Hello and welcome to the fourth installment of the Last Two Week Report, in which I take a look back at the last two weeks of the NBA season and hand out four titles for some player and team trends during the term.
For the players, there are “MVP,” which – shockingly is given to the best player of the two-week term. I also give out “Small Sample Size Superstar,” which is given to a player who has played surprisingly well during the last two weeks.
For the teams, there are “Most Impressive Team of the Term,” and “Most Disappointing Team of the Term”. Those should be self-explanatory to anyone familiar with the English language.
Each one of these titles will also have a runner up, so less people will yell at me for not picking a representative for their favorite team. I will also look at last term’s report to see what has trended and what has ended.
Finally, I have retitled my conclusion to a new segment entitled “The Sound Off,” in which I give my opinions on a topical NBA storyline. So don’t be alarmed if it looks slightly different. It’s just my typical ramblings.
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
For most of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies really haven’t been fighting for anything. Thus, at this time of year it is customary for teams like the Grizzlies to rest some of their older, more proven players in favour of the Tyler Dorseys of the world. That is why Mike Conley has only played four games this term, despite the Grizzlies playing seven.
In his four games, Conley was still able to keep up his amazing numbers from last term. This term he averaged 28.3 points and six assists per game on 42.9 percent from three and 63.3 percent true shooting.
Yet oddly enough, the Grizzlies have actually been .6 points per 100 possessions better with Conley off of the floor. But that’s just an issue of sample size. Plus, even in just four games, Conley was able to put up his third and eighth best performances of the year, according to John Hollinger’s game score. Now it’s time for Conley to take a break and come back next year, hopefully on a better team.
Last Term’s MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
And now, the second player in MVP contention last term that only played four of his team’s seven games. This term on Mar. 19 and 20, he missed games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively with a sprained ankle. He then hurt his ankle again versus the Los Angeles Clippers on Mar. 28.
This forced him to sit against the Atlanta Hawks on March 31st. But in the four games he did play, Giannis averaged an understated 26.5/10.3/5.8 on 58.8 percent from the field and 64.9 percent true shooting. He also had an incredibly anti-climactic MVP candidate showdown against James Harden and the Houston Rockets, with both players playing substandardly. But with Giannis playing, the Bucks still won all of their games. And with him out of the lineup, the Bucks went one and two.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers started this term on an uphill battle. For shooting guard CJ McCollum has been sidelined with a popliteus strain, which has had him out since March 18th. It’s only gotten more uphill, with center Jusuf Nurkic breaking his leg on game four of this term.
Despite those two devastating injuries, the Blazers have still gone six and one with a 7.6 net-rating. And though Al-Farouq Aminu and Seth Curry have both done a good job stepping up for the Blazers, the main force behind the Blazers’ hot streak is of course Damian Lillard.
This term, Lillard has averaged 27.4/5.1/9.3 on 39.4 percent from three, and 59.2 percent true shooting. The main difference between Lillard’s play this term and his usual play is his passing. This term, Lillard’s assist percentage has been 40.4 percent.
Over the season, it’s been 29.6 percent. Lillard’s assistant percentage has likely skyrocketed, as without McCollum, he has had full autonomy on the Blazers’ offense. On the year, with McCollum off the floor, Lillard’s assist percentage has been 35.9 percent. With McCollum on, it’s been 27.9 percent.
Though it may come from unwanted circumstances, I could see how many Blazers’ backcourt skeptics could use this term to fuel their McCollum trade machine offers. With McCollum off of the court, Lillard has shown to be an elite passer.
That is why the Blazers’ offensive rating only decreases by one point per 100 possessions when McCollum sits with Lillard on, compared to Lillard and McCollum playing together.
The Blazers have outscored teams by 15 points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor this term. But expectedly, when Lillard sits, the Blazers have been terrible, getting outscored by 16.7 points per 100 possessions.
Lillard has been terrific for the whole season, and is doing whatever it takes to win with his two best teammates out. However, in an extremely competitive Western Conference, the Blazers would need to be at full strength to win a playoff series. Therefore, let this shoutout be Lillard’s Spartan swan song as he gloriously fights for those who can’t. I needed to watch 300 in class last week. That’s why I’m talking like this.
MVP: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Don’t let his 9-for-26 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks discourage you. James Harden has still been the sharp passing, scoring machine he’s always been. This term, The Beard’s averaged 41.1/7.4/6.6 on 42.7 percent from three, and 64.2 percent true shooting.
He’s also put up three of his ten best game score performances of the season. This includes a 61 point game on Mar. 22, a 57-point game on Mar. 20, and a 50-point triple-double on Mar. 30. Harden has made the Rockets 16.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. And the Rockets have gone five and two this term with a 9.8 net-rating.
However, though Harden is pretty much playing how he usually does, there is a slight difference in the types of threes he’s taken. James Harden has taken just 6.9 percent of his threes off-the-catch this season.
But this term, 14.6 percent of his threes have been off-the-catch. This is likely due to more minutes with Chris Paul. When Harden played with Paul this term, 35 percent of his threes were assisted. When he played alone, only 9.5 percent of his threes were assisted. This number is consistent with the entire season, as with Paul on the floor, 31.9 percent of his threes were assisted. But without him, that number was just 9.2 percent.
Having another player with the ability to make plays for himself and others is always a good thing. Especially when someone like Harden would put up a 44.3 percent usage percentage otherwise.
The Houston Rockets success this year has very much depended on James Harden and his ultra-analytical shot selection. However, with Chris Paul in the lineup, not only has the team benefitted, but so has Harden, putting up one of his best stretches yet.
Small Sample Size Superstar
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Jabari Parker, Washington Wizards
This term, Jabari Parker has been fine. Not good, not bad. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, which is very similar to his last term. However, he has reverted to some of his old tendencies, leading to decreased, 56.2 percent true shooting.
Once again, he is bailing himself out of drives with shots in the non-restricted painted area. This has made his driving field goal percentage just 45 percent, 35 percent less than last term. And 8.1 percent less than his average on the season. Yet with his lower driving field goal percentage, it’s actually surprising that Parker is putting up as well as 56.2 percent true shooting because he’s only hitting 27.6 percent of his threes.
The Wizards’ net-rating only improved by .4 points with Parker on the floor. This means that he was basically as effective as the average Wizard. That’s not a good thing.
Last Term’s Small Sample Size Superstar: Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns
Last week, former Small Sample Size Superstar, Brandon Ingram was ruled out for the rest of the season with blood clots. Now, Oubre is the second Small Sample Size Superstar to immediately come down with a season ending injury after receiving the honour.
On Mar. 22, it was announced that Oubre would be out for the rest of the season recovering from thumb surgery. And going zero and six with a second worst in the term -13.6 net-rating, the Suns definitely could have used him. Hopefully Oubre comes back next season better than ever.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies
As I previously mentioned, the Memphis Grizzlies are not fighting for anything. But being that this team isn’t fighting for anything, they are playing some really fun basketball by simply saying “screw it. Sure.” That means feeding Jonas Valanciunas like he’s Shaq. This term, JV is averaging 23.4 points and 15.3 rebounds per game on fifty percent from the field and 55.6 percent true shooting.
To put it into perspective, the only other player that’s put up 23 points and 15 rebounds this term, while playing all of their team’s games, has been Karl-Anthony Towns.
What is he doing differently? Nothing really. He’s still spending a lot of time posting up, manning the pick and roll and playing from the elbow. In fact, the biggest change for JV this term has been his time with the ball. 23 and 15 is just what happens when Valanciunas gets 84.7 touches per game, instead of his usual 51.
And don’t get me wrong, running the offense through JV is not a winning formula. Despite being a great post up and roll man, that’s really where his offensive game ends. He can’t pass like Nikola Jokic.
He can’t shoot like Towns. And he doesn’t command nearly as much attention as Joel Embiid. Running the offense through JV is simply what a team does when they have nothing to lose.
That is why the Grizzlies are still getting outscored by five points per 100 possessions with Jonas Valanciunas on. As despite having the aforementioned post up and roll skills, the Grizzlies offense was just okay, at 111.1 with him on. And their defense was terrible, allowing 116 points per 100 possessions, as Valanciunas does not have the speed to guard quicker players. But 23 and 15 is still 23 and 15. And JV has been beasting since he’s gotten to Memphis. So shout out to him.
Quick update: JV will be out for the rest of the year with an ankle sprain.
PS: If this were the ’90s, JV would be an All-Star. I’ll die with that take.
Small Sample Size Superstar: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Kudos to the Miami Heat for swapping out Hassan Whiteside for Bam Adebayo in their starting lineup. For this term, Adebayo has been an absolute beast. No, his ten points on 53.4 percent from the field and 55.3 percent true shooting don’t jump off the page. But Adebayo’s subtle excellence has helped the Miami Heat substantially.
Firstly, Bam has done a terrific job dishing the ball to open teammates. This term, he has been third among centers playing over 25 minutes per game in five games or more in assist percentage at twenty percent, trailing behind Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Adebayo is doing a lot of his passing from the elbow, where he has averaged a term leading one assist per game game. And on post ups, he’s averaging a fourth in the term one assist per game as well. On both the elbow and in the post, Bam has constantly looked for open cutters or shooters, leading him to tremendous dimes like these:
Having a center that passes the ball willingly has given the Heat many more options offensively (cough cough Hassan Whiteside). And is the reason why the Heat has been nine percent better from three with Adebayo on the floor. It’s also why their net-rating has been 9.8 points per 100 possessions better.
And on defense, though Bam is not as good of a rim protector as Whiteside, his athleticism has allowed him to switch onto guards, once again giving the Heat more options. And so Bam has also improved the Heat’s defense by 14.3 points per 100 possessions.
If the Heat want to sneak into the playoffs this season, they should continue playing Bam big minutes, as so far in a starting role, he has been unbelievable.
Most Impressive Team
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Los Angeles Clippers
Everyone’s (except Lakers’ fans) second-favorite team has continued to dominate, with a six and one record and 8.5 net-rating. The team has been seventh on defense, with a 107.2 defensive rating.
They have done a great job contesting threes, allowing a least in the term 8.9 threes per 100 possessions, on a third in the term 31.2 percent. The Clippers have also been eighth on offense, with a 115.7 offensive rating. Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, JaMychal Green and Ivica Zubac all deserve shoutouts for their fantastic play.
It should be noted that the Clippers did get all but one of their wins against non-playoff bound teams, but they still took care of business, which is all anyone could ask.
Last Term’s Most Impressive Team: San Antonio Spurs
Unlike the Clippers, the Spurs have been pretty mediocre this term, with a three and four record and 1.1 net-rating. On offense, they were 13th, with a 112.2 net-rating. And on defense, they were 14th, with a 111.1 net-rating. And though the Spurs did see some good numbers from LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Marco Belinelli and Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills, Derrick White and Davis Bertans were all quite inefficient. In the end, there’s really not much more to say about them. They haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been awesome, and their numbers show that.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: N/A
Wow. This term has been weird. So weird in fact that I could only mention one team that I was wholeheartedly impressed by. But let me explain why. In order to qualify for this most prestigious, sought after honor, a team must be one of the following:
Bad Team→Okay Team
This is a team with such low expectations that such mediocre accomplishments as a .500 record or positive net-rating are actually exciting, if not inspiring. One might say that the Atlanta Hawks were an example of this this term, for they put up a four and two record. To that, I say no. Their net-rating was still -3.4, as all but one of the team’s four wins were within three points. And both of their losses were by more than fifteen.
To put it simply, although the Hawks did put up a good record, their net-rating showed that they were worse than average.
Okay Team→Good Team
This is a team who despite typically being quite meh, is able to play like a legitimately good team for a term. One might say that the Miami Heat were an example of this this term. For they put up a five and two record.
However, much like the Atlanta Hawks, they had a negative net-rating, at -.6. They were brutally torn up by 29 points by the Milwaukee Bucks, and didn’t really blow out the teams they beat. So I couldn’t really give it to them either.
Good Team→Great Team
This is a typically good team that plays a great term. One might argue that the Utah Jazz were that type of team this term. For they had a six and one record and 16.8 net-rating. However, all of their games came against teams out of the playoff picture, so a shout out kinda seems unworthy. Same goes for the Los Angeles Clippers. But still, shouts to the Jazz for absolutely annihilating some really crappy teams.
Great Team→Unbelievable Team
Example: None yet
This is a finals contending team that has an absolutely dominant term, in which they look unstoppable. No team has been that dominant this term. And so rewarding the Raptors for beating the Bulls and Knicks twice each, or rewarding the Bucks for winning all their games with Giannis, but going one and two without him seems unnecessary.
So with no team but the Most Impressive Team winner doing anything notably impressive, the runner up slot will need to go vacant.
Most Impressive Team: Orlando Magic
With a five and one record and 6.6 net-rating, it seems like the Orlando Magic are really trying their best to make the playoffs - for some reason.
No offense to Magic fans (or fan), but I just don’t think it’s that much of a joy to get to the eighth seed and then just get pummeled in four or five by the Milwaukee Bucks. But hey, let’s talk about the Magic.
This term, the Orlando Magic have really been stellar offensively, with a seventh in the term 115.7 offensive rating. They’ve crashed the boards offensively, with a fourth in the term 30.2 percent offensive rebounding percentage, and the Magic have kept the ball to themselves with a fourth in the term 10.8 turnover percentage.
They’ve also been sharing the ball with a (you guessed it) fourth in term 28.9 assists per 100 possessions. Pretty much, they’re playing like any starless team in the league should.
And despite Nikola Vucevic being less efficient than usual, with a 52.6 percent true shooting percentage to his 57.1 percent on the year, other players have picked up the slack. For example, Evan Fournier is averaging 17.7 points per game on 52.5 percent from the field and 62.1 percent true shooting.
Aaron Gordon has been better from deep than usual, with a 42.9 percent clip compared to his 34.7 percent clip on the year. Terrence Ross has been great with 15.5 points per game on 42 percent from deep and 59.2 percent true shooting. And Jonathan Isaac has been solid, with 11.7 points and seven rebounds on 55.9 percent true shooting.
And for the Magic, three of their wins were incredibly morale boosting. First, on Mar. 25, they beat the contending Philadelphia 76ers by 21. Then on Mar. 26, they beat the Miami Heat, which won them their season series, which should help them get to the playoffs by season’s end. And then on Mar. 30, they beat the incredibly solid Indiana Pacers. So even though I joke, go Magic!
Most Disappointing Team
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Indiana Pacers
For the second term in a row, the Indiana Pacers have been slumping. This term, they went one and six with a -1.8 net-rating. Despite another great term from Bojan Bogdanovic, who could be seeing a lot of novac this summer, the team was not playing to their regular defensive standard.
Throughout the entire season, the Pacers have posted a third in the league 105.7 defensive rating. This term, they have been twelfth with a 110.1 defensive rating. Their typical stellar rim protection has faltered, with the team allowing a fourth worst in the term 66.8 percent field goal percentage in the restricted area. Myles Turner, the man responsible for said rim protection is only decreasing the field goal percentage of players within six feet by .8.
For a team whose best scorer is Bogie, the Pacers need to make sure that they are the best they can be defensively. This term, that was not the case. However, it should also be noted that all of the Pacers losses this term came against really good teams. And the Orlando Magic. Sorry Magic fans, I’m done.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Oklahoma City Thunder
You may have noticed that I haven’t shouted out any team for last term’s Most Disappointing Team winner. Well, that is because the Thunder has gotten the dishonor of winning Most Disappointing Team last term, and getting runner up this term.
This term, the Thunder have gone two and five with a -3.8 net-rating. And much like the Pacers, the Thunder have gotten cold due to their significantly worsened defense. Throughout the season, they are fourth in defensive rating, at 106.2. However this term, they are fifteenth, at 111.7.
Most of OKC’s defensive problems have come from the perimeter, as though on the season, they allow the tenth least three-pointers made per 100 possessions, at 10.6, this term, they are at 12.9 for 22nd. The two biggest culprits of the Thunder’s three-point problems are superstars Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
On the year, Westbrook to as allowed three-point shooters to shoots 5.7 percent better on his defense. This term, that has catapulted to 12.7 percent. Meanwhile, PG-13, who usually decreases opponent three-point shooting by 1.6 percent, has allowed players to shoot 14.5 percent better from three. Yikes.
And with the two stars being much worse on defense, the team just hasn’t been able to play as well as usual. For the past two terms, the team has put up a five and nine record. Hopefully, they get their crap together before the playoffs start.
Most Disappointing Team: Boston Celtics
This is the second time in three terms the Boston Celtics have gotten this dishonour. At this point, the only thing I can really compare this team to is my car, a 2007 Honda Odyssey. It looks something like this. And no, I don’t have kids.
Here’s why: the average ride in my Honda Odyssey is solid. Nothing really goes wrong. Plus, as an eight-seater, this car is quite deep. However about every two weeks, there’s a problem that needs to get fixed. And it’s never the same thing. Ever.
Sometimes it’s the brakes, sometimes it’s the bumper. Sometimes, it just smells like the inside of a hockey glove. But no matter what, something always goes wrong.
For the Celtics, their last Most Disappointing Team win was for their terrible offense. This term, it’s their defense. On the season, the Celtics have been sixth in defensive rating, at 107.1. This term, they’re 26th, with a 115.3 net-rating.
The source of the Celtics’ defensive struggles has been their decreased ability to force turnovers. On the season, they’ve forced an eighth in the league 15 turnovers per 100 possessions. This term, they’ve forced an 18th in the league 12.7. NBA hustle stats show that the Celtics, a team who has been second in the league in defensive loose ball recovery percentage, at 60.9 percent, is only at a 19th in the league 56.8 percent this term. Overall, the team just seems really lazy on defense.
And on offense, the team has declined from a tenth in the league 111.2, to a 16th in the league 109.4. In the five games he played, Kyrie Irving’s been inefficient, with a true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, to his 59.3 percent on the year.
So has Jayson Tatum, with a 48.9 percent true shooting percentage to his usual 55 percent. And Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart have also put up below average true shooting percentages at 49.6 percent, 43.3 percent and 48.5 percent respectively.
And sure, the Celtics could get a bit of an excuse, with Irving, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum all missing time. But with the exception of Al Horford, the Celtics still had a negative net-rating when all three were in lineups.
I just don’t know what to make of the Celtics. Especially because general manager Danny Ainge doesn’t think the Boston Celtics could “flip a switch” in the playoffs. Strong words from the man in charge.
Sound Off: LeBest?
Since the Lakers were ousted from playoff contention, take artists have sketched out their newest masterpiece by declaring that LeBron James is no longer the best player in the NBA. Some decide to take it one step further, claiming that LeBron is washed up. And though I do think that there is some merit to the former take, it’s time to put the latter take to bed.
Firstly, though it’s definitely not a perfect metric, LeBron James is seventh in real plus-minus this year, at 5.46. That means when LeBron James played, he was the seventh best at affecting play positively.
For the Lakers specifically, LeBron boosted their net-rating by 7.9 points per 100. Also, LeBron James has continued to be as statistically dominant as ever, putting up the seventh ever season of 35/10/10 per 100 possessions. So no, LeBron has not fallen off. The Lakers’ failures are not LeBron’s, they are President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson’s and General Manager Rob Pelinka’s, as they both failed to put a competent roster around him.
As for LeBron’s All-NBA-ness, let’s not get it twisted. He will at least make the third team. And he should probably make the second. At forward, three players are admittedly in front of him: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Paul George.
However, after those three, no one’s case is really much better than LeBron’s. Sure, Kawhi Leonard’s been awesome, but much like LeBron, he has missed a large part of the season, currently playing 56 of the Raptors’ 78 games. LeBron will end the year at 55. And with that little of a discrepancy between them, the edge should go to LeBron.
Even though Kawhi has been terrific, and plays for the much better team, his 7.02 RPM Wins don’t touch LeBron’s twelfth in the league 11.07. And LeBron’s offensive real plus-minus is .97 higher than Kawhi’s.
And for someone like Blake Griffin, it is almost impossible that one could make the case that he affects the game more than LeBron, and the numbers support that. Not only does LeBron have 1.65 more RPM wins than Griffin, but the Lakers are better when LeBron takes the floor than the Pistons are when Blake takes the floor.
Then, there’s the issue of whether or not LeBron James is still the best player in the NBA. And right now I’d respond with a soft no. He certainly hasn’t been the best player this season, with a seventh in the league RPM. And in his last three regular seasons, LeBron’s box plus-minus (a statistic with the same basic goal as RPM) has been third, at 8.8.
However, though it may seem cliche, the best player should be declared based on consistent regular season excellence, followed by even greater excellence in the postseason.
That’s why prior to this season, LeBron was the best player in the world. In seasons in which LeBron’s made the postseason (2006 to 2018), he’s posted a first place 9.9 box plus-minus. For context, the second place BPM finisher over that time, Chris Paul, had a BPM 2.6 less. Meanwhile, LeBron’s career playoff BPM is 11.1. 1.2 higher than his regular season BPM, and 2.9 higher than also second place playoff BPM player, Chris Paul.
To put it simply, in the regular season, LeBron James dominated, and then in the playoffs, he did that moreso.
And if you’re one to think he only won the title of “best in the game” when he won his first title in Miami in 2012, LeBron’s BPM jumped by 1.7 from regular to postseason since then. Stubborn enough to say that LeBron only became the “best in the game” when he won his title in Cleveland? That BPM jump was 3.8.
Never thought LeBron was the best player in the league? You’re wrong and are forever banned from talking basketball.
But with no playoff LeBron, LeBron’s case is temporarily suspended. However, the issue is, I really do not think anyone has the “excellent in the regular season, better in the postseason” track record yet to replace LeBron as the best in the league.
James Harden is yet to even match his regular season success in the postseason with a 1.1 BPM drop. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard have all spent too little time in their primes to make legitimate cases of consistent playoff success. And for the sheer fact that they play together, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant should be automatically excluded from the conversation until they separate.
Thus, with LeBron out of the playoffs, “the best in the game” spot is now vacant. Hopefully this playoffs, someone grabs onto it with a truly unforgettable performance.
All statistics from Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, NBA.com and NBAWowy.com.
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