look ready to make the playoffs this season, and I would take the Suns as the eighth team right now.
I want to believe in the Blazers, but they are without Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins for at least a few months and are only 4-6 despite Damian Lillard averaging 33 points and 7 assists and Hassan Whiteside averaging 14 points and 13 boards. CJ McCollum will eventually break out of his slump, but this team hitting 45 wins and making the playoffs is not the most likely outcome. That being said, they’ve lost their 6 games by a relatively small margin of 5.2 points per loss. and they’ve gotten their four wins by an average of only 6.5 points. This is probably a team that is going to be playing close games all season long. If Lillard can provide a little more magic, and if McCollum can heat up just a little bit while Whiteside continues his stellar play, this is a team that will have a chance to hang around the playoff picture before the eventual return of Nurkic and Collins. Dallas, Phoenix, and Minnesota do look good to start the year, but none of these teams are proven commodities. Portland might have a little more room to move around then we think by the time the season really gets going.
The Kings seem to be rebounding from their horrific start, but I really don’t trust Luke Walton to guide a team to the playoffs in this year’s West. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are the real deal, but Marvin Bagley III will be out for another month or so, and the Kings haven’t gotten the consistent production they will need from their entire rotation. They should be better over the rest of the season, but I don’t think they have the firepower to make the playoffs without some unforeseen internal improvement.
Jared Wolff: I fully expect the Portland Trail Blazers to be a playoff team at the end of the season. Damian Lilliard is playing out of his mind, currently leading the NBA in win shares. CJ McCollum is really struggling, currently sporting a career worst 46.3% true shooting percentage. You have to think he’ll get it going eventually to take some of the load off of Dame’s shoulders. The Trail Blazers are a team that I could see making a big trade in the middle of the season. We always hear Kevin Love rumors and this is definitely a logical fit. The Kings on the other hand are not a playoff team in my mind, not in this year’s Western Conference. The team is 27th in team defensive rating at 112.7. They turn the ball over a ton and are not particular good in the assist column. Sell the Kings.
Logan Rudman: Let’s start with the Kings. They have been bad on both ends of the floor – the teams net rating is 26th in the league, and they’re 27th in assist/TO ratio. But Marvin Bagley has played in just one game. This teams young pieces give them the potential to win some games. They’re still a long way from being a championship contender, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re competing for a playoff spot down the stretch. The Blazers are an experienced roster and have one of the NBA’s best backcourts. But Portland is off to a slow start. Their defense has been among the worst in the NBA, and Lillard just dropped 60 in a losing effort. The Blazers have some serious holes on their roster. I believe they can turn it around, but they may be better served blowing it up.
Tyler Riese: I liked both the Kings and Trail Blazers coming into the season. However, their recent rough starts have made it tough to justify these thoughts. I still expect the Trail Blazers to come out of this slump and make the playoffs. This is a team that is coming off a season of 50 wins and an appearance in the conference finals. If the Blazers can stay relevant through the injuries they are facing (Zach Collins and Jusef Nurkic), I truly believe the great coaching of Terry Stotts and the star power of Lillard and McCollum can carry them back into the playoffs and another great season by the end of the year.
Noah McCreery: I think the Trail Blazers have the better chance of making it into the playoffs. The Trail Blazers lost some players that were great fits with their system, including Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, and others. However, they made great additions in Kent Bazemore, Pau Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, Mario Hezonja, Nassir Little, and Anthony Tolliver. Those are a lot of new players to bring in from one season to the next, but as the season goes on I think this Portland team is an underdog going into the postseason.
3. The Spurs will visit the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Both teams are 5-4 and tied for the 8 seed in the West going into Monday. Who has the best chance to make it to the postseason?
Michael Regan: I’m giving the edge to the Spurs. Minnesota, more than most teams with a star, is very dependent on Karl Anthony Towns being one of the best players in basketball. He has shown that he can be that guy at times, but he hasn’t shown it that he can do it for 82 games. In his last three games, he’s only hitting 25.8% of his threes after a red hot start. He needs to score, rebound, shoot, and pass at an elite level every time he steps on the court, and those last two are a very tall order. Unless Andrew Wiggins manages to keep his recent hot streak going, the Timberwolves will likely be on the outside looking in at the end of the season.
As for the Spurs, they lack a star player like Towns that will go out and put up great performances on a nightly basis. They have a deep roster filled with skilled players that can serve a variety of purposes, but they can go through stretches like this past week where they just come up short. That being said, I refuse to say the Spurs won’t make the playoffs. The 1997 playoffs were the last ones that didn’t include the Spurs. Here’s a list of things that were happening in 1997. Bill Clinton started his second term. The first WNBA game was played (the Spurs now have a retired WNBA star as an assistant coach). Princess Diana died. The New York Times officially switched to printing in color. The Roman Empire collapsed. George Washington crossed the Trenton River. James Naismith invented basketball… You get the idea. Don’t bet against the Spurs.
Jared Wolff: You have to go with the Spurs with this question. How can you bet against Gregg Popovich? This Spurs team won’t blow you away, but they are well-constructed and should only get better as the season goes along. The addition of Dejounte Murray has completely changed the feel of the team. Karl-Anthony Towns is an elite player, but I worry about his surrounding cast over the course of a long season. Jeff Teague? Andrew Wiggins? Robert Convington? Give me the Spurs.
Logan Rudman: The Spurs. I’m with Kendrick Perkins when it comes to my view on the Timberwolves. KAT has been playing the best basketball of his career, but give me Popovich over a group of perennial underachievers.
Tyler Riese: It’s crazy to even entertain a question of who has a better chance to make the playoffs between the Timberwolves and the Spurs, yet here we are. Although the Wolves have been playing well to start the year, I truly don’t expect this to continue. Towns is playing out of this world right now but I expect him to regress. Even at an All-pro level, I don’t believe Towns can carry this team by himself. The key words of saying by himself is I do not trust Andrew Wiggins. He’s playing well right now, but I’m still waiting for him to go 4-20 and begin a slump that will put all the pressure back on Towns (which, as I said, he cannot handle). Meanwhile, the Spurs are still the same playoff team as last year with the addition of a healthy Dejounte Murray. Expect them to just play consistently good basketball and end the year a 6-8 seed.
Noah McCreery: The Spurs, mostly because of Gregg Popovich and the coaching staff. Overall, the two teams’ rosters are fairly evenly-matched, but the Spurs coach staff just knows how to make it into the playoffs year after year. Not only that, but they always know how to make it interesting as low seed in the playoffs. The Timberwolves just don’t have the record that the Spurs do. Both teams have a very good chance at making the postseason, but it’s more likely that the Timberwolves are left out of the postseason picture than the Spurs.
4. The Bucks will play the Pacers on Saturday in the Malcolm Brogdon reunion game. Do they miss him?
Michael Regan: Not really. The Bucks were first in the league in net rating and point differential before their trip to Utah. After beating the Thunder, they’re second in net rating and third in point differential. They’ve gotten off to a great start, and George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo, and Wesley Matthews have have been producing alongside Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt. The main question here is whether the Bucks would rather have Bledsoe or Brogdon. They obviously chose Bledsoe, but was it the right call? Bledsoe is quietly having a very good season so far. Despite starting the year with a lingering rib injury from the preseason, he’s averaging roughly 16 points, 5 assists, and 5.7 boards per game on respectable shooting numbers (30% from deep). He’s coming off an appearance on the first All-Defense team, and he’s a big part of Milwaukee’s ability to get out in transition and get to the rim. Over the last three games, he’s averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 boards, and 5.3 assists on 40% from deep. He’s a good player (ignore the whole running onto the court without passing the ball in thing), and it’s hard to say the Bucks should have let him go despite the solid start of Brogdon in Indianapolis (20.2 points, 5.2 boards, 8.9 assists, 31.1% from deep). Those numbers are fairly comparable, especially when you consider that Brogdon is the main creator in Indy’s offense. Bledsoe loves Milwaukee and looks inspired to start the year. I would have taken him too. That being said, Brogdon’s departure has pretty much eliminated Bledsoe’s margin for error. He will need to be better in the playoffs than he has been the past two years for the Bucks to accomplish their goals. Brogdon has been really good for the Pacers and Milwaukee boosted their stock of draft picks and has moved on seamlessly. For now, I’m calling this a win-win trade.
Jared Wolff: Right now, I believe the biggest mistake of the offseason was the Milwaukee Bucks not resigning Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon is currently 10th in the entire league in win shares, 8th in assist percentage, and 3rd in assists per game. He is playing at an All-Star level in the Eastern Conference for their division rival. I mean the Bucks are fine. They are 7-3, 4th in the NBA in team offensive rating and 9th in team defensive rating. Brogdon would have been the cherry on top for them and solidified them as the top team in the East.
Logan Rudman: Brogdon is off to a really strong start this season. He’s been productive on both ends of the court, and highly efficient. The Bucks are also off to a strong start. They don’t miss Brogdon yet, but they will.
Tyler Riese: The Bucks do not miss Malcom Brogdon… right now. This team with Bledsoe and Hill is good enough to win over 50 games in the regular season. When it comes to the playoffs, they will desperately miss Brogdon. Brogdon has taken a step forward this year in terms of his playmaking ability. Bledsoe is also a good playmaker but where the difference will be come April will be shooting. As was evident last year, Bledsoe becomes a shell of himself in the playoffs and seems as if he can’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. The inability to take him out and lean on Brogdon will hurt the Bucks in the end when it matters most.
Noah McCreery: The Bucks don’t miss Brogdon. Perhaps one of the most surprising ROTY winners in recent history, Malcolm Brogdon certainly is a talented player but was easily replaceable for the Bucks with Eric Bledsoe. It’s entirely possible that Giannis and the Bucks will steamroll their way to another victory this weekend.
5. The Hornets and Knicks play on Saturday. They are ranked in the bottom three in both net rating and average point differential. Somehow, the Hornets are 4-6 and half a game back of the 4-5 Cavs and Nets for the 7 seed in the East. Are we going to see one or more East playoff teams finish the season below .500?
Michael Regan: I’ll go crazy here and say that we’ll see two Eastern Conference playoff teams below .500. The Bucks, Sixers, Heat, Celtics, and Raptors all look like surefire winning teams right now, and it’s a stretch to argue otherwise at this point. That means three other teams will need to step up. Who is it going to be? The Knicks, Wizards, and Bulls are out of the discussion. The John Collins 25-game suspension was a killer for the young Hawks. That leaves 6 teams: the Nets, Pacers, Pistons, Cavs, Magic, and Hornets. If the Hornets finish above .500, the world might collapse. The Cavs don’t have enough experience or talent around Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson to make it to .500, but they could be close to the playoffs if things continue to play out as they are now. The Magic have been a disaster offensively. Could they turn it around? Yes. Will they? I don’t know. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them under .500. That leaves the Pacers, Pistons, and Nets. Indy’s schedule has been incredibly forgiving so far, as either the Cavs, Magic, or Nets are the best team they’ve played. They’re only 6-4, and if they continue to struggle with injuries, the schedule could bite them down the stretch. The Nets are 4-5, and there’s really no reason to believe that they are going to be anything more than this until KD returns. They could finish just under .500. The Pistons should be safe with the return of Griffin, but Jackson is still out for a while and Griffin isn’t exactly Mr. Durable. Maybe he goes down again, and the Pistons don’t hit 41 wins either. Will we actually see two East playoff teams under .500? Maybe not, but there’s definitely a chance. It’s going to be a fun year for fans of ugly mediocrity.
Jared Wolff: There will be at least one Eastern Conference playoff team that is below .500. There are six teams in the East that I am confident will finish over .500. These teams are the 76ers, the Bucks, the Celtics, the Heat, the Pacers, and the Raptors. The Nets are a team that I think will hover around that mark all season long. That leaves one spot for a mediocre team to sneak into the playoffs.
Logan Rudman: I feel like this is something that has been brought up a lot over the past few seasons but fails to ever materialize. In my eyes, that’s still the case. The Magic, Hawks, and Pistons are all sitting outside the playoff picture right now. That will change, and this race will be competitive come April. No Eastern Conference playoff team will finish sub .500.
Tyler Riese: Going into the year, I believed that the East will have one to two teams make the playoffs while going under .500. After two weeks into the season, I believe only one team will make the playoffs with a losing record. The Celtics, Heat, Bucks, 76ers, Pacers, Nets and Raptors will all have records over .500. I expect the Nets to heat up after the slow start as well as the rest to continue their good starts (and the Raptors great start). The 8th seed will eventually come down to the Magic or Pistons (with a possible surprise from the Cavaliers). All these teams have had slow starts and with injuries and inexperience will continue their inconsistency.
Noah McCreery: I think the chances we see multiple East playoff teams below .500 is very low in any given year. However, I think there are 10-11 teams who have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs in the East this year, mainly because some of last year’s fringe teams (Nets, Heat, Pistons) got some roster improvements. I think it’s more likely this season that we see one (or more?) teams above .500 in the East that don’t make the playoffs.