Posted on January 24, 2023
We’re simply two weeks away from the commerce deadline.
At the moment, within the brutal Western Convention, there are nonetheless 13 groups who’ve aspirations of a Playoff run, and at this stage, each recreation is changing into essential.
In order at all times, right here is my preview of this upcoming week’s NBA motion, in addition to a have a look at the earlier week’s greatest workforce and MVP.
The Lone Wolves
Tright here’s no denying that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is making an attempt his greatest to salvage a misplaced season for the OKC Thunder.
This could have been the 12 months the place Shai would play with the second general choose within the 2022 NBA Draft, Chet Holmgren.
Nevertheless, a foot harm to Chet signifies that he’ll miss everything of his rookie season. OKC began the 12 months by getting into the 2022-23 “Tank Bowl,” however after just a few weeks, it turned apparent that they’d do too effectively to land a top-three choice within the draft.
A lot of that was all the way down to the play of their star man Shai, however different gamers like Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, and rookie Jalen Williams should be credited as effectively.
Finally, the Thunder reached some extent the place they’d no different alternative however to play to win each evening, as even when they’ve a disastrous second half of the season, they’d nonetheless end too effectively to warrant a excessive probability at a high draft choose.
For the primary time because the 2019-20 season, OKC is making an attempt to win and make the playoffs. In fact, they shouldn’t go on the market and make huge trades on the commerce deadline, they need to simply embrace the progress they’re making.
The Thunder’s remaining video games are towards groups with a mixed .476 profitable share, which is the simplest remaining schedule within the NBA.
If Shai can take this Thunder workforce to the Play-In match, and even the Playoffs, with out Chet Holmgren, then he can be mentioned as one of many NBA’s most beneficial gamers.
And to assume that he’s simply 24 years previous.
Another fellow 2018 draftee is in the same state of affairs, as he has to completely carry his workforce on his again each evening.
In contrast to the Thunder, who’ve the league’s fourth-cheapest roster with a payroll of 95 million, the Mavs are paying their roster 163 million, large enough for eighth within the NBA.
I’ve stated it many, many instances in my earlier columns. Luka is ultimately going to get drained and fatigued, and when he does, this workforce is totally hopeless.
Since January eighth, Luka has missed two video games (each losses), and the workforce has gone 2-6. 4 of those losses had been towards the Clippers and Blazers, two different Western groups making an attempt to make the Playoffs.
I’ve outlined the problems of this workforce’s construction earlier than, Spencer Dinwiddie can’t play level guard on this system, Christian Wooden must play on the 4, and, most significantly, this workforce has no depth.
Persons are suggesting strikes for gamers like John Collins and Terry Rozier, however I disagree. They want depth and long-term options. Not momentary Band-Aids.
Final 12 months, the Mavs had seven gamers (not counting Kristaps Porzingis, who was traded) with a VORP of over 0.5. This 12 months, they’ve three gamers with a VORP over 0.5.
Inevitably, the Mavs are most likely going to commerce Dinwidde or Hardaway for Rozier or Collins or perhaps even OG Anunoby, and the followers will eat it up.
“Luka lastly has some assist!” They are going to say, earlier than realizing that the flawed workforce construction has stayed the identical.
The Los Angeles Lakers (22-25, 3-2)
I‘m fairly positive that nobody anticipated the 2022-23 LA Lakers to win two epic come-from-behind video games towards two groups with Playoff aspirations in the identical week, however they did.
First was a house recreation towards the dominant Memphis Grizzlies, who’re a high 5 workforce within the league. The Grizz performed all of their starters, so LA’s possibilities of victory had been slim.
These probabilities received even slimmer when Memphis jumped out to a 88-75 lead, however then, the Lakers rallied behind LeBron, Dennis Schröder, and Schröder’s substitute in 2021 Russell Westbrook to make it a one-point recreation with 23 seconds left.
Tyus Jones scored two free throws to provide Memphis a 120-117 lead, however Schröder was unfazed, scoring 5 straight factors to provide LA the lead.
Brandon Clarke had an opportunity to ship the sport to OT if he made each of his free throws, however Clarke (a 72% free-throw shooter) missed his second throw to finish the sport and provides the Lakers the dear win.
Subsequent up was a recreation on the highway towards Portland. After a back-and-forth affair by means of the primary 16 minutes, the Blazers demolished the Lakers within the remaining 8 minutes of the primary half, outscoring them 35-8 to get a 71-46 lead.
However the Lakers in some way fought again and escaped Portland with a 121-112 victory. This workforce is exhibiting far more grit and dedication than it did final 12 months.
Welcome to the West!
Speaking of the Lakers, simply as I used to be penning this column, they’ve traded three second-round picks and Kendrick Nunn for Rui Hachimura.
Hachimura is able to contribute to the Lakers, and general, LA definitely may have finished worse than him.
His addition has helped to barely clear up the Lakers’ log jam at Level Guard, and Nunn, who wasn’t actually wanted within the first place, can attempt to save his profession in Washington.
Nevertheless, there may be one slight difficulty with Rui’s recreation. Identical to James Wiseman, superior stats will not be a fan of Hachimura.
His PER has at all times been under common, he has by no means had a constructive VORP, and his Plus/Minus per 100 is downright unhealthy: -4 for his total profession, and -6 this season.
Imagine it or not, however his Win Shares are strikingly just like that of Thon Maker’s. Lakers followers are hoping that Hachimura may also help them win and sneak into the Playoffs.
Greatest Workforce of the Earlier Week
The Phoenix Suns (24-24, 3-1)
I‘ve stated it earlier than, and I’ll nonetheless say it once more: The Suns are hopeless with out Devin Booker. However, no less than for 3 video games, they put up a stable run to get again to .500. They beat the Nets, the Pacers, and the Grizzlies.
Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson returned from their respective accidents and Phoenix is sort of wholesome other than Booker. Mikal Bridges was Phoenix’s star man this week, placing up 24 factors and 6 assists a recreation.
In the meantime, gamers like Damion Lee, Torrey Craig, Josh Okogie, Jock Landale, and the just lately acquired Saben Lee impressed as effectively.
It is a good probability for this workforce to see what they’re really made from, because it’s nonetheless unclear when Booker will return.
Their schedule earlier than the All-Star recreation is well-balanced. They’ll face powerful groups like Brooklyn, Sacramento, and the Clippers however they’ll additionally face groups like San Antonio, Charlotte, and Detroit.
If they will maintain on to a decent document round .500 earlier than Devin Booker’s return, they’ll be simply positive.
MVP of the Earlier Week
Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers)
Okayawhi Leonard is heating up…And the NBA must be very scared. He had 31 factors on 56% capturing from the ground and 60% capturing from past the arch, along with going 21-23 from the charity stripe.
He additionally led his workforce to a 3-1 document in video games that he performed. The Clippers haven’t gained a recreation with out Kawhi Leonard since we entered 2023. He’s nonetheless that man. His stats in his final seven video games are equally as spectacular.
With Paul George now taking part in because the workforce’s Level Guard, HC Tyronn Lue is experimenting to seek out his handiest lineups for the Playoffs.
Regardless of a tricky schedule forward, Kawhi must play at his greatest and keep away from accidents to maintain the Clippers a contender.
“I’m on the market simply making an attempt to make us the most effective basketball workforce once I’m on the ground, and that’s all my focus is on.” Stated Leonard, after his workforce’s win towards Dallas. “I don’t care what number of factors I rating, I simply need to win a basketball recreation. A few of these video games we misplaced, so we have now to remain afloat and get higher as a unit.”
—Extra from Aidin Ebrahimi—
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