Hello and welcome to the inaugural 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. And 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.
Due to the incredibly small sample I’m working with, do not think of these titles as predictions of what’s to come. Rather, it’s a historical account and analysis of the past two weeks of NBA basketball. It’s something you could look back at to reminisce about the wacky world of the NBA. Being that regular season ball stopped on Thursday for All-Star Weekend, I’m actually working with a smaller sample than I usually will, at ten days, so this term will be even less predictive. So without further ado, let the pageantry commence.
MVP: Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Runner Up: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
This term, we had a neck-and-neck race for MVP. The race did not even include Houston Rockets, James Harden, who has put up a ridiculous, league-leading 39 points per game on 63.2 percent true shooting. He’ll be devastated.
Coming in as the runner up is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Over the past two weeks, he has averaged 32.8 points per game on 67 percent from the field and 72.1 percent true shooting. He also grabbed 14.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists, all while increasing the Milwaukee Bucks net-rating by 26.5 points per 100 possessions. Despite terrific numbers across the board, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Antetokounmpo’s past two weeks has been his 46.2 percent 3-point percentage on 2.6 3-point attempts.
Though the percentage is definitely unsustainable, its meaning is evident: when Giannis hits the three, he is virtually unstoppable, but you don’t have to take my word for it, ask him. On Wednesday, he told Journal Sentinel writer, Matt Velasquez that “[he doesn’t] think there’s one guy [in the league] that can stop [him].” If Giannis can make threes, that is true, for in that case, he could not be Ben Simmons-ed on offense.
In the case that his defender tries to deny him the three, he just needs to take a few long steps to the rim, and he gets a dunk.
Antetokounmpo obviously does not need to shoot 46.2 percent from three, he just needs to be somewhat competent from distance, so defenders pay attention. So far in 2019, he has been. He is shooting 32.7 percent from deep. Great for the Bucks, not so great for every other team in the league.
However, despite Antetokounmpo’s incredible numbers, it is hard to get over the fact that he missed a game in the past two weeks: the Bucks only loss, against the Orlando Magic. I know this might seem insignificant, but let’s remember, we’re talking about a ten-day sample size. In the past ten days, the Bucks have played six games, and using simple division, that means that Giannis has played 83.3 percent of his team’s games. For comparison’s sake, only one player in NBA history, candle eater Bill Walton, has won the MVP playing 83.3 percent of his team’s games or less. In a race this tight, with such a small sample size, a game off matters. Get used to it.
On to Paul George
That takes us to Paul George, who has played in all five of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s games. He averaged 37.2 points per game on 64.9 percent true shooting with 8.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists in the process. In that time, the Thunder has put up a four and one record, and George has improved OKC’s net-rating by 32.9. This term, George has been doing his typical Paul George things, but to the extreme. For example, he has hit 40.3 percent of his 14.4 3-point attempts per game. He has held star guards, Harden and Jrue Holiday, to 22.2 percent and 20 percent shooting respectively.
But it’s not just the typical PG things that have given him the MVP this term, but also the extension out of his usual game. For example, Paul George has led the NBA in free throw attempts per game, at 11, even in a league with James Harden. PG has gotten to the line on 46.2 percent of his field goal attempts, 12.6 percent higher than his total regular season mark. This is most likely due to his increased time with the ball. For this term, he has spent 4.1 minutes per game with the ball in his hands, compared to 3.2 minutes per game over the year. And for George, more time with the ball has led to more free throws.
It has also led to a surprising amount of playmaking. Despite being known more as an off-ball shooter than an on-ball setup man, George has put up a 21 percent assist rate this term, compared to his 17.6 percent on the year. In 10.6 minutes per game without Westbrook, lineups with George have blown out opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions. George has taken on a quasi-LeBron James role, with an assist percentage of 37.1 percent. George even put up 10 assists against the Portland Trail Blazers, including this masterful kick out to Deonte Burton.
Though I’m not sure how sustainable it is, LeGeorge has been an incredible sight to see. I hope it continues.
Small Sample Size Superstar: Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Runner Up: Bojan Bogdanovic, Indiana Pacers
Remember when Victor Oladipo “raptured” his right quad against the Toronto Raptors? Remember when everyone believed that the Indiana Pacers would fall out of the top four because of that? Or when the Pacers then dropped their next four games immediately after? Well, times have changed for the Pacers. The team won their next game against the Miami Heat on Feb. 2, and then won five of their next six, starting on Feb. 4. Now, they are sitting pretty as the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Throughout this stretch, Bojan Bogdanovic has been leading the Pacers offensively. He is first on the team with 20.7 points per game and first on the team with a 24.9 percent usage. He shot 52.2 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three and 63 percent true shooting.
Despite the increased numbers, nothing really has changed about Bogdanovic’s role on the Pacers. His time with the ball has only increased from 1.5 to 1.6 minutes, and the vast majority of his 3-point attempts have still come off of the catch. All that’s really changed is the volume he is scoring. Without Oladipo, there are more possessions to go around.
Without Bojan’s shooting on the court, the Pacers have put up a terrible 100-point offensive rating, 3.2 points worse than the 30th-ranked Chicago Bulls. But when he has played, the Pacers have put up a 116.6-point offensive rating, 0.6 points higher than the first place Golden State Warriors.
Though I do not think the Pacers can win a playoff series without the one-on-one threat of Victor Oladipo. So far without him, they are doing just fine, as Bogdanovic is finishing more plays.
But despite the feel good story, he is only the runner up for this award, as Pascal Siakam, the man partially responsible for Oladipo’s injury, has been putting up enormous numbers for the Raptors.
On a team with Kawhi Leonard, Siakam has led Toronto in scoring this term, at 24 points per game, while also grabbing 8.4 boards. Siakam has also led the Raptors in on/off differential, with the Raptors’ net-rating improving by 29.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. Despite a two-point percentage of 53 percent, 7.8 percent lower than his overall two-point percentage, Siakam has made up for it with his 40 percent 3-point percentage on four attempts per game, 5.9 percent higher than his overall three-point clip.
Siakam’s 3-point shooting is indicative of what has really been shining in his game recently: his half court play. This term is proof that Siakam is much more than a transition player. Not only is he shooting 40 percent from behind the line, but his handle seems tighter, averaging 8.7 turnovers per 100 possessions, 1.7 less than throughout the season. His driving field goal percentage has remained at about 58 percent.
This season, Siakam has slowly spun his way into being a top six power forward (Giannis, Blake Griffin, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and John Collins if I’m being generous. No, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis are not power forwards. It’s 2019). This term is just more proof of that.
Most Impressive Team of the Term: Orlando Magic
Runner Up: Detroit Pistons
Through Antetokounmpo, Bogdanovic and Siakam, I’ve already talked about three of the five best teams in the East. And this year, the top of the Eastern Conference playoff picture has been one of the most exciting stories of the 2018-2019 season, as all five teams (except for the Pacers, who are now without their best player) are looking like legitimate threats to win the East, in a post-LeBron era.
Meanwhile, the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is pretty much just filled with capped out teams that are too lazy to tank, outside of the youthful Brooklyn Nets. But hey, this term, two of these teams have actually been pretty good.
Pistons are slowly figuring it out
The Detroit Pistons have gone four and one, with a fourth-best 11.8 net-rating in the term. They are third in the term with a 118.4 offensive rating and sixth in the term with a 106.7 defensive rating. Blake Griffin has done Blake Griffin things, but on 55 percent shooting from the field, 43.8 percent shooting from three and 67.9 percent true shooting. Reggie Jackson has put up a nice 17.4 points per game and 5.2 assists per game on 50 percent shooting from the field, 55.6 percent shooting from three and 67.3 percent true shooting.
Andre Drummond has been absolutely monstrous with 25.2 points and 16.4 rebounds per game on 68.9 percent from the field and 71.2 percent true shooting. He’s also been incredible on defense, decreasing opponents’ field goal percentages by 11 percent overall, and 13 percent within six feet.
Needless to say, whenever the Pistons’ three big money players are playing this well, the team will be tough to handle. The problem is, it seems as if this term, good performances from Griffin, Jackson and Drummond have been more the effect than the cause of the team’s recent good fortunes. These numbers simply happen when any respectable NBA team plays the New York Knicks twice in a five-game stretch. But with that being said, the Pistons also got a great, 26-point win against the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 4. Were Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray all out for the Nuggets? Yes but still, good on you, Detroit.
Magic making a playoff push
Then there’s the Orlando Magic, a team who took advantage of a broken contender, in the Giannis-less Bucks. Then took advantage of a kind of good team missing their three best point guards, in the Minnesota Timberwolves, a garbage fire (smaller than a dumpster fire), in the Atlanta Hawks and a kind of okay team, in the Charlotte Hornets. Also, they played whatever the hell the New Orleans Pelicans are right now. But hey, five and one is better than four and one, so that’s why they get the honor this term.
Despite underwhelming performances from Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have been playing well this term. Vucevic is averaging slightly less points per game than usual while Gordon shot an awful 41.3 percent from the field, 28 percent from three, and 52.5 percent true shooting. Due to great performances from Jonathan Isaac and Terrence Ross, the Magic stayed afloat. Isaac is averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds, on 50.7 percent shooting from the field and 34.4 percent shooting from three. That is 5.7 percent higher than his percentage over the year while having a 62.6 true shooting percentage. On the defensive end, he has been as beastly as ever, decreasing opponents’ field goal percentages by 5.5 percent overall and 17.6 percent within six feet.
Offensively, he has been the Swiss army knife that the Magic thought it was drafting. He’s rolling, he’s popping and he’s even handling the ball. Isaac is shooting a whopping 63.6 percent on drives. With Isaac shooting as well as he is, his length and speed could basically allow him to play any position.
Meanwhile, Ross has been averaging 19.2 points per game, on 40.8 percent shooting from three and 61.1 percent true shooting. He’s basically doing what he always does, but on higher volume and efficiency: he’s curling around screens, and taking whatever shot the defense gives him. More points per game is more points per game, so there’s your shoutout, T-Ross.
Offensively, the team has done a great job keeping the ball to itself, with the third-lowest turnover percentage in the league, at 11.2 percent.
With the most competent wing play the Magic have had in a long time, it makes sense that the team is playing this well. It seems as if the team is actually trying to make the playoffs, which is a new look. Hey, at this point, it’s probably too late to tank. It’s been a good couple weeks for all two Magic fans that stuck around when Dwight left, as Vuc is an All-Star, and the team’s been good recently, rejoice!
Most Disappointing Team of the Term: Los Angeles Lakers
Runner Up: San Antonio Spurs
In the San Antonio Spurs past five games, DeMar DeRozan has been DeMar DeRozan, albeit in four games. Davis Bertans has been Davis Bertans. Rudy Gay has been terrific, averaging 16.5/5.8/4, while shooting a ridiculous 61.5 percent from three with 58.5 percent true shooting, but also in just four games. Patty Mills has been good, averaging 14.2 points per game on 45.5 percent from three with a 63.2 percent true shooting percentage. So why have the Spurs gone one and four with a third worst of the term -15.7 net-rating?
Where is the defense?
It’s simple. The team has put up a terrible, 30th-ranked defensive rating at 124.9. Their defensive rating likely stems from the fact that they are last in the league in turnovers forced per 100 possessions, at 10.4. But to be fair to the Spurs, their four losses all came to good teams, in the Sacramento Kings, Warriors, Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz.
Also, at least the Spurs are in the playoffs. The same cannot be said for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have gone one and three for the term. The reason the Lakers have played so badly, even with LeBron playing all four games, and Kyle Kuzma putting up a gargantuan 23.8 points per game on 44.8 percent from three, and 69.5 percent true shooting is because of defense. Their defensive rating is 29th in the league, at 124.8, compared to being 12th in the league with a 108.4 defensive rating on the year.
Lakers forgetting how to play
For the Lakers, their solid defense has always been the product of great rim protection. With dudes like JaVale McGee, Tyson Chandler and Ivica Zubac, when teams inevitably got by the Lakers sorry perimeter defenders, at least they’d have problems in the paint.
The Lakers have allowed the third lowest field goal percentage in the restricted area, at 59.4 percent on the year. With the Lakers trading Zubac to the Los Angeles Clippers at the deadline, and only playing Chandler 10.9 minutes per game, the Lakers have lost what has made them good defensively. This term, they have put up the ninth-highest field goal percentage allowed in the restricted area, at 66.2 percent. Surround below average rim protection with the third-least turnovers forced per 100 possessions, at 11.2, and league-worst wide open 3-point attempts given up per game, at 22.8, and boom! Bad defense.
If the Lakers want to make the playoffs, their defense will really need to improve, or else the Clippers or the Kings will be more than happy to take their place. The Lakers could get a pass for part of their struggles this term, as two of their losses came against the Pacers and 76ers, two of the best teams in the league. But those games were anything but close, with the Pacers beating the Lakers by 42, and the 76ers beating the Lakers by 23. Also, the Lakers last loss came against the Atlanta Hawks, who would then go on to lose by 15 to the New York Knicks. Yikes.
With regular season basketball on hiatus, perhaps the good fortune of teams like the Pistons and Magic will wear off, while the Lakers and Spurs get their crap together. Maybe LeBron becomes the first dude to put up 25-straight thirty-point triple-doubles, and people stop caring about whatever Harden and Westbrook do. Or maybe, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kuzma file an official complaint for a tense work environment. Who knows? But as basketball comes back on Feb. 21, fans still have time to ponder about what’s to come.
The end of the All-Star break also symbolizes the beginning of my favorite part of the NBA regular season, as contending teams try their best to put themselves in the most optimal positions for postseason basketball. On the other side, faux playoff contenders get dusted, and decide to rest their best players.
My other favorite parts of post-All-Star break regular season basketball are the inevitable “we might be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to mathematically eliminate other teams from the playoffs” speeches from well-meaning players, before they are quickly thwarted by forward-thinking NBA front offices. And of course, there are the rampant NBA free agency rumors, which only accelerate because the deadline has passed. So as players like AD, KD and Kyrie decide whether or not to dodge questions, I’ll be watching TV, looking at my phone and eating popcorn because, as Doctor Strange once said, “we’re in the endgame now.”
All statistics are from NBA.com, Basketball-Reference.com and NBAWowy.com
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