The first two and a half months of the season gave us the famous return of Carmelo Anthony, the continuous splendor of James Harden, the fall of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, the rise of young superstars and the birth of a real rivalry among the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers.
But what’s real and what’s just noise when we enter a new decade in the NBA?
As the calendar turns to 2020, our experts are examining 11 trends we’ve seen and whether they are going to continue.
The success of the Carmelo Anthony experiment in Portland
But it’s real in an important context: the Blazers were desperate and Anthony helped solve the significant problems Portland has, especially due to a barrage of injuries. Before signing Anthony, the Blazers’ offensive rating was 108.0. Since then it is 111.2. Their defense is more or less the same, and most of the formations with Anthony are overall positive.
He is playing hard, communicating and making intoxicating shows. But in contrast to his last full season (2017-18 with Thunder), Anthony is back to a little older, Habits of the New York Knicks era. He is making far fewer attempts to catch and shoot, isolating more, holding more the ball and taking more mid-range jumpers and less 3 seconds. He is averaging 0.2 points per game less, in almost the same minutes with almost the same number of attempts. His actual percentage of goals on the pitch is 47.1, which is well below the league average.
Overall, Anthony was more or less the same player he had in Oklahoma City and Houston, the one who was essentially discharged from the league for a year. But Blazers need him very much, flaws and everything, because they are fighting friction.
The question is, if Blazers can stay in the playoff game and bring some injured players to health, where does Anthony fit once the games start to count even more? The opposing teams will target and attack him in pick-and-roll; Can it provide enough resistance to stay on the floor and justify the compromise by raising the crime?
– Royce Young
Other: as Melo and the Blazers found themselves
Nobody will confuse Antetokounmpo with Ray Allen or Stephen Curry. But Giannis has become a 3-point shooter and a threat from the depths – as demonstrated against the Lakers on December 19th, when he dropped the best five 3’s in his career – and that’s all it has to be. The thought of Antetokounmpo launching from behind the line tends to keep the defenses honest and open the floor for the rest of his MVP game.
And adding a reliable jumper to the Greek Freak’s arsenal is frightening.
Khris Middleton passes to Giannis Antetokounmpo for the deep 3-pointer.
Antetokounmpo’s sweater won’t always be there for him, as indicated by his 0-for-7 performance from deep against the 76ers of Philadelphia on Christmas day, but he has honed his mechanics and gained confidence. At 5.1 attempts per game, Antetokounmpo has almost doubled its frequency by 3 points this season and is up to 32.7% from beyond the arc after last season’s 25.6% clip.
The evolution of Giannis’ game shows an impulse reminiscent of players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, who have continuously expanded their talents despite being at the top of the ranking. If you see his pre-game routine before the games, you notice that he is wet with sweat from hard work. This is what you like to see in a superstar.
– Eric Woodyard
Other: 3 deep and bold pointers are conquering the NBA
James Harden’s chances of matching Wilt’s 40 PPG brand
For this to happen, it should probably be a priority for Harden. It is adamant that it is not. “I don’t care,” he said earlier this season, without waiting until the whole question was asked before rejecting the topic.
There was a sense of relief in the Rockets last season when Harden’s 30 point hitting streak ended with 32 games. Attention to the night goal – as well as the effort needed to support the streak – became a burden.
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Harden has established himself as the best scorer of this generation. It can be argued, as Rockets general manager Daryl Morey did over the summer, that Harden overtook Michael Jordan as the league’s top scorer after Wilt Chamberlain. Harden’s 38.1 points per game rank as the average of the highest scores in a season for anyone other than Chamberlain. But probably Harden must win an NBA title to be recognized at the top of great players of all time.
This is the goal, not the average of a nice round number. Ideally, the Rockets can cut Harden’s minutes for the rest of the regular season. He has played in all but one game and averages 37.6 minutes, most of all players who have not wasted prolonged time. Harden’s workload was heavier than ever due in part to the disappearance of Eric Gordon six weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Gordon’s return should allow Harden to rest a little longer, which wouldn’t help him chase a historic average of 40 points per game, but it would be better to prepare him for a potential deep playoff.
– Tim MacMahon
Other: James Harden is the top scorer of this NBA era
The momentum behind Adam Silver’s shot for a seasonal tournament
Regardless of what judgment you may have, there are two things to remember when considering the commissioner’s desire to organize a seasonal tournament and why there is a moment behind it.
One is that Silver believes he needs to franchise something to win besides the NBA title. Do you think it could stimulate the fan base – and more specifically increase revenue – in order to play for more trophies. He talked about European football, where teams regularly play in multiple competitions simultaneously.
(Silver also focuses on a play-in tournament, where teams have the opportunity to play in the playoffs, just like congressional tournaments in college basketball.)
Do you want to know why the league has not abolished the divisions? In part, it’s because six teams can claim a division title every year and, if they wish, raise a banner for it.
The second is that the NBA is trying to get in touch with younger fans who love the league but spend less time with regular season games than their older siblings and parents. The league has studied and analyzed a lot on this topic; believes that new products and more immediate results could involve fans during a period of the calendar when they do not pay close attention.
Should we be convinced that it will work and, more specifically, that teams and players can be persuaded to take care of a midseason tournament? No.
However, the league is watching trends and trying to be proactive. Since the Commissioner is heavily invested in this event, he will probably do so. But will the market be ready for this?
– Brian Windhorst
The odds of a trade swinging the NBA’s balance of power this season
First of all, these mid-season swings in the title are few and far between. Before Marc Gasol for the Toronto Raptors, 2005 San Antonio Spurs’ Nazr Mohammed was the last player added through a seasonal deal to score at least 20 minutes per game on average in the playoffs for any champions.
In addition, the specific circumstances of the 2019-2020 season make it unlikely that a trade will determine the winner of the NBA finals. The Clippers and Lakers, the top two Western Conference contenders, both dipped heavily in their stock of future choices for the acquisition of Paul George and Anthony Davis, respectively, over the summer.
While the Clippers can trade their first round of 2020, the Lakers are unable to offer a certain first rounder to a team. (They may offer their 2026 first, but the other team would only get that choice if the New Orleans pelicans decided not to defer the 2024 choice that came from the Lakers until 2025.)
Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe analyze the appearance of the commercial market with two All-Star guards by Kyle Lowry and Jrue Holiday.
Even for the Milwaukee Bucks, who have a first-round choice to offer after acquiring one from the Indiana Pacers in an exchange deal with guard Malcolm Brogdon, it is unclear that there is a talent swinging the title out there to add within the deadline. Maybe Andre Iguodala could have that kind of impact if the Clippers traded for him instead of risking landing Iguodala after a possible purchase. Or another contender like the 76er from Philadelphia may be able to increase their depth in the midseason.
Most likely, the championship will be decided by moves made last summer rather than those prior to the February 7 deadline.
– Kevin Pelton
Other: NBA Trade Machine | Latest news and information
The idea that only the Lakers and Clippers count in the western race
Yes, a Los Angeles team is expected to be in the NBA finals. Both the Lakers and the Clippers are good at superstars and veteran role players, both defend and both are well trained.
But there are at least two potential obstacles that can derail these juggernauts.
The first is health. The Clippers had a healthy and fully available list only once this season, entering 2020. Coach Doc Rivers complained about the lack of rehearsal time, especially with a hectic initial schedule. Kawhi Leonard handled a knee problem. Paul George is still adjusting to the game with surgically repaired shoulders. From the Lakers, Anthony Davis had his share of minor problems to face while 35-year-old LeBron James was slammed in late 2019.
Secondly, there are some teams that have firepower or continuity to potentially upset both L.A. teams. Denver, working with the same core that almost brought the conference finals last season, seems to overcome the difficulties early in the season in managing expectations, and Nikola Jokic will again be a force in this post-season. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets have shown the ability to be a pain for the Clippers and certainly could pose a threat to the Lakers with so much firepower.
Utah Donovan Mitchell can be a problem, as the Clippers confirm. And Dallas and Luka Doncic could give the Lakers a test, as they have done in two of three games this season.
– Ohm Youngmisuk
Other: the two worlds inside the Staples Center
Goal playoff odds, although Kyrie Irving doesn’t play another game in 2019-2020
A goal team without Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert is not as safe a playoff bet as a Brooklyn team at full strength. Still, even without beginners Irving and LeVert, the nets end seventh 2019 in the Eastern Conference ranking. LeVert’s return is expected imminently, while Irving’s injury history remains unclear. Irving has lost his last 21 games with an impact on his right shoulder and hasn’t participated in any contact exercises yet. The Nets also lost a crucial bench player, David Nwaba, when he tore his Achilles on December 19th.
In the absence of Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie came in as the offensive anchor of the nets, averaging 26.0 points per game since Irving was sidelined and played in the All-Star conversation.
The bottom of the east ranking isn’t exactly full of juggernaut, so even with Irving wasting further time – or even the rest of the season – Brooklyn should be able to block one of the last spot playoffs in April. FiveThirtyEight currently offers Brooklyn a 66% chance of appearing after the season, taking injuries into account, while ESPN’s Basketball Power Index is even more bullish.
– Malika Andrews
Other: big questions about Kyrie, Dinwiddie and the networks
The Eastern Conference is as deep as the West
The days when Westerners are “light years ahead” east are over. This season, the East holds a record 82-88 against the West, a .482 payout percentage as opposed to a .397 clip from the previous three seasons combined.
It is true that the eighth seed pillow fight in the East will not thrill anyone, perhaps including fans from Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando, whose teams are competing for it. But the top six teams in the East are at least one game for the top six teams in the West – and the Brooklyn nets, which are over .500 despite not having had Irving in the last month, and Kevin Durant, are not even sloppy .
Those six Eastern teams – Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers – will vie for positioning for the next few months and the Eastern playoffs are already preparing to be the kind of the weakest to which the western circuit has become accustomed in the last two decades.
For years, experts have demanded a 1-16 seeding playoff system, regardless of the conference. The league hoped that the problem would take care of itself, especially given that the 15 teams from the east were unlikely to vote against their interests. Finally, things are starting to work, it seems. Now, for the first time in a long time, the East can say that it is also approaching its western counterpart – and it may well have the upper hand.
– Tim Bontemps
A choice of consent n. 1 for the NBA 2020 project
NBA officials have complained about the lack of stellar power in the 2020 NBA draft freshman class and their biggest fears have proven to be mostly accurate, as no player has emerged as the consensus choice for choice no. 1.
LaMelo Ball, after his ascension to Australia, and Anthony Edwards, with his occasional flashes of brilliance, give this project the best chance for a franchise player. But both perspectives are not lacking in questions that make scouts nervous. And unfortunately, four of the top five prospects in our most recent draft – Ball, James Wiseman, Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton – are out of order and may not play competitive basketball until the July summer championship.
Wiseman surprised many by leaving the Memphis Tigers after playing only three games in college and just before his mandatory suspension for the NCAA was due. It is not ideal considering the concerns for its competitiveness and its willingness to face challenges. Those who are most familiar with Wiseman have long felt that he is more suited to playing outside the stars instead of being a guy of reference, which is not what you normally expect to find with choice no. 1 in the draft.
The scouts will closely follow the collegial perspectives still in action – Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton from Iowa State, Nico Mannion in Arizona, Tyrese Maxey in Kentucky and Jaden McDaniels from Washington – to see if anyone deserves consideration at the top of the draft. And Ball, Hampton (New Zealand’s Breakers), Deni Avdija (Maccabi Tel Aviv) and French guards Killian Hayes and Theo Maledon will keep NBA scouts and leaders busy around the world.
– Jonathan Givony
Other: false draft, new lottery choices and scouting reports
The problems of the Philadelphia 76ers
TRUE is NOT REAL
There is something wrong with Philadelphia, but everyone – including the Sixers – knew they would have at least one big problem.
In particular, their offense.
Philadelphia was built, when fully activated and committed, to be perhaps the best defensive team in the NBA. Its combination of size, length and athleticism can wreak havoc even in the best competition.
At the same time, Philly’s lack of footage causes problems at the other end. Joel Embiid has repeatedly talked about adapting to having even less space than usual. There is joy when Ben Simmons takes a 3-pointer – let alone when he does one. Al Horford seemed out of place.
This turned the 76ers into a Rorschach test.
If you focus on their defense, you can argue that the Sixers have the highest roof in the NBA. If you see that their crime is hopelessly overcome in today’s rhythmic and space NBA, you can argue that they will be vulnerable in the first round of what promises to be a very competitive Eastern Conference playoff.
The rise of the zone defenses
NOT REAL … YET
Will NBA teams start playing zone defenses regularly? No, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that zone patterns will not be a meaningful defensive strategy during the playoffs, particularly for opponents of the 76ers, a challenged contender who recently fought against the losing zones for the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks.
Mavs manager Rick Carlisle employs zones more than any other NBA counterpart, but will tell you that it is more difficult to execute a zone than the traditional man-to-man. It requires more attention to detail, with better connectivity, and feels alien to NBA players accustomed to man’s schemes. It takes a lot of practice time to play well in one area, which is why you rarely see it during the normal season.
“But any team that faces Philadelphia in the playoffs will work on the area,” said one scout.
It is no surprise that Erik Spoelstra’s Heat eliminated the Sixers’ pace with a zone. Spoelstra never avoided playing a game when it could help Heat. Toronto’s Nick Nurse, whose Raptors are another potential hurdle for the Sixers after eliminating them last season, is also known for wanting to try anything. Heck, he used a trap zone press to beat the Raptors rally by a 30-point deficit to beat Dallas, a strategy that also worked in a recently failed rebound offer against the Sixers.
It is not university basketball, where the identities of some programs are linked to zone defenses. But an area can be a valuable tool in the NBA, if used at the right time or against the right opponent.