The Backdoor Cut

 

Every week, or maybe every other week, or maybe even once a month, Brofessor General and Slim will get together and answer some questions about the NBA. They may be joined by other contributors to the site, or it could always end up being just them answering the questions. We will try to have these posted on Monday mornings, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned. What we are saying is, this piece will be fluid throughout the NBA season.

  1. Is it time to worry about our beloved Memphis Grizzlies, or do you think they will get back on track? *Answers Pre-Fizdale Firing*Brofessor General: I made a deal with myself after the heartbreaking buzzer beater of a loss with the Mavs on Wednesday that I wouldn’t start to panic and that maybe things were about to turn around. I became even more discouraged after the loss against the Nuggets on Friday. However, Sunday was the last straw for me. I have officially lost most of my positivity. Sunday’s loss to the Nets, where the game looked more like a pickup game at the local Y than an assembly of professional basketball players. The game lacked rhythm and consistency. The team looked less like the 2016-17 playoff Grizz who gave the Spurs a challenge in the first round and more like the 2015-2016 Grizz who closely resembled the island of misfit toys. Before the season started I was 50-50 on whether or not we should blow up the team and trade for future assets. The incredible start of the team and play of the bench unit gave hope at the beginning, but If the ship is not righted by the end of the calendar year, I think we seriously look at shopping Marc and Mike to some teams that have first round draft picks in 2018 and 2019.

Slim: Yep, I think it is time to sound the alarm. The offense, which seems to run no actual plays, is 27th in the NBA in scoring, 29th in 3-point shooting percentage, and 29th in offensive rebounding. That’s not good, especially for a team that seems intent on settling for 3-pointers instead of attacking the basket. Marc Gasol is currently shooting just 33% from beyond the arc, but seems content shooting the 3 instead of doing most of his work on the block. Defensively, guys are just getting beat by their man too often, and the defense rotations are nowhere near where they need to be. To be fair, I expected this Grizzlies team to struggle, but I expected them to struggle out of the gate and to be playing catch-up at this point against the inferior schedule. Instead, the Grizzlies started by beating the Rockets and Warriors, but are currently on an 8-game losing streak and haven’t won a game inside FedExForum since October 28th, going all of November without a home win. Is there still time for a turnaround on Beale Street? Sure, but it doesn’t seem likely without a healthy Mike Conley, and even if he comes back relatively soon, the hole will likely be too deep to dig themselves out of this time. How to move forward is a complex issue to tackle, and we can save that for another day.

  1. Good or bad, which team has surprised you the most in each conference so far this season?

Slim: East-BucksThe Milwaukee Bucks have surprised me, mainly because after all of the attention Giannis Antetokounmpo was getting early on, I expected them to be better than their 9-9 record. This team was 42-40 last year and had a healthy Khris Middleton coming into the season. Middleton is averaging 19-6-5 to go along with Giannis’ averages of 30/11/4 to lead the way for the Bucks. They also added Eric Bledsoe early in the season to go along with the rest of their athletic (and long-armed) core. I expected this team be struggle on offense, but be above average in rebounding and defense. Instead they are currently 29th in the league in rebounding and 23rd in Defensive Rating, while being exactly in the middle of the pack with an Offensive Rating of 104.5 that ranks 15th. As outlined in this article by Jordan Treske of Behind The Buck Pass, if the Bucks don’t get hot soon, the Jason Kidd era in Milwaukee could be coming to an end.

West-BlazersThe Blazers are my other choice and they are mainly here because I have long been a nonbeliever in this team, which is probably due to the fact I’ve leaned heavily towards the Mike Conley side of Conley/Lillard debates and secretly hoped the Blazers would be trash so Mike would get an All-Star nod. Lillard is currently shooting 41% from the field, the worst mark of his career, yet still averaging 25/5/6. CJ McCollum is shooting a scorching 49% from beyond the arc to pick up the slack and the Blazers have gone 9-5 in November. Portland is 13-8 overall and currently sitting at 4th in the Western Conference standings. They may not stay there, but while other teams who were expected to compete for the final Playoff spots in the West like the Grizz and Clippers pile up losses, the Blazers have been racking up wins.

Brofessor: East- Pistons. Andre Drummond is having a standard Andre Drummond season as a double double machine. One area of his game that has drastically changed is at the charity stripe.  

Under the radar Tobias Harris is shooting 3’s at a personal best 45% right now and averaging 18 ppg. On paper this team seems to be doing just middle of the run for most categories, but they are doing things right when it counts and winning the games they are supposed to win. When you are in the East, that is the number one key to controlling your destiny.

West – Timberwolves. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, because this team is full of young talent and has been on the precipice of being a solid playoff team. However, this year with the addition of veteran Jimmy Butler they have seen much greater success than in the past. With Wiggins and KAT only being 22 years old, this franchise has an exciting future if they can hold onto these young stars.

  1. Along the same lines, who are 2 players that have exceeded your expectations so far this season?

Brofessor: Ben Simmons. The Philadelphia 76ers rookie who was drafted number 1 overall in 2016 but sat the season out due to injury has made a real splash in the league this year. He is thriving alongside crazy post-man Joel Embiid. Averaging 18-9-7, Simmons has been an exciting and key player in “The Process” as it chugs along. Will it work out long term? That remains to be seen. Until we have a solid answer, do yourself a favor and follow Embiid on Twitter then sit back and enjoy the positivity and occasional trolling. 

Victor Oladipo. The freaking Pacers are winning games this year and are relevant in the Eastern Conference, this time not just for Lance Stephenson’s antics. Oladipo is averaging almost 23 ppg, 7 higher than his previous best in OKC. He is his team’s leading scorer and is shooting 46% from the field including 45% from three. They have a good thing going with Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. I wouldn’t be too surprised for them to put together a decent franchise in the next few years built around these guys.

Slim: Robert Covington. To go along with your 76ers theme, a player I’ve really enjoyed watching so far this season is Robert Covington. I’ve been intrigued with Covington since his days at Tennessee State, and I seem to remember him checking into a game against the Grizzlies the year he won D-League MVP and hitting a couple of 3’s for the Rockets and thinking that he had a chance to stick in the league. With superstars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, as well as a seasoned veteran in J.J. Reddick around him, Covington is finally getting to show off his skills on a team that isn’t trash as hell. He’s currently shooting 46% from deep, averaging a career high 16 ppg, and wreaks havoc on defense. Plus, it’s always great to see the hard work of undrafted guys pay off with the second NBA contract, which Covington signed earlier this month to the tune of $62 million.

Kyle Kuzma. Kyle Kuzma, who started 11 games of the season for an injured Larry Nance, has followed up his Summer League MVP performance by averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds. Kuzma is currently shooting 37% from three and 50% overall, and while he has yet to succeed, he tries to throw down poster dunks like this. Kuzma could very well turn out to be the best rookie of the Lakers’ 2017 class, if not he should at least be a solid rotation player for years to come.

  1. Will Oklahoma City turn things around, or is this just a horrible experiment gone wrong for the Thunder?

Slim: I’m not worried about the Thunder at all. We see teams struggle out of the gate due to chemistry issues all the time, and I don’t believe this is any different. Westbrook just carried the whole damn team for a season, so it may take a while to break some of the habits that were formed last year. OKC is currently leading the league in steals per game as a team, with Paul George and Russell Westbrook ranking 1st and 3rd, respectively in the individual category. They also have the 2nd best Defensive Rating in the NBA, trailing only the Celtics, and sit at 6th in Net Rating even with their ugly 8-11 record. I think the Thunder will get it figured out and I wouldn’t want to be matched up with them in the first round of the Playoffs.

Brofessor: At this point, I am not too worried about the Thunder. They sit a few games below .500 and slightly out of playoff position, but I think that they still have a chance to get things together. Even though they rank in the bottom third in the league in points, rebounds, and assists per game, I will cut them some slack as I feel they are yet to break out. I don’t think that they are necessarily a top 5 team in the west right now, but certainly a playoff team. I wouldn’t be surprised if multiple teams in the 6-9 slots (Nuggs, Pellies, Jazz, Lakers) slow their roll and begin to falter. Even with the struggling adaption to the new starpower on the roster, I think that when push comes to shove, Westbrook will pull a LeBron and will his team to the playoffs. What will happen after that? We will see.

  1. Is there a team you have really enjoyed watching early in the season, other than when the Grizzlies were hot?

Brofessor: I think for most people who call themselves fans of the game of basketball, the 76ers have been a fun team to tag along with this season. From another disappointing rookie injury in 2017 draft pick Markelle Fultz, to actual real life success, to twitter beefs, this has been a fun team to watch. I am not fully ready to admit that “the process” has/is working, but they at least give some hope that if you get enough lottery picks in a row, you can eventually rise from the basement and get a seat at the grown up table. Also, it feels like the majority of the Ringer and Bleacher Report writers are Sixers fans so that means they get maximum coverage and it’s easy to get detailed updates on them regularly.

Slim: Yep, it’s hard for me to pick anyone other than Philly here, so I’ll just avoid the question and say I’ve enjoyed watching LeBron James. Lebron is averaging career highs in FG%, 3P%, Assists, and Blocks while averaging 29-8-9. By now those who once hated the King should have moved on and began to appreciate the beauty of his game as the art that it is. If you are sitting around on a boring League Pass night and choose not to tune in to the Cavs game, you are the one missing out.
{Photo belongs to Getty Images}

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