Well, we’re officially over halfway through the 2018-19 NBA season and my goodness has there been a lot to talk about. The BBNBA has dominated headlines – both good and bad – across the league, so without delay, I’m going to release my thoughts on the first 45ish games of the year. Get ready.
Actually, before I dive in, there are going to be an infinite amount of topics that I won’t be covering as I feel they have been talked about endlessly already, which is partially my fault. Topics such as the Karl-Anthony Towns/Jimmy Butler situation in Minnesota, the rookie seasons from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, Enes Kanter’s situation with Turkey, and DeMarcus Cousins’ return will not be discussed. There is no real criteria of how I’m choosing what to talk about, I’m just going to write about what I feel hasn’t been noted enough. Now let’s go.
Anthony Davis – BBNBA MVP
Yes, I know, I already talk a lot about Anthony Davis but this needs to be reiterated. Not only is AD the obvious candidate to win MVP among his fellow BBNBA members, but he’s also in the top three or four for league MVP. Davis is having a monster season despite his New Orleans Pelicans squad ranking near the bottom of the Western Conference. Several minor injuries to Davis along with other more serious injuries to key role players have hindered the Pellies ability to establish a consistent rhythm and flow, but their problems go much deeper than just sprained ankles and sore muscles.
Davis is having the best season of his still young and already impressive career. He’s currently averaging 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists (all career highs), and 2.6 blocks per game. He’s unleashed a scoring profile that includes every area of the court while also protecting the rim at an elite level. Unfortunately, the Pelicans are 21-25, currently 12th in the West and 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot. Rumors of Davis potentially being traded (or eventually demanding one) to a team such as the Los Angeles Lakers – which feature LeBron James, who is signed to the same agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, that Davis recently signed with – have infiltrated the media atmosphere and been impossible to ignore. The Pelicans have had over five years to prepare for this season, one where Davis’ future with the team could be decided in the summer, and have done a magnificently horrific job of creating a title contender around an obvious future MVP.
The DeMarcus Cousins experiment last season was bold and worked initially, but ultimately failed due to a torn Achilles. Recouping that loss with players such as Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton were solid moves, but hardly anything that moved the needle towards improving off of their huge season in 2017-18.
The Pelicans average 9.0 more points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor compared to when he sits, according to Cleaning the Glass. When Davis is on the floor, opponents are five percent less likely to attempt a shot at the rim, one of the best marks in the entire league. He’s almost always the most effective player on the court, regardless of whether or not he’s directly affecting the game. The Pelicans are terrible without Davis. They’re even worse if you take away both Davis and Jrue Holiday.
Since this season began, I’ve expected Davis to eventually leave New Orleans for a situation that can give him the opportunity to win right now. His media quotes throughout the season have only justified my view on that, but I don’t believe that anything is concrete at this moment. There is still a ton of basketball to be played and money always talks in some form or fashion. Now I can’t predict if that trade/trade demand will be to the Lakers or even possibly the Boston Celtics, but with every passing game where Davis scores 30-plus points in a loss, you know the thought of leaving is creeping more and more to the front of his brain. He knows how good he is and how small his window to win is in actuality.
Impressive start for Hamidou Diallo
Hamidou Diallo has regressed a bit since his initially impressive run to begin his rookie season in Oklahoma City, but he busted out of the gate to the surprise of many. Diallo has played in 39 games this season – including two starts – while averaging 4.4 points and 2.2 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game. His jump shot is still a disaster, but his energy, effort, and superior athleticism have allowed him to carve out playing time. He takes almost all of his shots at the rim, 71 percent of them to be accurate (he actually ranks in the 100th percentile among wing players in shot attempts taken at the rim, although he connects on only 58 percent of those attempts, which ranks in the 36th percentile).
With Diallo, though, who is barely 20 years old, the Thunder are just trying to get him to develop a niche. They don’t want him taking endless threes or running the offense. Right now, they want him playing hard and running in transition, and he has excelled in those two areas. He’s one of the best shot blockers for his position, crashes the glass, and gets fouled on his shot attempts at a rate higher than nearly anyone in the league. Diallo is far from a perfect player and I was genuinely concerned about how OKC would use/develop him, but they’ve done a great job so far. I guess when an organization has a track record of developing players such as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and probably several others I can’t think of at this moment, it’s hard to argue that Diallo wouldn’t have a chance to play well. There is NBA starter potential in Diallo and if any franchise can pull it out of him, it’s the Thunder. Eventually, though, he’ll have to be able to rely more on his jumper.
The Charlotte Hornets finding their roles
The Hornets possess two former Kentucky players, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Malik Monk. MKG has been relegated to the bench this season after being a full-time starter for nearly six full seasons, but is thriving in his new role. His minutes are at a career-low, but he’s doing more in shorter bursts than he ever did as a starter. It makes sense though, in hindsight. MKG is a perennial ball-stopper and hustler. He’s never been a threat from deep and isn’t someone to consistently attack a defense. Coming off the bench allows him to utilize his most important individual asset, which is his energy. He’ll dive for loose balls, willingly defend the opposing teams best player, and doesn’t try to exert himself too much on offense. Basically, he knows his limitations and role within the offense. When he ran with the starters, his lack of shooting made it harder for the team to stretch the floor around Kemba Walker. Now, Walker is feasting upon an open court while MKG shores up the defense for the second-unit. His newfound role doesn’t make the fact that the Hornets got screwed out of the No. 1 pick that eventually turned into Anthony Davis by a couple of ping pong balls any less brutal, but at least they know what he is now and can use him knowing exactly what he’s going to give every night. There is definite value in that.
The story of Malik Monk’s second NBA season is a bit more depressing. Monk doesn’t even turn 21 until next month, so I can’t stress enough that I’m not giving up on him yet. But I’m going to roast him for a minute here, because he hasn’t taken any considerable leap from his first to second season and that is notable. The Hornets new head coach, James Borrego, made it a point in the offseason to mention how Monk would be a featured piece of his new uptempo offense. That idea has proved to be wildly inconsistent to no one else’s fault but Monk (although to be fair, the Hornets have shown to be rather incompetent when it comes to building a team around Walker).
The Hornets are still mediocre this season, but have made strides on offense and have picked up their pace and shooting to adapt to the current model of the NBA. Monk has too, but not efficiently. He has a massive usage rate for someone who shoots as poorly from the field as himself. Monk has one of the lowest effective field goal percentages among all wing players on a relatively high rate of volume. He’s severely improved his ability to draw fouls, but that hardly matters when he’s taking 23 percent of his shots from the midrange area and hitting them at only a 30 percent mark. But you still see bursts of potential from Monk. He hasn’t met a shot he hasn’t fallen in love with, and once those open looks begin to fall, that will be a viable weapon. But right now, defenses almost don’t seem to care if Monk wants to pull up for an open look from 25-feet with 18 seconds on the shot clock because they know that shot isn’t going in. He has a brilliant connection with Hornets rookie Miles Bridges on fastbreak alley-oops, but that’s about as far as Monk’s highlights go. The Hornets are feeding him more minutes than last season (18.5 per game this year compared to 13.6 as a rookie), although the improvements haven’t been anything to rave about. But again, he’s not even 21. Monk has plenty of time to develop.
De’Aaron Fox and the argument for Most Improved
If you follow the daily BBNBA recaps, you’d know of my affinity for this Kings team. It was love at first swish and their collection of young talent that plays beyond their years continues to mystify and mesmerize me to no end. De’Aaron Fox took a leap from his rookie season to year two that not even the most optimistic Fox believer could have predicted. I don’t know if even he thought he would play this well. And before I go any further, let’s establish something real quick. Fox should not – and will not – win the Most Improved Player award and let me quickly explain why.
There is a progression path that all rookies, especially ones drafted in the top 5-7, are expected to follow. Fox is no outlier. His improvement in the offseason may have exceeded expectations, but he was still expected to improve and play at a starting point guard level by this point. It would be more newsworthy had Fox not hit a leap in production. The Most Improved Player award is intended for players who have been in the league for at least two seasons and then saw a significant jump in their numbers. The No. 5 overall pick in an NBA draft – which Fox was – is selected by that organization with every intention that they can turn into a future All-Star. Fox is doing that, but just because he had a rough rookie season – as almost all rookie NBA point guards do – doesn’t mean he deserves to win an award for doing something he was supposed to do anyway. His teammate, Buddy Hield, is a true Most Improved Player candidate. Go check out his numbers – along with Toronto’s forward Pascal Siakim. Those are two players who have legitimately made unexpected improvements. Honestly, Willie Cauley-Stein has a better argument for the award than Fox.
How good is Trey Lyles, exactly?
This question could keep Denver Nuggets fans busy until 2020. At age 23 and in his fourth NBA season, I don’t believe anyone can give an exact answer on Lyles. He has made minimal improvement since having somewhat of a “breakout” season last year, where he filled in for the injured Paul Millsap and quickly established himself as an important – and necessary – role player. Since then, the Nuggets have beefed up their bench and their role players have stepped up in massive ways. Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, and Torrey Craig were all on the outside of the Nuggets rotation looking in. 45 games into their season, all four of them have leapfrogged Lyles in playing time. Those four are a big reason the Nuggets have played as well as they have, but it’s come at a cost for Lyles.
Lyles’ numbers are the same across the board compared to last season, except his three-point shooting has plummeted straight to the fiery depths of hell. On a slightly higher volume, Lyles is shooting just a hair under 13 percentage points worse from three compared to last season. A 6-foot-10 stretch forward who struggles to rebound and doesn’t hit his threes is a formula for disaster in the modern NBA. His on/off numbers burn my eyeballs. Through his first 20 games, Lyles scored at least 10 points in 12 different games. In the next 23 games, he did so only six times. Consistency has always been a problem for Lyles, but it’s killing him at the most important moments of his career. He’ll be a free agent in the summer. I’ve watched Lyles play a ton of minutes this season, it’s not like he can’t play, he earned all of those early season minutes. But once those shots started to miss, his confidence waned.
Now let’s get ready for the second-half of the season.
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