Only sixteen days into the NBA’s 2018 season and it’s time to take make some more observations. As things are beginning to form more and more, it’s evident there is still many things that will change.
As always, I warn you not to get too hot and bothered from Small Sample Size-itis.
The Celtics’ Law Firm — Marcus and Marcus — is the League’s Most Dangerous Bench Combination
After Marcus Morris dubbed the Celtics second unit as BWA — Bench With Attitude — the second unit has started this season as if they’re truly the most dangerous group for both good and bad reasons.
The reason these two pose as the most dangerous combo in my eyes is because they’re either complete trick or complete treat.
As the Celtics are beginning to find themselves with a 5-2 record, Brad Stevens has the trickiest job in the NBA right now — finding all of the Celtics players minutes. Part of that struggle is having two alpha dog personalities like Marcus and Marcus on your team, especially when they’re playing great.
Few bench players this season have been more impressive than Marcus Morris. He’s third on the team in scoring at 14.4 points per game, with one of the most uniquely fun offensive games of those who come off of the bench. He’s versatile enough to defend nearly every position, as well as play each position in the Celtics offense.
It’s still very early, but Mook is averaging the most points of his career with the least amount of shots he has taken since he was with Phoenix. He has career highs across the board, which is extremely encouraging to say the least.
He has also started the season scorching hot with a career high in three-point percentage that’s sure to come down (48.4%). Morris has continued his unique approach to bully ball where he wrestles defenders during post-ups for premium position to uncork his patented, leg-swinging fadeaway no matter his coordinates on the floor.
Pretty much every Marcus Morris make that isn’t a wide open three, free throw, or dunk look similar to the two shots above — and he has been tremendous while doing it.
To give a reference of how good he has been since arriving to Boston, buckle up for flight Small Sample Size 13.
Since joining the Celtics last season, Marcus Morris has shot .457% on shots between 16 feet and the 3 point line — .187% of his shots.
Carmelo Anthony, who is known for these shots, has only matched that number ONCE in his entire career, and has only shot over .450% three times in these spots over his 16 year career — .278% of his career shots.
During this time, Morris has shot .381% from deep — nearly 40% of his shots with the Celtics. Carmelo Anthony has never been that efficient from three, ever. He has shot .380% or better from deep once — .379% in 2012-13 — in sixteen seasons.
There’s certainly context to this — Anthony being the featured scoring option on his team, evolution of the game, and a small sample size — but Morris has attempted 903 shots since joining the Celtics last season. Maybe he’s just extremely good at scoring in the ways Carmelo Anthony does. Maybe he’s Carmelo Anthony without the jab-step. Maybe I’m celebrating the existence of an efficient black hole. Maybe I’m just drinking too much green Kool-Aid.
The other half of the Marcus and Marcus duo is, of course, Marcus Smart. After an entire offseason of feeling like he was going to sign elsewhere, he’s back, and resigned through the 2021-22 season.
He’s shooting an abysmal 17% from three, but is — thankfully — taking two less threes per game than he ever has. He’s the King of the no-no-YES shot, and painful to watch at times on offense, but you put up with it because of the magic he creates on the defensive side of the court, his toughness, and the excitement from his winning plays rival few others in the league.
Here are two clips summarizing the entire Marcus Smart experience:
Smart is truly a 6’4″ power forward with the strength of a superhero. I’ve been arguing that he deserves a spot on the All-Defensive Team for a handful of seasons.
This year he is posting an ABSURD 87.7 defensive rating — the third under 100 in his five-year career. It’s hard to convince voters that someone who isn’t a “starter” deserves such a prestigious reward, despite the C’s mostly equal minutes and Smart finishing in crunch time routinely. Few players hold a larger influence on their team’s defense than Marcus Smart does.
Ben Simmons Needs to Shoot
The skill of Ben Simmons is incredible. The defense of Ben Simmons is incredible. The passing ability and vision of Ben Simmons is incredible. The 76ers need to have Ben Simmons shoot threes if they want to become incredible.
The entire “Shoot a Three, Coward” campaign started from an obvious hole in his game as a joke for Celtics fans before morphing into something that has become more true than not.
I knew that his unwillingness to shoot from long-range was an issue, but this viral clip has only highlighted the severity for their offense.
The disrespect from the Hornets here is simply unacceptable. If Simmons shows a hint of willingness to shoot a three, defenses are actively aware and take a couple of steps closer based on instinct. By not shooting — whether it’s his choice or Brett Brown’s — the Sixers spacing is selfishly tighter.
As I previously mentioned, Marcus Smart is shooting freaking 17% from three, but is still taking almost three attempts per game. By doing so, defenses naturally drift out towards him, opening cutting lanes for teammates and can’t put a free safety in their defense. For Simmons, it would pull a man out of the paint, and open driving lanes for him where he has shown to be indestructible.
Teams understand that he has zero intention to shoot from outside, so they’ve dropped back and cut off the path to the basket. Simmons field goal percentage this season has dropped from 54.5 to 46.3 because teams are learning how to takeaway his strengths.
Even in transition you can see how much the THREAT of shooting a jump shot could help the Sixers. Right now, players are able to get back and set up the castle wall(s) in front of the restricted area, putting Simmons in a situation like below.
So far this season Simmons has recorded zero three-point attempts, Markelle Fultz has more field goal attempts than he does points, and Embiid and Saric are a combined .259% from deep.
Right now, for the Sixers to win a playoff series against a top-tier opponent of the East, they’ll need to have an out-of-body shooting experience from those who do shoot it — similar to what the Orlando Magic did in 2010 during their run to the Finals.
It won’t happen over night, but the progression of Simmons outside shot will take pressure off of his teammates, and make his game easier as well. The unwillingness, even at the end of the shot clock is bizarre.
Domantas Sabonis has Tremendous Offensive Feel
Each time I’ve watched Sabonis I’ve been extremely impressed. He has such a strong offensive feel for the game with his hybrid ability as a big man. He’s extremely creative and nimble around the basket, yet will maul his opponents on the glass.
In 22 minutes of game action each night, Sabonis has gotten 14.4 points (70.7%!!!) to go with 9.6 boards. He doesn’t shoot the three often, but when he’s left alone, he does so effectively around 35%.
Last night, in New York, came an explosive 30 point outing with a perfect 12 for 12 from the field. Who doesn’t love watching a big man go to work and embarrass a defender? Despite having two left hands, Domantas is so crafty around the cup that he’s able to find the angle he needs to make it happen.
These are a couple of great plays from last night that any team would love to see out of your backup big man. It’s just so easy for him. Sabonis, over the past season, has become a great bench player in the NBA while consistently improving. From here forward, Sabonis needs to be included in the conversation when we say OKC gave up far too quickly on Victor Oladipo.
Nikola Jokic owns the Best Ball Fake in the League
I live for watching the awkwardness of Nikola Jokic playing basketball. I’m faster pulling my garbage can to the end of my driveway than he is running up and down the court. His unorthodox offensive game, unusual body type, and Harlem Globetrotter-esque passing ability make him the most entertaining big man League Pass offers.
Jokic is having himself quite a season, too — 21.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 54.3 FG%, 44% 3P%, 86.4 FT%
The only players to ever put up 21+, 10+, 6+ per game while shooting above 40% from deep are Nikola Jokic and Larry Bird.
He’s a 7′ 250 lb. behemoth nearly in the 50-40-90 club. That’s special.
My favorite part of watching The Joker are his ball fakes, probably the best in the NBA. Each time he busts one out, it looks like he’s messing with a child. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get a ball fake with an extra head fake.
The Warriors Just Don’t Care Anymore
As if it were news, the Warriors are likely going to win the title this year — barring injury.
It’s honestly impressive how bored they are with the regular season. We aren’t even 10 games in and we have multiple 50 point games and ridiculous shot attempt after ridiculous shot attempt. They’re toying with other professional athletes, laughing in their faces while doing so, and dancing to a remix of the Fergie National Anthem after they win.
And by now, everybody has seen the highlights of Klay Thompson’s 52 point game where he attempted 24 three pointers. How does that even happen?
What’s remarkable is that even the misses are impressive — the angles he even attempts to shoot at, the assists, the defensive pressure, the score, they just don’t care about anything.
Let’s play a game with Klay Thompson called “Does He Make It?” — appreciate the disrespect from the Warriors on these shots.
A buddy and I were talking about how many games the Warriors could win if they approached every single game like it was a playoff game — obviously they won’t because they’d gas themselves for the playoffs. The last time they tried this they won 73 games and that was before adding Kevin Durant. If they went for it, I seriously believe they could win 80 games. What are the chances that Durant, Curry, and Thompson all have an off night together. You can ride the scoring and shooting of any of these dudes on any given night, not to mention they’re the best defensive team in the league when they’re locked in.
On top of that, I think we’d see another level from Curry. During the regular season, teams can’t grab, hold, and knock him around how they can during the playoffs. His free throw rate would skyrocket — making their offense that much more unstoppable. Teams focusing that much more on Curry would allow the best scorer we’ve seen this generation, in Durant, to do whatever he wants. By adjusting to Durant, teams are leaving the greatest shooter in the history of the world on a secondary island. It’s this never-ending cycle that goes back and forth and can only be broken by themselves, or possibly Kevin Durant’s free agency.
Kawhi is a Serial Killer
I think my favorite part of the NBA season is that Kawhi Leonard is completely, all the way, 100% back.
Before the season, I predicted the Celtics to win the Eastern Conference and had Milwaukee and Indiana in the top-tier as well. I honestly didn’t really talk about Toronto for a couple of reasons.
- I wasn’t sure if Kawhi was going to be himself again with the uncertainty of the trade situation and his injury.
- I didn’t think it was fair to put Toronto under the gigantic pressure of my super sick sports blog without knowing the health of their team.
Well, I can absolutely confirm that the Raptors are for real and Kawhi Leonard is, in fact, Kawhi Leonard again. He looks like he stole a bottle of Jerry Rice’s Stickum.
In my lifetime — all 22 years of it — I’ve never seen a better defensive player than this dude. He STALKS defenders.
I was listening to the Bill Simmons Podcast about a week ago when he had Shea Serrano on as a guest. They were talking about the new Halloween movie and the development of Michael Myers as a character throughout the series. They even brought up who would win a 1-on-1 basketball game between Michael Myers and Kawhi Leonard and the conversation was pretty interesting. An observation that Serrano made about Myers was that he never runs. In any of the movies, it’s always that creepy, stalking walk towards who he intends to kill, but never running.
I’ll take it a step further — Kawhi is basketball’s Michael Myers. He’s usually moving at a moderate, yet effective speed with his dribble, he hides his emotions behind his creepy laugh and his hypothetical mask, and he stalks offensive players the way Myers does. No matter what you do to prepare yourself for it, Kawhi is going to be uncomfortably close to your personal space and slash the ball out of your hands.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen a steal without looking. Leonard is a clone of Michael Myers because there’s no possible way he would’ve known the ball was coming without this being scripted.
This haunting has potential to hurt a lot of people. The Boston Celtics could be unprepared to face Toronto under Leonard’s command. The Milwaukee Bucks could miss their window, again. LeBron James, Magic Johnson, and the Los Angeles Lakers wanted to be patient and not give up Kyle Kuzma and change for this monster. And, of course, the San Antonio Spurs have lost the talent who was supposed to carry on their identity 60 win season after 60 win season.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the return of Kawhi Leonard, especially his theme music.