Well, it’s already Wednesday! No Nets basketball to start the week felt pretty weird, but it’s finally here and so am I with this week’s edition of Oppo-Nets.
I chatted with three people who are familiar with this week’s matchups: Nick Boylan, who covers the Jazz for Off the Glass, Sharon Brown, who runs the Grizzlies site All Heart In Hoop City, and Kevin Broom, who writes about the Wizards for Bullets Forever.
11/28 – vs Jazz
It hasn’t been the year that the Jazz expected so far. What’s gone wrong so far?
Utah had a quiet offseason and backed themselves to grow internally, and while Jae Crowder has settled in nicely for his first full season for the Jazz, a lot of players have either stagnated or not gone to the next level.
Donovan Mitchell has struggled in charge of the offense and is in desperate need of some scoring help, with Utah sitting at 14th in the NBA for field-goal percentage, and 27th in shooting from three-point land.
Not only has the shooting been tough to watch, but their struggles on the defensive end have been surprising, considering the same personnel led the league in defensive rating last year, and now sit 11th.
The defense has been wildly inconsistent, from night-to-night and even at different stages of the same game, with the hardness and edge from last season’s squad lacking on a consistent basis, leaving the Jazz struggling at 9-11.
I’m intrigued by Derrick Favors shooting more threes this year than he has in the past. Is that something that you see as a good thing for how it creates a more versatile look, or a bad thing because Favors hasn’t been very efficient from three?
Favors is an interesting case, as he’s having a career year shooting from the field at nearly 58%, chipping in almost 11 points and seven boards in 23 minutes per game, but he’s just been replaced by Crowder in the starting line-up for the first time this season.
He’s been trying to add a three-point shot to help this partnership with Rudy Gobert try to work, but the spacing and effectiveness of that frontcourt pairing just hasn’t worked for the Jazz, with Crowder being a more reliable shooter and a more versatile defender.
Utah has an offensive and defensive rating of 115.9 and 104.4 respectively with Crowder in the line-up, versus 96.9 and 98.6 with Favors at the four, and with numbers like that, it’s not out of the question that Favors’ time in Utah could be coming to a close.
Who wins — Jazz or Nets?
With Mitchell sitting out again with his rib contusion, and the Jazz struggling at defending the three-point shot, with opponents converting at almost 36% against the Jazz, I can see Brooklyn’s shooters having a good night and getting the win at home by a double-digit margin.
11/30 – vs Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have been very good this year, but there are still questions around the league about how sustainable their current success is. Do you think this team ends up making the playoffs?
If Mike Conley and Marc Gasol stay healthy, yes the Grizzlies will make the playoff. But they need major contributions from Jaren Jackson, Jr, Garrett Temple and Shelvin Mack. The Grizzlies has an open roster spot after waiving Andrew Harrison, so who knows. Maybe the team will make a trade….but still, with the unknown, they will likely make the playoff this season in the wild wild west.
Memphis has one of my favorite rookies, Jaren Jackson Jr. How good can Jackson be?
Jackson is going to be a star in the league. There is just something special about him and he’s only 19 years old and is learning from one of the best centers in the league, Marc Gasol. Jackson Jr is going to be a beast on both ends of the floor. He just has to stay out of foul trouble. Plus the kid has the ability to get almost any shot he wants.
Who wins — Grizzlies or Nets?
Conventional wisdom says Grizzlies but who knows. It depends on if Conley and Gasol have ample help from other starters and bench players. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets win…
12/1 – at Wizards
So, it’s been a mess in Washington this season, and now a lot of the team seems to be on the trading block. Can they turn things around, or is this the end of the current Wizards?
Everyone on the team belongs on the trading block. The way they’ve played this season has been an embarrassing miasma of jealousy, resentment, and selfishness. As I wrote nearly a month ago, the on-court play has served to reveal the franchise’s fractured culture. They don’t like each other, they don’t want to play for or with each other, and it’s time to make some changes. In theory, they have the talent for a turnaround, but the question is to what?
Even if they got along and played hard and well together, they don’t have the talent to be serious contenders, even in the East. This is true in at least two ways: 1) They lack the elite performers that contenders typically have, and 2) they lack quality depth. Wall, Beal, and Porter are good to very good, but none of them is among the top five-to-ten players in the league.
As I write this on Tuesday night, Wizards observers are feeling better about the team than they have all season. Head coach Scott Brooks changed the lineup and the rotation, and the team has won three of four, seemed to give a better effort, and at least sorta went through the motions of being teammates. But, I’m deeply skeptical the last week means much of anything. Their wins came against a Clippers team that had travel difficulties and didn’t get to their hotel until nearly 4:00 AM, the Pelicans missing Anthony Davis, and the Rockets missing Chris Paul.
And, it’s worth mention that over those four games, their defense continued to be atrocious. Here are the defensive ratings (points allowed per possession x 100) for those four games:
114 vs. a gassed LAC
122 vs. a full strength TOR
108 vs. NOP missing Anthony Davis
124 vs. HOU missing Chris Paul.
This doesn’t suggest a team that’s turning things around with impassioned effort and attention to detail. They have enough talent to win 40-44 games and make it into the postseason. But, it’s time to make some changes and build around a reconfigured core.
If you had to trade two of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr., which one do you keep in Washington and try to build a new iteration of the team around?
My weasel answer is that I’d be willing to trade any two, or all three. My second weasel answer is that I’d trade whichever two got the best return. But, both answers slip screen the question. My response is likely different from that of most Wizards watchers, but if I had to pick, I’d trade Wall and Beal.
Wall is considered to be the team’s best player, and I do think he has the physical tools and many of the skills necessary to be an elite performer. But, he’s never made the jump from very good to elite, he’s 28 years old, he starts a brutally expensive contract extension next season, and players like him don’t age well. And his shot selection is poor. And he’s still prone to turnovers. And he’s had multiple knee injuries. And he comes to training camp out of shape. And he’s a challenging teammate. My forecast of his future indicates he has another year or two of high-quality play, which is likely to be followed by a precipitous dropoff. In short, he’s entering the expensive decline portion of his career.
Beal is tougher to trade because he’s talented, a bona fide good person, and just 25 years old. But, his reputation around the league significantly exceeds his on-court performance, and I think he’d fetch the biggest return in a trade. Plus, he wants out of Washington and has asked the team to trade him.
That leaves the Wizards to rebuild with Otto Porter, which would be a fascinating experiment. Many Wizards fans are fond of identifying Porter’s deficiencies, most of which he has refuted the past few seasons with his production. The general critique goes something like this: Porter is a good shooter who’s dependent on Wall to get shots, and that he’s too passive and unskilled to get shots for himself. This seems plausible, except that over the past three seasons, Porter’s usage has climbed to league average and his efficiency has remained elite when Wall has been off the floor. Plus, he’s a good defender, solid rebounder, and terrific teammate. I’d rather build around what I think is the underrated player plus what I could get for Wall and Beal.
Who wins — Wizards or Nets?
I have this as a coin flip game. The Nets aren’t super talented, but there’s a nice foundation in Allen, Russell, Dinwiddie, and the injured LeVert. Even so, it’s a tough matchup for Washington because the Nets are well-coached and play hard, which are not characteristic of the Wizards. I expect Washington to win a high-scoring fairly defense-free game.