Here is Part 2 of the report card (Which yes, is a day late. All I’m gonna say is that seven hours of homework is not fun.)
B+: Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz
The B+’s are the teams that are one step away from contention. They’re almost there! I feel like these are the teams that fit that criteria.
The Thunder are awesome to watch for 35 minutes or so. Those are the minutes that Russell Westbrook plays. He’s averaging a triple double right now, which yeah, is pretty good.
The problem with the Thunder is that they don’t have a 2nd pony. Its all Russell Westbrook. Its entertaining, but its not efficient, and though they are 16-12, its affecting their win total.
Enes Kanter, by PER perspective, is the Thunder’s best player. That makes sense, mostly because PER doesn’t take defense into account. Kanter is lucky thats the case. I can guarantee you Kanter would not have OKC’s 2nd highest PER if it took defense into account.
Anyways, Steven Adams is really good, but he’s a center, and this isn’t a big man’s league anymore. Its hard to run an offense through a big guy now.
OKC’s other problem is that they aren’t a good three-point shooting team. Domantas Sabonis (who’s been awesome and I’m falling in love) is the best three pointer shooter on this team. He’s showing off his stretch capabilities, but there’s three problems: 1) Thats not what he is best at. 2) A power forward should not be their best three-point shooter. 3) He’s not a high-volume three point shooter.
Westbrook’s three pointer has been an issue his whole career. It wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t shoot them, but him and Victor Olidipo are both shooting five a game.
This gets into a deeper problem. Westbrook’s shooting is holding this team down. He’s shooting 42.3% on field goals, which isn’t bad, but it should be better for a No.1 option who’s taking 23 shots a game.
Crunch-time is another problem too. Being the No.1 option, of course the ball is going to be in Westbrook’s hands. But Westbrook’s erratic behavior is dangerous, and has cost the Thunder some games this year.
This is whats holding the Thunder back. This might be why Kevin Durant left. This might be why the Thunder aren’t an A-team yet. They’re just not efficient playing this way. Yeah, its entertaining. Yeah, its amazing to see what Russ is doing. But in the end, its just not gonna work.
The Grizzlies are having the same issues as always: Bad offense and injuries.
How bad have the injuries been? Well, the Grizzlies’ most common lineup this season has consisted of…
- Andrew Harrison
- Tony Allen
- Troy Williams
- JaMychal Green
- Marc Gasol
At the same time though, I’ve became a JaMychal Green fan. He’s a big physical guy, but is taller and more athletic than say, Zach Randolph.
This Grizzlies team, though completely different from what we’re used to, is still good at one thing: Defense.
Its truly incredible what Dave Fizdale has done. He’s plugged in guys I’ve never heard of and is still keeping this team’s identity while winning games.
At the same time, its almost impossible to do what Memphis has done. They’re ranked No.1 in Def Rtf and No.28 in Off Rtg. How can you possibly win like that?
Its just amazing. Their leader and best player Mike Conley hasn’t played practically at all. Chandler Parsons has been hurt like usual. And yet, they’re still doing what they do: Grinding out games and winning with defense. I can’t give Dave Fizdale enough credit.
The Jazz are one my favorites this season. They have so many guys. And so many guys are doing well! They have three players with a PER over 20!
George Hill, though he’s been hurt, has been awesome for this team. He’s shooting 53.4% on 13 shots a game. Plus, he’s given this team a competent leader and commander.
Whats keeping the Jazz from being a true contender is their lack of an alpha dog. They have guys who can take a game-winning shot if needed (Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood), but don’t have that guy who can go into “I got this” mode. They’re all too unselfish. Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward aren’t those type of players. George Hill might be a little too erratic playing that way. And Rudy Gobert, though awesome, is a big guy. He’s not getting the ball if the Jazz need a game-tying three.
The Jazz are awesome, fun to watch, and really good. They’ve been one of my favorite teams. But they lack what you need to win in the playoffs. I’m not sure if a trade is the right answer. Maybe its just gonna take time.
A: Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors
We’ve reached the cream of the crop. These teams are pretty boring to write about, because they don’t have huge issues. Their star power carries them, and overpowers their issues.
The Raptors are the 2nd most unlikely team to be an A this early. I just didn’t see it coming into the year. I thought their guard play would be mediocre, and watched them bring back the same team as last year, with the same issues.
Turns out, that issue has been solved. The rookie Pascal Siakiam, though not great individually, has been huge for them at the 4. He’s given them a much better option than Patrick Patterson, who has had a good year, but isn’t a great spacer.
The Raptors have been able to use Patterson and Siakam creatively in lineups, solving what was a major issue last year.
The Clippers have been rolling, but Blake Griffin is hurt again. Thats not surprising. Griffin’s becoming a guy where you just have to count on him missing a least a month per season.
The Clippers won’t be devastated without Griffin. They can afford a couple losses. But how does Griffin’s loss affect them?
First, they have to find those rebounds and points that will be missing. Marressee Speights has been pulling in five a game; his bench presence will continue to be huge. I’d expect Chris Paul to be more aggressive rebounding, and for DeAndre Jordan to have a couple monster games.
Griffin’s injury actually gives the Clippers some flexibility. It allows them to become more creative with their lineups, something that they desperately need. Those lineups they experiment with now could help them out greatly in the postseason.
Speaking of injuries, the Rockets were also just dealt a big blow. Clint Capela broke his leg, and is now out for at least six weeks. He’s been their 2nd best player by PER, and has given Houston a solution to the Nene problem. Now, Capela’s 24.5 minutes per game are gonna be turned over to a combination of Nene and Montrezl Harrell. Nene gets a “Yikes!” But Harrell has grabbed my attention.
I love this guy. I’ve loved him ever since he was in college. Though only averaging 13 minutes a game this year, and playing in only 19 games, he has a 20.3 PER, 2nd highest on the team beside James Harden. Harrell isn’t gonna space the floor much, but he’s a thin body, so he’s able to run well and be more athletic than Nene. You have to be able to run if you’re playing on the Rockets.
Houston has so many other fascinating things going for them right now. James Harden is one of the favorites for MVP. Eric Gordon is a completely different player. Ryan Anderson is taking six threes a game. Its insane!
Seriously though, on Gordon… He’s a completely different player. He’s taking and making insane shots that didn’t go down in New Orleans. He’s kind of a crafty ball-handler now too, though the assists numbers aren’t very high. He’s having a substantial impact that makes the contract he signed look pretty good.
Houston takes the most threes in the league by far, which is weird to say with what Golden State has going for them. But really, a lot of these threes aren’t smart shots. Remember: We’re dealing with James Harden, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson here. They’re just hoisting and praying. But they’re falling, and thats what counts.
The Cavaliers are kicking butt. Kevin Love has figured it out in Cleveland (and yes, I’m happy for him). The Spurs are doing their thing, and they’ve found another under-the radar guy who I’m in love with (Davis Bertans). The Warriors have a frontcourt issue, but they’re also 24-4 so its clearly affecting them. These teams are all boring right now, and don’t have any real concerning issues. Thats what you get from the best.