I’d normally wait till after the N.B.A. season to take inventory of all the basketball takes I received incorrect and concern a mea culpa. But with barely lower than half of this marketing campaign accomplished, I’m discovering that the season has flummoxed me greater than another in my years of watching basketball. So many traits I believed I used to be seeing have already reversed themselves, some in spectacular trend.
So I want to return clear. New 12 months, new me, as they are saying.
There was the time I predicted the Knicks would make the playoffs. I thought-about out loud whether or not the Toronto Raptors had been that a lot better than the Knicks after they misplaced Kawhi Leonard. I speculated that Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns would turn out to be a candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award after his scorching begin. I wrote that the Philadelphia 76ers “look like a top contender” with their method of valuing top over capturing and beginning 4 gamers a minimum of 6-foot-Eight. I unironically puzzled if the Phoenix Suns had been for actual.
It’s straightforward — and honest — to giggle at me now. And a lot of you will have! The Raptors look like resilient and deep. The Knicks had been 10-24 (and minus one head coach) going into Friday night time’s recreation after a three-game profitable streak. The Timberwolves are in the midst of yet one more disappointing season, and the chatter is that Towns needs out.
The Suns are the Suns, and the Sixers, tall as they’re, have been simply O.Okay.
I’ve been attempting to determine the place I went incorrect. With the Knicks, I missed how a lot match issues and put an excessive amount of weight on new expertise. With the Suns, I believed a brand new tradition underneath Monty Williams and the addition of stable veterans like Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio would reverse years of lackadaisical franchise constructing.
But greater than all of that, the recreation has been more durable to foretell due to better parity than normal. And accidents — numerous them. They have affected league standings greater than in any season in current reminiscence.
I’ve been extra Nostradonotbelieveme than Nostradamus. But right here’s a recent batch of takeaways as we enter a brand new decade, and together with that, hopefully extra accuracy.
Don’t belief the Bucks.
The Milwaukee Bucks are 31-5, simply the finest file in the league. They are beating groups by an average of almost 13 points a game. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has only improved, especially as a shooter, since his M.V.P. Award-winning campaign last year. They are the best defensive team in the N.B.A. and play at the fastest pace. They have several fun role players, including Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill and the Lopez brothers. There is an outside chance that the Bucks win 70 games.
I predicted the Bucks would make the finals this year. And now I’m taking it back, especially after watching their Christmas Day loss to the Sixers. I underestimated how much better the rest of the Eastern Conference is compared with previous seasons. And I’m skeptical of a team with only one elite playmaker.
In the playoffs, as games slow down and defenses key in more on Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton won’t be a strong enough secondary playmaker to take much pressure off Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee reminds me too much of the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James: a world-beating superstar surrounded by O.K.-to-good role players who fizzled out in the second round.
The Bucks are sixth in the N.B.A. in running isolation plays, according to the league’s tracking stats, further fueling my skepticism. Antetokounmpo’s usage rate is nearly 38 percent — on pace for a career high, by far. That’s a lot to put on him in the playoffs. A miffed Bucks fan would point out that Antetokounmpo plays only 31 minutes a game and that the offense barely dips with him on the bench. Or that no team has outscored its opponents by as many points, on average, as the Bucks since the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, one of the greatest teams of all time. All true! But I surmise that this will change in the playoffs.
(I pre-emptively apologize for being totally wrong about this.)
The Nuggets are disappointing — but not a disappointment.
The early national television games featuring the Denver Nuggets were filled with pronouncements of disappointment, in spite of their 10-3 start. It was noted that there was something missing from this team. That Nikola Jokic wasn’t himself. That once again, the Nuggets needed more from Jamal Murray and Will Barton.
And yet, Denver finds itself in second place in the Western Conference. It has won 10 of its last 12 games. Jokic, after a less-than-stellar beginning to the season, reasserted himself in December, averaging 20.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists on an efficient 62.9 true shooting percentage. The Nuggets have done all this despite playing below-average defense since Dec. 1. And much of their recent schedule has been soft, including a double-digit win at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were missing James that night. But there’s no discounting a road win on Thursday against the Indiana Pacers, who have been dominant at home.
The Nuggets are one of those teams that are extraordinarily difficult to gauge. They have a bona fide M.V.P. talent in Jokic, and every top-tier contender needs one of those. They have solid surrounding talent, with Murray, Barton and Paul Millsap, and productive players who don’t try to do too much, like Mason Plumlee. The rookie Michael Porter Jr. is making the most of his recently expanded playing time (due to the team’s injuries), averaging 15.5 points a game in his last four contests on 74 percent shooting. If he gets comfortable on the court, watch out.
The Nuggets are second in the West — only three games behind the Lakers before Friday’s action — and on pace for more wins than last season.
Yet, you want more from the Nuggets. You expect them to have made a leap the way the Bucks have. Sure, they’re in second place in a tough conference. But while the Nuggets are outscoring their opponents on average by about 4 points a game — more than last season and good for ninth in the league — they’re not dominant. They do just enough to get by. For the third straight season, they are playing at one of the league’s slower paces. They don’t drive to the basket often, but they move the ball well.
The team is not especially great at anything, but after struggling to score to start the season, Denver has had a top-five offense since the beginning of December. That’s a start.
The Nuggets aren’t disappointing per se, but this season is another second-round playoff exit in the making. Still, not to worry, Denver fans. Before you take up the pitchforks, remember that given my recent track record, I will most likely be toasting the N.B.A. champion Nuggets come June.
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