Hello and welcome to the third 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.
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
The thing that’s always separated the good Jokic performances from the great ones is how much he gets the ball. Last term, he averaged 22.6/12/7 on 32.1 percent usage. This term, he averaged 17.5/10.3/6.3 on 22.3 percent usage. Last term, his offensive rating was 113.8. This term, it was 109.8. This is not coincidental. When the Nuggets are at their best, the offense runs through Jokic. It’s that simple.
For even when he is having a bad shooting night, his passing more than makes up for it. But with his subpar defensive play, when Jokic doesn’t get the ball enough, why have him play at all? This term, the Nuggets were 20.3 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic off the floor. This is obviously a problem of sample size. But still, Jokic needs the ball in order to maximize his effectiveness on the court.
Last Term’s MVP: Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
After an incredible last term, Young has finally come back to Earth. He is putting up numbers expected from a very talented rookie. Just not an MVP. He’s averaging 19.6/5.3/7.1 on 40.9 percent from the field and 53.1 percent true shooting. At 20 years old, these numbers are more than acceptable, even if his efficiency is below average.
On the defensive end, he is no longer helping his team. The Hawks have been 20.7 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him off the floor. Opponents have shot 10.9 percent better on his defense this term. This is a lot more consistent with his worst in the league -4.67 defensive real plus-minus. This number is so low for two reasons. Firstly, rookies are typically bad on defense. Secondly, undersized point guards are typically bad on defense. However, there are exceptions. For example, though they are substantially thicker, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry are two of the best defending point guards in the league. Even guys like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving have raised their defensive level to passable. Therefore, I’d assume with age, the same will happen for Young.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Though the Grizzlies definitely won’t be making the playoffs, Conley is playing like he doesn’t know that. He’s averaging 28.4 points and 8.4 assists per game on 54.2 percent from the field, 45.2 percent from three and 68.5 percent true shooting. He has also improved the Grizzlies’ net-rating by 20.3 when he is on the court, with the team outscoring opponents by 7.3 points per 100 possessions. Offensively, he’s looked as aggressive as ever, letting it fly from three and shooting a fantastic 55.6 percent on drives, 7.2 percent better than his mark on the season. He has also done a terrific job finding his teammates, with a 42.4 percent assist percentage, to his 33 percent on the year. He is definitely the biggest reason for the Grizzlies 114.5 offensive rating during the term.
On the defensive end, he’s improved the Grizzlies by three points per 100 possessions. He also held Damian Lillard to 2-for-7 shooting in the Grizzlies’ win against the Portland Trail Blazers. He dropped a career-high 40 points that game on 12-for-18 from the field and 6-for-7 from three.
Conley has been terrific since coming back from the All-Star break. Though the Grizzlies will not make the playoffs, his play deserves to be recognized. So here it is, a shoutout in an article that he probably won’t read.
For the second time in three installments, Antetokounmpo has ended up with a top-2 slot for MVP. I hope that tells you about the type of season he’s had. He’s averaged 30.3/13.1/6.3 on 58.5 percent from the field and 69.2 percent true shooting. He has also improved the Bucks net-rating by 26.2 points per 100 possessions. As expected, Giannis has continued to maximize his size, speed, ball handling and passing by driving to the basket. This gets him good looks at the basket and opens the floor for his teammates.
This is nothing new. Because of his aforementioned freakish attributes, the fact that his defender knows he will do it does not stop him from doing it.
Also, he is a near seven-foot ball handler, teams simply don’t know who to match him up with. Want to put a wing on him? Well, Antetokounmpo’s size will allow him to score over the top of him.
Want to put a big on him and defend him from the free throw line? That’s just more room for Giannis to build momentum and drive.
Unfortunately for him, his teammates couldn’t do their part this term, with the Bucks going just 4-3. Though they still put up a 6.1 net-rating. Even in their subpar term, the Bucks look as scary as ever with Giannis at the helm. Good luck Eastern Conference.
Small Sample Size Superstar
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
Nurkic may be the biggest x-factor in Portland. When he’s hot, they’re hot. When he’s not, they’re not. That’s why the Blazers only went 3-3 with a 2.5 net-rating this term. Although Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are both putting up enormous numbers, with a 42.3 percent field goal percentage, and 50.9 percent true shooting percentage, Nurkic just isn’t getting the job done offensively. In defense of Nurk, Portland has still been 24.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on. That is probably because he happens to play in a lot of lineups with Lillard and McCollum. Either way, the Blazers need Nurkic at his best if they want to make the second round.
Last Term’s Small Sample Size Superstar: Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Unfortunately, immediately after last term, Ingram was diagnosed with deep venous thrombosis on his shoulder. This injury, which causes blood clotting in deep veins, should have him out for the rest of the year. If untreated, it causes clotting in the lungs, which is life threatening. Luckily, Ingram had successful thoracic outlet decompression surgery, and should be back to play next year. Going 1-5 with a -7.2 net-rating, the Lakers could have definitely used his help this term. Obviously, right now Ingram shouldn’t need to worry about that. Hopefully, Ingram comes back next season, and builds on his fantastic last term.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Jabari Parker, Washington Wizards
Though the Wizards will not be making the playoffs, Parker is fighting for his NBA life. Right now, he’s winning. This term, he’s averaged 17.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game on 62.2 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from three and 68.6 percent true shooting. The Wizards have also been 7.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on, with a 5.3 net-rating.
The biggest change for Parker has been his decreased reliance on bail out shots in drives. At 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, Parker is incredibly strong, and still rather quick for someone of his size. Therefore, instead of driving to off-balance baseline fadeaways, he has been driving straight to the rim. On the year, Parker has shot 54.2 percent on drives. This term, he’s shooting an insane 80 percent. This is best in term for those attempting three or more driving field goals.
On the year, he’s shot about 21.7 percent of his shots from the mid-range. This term, that number’s down to 12 percent.
He definitely won’t be shooting 80 percent on drives for the rest of the year, but he could be shooting higher than his already pretty high 54.2 percent if he continues to attack the rim.
Small Sample Size Superstar: Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns
This term, Kelly Oubre has been the perfect compliment to Devin Booker. He’s averaging 22.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, on 50 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 59.5 percent true shooting. On offense, he has shown incredible savvy both with and without the ball. With the ball, he is doing a great job attacking closeouts, without taking too many dribbles.
Without the ball, he has been a willing cutter, which has gotten him some great looks at the rim.
He’s also improved his free throw rate from 29 percent on the year, to 34.4 percent this term.
And on defense, Oubre is using his 7-foot-2 wingspan and terrific athleticism to smother guys on the perimeter, and make drivers pay at the rim.
He’s holding opponents to 6.2 percent worse shooting overall, 9.7 worse shooting within six feet, and 6.3 percent worse shooting from three. In games against the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, he held James Harden and Kevin Durant to 6-of-17 combined shooting.
Oubre Jr. is playing his best season yet in the NBA. This term, Booker and himself have shown real chemistry together, with the duo producing a 9.2 net-rating. If they weren’t playing in the Western Conference, I could see this team going for the playoffs next season. Sadly, it doesn’t get much more West than Phoenix.
Most Impressive Team of the Term
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Chicago Bulls
After a stretch that had me believing the Bulls weren’t terrible, they then go 1-5 with a second-worst in the term -9.6 net-rating. After praising Lauri Markkanen for his incredible last term, he puts up 13.1 points and seven rebounds per game this term on 37.6 percent from the field, and 48.4 percent true shooting. To put it simply, I was wrong. The Bulls are still bad. The Markkanen/Zach LaVine/Otto Porter trio I praised got outscored by 13.4 points per 100 possessions this term. With their young talent and high draft pick, I still think that the Bulls can be a fringe playoff contender next year. This term wasn’t very encouraging.
Last Term’s Most Impressive Team: Utah Jazz
The Jazz has had a weird term. They started the term 1-3, splitting games against the New Orleans Pelicans. Then, they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Then, they needed to ban two fans for saying some truly awful things to Russell Westbrook. Then, they went on to blow out the Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and Brooklyn Nets. At the end of the term, they were 4-3 with a terrific 6.3 net-rating. Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were both awesome. Ricky Rubio was awful, shooting 17 percent from the field, with a 33 percent true shooting percentage. Also, Joe Ingles put up an incredibly odd 9.4/5/7.7. I am straight up befuddled by the Jazz right now.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Los Angeles Clippers
Going 5-1, 5.1 net-rating and term-leading 117.4 offensive rating, the Clippers are proving their place in the Western Conference playoff picture. They are doing this with Tobias Harris in a Philadelphia 76ers jersey. Leading the way offensively has been Lou Williams, who has averaged 26.5 points per game on 50 percent from the field, 36 percent from three and 61.2 true shooting. Danilo Gallinari, who in five games, averaged 25.8 points per game on 58.4 percent from the field, 58.3 percent from three and 71.2 percent true shooting.
Rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet have also chipped in. SGA has put up 13.5 points and 4.8 assists per game on 51.7 percent from the field, 61.5 percent from three and 61.4 percent true shooting. Shamet put up 11.3 points per game on 47.4 percent 3-point shooting, and 60.8 percent true shooting.
Also, Patrick Beverley was probably the happiest he’s ever been when the Clippers beat their in-arena rival, Los Angeles Lakers. Also he beat his arch nemesis, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in two straight games.
Collectively, the team has done a great job attacking the offensive boards, with a second-best in the term 32.6 percent offensive rebounding percentage.
Unless something goes terribly wrong, the Clippers will be in the playoffs this year. I would not pick them to get out of the first round. However, their energetic and hard-nosed play should wear on whoever they matchup with.
Most Impressive Team: San Antonio Spurs
This term, the Spurs have been a perfect 6-0. They’ve also put up a term-leading 8.6 net-rating, and much improved 103.6 defensive rating. In this streak, they have beat three very good teams, in the Nuggets, Bucks and Trail Blazers. Offensively, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan have been stellar. Aldridge has put up 23.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, on 55.2 percent from the field and 60.5 true shooting. Meanwhile, DeRozan’s put up 22.2/4.8/6 on 52.6 percent from the field, and 59.4 percent true shooting.
Defensively, Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl have both done terrific jobs defending the rim, with the team allowing the second-worst restricted area field goal percentage of the term, at 53.9 percent.
Despite an inconsistent season, San Antonio continues to chug away into the playoffs. With a strategist-like head coach in Gregg Popovich, perhaps they can make some noise in the first round.
Most Disappointing Team of the Term
The Check Up
Last Term’s Runner Up: Golden State Warriors
Outside of DeMarcus Cousins’ strong performance against the Rockets, where he put up 27/8/7 on 11-for-16 shooting, the Warriors have continued to be underwhelming. The team went 3-2 with a one net-rating. Klay Thompson’s been great, but didn’t play in their loss against the Boston Celtics. Durant missed two games, and played below his usual standard in the three he played. Curry hasn’t been himself. Draymond Green has been even less of an offensive threat, with 5.2 points per game on 37 percent from the field and 45.2 percent true shooting. Also, Steve Kerr was “so fu-” sorry, “[begged] to differ with Draymond’s approach” against the Suns. Oh yeah, they also lost to the Suns.
With their last two games being wins against the Rockets and Thunder, I think the Warriors will recover from their funk. But once again, I would suggest they explore taking Cousins out of the starting lineup.
Last Term’s Most Disappointing Team: Boston Celtics
Two weeks after I half-jokingly exclaimed that the Celtics were “doomed,” they’ve gone on to put up a 5-1 record, six net-rating and impressive 115.9 offensive rating. It turns out, they did engage in some team building on their plane ride from Houston to Oakland. Talking about the plane ride, Al Horford said, “I just think it was a positive for our group just to get away and be able to spend a little more time together.” The team then killed the Warriors by 33 points.
In this term, Irving, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart have all been awesome. Brown and Hayward have played so good that many are now suggesting to include one of them in the Celtics starting lineup over Marcus Morris. However, if that happens, maybe their chemistry will revert to the hellish state it was last term. It’ll take the rest of the regular season and the playoffs to see if the Celtics have actually cured their chemistry issues. Right now, they’re looking good.
Onto This Term
Runner Up: Indiana Pacers
Despite great performances from Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison, struggles from Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young and Wesley Matthews have led to this team’s mediocre 3-3 record, -4.1 net-rating and second-worst of the term 102.3 offensive rating.
Though the Pacers could get a pass for suffering three of their losses against the Bucks, 76ers and Nuggets, the team is supposed to be in contention with the Bucks and 76ers, and should not be getting blown out by them by 19 and 17 points, respectively.
At this point in the season, it’s fair to say the team simply will not be contending for anything with Victor Oladipo sidelined with a ruptured quad. The Pacers didn’t have anyone else who can create his own offense. The team probably won’t even make the second round unless they secure a top-3 seed, which FiveThirtyEight does not predict. The Pacers definitely have a built-in excuse with Oladipo out. Still, it would have been nice for them to make a run to the second round, even without their best player.
Most Disappointing Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
With a 3-4 record, -1.8 net-rating and fourth-worst of the term 104.4 offensive rating, the Thunder have slid from third to fifth in the Western Conference. The main reason for the Thunder’s fizzling out has been Paul George’s substantial offensive decline.
This term, he’s averaged 25.1 points per game on 36.2 percent from the field, and 52.1 percent true shooting. He looked incredibly flustered at the end of the Thunder’s nail-biting loss to his old Pacers, coughing up two turnovers. His playmaking has gone down, with a 14.8 percent assist percentage, compared to his usual 17.6 percent.
Outside of George, Dennis Schroder was even more inefficient than usual. He shot 39.6 percent from the field, with a 47.6 percent true shooting percentage. Thus, even though Westbrook was solid this term with 26.7/10.4/7.9 on 37.3 percent from three, and much improved 54.4 percent true shooting, the team’s two other offensive first-movers were significantly less effective.
Throughout the year, many have pinned OKC as the most equipped Western Conference team to take on the Warriors. However, on March 16, they lost to Golden State by 22. This term has not been a good showing for the Thunder. Hopefully, they improve for the playoffs.
It’s unfortunate, but it seems like every year around this time, star players on playoff teams start going down with injuries that have them out for playoff games. Last season, it was Curry, Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving. Right on time, we’ve seen two key contributors from two very good teams get injured. For the Bucks, Malcolm Brogdon suffered a plantar fascia tear in his right foot on March 15. This could have him out for two months. For Portland, guard CJ McCollum suffered a popliteus strain in his left knee on March 16. He will be re-evaluated in less than a week. However, when Kevin Garnett strained his popliteus in 2009, he missed 13 games.
Re: Popliteus strains in the NBA: I found another example. Kevin Garnett strained his popliteus in 2009. He missed 13 games before making a brief return. Lingering discomfort & soreness in the knee forced him to miss the final 9 regular season games & all of the playoffs.— Jeff Stotts (@InStreetClothes) March 17, 2019
With the chance that both Brogdon and McCollum miss playoff games, you have to expect it affects the Bucks and Trail Blazers chances.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, the team could possibly be giving up their highly coveted one seed, with the Toronto Raptors trailing by three games. If Brogdon misses time until the second round of the playoffs, that could greatly affect the Bucks’ chances to advance to the finals.
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers will also suffer major consequences if McCollum misses substantial time. Right now, the Blazers are the fourth seed in the Western Conference. However, they are just two games away from the eighth seed. Perhaps seeds five to eight will pounce on the chance to get a higher seed, leaving the Blazers in the dust. With the West being incredibly competitive from three to eight, home court advantage will greatly influence who comes out of the first round. Thus, if McCollum is out for as long as KG was, the Trail Blazers will have a very hard time getting past the first round.
Though I do not know how to fix it, something needs to be done about the NBA’s March injury wave.
All statistics are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
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