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The Nets’ Rough Start + Kawhi, Mathurin & More

Happy Halloween, basketball fans! Super, super excited to bring this newsletter to you guys.

Things have gotten spooky in the association already. So, without further ado, let’s get started.



Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and the Car Crash Brooklyn Nets

Have you ever wondered why people always stop and stare when there’s a car accident on the road? My best guess is that seeing destruction is fascinating to people. That’s why, in many ways, over the last 3 seasons – NBA fans haven’t been able to take their eyes off the cataclysm that is… the Brooklyn Nets. 

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were joining forces in Bedstuy like Biggie & Puff, but I guess the Nets do prove that Mo’ Money, indeed means Mo’ Problems. While in theory, having two of the most talented scorers in NBA history should be a good starting point for building any contender, that hypothesis goes out the window when 1 of those scorers is a part-time conspiracy theorist who promotes anti-Semitic rhetoric in-between practice and tip-off. 

What makes things even worse is that Durant, with all of his talents and abilities, seemingly doesn’t hold his teammate and partner-in-crime accountable for his actions — oftentimes deflecting when asked by the media, or even blaming the press for speculating about the drama around the team.

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“‘Absolutely not.’ Durant said. ‘The only impact is you guys and everybody outside the locker room.’”


On top of that, the Nets have looked putrid to start the season. Just downright bad. Especially on defense, where they’re dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions. Coming into the season it was supposed to be Ben Simmons, the Nets’ third star and former DPOY candidate, who was expected to sure-up Brooklyn’s defense, but so far Simmons looked like a shell of himself on both ends of the court. It has been well over a year since he’s played basketball so maybe it will take some time for him to get physically and mentally “there” – but right now it is just doom and gloom on I-278 in Brooklyn, where everyone is watching the car crash that is the Nets.

The Lakers, Shooting Bricks 

Speaking of car crashes – that is the sound you think you hear when the Los Angeles Lakers are shooting the ball. The Lakers aren’t the only team in the association that is shooting less than 30% from behind the arc this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder are also in that department BUT… they are the only team shooting less than 27% on their 3’s.

Before everyone jumps on board to blame Russell Westbrook for all of it, this isn’t just him. Prior to the Lakers’ first win on Sunday night vs the Nuggets (a game where Westbrook hit 2 threes by the way) the entire team has struggled to gain any type of rhythm from behind the arc, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis who are shooting 26% and 18%, respectively, from outside through 6 games.

Here’s how the Lakers are shooting it from behind the arc:

I understand the quick knee-jerk reaction to blame Westbrook for the Lakers’ shortcomings but even outside of the former MVP… this roster just isn’t good enough to compete on a nightly basis. The real culprits of this heinous crime of basketball is the Lakers front office and ownership who 1) made the ill-advised move for Westbrook in the first place, gutting the roster of 3 of its most important rotation players (KCP, Kyle Kuzma, and Alex Caruso) to make it happen and 2) are unwilling to do what is necessary (trading their 2027 and 2029 1st round draft picks) to give this team some sort of a chance to compete around James and Davis. 

GM Rob Pelinka wants to wait until Thanksgiving, but with the Lakers 1-5 to start the year – does he really have that much time? 

Kawhi Are We Worried About The Clippers? 

The Lakers aren’t the only team in Los Angeles struggling to regain their footing, almost quite literally. 

Kawhi Leonard’s highly anticipated return to basketball, after missing all of the 2021-2022 season recovering from ACL surgery, has resulted in him playing just 41 minutes through 6 games for the Clippers. Leonard missed two games versus the Thunder early last week after he experienced stiffness in the surgically repaired knee and man, honestly? It just sucks to see.

Leonard hasn’t played more than 60 games in the regular season since 2017-2018, with lower body injuries consistently derailing his career despite a healthy dose of good ol’ “load management”. Don’t get me wrong, he has been, somehow, still undeniably incredible when healthy — even helping lead the Raptors to a championship in 2019 – but it just feels like that Leonard isn’t coming back any time soon. 

The Clippers, should, in theory, still be a good team without Leonard with one of the deepest rosters in basketball and Paul George at the helm of things but they’ve also looked discombobulated, out-of-sorts, and old on offense – especially in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Brandon Ingram-less Pelicans.

But it’s still early, and hopefully, the Clippers are just being extra cautious with Leonard’s knee because they know the expectations and pressure to win is at an all-time high this season. 

Sluggish Sixers? 

There was a lot of hype heading into this season for the Philadelphia 76ers. James Harden took a pay cut? It probably shook up the nightlife economy in Philly a little bit. But at least the Sixers could sign PJ Tucker to a 3-year $30M deal to sure up their wing defense. With Tucker and the former defensive player of the year candidate Joel Embiid in the fold, surely Philly’s defense can hold its own, while its offensive fire-power leads them to victories, right? 

No, not exactly. Through 7 games, Philly’s transition defense has been non-existent, giving up 18 points per game on opponents’ fast breaks. Their point of attack and off-ball defense has potentially been even worse, falling asleep on rotations and letting teams punch through gaps at the point of attack to finish around the basket. 

Not sure what’s worse… the Sixers transition defense (right) or the Sixers off-ball defense (left)

So… you decide 👇🏼

— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) October 27, 2022

The Sixers are allowing teams to shoot 71% around the basket, tied for 2nd most in the NBA, and it’s because Harden and the rest of the guard rotation just haven’t been good enough as the first line of defense, forcing Embiid to try and clean up the mess. 

The lone bright spots? Harden does look sprier. He’s developed a nice mid-range jump shot as a way to counter not being able to explode to the basket as much. And Tyrese Maxey has been offensive dynamite, scoring in every which way possible. 

Things will be fine in Philly, for the most part, but the defense is something that is really concerning for a team that considers themselves contenders. 

NBA Salary Limit?

News broke early last week that, as part of the NBA’s ongoing CBA negotiations, the league is proposing an “upper salary limit” to replace the luxury tax. 

This was, obviously, met with a firm, resounding “GTFOH” by the NBPA, and rightfully so.

The NBA cites its reasoning as an attempt to foster a more ‘competitive balance’ across the league by disabling teams like the Nets, Clippers, and Warriors from going deep into the luxury tax to field expensive rosters. 

But let’s be real – what has that deep dive into luxury tax territory really done for those three? The Warriors are the only team out of the trio to go to the NBA Finals… win a championship, and do so by paying players that they drafted in Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and now Jordan Poole. 

If anything, this proposal would only make cheap owners even cheaper and limit rich owners from doing what they want to. 

In theory, a change in the way the luxury tax works could make sense to help even the playing field but look at the NBA this season! There are, maybe, 8 teams that could win it all. And about 14 others with genuine playoff aspirations. The current system has, in its own way, created a competitive balance in the league.

Don’t fix what ain’t broke. 


The Magic’s Bol Bol Experiment

Look around the NBA and you will see fascinating basketball experiments everywhere. The Toronto Raptors are trotting out lineups with no real center (although Christian Koloko has played a good chunk of minutes so far) and rely primarily on a heavy dose of wings and forwards to play hot potato, sharing the responsibilities of anchoring the middle. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New Orleans Pelicans among others are running double big lineups at a rate that should make fans apologize to Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner for ever wondering “if they could work”. 

But potentially the most out-there and intriguing experiment is happening in the world of Magic down in Orlando, Florida. 

Over the weekend, the Magic threw out a starting lineup that included Paolo Banchero (6’10), Wendell Carter Jr (6’10), Franz Wagner (6’10), Bol Bol (7’2), and then… Terrence Ross (6’7)?

It may be jarring for a casual NBA fan to watch a 7-foot+ player in Bol bring the ball up the court, makes a pitch pass to another big-man with ball-handling abilities in Wagner, who then initiates a PnR action with the rookie Big-man Banchero, who eventually does the dump-off to WCJ for the layup – but it happens and they’re actually pretty good together? 

In 32 minutes of action on the court that lineup has a defensive rating of 86.2 which by my estimations is… insanely good. They also have a net rating of 47.7 and while those numbers are eye-popping, it’s still a little early to call it the future of basketball, especially when Orlando is 1-6 to start the season. 

But, it could provide a peak into the future for the Magic – who have drafted, traded for, and signed players who all play similar “positions” but give you a little bit of everything; Banchero and Wagner as your playmaking, do-it-all scoring machines, meanwhile Bol stretches the floor and towers over the paint and WCJ can do a healthy mix of all it. And don’t forget the fact that they also have another 7-foot do-it-aller in Mo Bamba. 

Head coach Jamahl Mosley is experimenting like crazy and it’s made this team worthwhile to watch while also making Bol something more than just a novelty act in the NBA. 

Dennis Smith Jr. in Charlotte 

Fayetteville, North Carolina – this is for you. 

I always find it endearing when a player finds his footing in the league and man – I am so happy for DSJ who was working towards trying out for the NFL before the Hornets signed him prior to the start of the regular season. 

With LaMelo Ball out recovering from an ankle injury, Smith Jr has taken the starting spot in Charlotte and is thriving, averaging just under 12 points and 6 assists while shooting 47% from the field and 54% from three. 

He’s doing this while playing some stellar point-of-attack defense for the Hornets too, even putting the clamps on Steph Curry to force OT on Saturday against the Warriors.

It seems like his defense is something he’s hanging his hat on now, and that is how he’s carving out a career for himself. 

This is a player who is already on his 5th team in 6 seasons but it seems he may have found his home in Charlotte. 

And it’s only fitting that he is doing this in the state that he calls home, too. 

Small Ball Blazers 

Too many Urkles on ya team that’s why your Winslow. Justice. 

Folks – the Blazers might have something here. That something is a redemption arc for one Justice Winslow, who has been their defacto center in small-ball lineups, anchoring the middle and making plays on offense like a dollar tree version of Draymond Green – and it’s added a nice wrinkle to this Portland team. 

Now, the Blazers have started the season 5-1 thanks in part to the tremendous play of Damian Lillard, Anferenee Simons, and Jusuf Nurkic, but their latest additions on the wings have added a defensive versatility that Lillard has never had around him. With Winslow, Jerami Grant, Josh Hart, Nasir Little, and rookie Shaedon Sharpe on the wings – all athletic, long, versatile players – the Blazers can switch on defense more, they can trot out smaller lineups (with Winslow at the 5) and double-down on their offensive strengths as a result. 

But the Winslow redemption arc has, in my opinion, been the coolest part of it all.

Keegan Murray, Ben Mathurin & Older Rookies 

NBA draft experts always look at older players in the draft like how little children look at broccolis on their dinner plate – with sheer disgust. 

(I love broccoli, FWIW, but that’s not the point.)

It seems like when it comes time for the draft, we always end up getting caught up in the whirlwind of ‘age’ and how that might limit a player’s eventual ceiling as a pro. 

Rarely, if ever, do we discuss how that added experience of being a multi-year college player can help you 1) be more ready for the physical toll of a professional sport and 2) look more poised right out of the gate. 

There are MANY past examples of this, just off the rip, to name a few: Fred VanVleet, Malcolm Brogdon, Pascal Siakam, Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, and the list goes on and on. 

This year, Kings forward Keegan Murray and Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin are 2 rookies who are also shutting up any ageists in the draft world. 

Murray and Mathurin both look poised as hell, man. Nothing bothers them. They can read and react to opposing defenses in a way that regular rookies just don’t. They display an element of calm that normal youngins simply. just. don’t.

And it’s helped Mathurin become the most potent bench scorer in the league to start the season.

NBA Bench Scoring Leaders 🏀

1. Bennedict Mathurin – 21.0 PTS 😳
2. Christian Wood – 19.0 PTS
3. Jordan Poole – 15.8 PTS
4. Alperen Sengun – 15.7 PTS
5. John Wall – 15.3 PTS

(Min. 3 GP off the bench)

— (@basketbllnews) October 30, 2022

And Murray has forced the Kings coaching staff to add him to the starting lineup already, helping Sacramento to their first win of the season on Saturday vs the Heat with a 22-point performance.

Keegan Murray first NBA win:

22 PTS
8-13 FG

Averaging 3.3 threes per game this season.

— StatMuse (@statmuse) October 30, 2022

And it’s not like they’re even that old, bruh. Murray is 22 and Mathurin is 20. And with the way NBA careers are longer now with advancements in training & treatment, there’s no reason to be down on a player in the draft because of age. 

It makes you look silly. 

The Grizzlies Development factory

When thinking of the best development factories in the NBA, many nerds like myself will be quick to reference the Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, and San Antonio Spurs as benchmark organizations for developing players. 

And that remains true for the most part, but a 4th contender has entered the conversation over the last couple of seasons: the Memphis Grizzlies. 

Every year, the Grizzlies introduce young players into their rotation to play real, meaningful minutes and it goes off without a hitch. 

This season its 2nd year big-man Santi Aldama who has slotted in to play over 30 minutes a game so far and rookies David Roddy and Jake LaRavia have contributed as well. 

Last season it was Ziaire Williams. 

The year before that it was Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, and Xavier Tillman. 

Only two of those players I just mentioned were drafted in the top 20. 

Finding good value at the tail-end of the draft is a good way to consistently fill up your rotation in a cost-effective manner – especially when you’re a contending team like the Grizzlies. 

Just hats off to their scouting and development department.

(Follow @JustEsBaraheni on Twitter for more analysis and check out the SDPN Sports Youtube Channel for more NBA Coverage)