Should it stay, or should it go, a new regular column focusing on some of the Association’s breaking news, rising trends and shining developments. The prior edition can be found here.
Keep: All-NBA Jrue Holiday
Holiday is averaging a career high 21 PPG, a career high 8.9 APG, and getting to the free throw line a career high 4.5 times a night. The Pelicans have underachieved and without Holiday this season might already be beyond saving.
Holiday leads the League in distance travelled per night and often defends the bester perimeter player one-to-three at the other end. He’s not a deadeye shooter and in an era where shooting is everything, he’s leaned on his energy, defense and playmaking to push him up just outside the elite tier of point guards.
The Pelicans rely on Holiday heavily, perhaps, even more so than they rely on MVP candidate Anthony Davis. When Holiday is on the floor the Pelicans have a net rating of +6.4, when he sits the net rating plummets faster than a stone dropping from a Cessna to -14.4.
Holiday currently ranks ninth amongst point guards in ESPN’s defensive plus-minus statistic and is the only player in the top 10 on a sub .500 team.
Holiday’s continued success is direly important for the Pelicans, not just for immediate playoff aspirations but in their pursuit to keep Davis long term. Holiday becoming an All-NBA level talent gives Davis a real running mate and a star level teammate to anchor the team at both ends. The wolves are at the gate and the Pelicans really can’t afford to even the slightest misstep from here on out.
Swap: Old school coaching and Popovich imposters
First of all, mutiny is a truly peculiar concept to have to address when the landscape is professional basketball but when life gives you losses there often isn’t lemonade.
Jim Boylen has been the Chicago Bulls head coach for four games and he’s already got the team up in arms. You could stay arm-in-arm with the old guard and blame this next generation of players for being, “sensitive,” or you could acknowledge the failure to communicate and look to leadership to set a better example.
Let’s look at the facts, the Bulls are bad, the situation is bleak and during a stretch where they lost their coach and a game by 50 points the next bench boss tried to make a point prior to securing the team’s trust.
Boylen, who noted he thought his players play was embarrassing isn’t the architect behind an offense that had heavily featured Jabari Parker. Nor is he a wizard capable of bringing key players back to pristine health, but he is responsible for turning over a new leaf and going against what the players are accustomed to simply because that’s what Gregg Popovich would do is not the answer. It’s a new era of a basketball, a new wave of people. Boylen needs to adapt rather than imitate. Coaches are hired but leaders of men are chosen.
Keep: Resurgent Blake Griffin
The Detroit Pistons are brand ambassadors for redemption and so far, the results have been a mixed bag. At 13-12, the Pistons have had clear ups and downs.
A coach cast out and scapegoated by the franchise he helped bring to prominence. A point guard discarded by a franchise who felt he was doing too much. A former superstar forgotten and dismissed in large part due to injuries. Has the game passed them by? Griffin would contest the notion.
A career-high 25.6 PPG, a career-high 36 percent from three on over six attempts a game! The man who was known solely, though, unfairly for being just a “dunker” early in his career has not let changes to the game pass him by.
In a current pace and space game, there was legitimate worry Griffin and fellow frontcourt mate Andre Drummond would inhibit or limit each other. Credit to Dwane Casey as well as the pair because that has not been the case this season. In fact, the Pistons net rating with both on is +1.9, when Griffin is on and Drummond is off it’s -7.1 and when Drummond is on and Griffin is off it’s -12.1. So far, the Pistons are without a doubt at their best with the big men in lockstep.
Swap: The notion that the Houston Rockets are contenders
It’s over. This team has lost its way. Out of country, unaware of the local dialect and without a road map.
It’s a complete and utter shame Chris Paul’s hamstring prevented a more thrilling finish for this team and franchise. Both for the fans and for himself. Paul deserved better, the uber-competitor falling at his own personal pinnacle was a genuinely sad moment for the real fans who have watched him bring a level of intensity on a nightly basis over the last decade most aren’t capable of. That said, it’s going to be even more depressing if Paul ages poorly into his brand new $160 million-dollar deal. He’s started this season with the worst showing of his career to date and paying a 37-year-old version of this Paul $44 million, four years from now is becoming an increasingly grim prospect.
Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute were key losses and Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis, and Michael-Carter Williams didn’t fill the void but there’s more to this. The reigning MVP is back to playing like a pylon on defense, the team is following his lead and allowing last year’s proud defensive unit (sixth) to freefall all the way to 25th.
Even the calling card of the Harden-led, Morey-designed and D’Antoni-implemented offense has struggled. It turns out shooting around Harden is pretty important. The Rockets are 24th in the League in three-point percentage despite leading the League in attempts per game. It’s like they are caught in an infinite time loop of Game 7. Every missed shot a reminder of the former failure.
Keep: Dallas Mavericks being competent again
November onward, the Dallas Mavericks have the fourth best record in the NBA. They are 12-5 over that stretch with noteworthy wins over the Warriors, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets (twice), and Celtics.
Relatively new basketball fans have never seen a competent version of the Dallas Mavericks, but Rick Carlisle’s rotations have been sharp, Luka Doncic is surpassing all expectations, and the surrounding talent is playing hard.
The piece, or the rub if you will, is that Dennis Smith Jr. hasn’t been a huge part of the success. The team has been significantly better when Doncic plays and Smith Jr. sits. The Mavericks own a +9 net rating when Doncic is on the floor and Smith is off. In 138 minutes together, Doncic and J.J. Barea have a net rating of +20.
The Mavericks are in a tough spot, Carlisle has to know developing the young talent is important but winning in what could be Dirk Nowitzki’s last year is also important. Nowitzki is set to make his season debut in the near future and it would be great to see him get one last ride with a team in a position to compete.