That time of the year where you dedicate yourself to your fantasy football playoff push and the holidays. It’s often a time the average fan sweeps the NBA under the rug until the following year. Not us, and because I failed to bring this last week but here we are right before every NBA’s fans favorite day, CHRISTMAS! Especially for the Christmas Day games.
Three Positive Things
The San Antonio Spurs Unnoticed
Kawhi Leonard will not win the MVP award and most will not recognize how great he is playing this season because of the supporting cast around him. However, we can not overlook his defense. Last night he limited (with the help of others too of course) Paul George to shoot 1-14 from the field. This has been a common theme for Kawhi all season long and the Spurs who are 24-5, only four games back from having the best record. This is remarkable considering the Warriors went on to win an NBA record 24 straight games to start a season. No one is paying attention to the Spurs who do not have a 30+ scorer, do not have anyone who jumps out to the average fan. They just show up with their talent and depth every night and play the game the correct way, without making headlines with the media. This is exactly how Gregg Popovich wants it to be and it’s exactly what he is getting.
Scott Skiles and the Magic
I always loved how a small roster shake up can turn around a season. The Magic are the perfect example having moved Victor Oladipo to the bench (don’t worry, he still plays close to 30 minutes a game). The Magic were 6-8 after losing to the Cavaliers. It was after this moment that Scott Skiles made the roster change and the results have led the Magic to a 16-12 record after last night’s victory that is 10-4 since the change including a 5 game winning streak. Although the move to the bench has lowered his shot attempts, Oladipo is shooting 42.7% from the field and 81.8% from the charity stripe, both increases from when he was in the starting lineup. The Magic move the ball more with a guy like Channing Frye in the starting lineup. It also allows them to have more size to start the game with a change of pace later on when they utilize the small ball lineups. Scott Skiles is doing a mighty fine job as our own Justin Salkin pointed out.
Oklahoma City Thunder Healthy
Don’t look now but the Oklahoma City Thunder are healthy and happy. They are 19-9 and that includes Kevin Durant missing sometime (six games in which they went 3-3). They sit comfortably in the third seed in the Western Conference (behind the two powerhouses). The thing that would scare me most about this roster, besides having two of the top 10 players in the league, arguably two of the top five, is that they are mean and nasty this year. To provide an example, here is Kevin Durant’s comments on hacking; “If you don’t want to get hacked then work on your f*cking free throws.” Durant has fully embraced the villain role and that might be the best thing for this team. Under new coach Billy Donovan, the Thunder are playing meaner. Since Durant returned from injury the Thunder are 11-3 with their only losses coming to the Hawks (by six points), Heat (by 2 points) and the Cavaliers (by four points). This could be the year that the Thunder finally get back to the conference finals and contend to represent the West. The league has been robbed of this team due to injuries the past couple of seasons.
Two Negative Things
The Los Angeles Clippers are currently on a three game losing streak. They have lost 4 games (0-4) against the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder, despite heading into the fourth quarter of each of those games with a lead. This is not the same team and they don’t have the same fight. Their lack of a quality back up point guard is costing them now and if they don’t address it soon, they could continue this path of being a 5-8 seed, or worse, miss the playoffs. Chris Paul sees it. He was recently quoted, “We’re not a team anybody needs to worry about right now.” The rotations have been suspect all season long and a lot of frustration coming from the bench. Austin Rivers is getting more playing time than Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson combined. It has been an awful season so far for the 16-13 Clippers as they had championship expectations, especially the way the offseason went. Keeping an eye on this team to see if they will pull it together or fall apart will be one of the stories for 2016.
Will the pro-tankers finally admit, this strategy may not be working? Sure the 76ers are going to have a billion dollars in cap space but who the hell would want to go play there? The only free agents they will get are middle of the pack guys at expensive deals just to lure them to Philadelphia, which will be a disaster if they go this route (don’t worry, they won’t). We won’t jump into the Jahlil Okafor off court issues as we are putting that behind us but the rest of the roster isn’t developing as expected. Nerlens Noel hasn’t taking a leap in his second year, actually he’s digressed some. His shooting percentages are lower, his steals and blocks per game are lower and his rebounds are lower. The only stat of his to increase, not for a good reason, is his turnovers. On top of that, we have yet to see Joel Embiid play a professional game. The 76ers, proudly a 1-28 team this year, are getting noticed by the front office as many teams are complaining about damaging the product of the NBA. As many have known, Adam Silver had to step in. Jerry Colangelo was appointed a special advisor to managing general partner and chairman of basketball operations recently. On top of that, the following week the 76ers announced they had hired Mike D’Antoni as an associate head coach. If you still think this method of building a contender is the right way to go then there is no saving you.
The Rookie of the Year away is still Karl-Anthony Towns award to lose. Kristaps has kind of cooled off but he is still producing some highlights that are getting Knicks fans excited. You can clearly see the potential he has. Emmanuel Mudiay has missed some games but still leads all the guards in assists per game. The Lakers finally unleashed D’Angelo Russell which is good for the league and the Lakers to see what the kid has. Bobby Portis had a coming out party last week but is still getting only 10 minutes a game. The season isn’t as young as it once was and some of these guys are going to start hitting the rookie wall but as it stands we have a three man race for Rookie of the Year.
Triple Double Watch
We get to welcome three new friends to the Triple Double committee. Nicolas Batum, a frequent in the past, has his first triple double as a Hornet. Also joining are Kevin Durant (no surprise here) and Raymond Felton (Big surprise here). Also, Draymond Green records his fourth of the season putting in a tie for most this season along with Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t had a triple double since November 18th, although he has come close many times since.