4x20: Four Interesting Teams, Twenty Games In
A quarter of the way through the season, every NBA team is making decisions about where they are now and what that means for the future of this NBA season. Four teams -- the Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors, and the Dallas Mavericks -- have seen varying levels of success thus far, and have some decisions to make about what they can do to maximize the rest of their seasons.
Washington needs to avoid a panicked tear-down. Though the Wizards got off to a pretty terrible start, yet they somehow sit only 1.5 games out of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Their recent win over a struggling-but-talented Rockets team is a prime example of why they shouldn’t capsize the boat. Both Bradley Beal and John Wall played well, withstanding a masterful 54 point-13 assist performance from James Harden; this can still be a successful team in the Eastern Conference.
But even if the Wizards don’t regain form and never make their way into the playoff discussion, they should not trade Bradley Beal. I’m on board with them trading Wall or Otto Porter if good deals come along, but I am not a fan of getting rid of them for the sake of change: both are still solid NBA players and provide immense value even at their very high costs. Even the 'worst-case scenario' of a dismal regular season would result in a good draft pick in a pretty solid 2019 draft class, a new head coach, and a 2018 season safely in the rear view mirror. The one immovable piece must be Beal.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, are on their way up. After shrewdly moving up in the 2018 Draft, they landed one of the most polished rookies that I have ever seen in Luka Doncic. The Real Madrid product is averaging 19.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 4.2 APG while shooting 46/40/79 going into their match-up with the Lakers -- the only player in the league with that boxscore-stuffing combination. And they’re not empty stats: of all players on the court at least 20 min a game for Dallas, Luka is second in total Net Rating at 0.2, and a Dallas team that was 4-15 through 19 games a season ago finds itself in the playoff hunt at 10-9 with a very promising future. Doncic is the biggest reason for that.
Redlands Daily Facts
The Los Angeles Clippers are for real, but if someone tells you that they predicted that the Clippers would be the Los Angeles team at the top of the Western Conference at the quarter pole, they’d either have a hand behind their back with fingers crossed or the last name ‘Rivers’. Will they finish the year as the one-seed, where they reside? No, but they are a playoff team in the West. The Clippers are sixth in Offensive Rating at 112.0 and eleventh in Defensive Rating at 107.6. The team has a great mix of veterans who play hard like Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, players in contract years such as Tobias Harris and Marcin Gortat, and a nice youth presence in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Doc Rivers is the perfect coach for this team. Every player has a chip on his shoulder and plays hard, which really matters in the current NBA, given how many top teams just want the playoffs to start, rather than place their stamp on the regular season. Said Rivers of their recent win over Sacramento, ‘It’s one of those games where a lot of teams fold, but we didn’t. That’s what type of team we have. That’s why we’re so good.’
Toronto, lastly, has asserted itself as the team to beat in the East. In addition to upgrading from DeMar DeRozan to Kawhi Leonard, new head coach Nick Nurse may have unlocked the greatest version of the Raptors by transitioning Pascal Siakam into the starting lineup. Instead of starting Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, Siakam mans the ‘4’ and Nurse picks either Ibaka or Valanciunas depending on that night’s match-up. For their recent game against Memphis, for instance, the more-mobile Ibaka started against Marc Gasol to draw him out of the paint and open up more driving lanes.
All of this is really made possible by the athleticism, length, and versatility of Siakam, who isn’t a household name yet, but is making a real case for Most Improved Player. In his third year, he has jumped to 14.8 PPG 6.5 RPG and 2.3 APG, and as the Raptors make the case for Kawhi Leonard to stay in Toronto, exciting core pieces like Siakam are huge assets. In the modern NBA, ‘switchability’ is key, and with players like Siakam, Leonard, OG Anunoby, and Danny Green, have the skill set to guard 2-5, while sacrificing little on the offensive end in terms of spacing and 3-point range. If the Raptors recent overtime win over Golden State is any indication, the East may have a challenger for the mighty Warriors.
Four teams, four very different trajectories we’ll be excited to follow as the league makes its way towards the midway point of the 2018-19 season, and beyond.