Welcome to Thursday’s Thoughts, where I go over your need-to-know water cooler talk, provide some of my favorite upcoming wagers, and have a bit of fun with things I like and dislike. If you’re not a fan of sports, gambling, politics, pop culture, or fun, then still read it anyway because I do it for the people.
Quick Timberwolves Update
So just before I was going to post this blog earlier today, news dropped that Jeff Teague has been traded to the Hawks (along with Treveon Graham) for Allen Crabbe. This is huge news for Wolves fans who have been tired of watching Teague dribble the air out of the ball in an otherwise fast-paced offense. Similarly, Treveon Graham was a huge liability on the offensive end, shooting 24.1% from beyond the arc, despite no opponents respecting his shot. Allen Crabbe is not exactly a great return, but he’s a much better fit with this current roster. He’s an off-ball shooter – something the Wolves have desperately needed to play alongside Wiggins. He’s been having a rough season, shooting just 32.3% from 3-point range, but he’s a career 39% shooter from deep and should improve in an easier role on a better team. Reports have suggested this isn’t the last move of free agency by Minnesota’s front office, and if the rest of the moves align with their style of play, I’ll be excited to see what kind of run the Wolves can make when Towns returns.
Top 5 of the Week
With a breakout season from Brandon Ingram and a heavier focus than ever on the shortcomings of Ben Simmons, it has been suggested that the initial declaration of Simmons being the better pick are no longer true. (Simmons was drafted 1st overall in 2016. Ingram was selected 2nd). While I agree that we probably make determinations about how good a player will be far too early in their careers, I still think the initial assessment holds – Simmons is a superior player to Ingram. Still, given the vast canyon of a difference in their values even just a few months ago, the improvement in Ingram is staggering.
Along the lines of that debate, my top 5 of the week is the top 5 players of the 2016 NBA Draft. In this ranking I will only consider who I believe the 5 best players are today – regardless of contract, team, or prior accolades.
Honorable Mentions: Jamal Murray, Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield.
5. Domantas Sabonis. Excluding the injured Victor Oladipo, Sabonis is the best player on the Pacers. Without Oladipo, he’s led Indiana to a 26-15 and they will be fighting for a top 4 seed and home court advantage in the first round. He’s currently averaging 18.1 points per game, 13.1 rebounds per game, and 4.3 assists per game – all career highs. What’s wild about how good those stats are is that they don’t tell the whole story of his impact on a game. Sabonis does the little things well that contribute to winning and despite the easy comparison of goofy European big men, he plays a similar style to Nikola Jokic. He’s a crafty passer and leads a disciplined offensive game plan. With the way he’s been improving, 5 might be too low.
4. Jaylen Brown. Boston looked to me like they were taking a bit of a gamble on Brown in the offseason, giving him a 4-year/$115M contract, but they clearly knew him better than the rest of us. He’s averaging career highs in nearly every statistical category and has arguably become the second offensive option behind Kemba Walker on the Celtics. He’s a bonafide two-way star, and I don’t think he’s nearing his peak. Over the past few years, I’ve thought the Jimmy Butler comparisons were a bit far-fetched. I don’t anymore.
3. Brandon Ingram. This man has made one of the biggest leaps I’ve seen in an offseason in quite some time. He went from averaging 1.8 attempted triples per game to over 6 and actually increased his 3-point percentage… by 7.7%! Assuming you discount the 2nd year jump of Dončić, the Most Improved Player award is his to lose. He’s a legitimate top dog, and I cannot wait to see how he can mesh with Zion Williamson. He’s still got a ways to go on the defensive end, but he’s so athletic that it makes up for most of his lack of anticipation. That will continue to improve. The sky is the limit for Ingram.
2. Pascal Siakam. At the start of last season, Siakam probably wouldn’t have cracked the top 10 on this list. That’s what happens when you follow up a Most Improved Player season with a championship run, and come back the next year having made another leap. His increases (more career highs across the board, with a slight dip in shooting) remind me of a young Giannis. Obviously, he’s not on that level, and I don’t think his ceiling is quite that high, but even to have the Greek Freak as a serious comparison is something special. Siakam is going to be an all-star for a long time.
1. Ben Simmons. Based on the criticism of Simmons for his lack of shooting, you’d think it rendered him helpless on the basketball court. He’s still averaging the highest FG% of the group. Even without shooting 3s, he’s averaging the highest eFG% of the group, as well. Not to mention he’s averaging the most assists as well, nearly double the next closest (8.4 compared to Sabonis at 4.3). So Simmons might not be the transcendent scorer we expected after his rookie campaign, but he’s still damn effective. He’s also far and away the best defender of the group. If the season ended today, he’d be on the 1st Team All-Defensive team and he’d have a legitimate argument to be a defensive player of the year finalist. Simmons may have obvious flaws, but he’s so incredible at other aspects of the game, you’d be foolish to underestimate him.
2019-20 NBA Record: 1-1-0
2019 NFL Record: 1-1-0
NBA lines are only posted a day in advance (sometimes the same day), so in the past I’ve only been able to give a few of my picks a week, and only if they happened to land on the correct day of the week. (Not to mention this blog has been infrequent at best). But I’ve found a better strategy to get my picks out to the public – Follow @blogintherough on Twitter to get my (hopefully consistent) daily betting tips.
Kansas City -7.5 vs. Tennessee
The strategy used by Tennessee against Baltimore won’t work against this Chiefs team, and I think it was fairly lucky that it worked against the Ravens. It’s easy in hindsight to criticize the Ravens and praise the Titans, but if a few plays go a different way, Baltimore easily could have won that game. If Kansas City can get ahead early, I think it will take away from the rushing attack of Tennessee and they will end up relying on Tannehill. I just don’t see him leading a comeback. Chiefs all the way.
Green Bay +7.5 at San Francisco
Green Bay doesn’t match up well at all with San Francisco, but I have confidence they can put up enough points to keep it close. Minnesota struggled in the trenches against the 49ers and I think the Packers will as well; However, Aaron Rodgers is more mobile in the pocket than Cousins and will be able to extend plays. Diggs beat Sherman more than a few times last Sunday, and I think Adams will get him in single coverage enough to do some damage. 35-30 San Francisco.
Denver -3.5 at Golden State
Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap have all been ruled out for tonight’s matchup. The Warriors have D’Angelo Russell back. So why am I picking Denver? Well, the Nuggets are 20 games ahead of the Warriors halfway through the season, the Warriors have lost their last 9 games (all of which were by at least 4 points and 7 of which were by at least 9 points). Why is this line 3.5? I have no idea. Nuggets roll by double figures.
New Orleans +5.5 vs Utah
The Jazz are a great team, and the Pelicans haven’t shown us much this season, but the arena will be wild and loud tonight. Why? The debut of Zion Williamson. Need I say more? Pelicans win outright.
Things I Like and Things I Don’t Like
Jarrett Culver taking over. Over the past 9 games, Culver is averaging 15.2 points per game on .460/.317 shooting, up from his average of 7.7 points on .362/.240 splits prior. His jump in numbers have reflected not just the increased role he’s played as Towns and Wiggins (and a bunch of other guys) have missed time, but more importantly, it reflects Culver playing with intensity. As he’s found his offensive rhythm, his scoring (and shot) has come with it, but there’s still a ways to go. His form doesn’t look broken, but when he isn’t involved in initiating the offense, he’s more stiff and has some bad misses on catch and shoot opportunities. Also, he’s shooting 44% from the free throw line. The good news is he looks comfortable attacking the basket and as his role increased, he’s shown more and more flashes of what made his two-way potential so intriguing. After a disappointing start to the season, Culver is starting to look the part of a cornerstone 2-way wing.
I don’t like
Petty refs taking over. There’s now been multiple Timberwolves games impacted by petty referees. Example 1: Culver dunks on Robin Lopez and gives him a flex. Lopez chases him across the court before shoving Naz Reid while screaming his head off. Culver doesn’t engage. What is the call? Technical on Culver. Nothing for Lopez. Bucks end up winning by 2.
Example 2: Have you ever seen a delay of game called for an untucked shirt? Until this year, I’ve never seen it. Of course this would happen to the Timberwolves. Delay of game is rarely called, and it almost never impacts a game, but there are exceptions to every rule. If the delay of game is the 2nd for a team in the game, they are assessed a technical foul. Andrew Wiggins was called for this against Memphis on January 7th, and it didn’t affect the outcome of the game as it was the only delay of game for the Timberwolves.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time Minnesota has been called for this. Against the Thunder on December 6th, Minnesota was up by 2 points with 0:01 left in the 4th quarter and Towns was at the line to shoot his 2nd free throw. Seems like game over right? Well, as Jordan bell entered the game, he was assessed a delay of game resulting in a technical foul despite nobody being lined up for the free throw. Garbage call in a close game. Gallinari makes the FT. Towns makes the FT. OKC hits a buzzer beater. Wolves lose in OT. Refs win again.
Hawks Drafting. The Hawks are a very bad team. But they have a lot of reason to be optimistic. They have drafted solid young pieces in John Collins and Kevin Huerter, and a franchise cornerstone in Trae Young over the past 2 drafts alone (excluding 2019 as it’s far too soon to assess this draft). The Hawks look to have a bright future, and as a fellow fan of a bad team in a small market, I wish the Hawks the best.
I don’t like
Hawks Draft Criticism. When people discuss the recent Hawks drafts, it invariably leads to “but they traded Luka!” and the hindsight police play their games. Was it a mistake? Sure. But it was significantly better than the Suns or the Kings, both of whom passed on both Luka and Trae Young. The Hawks also received a draft pick from Dallas to swap. If they thought Young was their guy (he was!!) then they were savvy to drop a few slots and pick up a future pick to do so. Would the Hawks consider the 3rd overall pick for Young and extra future pick now? Hell no. So they came out just fine. Enough with the revisionist history.
When underdogs shine. Markelle Fultz fucking around and getting a triple double in a road win against the Lakers was the feel good story of the NBA I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been rooting for his comeback for a few years now, and it finally seems like he’s fixed… whatever it was he needed to fix. Hope he continues and proves the haters wrong.
I don’t like
When superstars whine. Kyrie Irving is back in the headlines again stating that he doesn’t think the Nets supporting cast are enough around him. This comes after his return from a 26-game absence where that same supporting cast kept the Nets afloat at 13-13 (they are 5-9 when Irving plays). Not to mention Kevin Durant hasn’t played a single game in a Nets uniform. Maybe Irving should sit this one out; the Nets are better when he does.