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Luka As Icarus + O.G Anunoby, Boucher & More


Kyrie Apologizes & Nash Escapes

Is it too late now to say sorry? Because I really am sorry that this story headlines our second straight newsletter. 

The truth of the matter is, it’s a story that likely won’t go away anytime soon and shouldn’t. After what felt like months (more like weeks) of Kyrie Irving standing firm on his tweets and statements, the man finally apologized. 

Of course, that only happened after the Nets suspended him indefinitely and set up a list of requirements Irving would need to fulfill in order to return to the team. 

Sources: Nets have delivered Kyrie Irving six items he must complete to return to team:

– Apologize/condemn movie
– $500K donation to anti-hate causes
– Sensitivity training
– Antisemitic training
– Meet with ADL, Jewish leaders
– Meet with Joe Tsai to demonstrate understanding

— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 6, 2022

With honest, hardcore cash at stake for Irving, I wouldn’t be surprised if he folds once again and succumbs to the Nets’ demands (he sort of did the same in the summer when he and the Nets were at odds on a contract extension and he wasn’t looking to throw away over $30M). 

But it goes to show you that “standing your ground” especially when that ground you stand on is shaky, at the edge of a cliff with little to no resale value, and is shared by racist, antisemitic people – it might not be worth standing on the said ground. 

We’ll see how this all unfolds because the Nets are still a long way from figuring things out, without a head coach, without ½ of their dynamic duo, and without Ben Simmons. 

In my best Chandler Bing impression: “Can things BE any worse?” 

The Warriors Have A Bench Issue 

Ahhhhh 1st world problems.

Your local Starbucks running out of your favorite drink.

You, having to bend your iPhone charger at an awkward angle just so your phone actually charges. ‘

And the Golden State Warriors have to deal with their embarrassment of riches backfiring on them. 

Coming into the season, the Warriors were on the precipice of doing something only the dynastic San Antonio Spurs have done: successfully toggle winning championships and developing their core of the future. 

But so far into this season, it looks like the young bucks aren’t as far along as we all thought. 

The Warriors have lost 5 straight games to the lowly Hornets, the awful Pistons, the Heat, the Orlando Magic, and the New Orleans Pelicans – and it’s not because of their veterans. 

The Warriors have had the 2nd best starting lineup in the NBA so far (Curry, Klay, Wiggins, Draymond, Looney) with a +24.1 net rating. 

Their young bench, however, has been a tire fire. 

Even their brightest youngster, Jordan Poole, has struggled on both ends, shooting 41% from the field, 31% from 3, and only 82.5% from the line (Poole was the best FT shooter in the league last season – 92.5%). 

The young guys they expected to play meaningful minutes: James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody just haven’t been able to contribute at a high level on defense and it’s led to the Warriors being ranked 28th in defensive rating at this time of writing, despite their starters still holding their end of the bargain. 

This summer, the Warriors felt confident enough in their young core to let Otto Porter Jr and Gary Payton II walk – but the guys they’ve replaced them with just haven’t been ready and don’t look like they will be anytime soon. 

With depth now an issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warriors are aggressive to replenish their bench at the trade deadline. 

The Timberwolves Will Be Fine 

Outside of the Cavaliers landing Donovan Mitchell (which looks like a homerun right now by the way) — there was no off-season move I was higher on than the Timberwolves going all in for Rudy Gobert. 

Darnnit, it just made sense. Gobert could clean up for KAT’s defensive mistakes, he would make them a sure-fire top-10 defense, and on offense, his screen-setting, gravity-inducing vibes would be enough to keep things humming right out of the gate. 

So far, I’ve been pretty wrong. But I’m not surprised. 

Adding a new player, especially one as important as Gobert, can be an adjustment for a team that had figured out how to win using a specific style of basketball. 

But now they have to change their brand of play and that can take a few weeks, heck a few months, to calibrate. 

It’s been a give-and-take situation, thus far. 

Especially on defense, where the double big lineup of KAT and Gobert just hasn’t worked, boasting a defensive rating of 110 points per 100 possessions (Not good). 

It’s even worse when Gobert is off the floor and it’s just KAT (120), and it’s insanely good when KAT is off the floor and Gobert is on (99.9) but their offense craters (102.75) with Gobert on and KAT off, compared to when KAT is on and Gobert is off (117).  

On offense, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell just haven’t shown enough playmaking juice to keep things from being stagnant, and KAT and Gobert consistently clog up the paint for each other (and their guards). 

So why am I optimistic about them figuring it out? 

Well, because Chris Finch is a good coach. Because KAT is coming off an illness that made him lose a bunch of weight. And because, at some point, Edwards will figure out how to use the vertical spacing Gobert provides. 

It’ll be a slow grind for them to figure it out, but they’ll get there. 

A Blow For The Raptors… A Look Into The Future? 

Pascal Siakam was playing the best basketball of his career to start this season. And now he’s out indefinitely after straining his groin, slipping on the Dallas Mavericks court on Friday Night. 

There’s no question that this is a massive blow for the Raptors who have started out the season 6-4 and have stayed afloat on offense thanks to Siakam’s heroic efforts on that end. His playmaking, his maneuvering out of double teams, and the work he put in isolations are going to be deeply missed by Raptors fans for a few weeks, but it’s not all doom and gloom, in my opinion. 

The Raptors’ schedule in November is lighter (after playing the Bulls again tonight, they face the Rockets, Thunder, Pacers, and Pistons before we see an uptick in competition) and that should give them a decent enough buffer for at least 2 weeks. 

With Fred VanVleet returning from a back injury and looking sharp as ever (scoring 31 points and dishing out 11 assists against the Bulls on Sunday night), the Raptors will look to their all-star point guard, as well as Scottie Barnes, O.G Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr to shoulder the load on offense. Primarily Barnes, who will be seen the most uptick in usage as the teams’ primary playmaker and facilitator. 

Barnes has done well with Siakam off the court (+23 net rating in 57 minutes) and that in itself should make Raptors fans excited to see a glimpse of what the future could hold with Barnes at the helm of things.

Might be a bitter pill to swallow, losing Siakam right now, but watching Scottie experiment this next month should be cool.

Do you remember that scene in Interstellar where he’s looking at himself in the past? This stretch by Barnes could be one of those moments we look back on in a few years.

Is Luka Flying Too Close To The Sun? 

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen a post I made about where Luka Doncic ranks in the NBA right now, but here’s an updated version: 

#1 in PPG (36) 

#1 in USG (38) 

#1 in AST % (47.6) 

#1 in PPP in the PnR (1.22) 

#1 in PER 

#2 in Drives (shooting an insane 74% on them too) 

#4 in Touches 

#1 In Box Plus/Minus

Now compare those numbers to that of 1986-1987 Michael Jordan: 

#1 in PPG (37.1) 

#1 in USG (38.3) 

#1 in PER (29.8) 

#1 in Box Plus/Minus

A crazy comparison, right? Jordan didn’t win MVP that season, by the way, it was Magic Johnson. But it is one of the most heavily debated MVP battles of all time. If Luka keeps this up, he’s going to throw himself into the MVP conversation regardless of how well the Mavs are doing. 

My biggest question with this (and virtually all heliocentric basketball) is, how sustainable can this be? And for how long? 

Every NBA champion has some aspects of heliocentricity (best described by Batman’s motto “I work best alone”), but which NBA champion has relied on ONE player like this? 

Michael Jordan couldn’t do it alone. Kobe Bryant couldn’t do it alone. LeBron James couldn’t. Giannis couldn’t. Steph couldn’t. 

James Harden, who is probably the closest modern example to what Luka is doing in terms of usage and workload, couldn’t. 

While Luka is absolutely cooking, and it will be more than enough in the regular season – this current formula has me wondering if it’s a recipe for exhaustion. 

Luka is like Icarus, flying waaaaay too close to the sun, and while it might not matter right now – at some point, he’ll need to ease up off the gas and let someone else help.


The Buck(s) Stops Here… There… Everywhere! 

Last season, and coming off of back surgery, Brook Lopez looked washed. Straight-up stone-washed Jeans level washed. 

Now? He’s back.

It’s way too early to be talking about end-of-season awards, but Lopez and Giannis have made a great case for splitting the DPOY among themselves (Don’t Worry, O.G Anunoby – it’s a long season). 

The Bucks are the only undefeated team in the NBA through 3 weeks of basketball at 9-0. They are the best defense in the NBA, allowing only 100.6 points per 100 possessions. And they’re the best half-court defense, allowing only 83.9 points per 100 half-court possessions. 

Overall, they’re a sound, consistent defensive unit that hangs their hat on Jrue Holiday putting clamps on opposing guards at the point of attack and Giannis and BroLo cleaning things up for them in the middle. When they’re both on the court, the Bucks allow 10.4 fewer points per 100 possessions. 

A big part of that has been the fact that Lopez has looked much healthier, being able to protect the rim, split the difference in drop coverage, and possesses the agility to recover to the weak side all in one possession.

Having trust in your back-line defender (Lopez) and your help-side rim protector (Giannis) allows the Bucks perimeter defenders to stay at home on shooters (Give up the least corners 3’s) and force teams to take tougher shots (give up the 2nd most above-the-break 3’s), which all-in-all results in a pretty kick-ass defense.

O.G Anunoby, Eyes On The Prize 

Speaking of DPOY, defensive juggernauts, and whatnot, O.G. Anunoby wants you guys to know what he’s gunning for this year – and so far – he’s made one heck of a case for himself. 

Anunoby has recorded a steal in every game this season. 

But wait there’s more. 

He’s recorded 3 or more steals in each game this week. 

But wait there’s more. 

He’s the first player in Raptors franchise history to have back-to-back-to-back games where he nabbed 5+ steals. 

He’s averaging 3.1 steals per game this year and if he keeps that up, he’d be the first player to average 3+ steals in a season since 1991. 

Steals themselves aren’t a good indicator for a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, they’re mostly the by-product of a very good defensive possession or the result of a keen and attentive defensive player making a good read in the lane to pick off a pass. 

Anunoby, however, does both those things at a high level. In fact, a lot of the time Anunoby is the creator and the creation with these defensive plays, mucking up action on one end of the floor before recovering to another spot in time for the steal. 

He’s guarding your best player on defense, no matter the size or position, and he’s the help-side rim deterrent. 

He’s pinching in on drives and recovering out to shooters to convert on a good closeout. 

O.G has his eyes on the prize, which at this point is just deflections, steals, and recognition… but if he keeps this up … that recognition will ultimately turn into a reward in the form of a trophy. 

Kuzma, Boucher, Powell & The Thankless Job of a Role Player 

Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Powell, and Chris Boucher. All three are role players, they all play different roles, all three are varyingly crucial to their teams’ success, and yet – their jobs on the court are thankless ones. 

Kuzma, the only consistent starter of the bunch, has really carved out a role for himself in Washington over the last 2 seasons as a good shooter, who plays good team defense, is a good rebounder for his position, and doesn’t demand too many touches to be effective. Kuz will never get the credit for success in Washington, that’ll be Brad Beal or Porzingis, but there’s no question about just how pivotal of a role he plays and will continue to play as one of the premiere role players in the league. 

Boucher, the only consistent bench player of the bunch, should mostly be viewed as a 7th starter for the Toronto Raptors. The lanky, thin-framed big man has had seasons in the past where his play has been polarizing and agonizing but this season, entering year 7 at age 29, Boucher has a self-awareness about his game that is refreshing to see. He knows what he can provide: a good athlete, who can space the floor, block shots as the help-side rim protector and crash the glass to provide extra offensive possessions – and he does just that. Boucher has been the Raptors’ plus/minus king for a while and he’s been the Raptors’ best bench player so far this season – despite rarely ever getting the credit he deserves. 

Powell, the solid, does-nothing-sexy big-man, is a phenomenal screen-setter, rim-runner, and defensive deterrent. He rarely, if ever, stuffs the stat sheet and consistently (at least from what I’ve seen) gets the brunt of the frustration from Mavs fans. But Dallas, I’m telling you guys, it’s THOSE guys that deserve the most love. It is a thankless job, especially when playing with a high-volume, high-usage player like Luka. 

What do these three, for the most part, all have in common? They rarely get the credit they deserve.

Role players. How many of us? 

Lauri Markkanen Leap 

I waited until week 2 to sniff out if what Lauri Markkanen was doing this year was real and… maybe? 

Through the first 4 seasons of his career – I had no idea what to make of Markkanen. He was a stretch big, who didn’t really shoot the ball that well (36% on 6 attempts a game), couldn’t stay healthy, didn’t finish around the basket well, and didn’t have too much offensive promise. 

Just meh. 

Last season, in Year 5, Markkanen found his role in Cleveland, as their 7-foot-tall small-forward in a weird Cavaliers lineup that forced him to play on the perimeter more and it worked! He found his niche. 

Now, in Utah with the Jazz, the training wheels are completely off (and on the highest usage rate of his career) Markkanen is absolutely cooking. 

He’s averaging a career-best 22.2 points per game and 10 rebounds and he’s doing it on the most this-is-not-Lauri shot diet of all time.

He’s shooting 80% at the rim! He has never had a season where he’s shot better than 65%. He’s shooting 53% on all mid-range shots and 56% in the short mid-range area. 

And wildly enough, he’s only shooting 30% from three. 

All that should probably balance out (no he will not continue to shoot like Zion at the rim), but he’s made some serious leaps as a self-creator, he’s more aggressive than he ever was and it’s paying off in the form of a breakout year. 

Knicks Starters Need To Change 

The Knicks might need a new starting lineup. 

Jalen Brunson has been phenomenal, maybe the best point guard the Knicks have had in like 30 years. 

Julius Randle has looked better than last year but not quite like his Most Improved season. Somewhere in the middle. 

RJ Barrett has been going through a tough offensive stretch right now, but the defense is good and the screen navigation is superb. 

Mitchell Robinson & Evan Fournier need to get swapped out, though. 

Who replaces them? Cam Reddish and Isaiah Hartenstein. 

Brunson-Barrett-Cam-Randle-Hart has a +8.82 net rating. 

The actual starters? -12.77 net rating in over 100 minutes together this season. 

It’s still early, but it’s something to keep in mind when watching the Knicks… their bench is oftentimes much more fun than their starters. 

And it might be time for Thibodeau to change things up.