December 3, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA

Blake Wessinger
NBA Columnist

#1 – Biweekly NBA Power Rankings

Team [record] (last week’s ranking)

Through 12/3/2014

  1. Memphis Grizzlies [15-2] (1)
  2. Golden State Warriors [15-2] (2)
  3. San Antonio Spurs [13-4] (7)
  4. Dallas Mavericks [14-5] (3)
  5. Toronto Raptors [14-4] (4)
  6. Houston Rockets [13-4] (5)
  7. Portland Trail Blazers [14-4] (9)
  8. Chicago Bulls [11-7] (6)
  9. Washington Wizards [11-5] (10)
  10. Los Angeles Clippers [12-5] (12)
  11. Cleveland Cavaliers [9-7] (14)
  12. Milwaukee Bucks [10-9] (17)
  13. Sacramento Kings [9-9] (11)
  14. Miami Heat [9-8] (8)
  15. Phoenix Suns [11-8] (15)
  16. Atlanta Hawks [10-6] (16)
  17. Denver Nuggets [9-9] (22)
  18. New Orleans Pelicans [8-8] (13)
  19. Orlando Magic [7-13] (20)
  20. Indiana Pacers [7-11] (23)
  21. Brooklyn Nets [7-9] (18)
  22. Oklahoma City Thunder [5-13] (25)
  23. Utah Jazz [5-13] (21)
  24. Los Angeles Lakers [5-13] (29)
  25. Charlotte Hornets [4-14] (19)
  26. Minnesota Timberwolves [4-12] (26)
  27. Boston Celtics [4-11] (24)
  28. New York Knicks [4-15] (27)
  29. Detroit Pistons [3-15] (28)
  30. Philadelphia 76ers [0-17] (30)

Biggest Jumps: Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets (5 places)

Biggest Drops: Miami Heat (6 places), New Orleans Pelicans (5 places)

 

#2 – Kobe Bryant’s Time Machine

Kobe Bryant has been the topic of a lot of discussion all throughout last season and this past offseason, leading up to his return from a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee at the beginning of this year. Everyone knew the Lakers had very little talent outside of the 36 year-old Kobe, but unlike the rest of basketball-watching America, the Lakers had faith that old Kobe could still get it done .They were right. This man has been scoring like it’s 2006 all over again, albeit on an awful 39 percent from the field. I chalk that up to two things: 1.) Kobe being Kobe and taking a high volume of shots, and 2.) Him literally having to take every meaningful shot because when he looks around his starting lineup, he sees Jeremy Lin, Nick “Swaggy P” Young, Carlos Boozer, and Jordan Hill. If Lin isn’t wide open cutting to the basket, and Swaggy P isn’t wide open for three, I’ll take a contested fade away from Kobe as the highest percentage shot on the court, to be perfectly honest.

It isn’t just his lack of help that is forcing him to put up big numbers; Kobe is actually playing some productive minutes for the Lakers. I saw a detailed analysis of a full Lakers game done by an avid Lakers fan on the Internet in which he broke down each play in which Kobe touched the ball. Long story short, he found that Kobe rescues more broken plays put together by the worst coach in the NBA, Byron Scott, than he ruins by being selfish. A lot of times, his teammates just don’t cut when they should, and even at age 36, old man Bryant can put it on the floor, back you down, or shoot the jumper in your face. As soon as a play breaks down, Kobe isolation is the backup plan. The man has been a walking one-on-one mismatch since he came out of Lower Merion H.S. in 1996.

He is leading the league with an average of 26.6 points per game, which I fully expect to be surpassed by LeBron, Healthy KD, Carmelo, after the Knicks give up the triangle, or Anthony Davis by about mid-January. Any way you slice it, 26 points per game is a pretty vicious number for a guy coming off an injury like his. You do see some gradual decline, however, as he has not averaged less than 27 points per game in a full season since the 2010-11 season. His .392 shooting percentage is the worry in Kobe’s game right now. I think if he can do just a bit more to get himself more open looks and involve Jeremy Lin more in the offense, which will come with time, the Lakers could win 35 games and not be a total embarrassment.

Last year, I would have said Kobe should retire after the season, but he won’t because of the money he has left on the table. Another reason: this man can still play. Say what you will about the Lakers, but Kobe Bryant is not quitting, and is one of the greatest competitors of all time. He’s a natural-born winner, and at 36, he’s still Kobe Bryant.

 

#3 – My Way-Too-Early All Star Votes

WEST

G: Stephen Curry (GSW), James Harden (HOU)

F: Kevin Durant (OKC), Anthony Davis (NO)

C: Marc Gasol (MEM)

Reserves: Russell Westbrook (OKC), Chris Paul (LAC), Blake Griffin (LAC), DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Kobe             Bryant (LAL), LaMarcus Aldridge (POR), Dwight Howard (HOU)

EAST

G: John Wall (WAS), Derrick Rose (CHI)

F: LeBron James (CLE), Carmelo Anthony (NYK)

C: Joakim Noah (CHI)

Reserves: Chris Bosh (MIA), Kyrie Irving (CLE), Kyle Lowry (TOR), Paul Millsap (ATL), Al Jefferson (CHA), Kevin Love (CLE), Rajon Rondo (BOS)

#4 – Minor Tidbits to Remember

Oklahoma City’s stars are back! The reigning MVP Kevin Durant and his cohort Russell Westbrook were back in action together Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, as they fell 112-104. Their record through the first 18 games of the season stands at 5-13, needing a finishing record of 44-20 through the last 64 games to equal the record of the 2014 eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks. This team will be the scariest eight-seed in history if they can manage to pull it off. I have my doubts about their playoff push, but it is definitely something to keep an eye on.

The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to have turned a corner. Their big three scored a combined 81 points Tuesday night en route to a home victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Still, this Cavaliers team does not do a good job of pulling away from teams, and I think it is because of their defensive shortcomings. Whether their soft defense is a result of the skill set of their roster, or the defensive schemes put together by the coaches remains to be seen. Even so, the Cavs are hot right now, having won four games in a row after their 5-7 start. I expect to see them up at the top of the Eastern Conference ladder in a few weeks.

Speaking of the Milwaukee Bucks, I really did not expect them to play this well. As far as surprises go, I have spent so much time watching Sacramento and trying to discern whether or not they are for real that I have completely ignored this young, athletic Milwaukee team. They may not be able to keep it up this year, but I think Milwaukee fans should have faith in their young core. Jabari Parker is so far in the lead for Rookie of the Year and I’m not sure it’s worth it to think about who’s in second. The Bucks are a very fun team to watch, and I think they will be in the running for a playoff spot within a year or two. Jason Kidd is doing a phenomenal job with these guys.

    

#5 – Highlights of the Week – The Greek Freak (with a Touch of Curry)

Giannis Antetokounmpo, a.k.a The Greek Freak, is quite possibly the longest perimeter player in the league. In this highlight, his Euro Step move (or “Gyro Step” as Milwaukee fans have dubbed it) starts at the three point line and ends in a finger roll. I’m not convinced there is a single other player in the NBA who can make this happen.

Here is another Giannis “Gyro Step”, except this one ends in a thunderous jam over his Greek countryman Kostas Papanikolaou.

[Editor’s Addition] Last night’s Steph Curry game-winner to beat Orlando, just because if you don’t like watching Steph play the game, you don’t like fun.

Posted on December 3, 2014, in Blake Wessinger, Opinions, The Pros and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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