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Derby Days and Disgusting Defence
Owners take centre stage, Dejounte Murray adulation, Zion Williamson, Portland and award race chatter.
Basketball isn’t about the owners
If you follow the NBL at all, you will have heard an alarmingly high level of discourse around the recent ‘Freeway Derby’ between Sydney and Illawarra over the weekend, and quite frankly it was absurd.
On the one hand you have Paul Smith, Sydney Kings owner, accusing the Hawks higher ups of spying and sitting in on private training sessions, as well as Hawks boss Dorry Kordahi being arrogant and disrespectful towards league staff, while Kordahi fanned those flames with suggestions of jealousy from the big city neighbours, whilst labelling Smith’s comments as defamation of character.
Ownership stoking sports rivalries is nothing new, but casual fans would be forgiven in seeing the media build up and thinking Smith and Kordahi were players with the level of attention they were drawing.
It was clear to see from comments from players and coaches on both sides that no one was interested in the off court skulduggery, and yet the public was force-fed the tale of the verbal repartee in lieu of actual basketball coverage.
Reporter turned agent Olgun Uluc put it best.
While the old saying of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” does have some relevance to a league that, despite all its growth in reputation and standing around the global basketball community, is still finding its feet in the local mainstream media, there was minimal actual chat about two very stacked rosters.
Sure, the Hawks overcame a depleted Kings outfit missing Jaylen Adams, RJ Hunter, Jordan Hunter and Dejan Vasiljevic, but these teams are no joke. The Hawks possess MVP candidate Tyler Harvey, one of the best local young products in the league Sam Froling, an elite import sidekick duo in Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Antonius Cleveland, Golden State Warriors draftee Justinian Jessup and Boomers medallist Duop Reath.
And the Kings still kept it close, led by a ragtag bunch of Jarell Martin, Shaun Bruce, Angus Glover, Xavier Cooks and Makur Maker.
This very well could be a grand final preview, and media coverage is great, but lets sprinkle a bit of on court analysis in there next time.
Is Dejounte Murray the best kept secret in the NBA?
No, well not if you spend more than 5 minutes talking with me anyway, because I will absolutely bring him up unprompted.
Murray has been showing glimpses of this level of production for the last couple of seasons, ever since missing all of 2018-19 with a serious knee injury, but this year he’s finally put it all together.
Coming out of college Murray was that prototypical “slashing” athletic guard with obvious questions about his shooting stroke and whether his NBA position long term was as a lead ball handler or off the ball at shooting guard.
The raw counting stats are impressive. 18 points, 8.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists in 34.3 minutes a night, but what really stands out to me are his efficiency and, in all honesty, the level of teammates he’s playing with.
Murray is only averaging 2.5 turnovers a game, so that 3.32 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio places him among the elite lead ball handlers in the league. For reference, Chris Paul is at a roughly 4.2 ratio, while Trae Young is down at 2.2. Different styles of play, to be sure, but for someone who has effectively been moulded into this role out of necessity it’s an impressive feat.
Murray is hardly playing with an elite cast around him either. The Spurs have transitioned into a team of athletic swiss army knives with limitless potential but spotty actual production. Keldon Johnson aside, Derrick White has somewhat plateaued, while Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker IV show flashes in spots.
Murray should be in All-Star consideration this year. Will he get in? Highly unlikely, given the stacked guard position in a loaded Western Conference and his Spurs languishing at the back end of the play in race, but his season shouldn’t be lost in recognition.
The fastest healing broken foot in the land
I’ll just lead with this tweet from fantasy basketball expert Josh Lloyd.
Yeah, I guess we were?
If we go back through recent foot injury history in the NBA, it isn’t pretty reading, even looking past the two examples in the above tweet.
Joel Embiid famously missed the first two seasons of his career entirely, and only played 31 games in his double-redshirt rookie year due to load management, while teammate Ben Simmons also missed his true rookie year with a foot fracture.
The foot, as everyone who follows sport knows by now, is one of the worst places to sustain a fracture, due to infamously low blood flow leading to slower healing and recovery. And we thought a near 300 pound man was going to recover in less than a quarter of the time other examples have taken?
I’m not sure where the Pelicans go from here. This season offered promise (maybe false in hindsight given a lot of it was contingent on a Zion return) but at 8-21 they’re at the bottom of the West and playing pretty poorly.
New Orleans is ranked 27th in net rating per NBA.com’s advanced stats, only beating such powerhouses like Oklahoma City (8-18), Detroit (4-22) and Orlando (5-21) with their -5.8 mark, as well as posting bottom ten marks in turnover percentage, and pace.
Put simply, the Pelicans are slow, they turn it over a lot, they struggle to score and they struggle to stop teams from scoring. Not a great recipe, and not one you add an ailing Zion Williamson into. I’d be surprised if we see him at all this season.
Same Shit, Different Week in Portland
I failed to mention this last week but I can’t ignore it.
When Portland parted with Terry Stotts in the summer, the only coach in Damian Lillard’s NBA career (2012-present), the presumption was the organisation needed a fresh start and someone to bring in new ideas for one last tilt with this current core.
Not great if we’re being honest.
First, let’s look at Portland’s record away from home.
1-11? Is that a typo? It’s not? Jesus Christ.
Portland is the worst road team in the NBA. Yes, worse than the 4-22 Pistons even, that’s criminal.
Somehow, Portland don’t have the worst net rating on the road (that belongs to the OKC Thunder), but they are 29th, with a woeful -12.2 mark. The culprit? They can’t defend anyone to save their collective lives.
Portland’s defensive rating on the road is 117.7, a whole 2.4 points worse off than the next worse team in the league. Is it system or personnel? Well, NBA defence is, and I hate cliches, but it is largely effort and application over specific systems, but there has to be worries about Billups’ inability to sort out this team’s biggest issues.
Offensively, the team is still being carried by Lillard and McCollum, which is unsurprising, but I watch Portland this season and come away struggling to identify any actual system they’re trying to run. My criticism of Portland of yesteryear was too often the offense would devolve into “Dame Time”, which is fine in doses, but as a viable long term strategy it doesn’t fly.
Portland have stumbled into nice complimentary pieces like Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons, but far too often right now the offense is half a Nurkic screen into a Lillard 30 footer. This team appears to be reaching the end of its rope, and Portland fans might need to face the reality of a hard rebuild.
Are there even award races?
You’d be forgiven for thinking the award races were basically over in early December. In fairness, with the way the NBA cycle goes, voters establish their early favourites and then spend the rest of the season cast in that mould.
So congratulations to Tyler Herro, Miles Bridges, Steph Curry and Evan Mobley.
Herro is probably as close to a lock for 6th Man of the Year as you can be before Christmas, while Steph’s scorching shooting percentages coupled with Golden State’s record probably have him a near unassailable lead in MVP voting right now (although Giannis and Jokic fans won’t go quietly).
Miles Bridges raced out of the gates for the Most Improved Award, but has halted in recent weeks, especially with no LaMelo Ball due to illness in the last week or so. Still, early season form is hard to overcome, and Bridges does have the stat increase that voters so desperately crave.
Rookie of the Year is an interesting one though, and no I’m not just saying this because I’m a Detroit/Cade homer.
The fact is Evan Mobley is the deserved front runner right now. It’s no coincidence that his addition has helped catapult the Cavs into strong playoff contention, coupled with internal growth from budding stars like Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland.
Mobley is averaging 13.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 blocks and 0.9 steals in his rookie year. We all knew about the defensive promise coming out of USC, but what’s surprised me is his fluidity and finesse on offense. His three point shot isn’t quite there yet, but his touch around the basket and awareness of positioning, especially when playing off Garland or Ricky Rubio, is something that has stood out to me.
The obvious opposition right now for Mobley is Cunningham. Scottie Barnes has had a great rookie year as well, but his production has somewhat cooled as Cunningham has ramped up.
The concerns about Cunningham after a slow first week or two, coming off an ankle injury that cost him training camp and preseason, were absurd at best and disingenuous at base level. Cunningham has displayed every single trait that was lauded ad nauseum in the pre-draft process, including his leadership, playmaking ability, rebounding nous for a guard, and ability to score at all three levels.
What’s obviously going to hurt Cade and favour Evan is the team record, as much as Rookie of the Year is an individual award. As mentioned above, the Cavs ascent into relevancy is very easy to tie in with the acquisition of Mobley, while the Pistons are, yet again, the worst team in the league.
Cade might end up shading the counting stats by the end of the season, but the early season form of Mobley plus his team success should see him remain as the favourite throughout the season, catastrophic drop off aside.