34-year-old Kevin Durant leads the entire NBA with 958 total minutes played. Right behind him, in second, is teammate Royce O’Neale.
Despite all the chaos in Brooklyn, Durant has been a constant, and he is still dominating people with an MVP-caliber season that seems likely to gain more publicity as the team continues racking up wins (7-3 in their last ten games, and currently fourth in the East).
With a mostly-healthy roster (Ben Simmons returns tonight), the Nets are starting to look like the juggernaut many thought they could be. Even the defense has been surprisingly stout, including holding the historically dominant Celtics offense to a mere 103 points two games ago in a close loss.
Durant had to play this much to stabilize the season for Brooklyn, but it might not be wise for an old player with a textbook-thick list of injuries in recent years. As the rest of the team returns to health and continues to shake off what, in some cases, is years-long rust (welcome back, TJ Warren!), hopefully, KD can take a breather.
I’m not a believer in the Nets. I don’t think this team can keep its collective s*** together for an entire postseason, and the defense seems likely to be exposed in a postseason setting. But I certainly wouldn’t want to play Durant in an elimination game, either.
The Boston Celtics, as mentioned above, have compiled a record 121.7 points per 100 possessions so far this season, the best mark in league history. The previous record was actually last year’s Nets, at 118.3, so the Celtics are leaps and bounds above the prior best offense ever.
After a slow start, Boston’s defense has also come around. They’re giving up just 111.2 points per 100 possessions, the fifth-best mark in the league. Add it all up, and the Celtics are an overwhelming favorite to win the championship.
One potential wrench — Boston has done all this without defensive anchor Robert Williams III, whose return from injury is roughly two weeks away. While not quite as dominant as last year’s unit, the defense is still elite, and the league has never seen an offense this efficient. So it’s fair to wonder if Williams’ return will muck things up a little bit.
The offense has thrived on a spread floor where every player on the court is a threat from three — even Boston’s backup big men are comfortable shooting from the perimeter. Robert is a lot of things and an outstanding basketball player, but he’s not a shooter.
Coach Joe Mazzulla (who wasn’t supposed to be the coach this season, let’s not forget) will have some tough decisions ahead of him. There’s a real chance that adding back one of the Celtic’s best players will mess with their magic. If that’s the case, does Boston need to swallow hard and bench Timelord? Or will they have the stomach to suffer a few extra losses if it means reintegrating a player who was so critical to their success last season? I’d lean the latter, but this squad is as close to a perfect basketball team as we’ve seen since maybe the 73-9 Warriors, and nobody could blame Mazzulla for not wanting to mess with a good thing.
Then again, those Warriors famously lost in the Finals. Sometimes, regular season success can blind a team to what they’ll need in the playoffs.
Almost a third of the way into the season, the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves both sit at precisely .500, placing 10th and 11th in the West.
For Golden State, Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole in the face got the season off to an inauspicious start, and the Warriors have struggled to find a rhythm despite Steph’s impossible greatness. They can’t stop turning it over, never get an offensive board, and generate almost zero free throws (classic Warriors problems that didn’t stop them last year, to be fair), but they also can’t rebound or stop fouling on the other end, either.
The defense, long a Golden State calling card, has been mediocre. Klay and Green have lost a step for the starting group, and the bench units have been woeful defensively. Golden State’s young players continue to yo-yo in and out of the rotation depending on coach Steve Kerr’s whims, and newly-paid punchee Jordan Poole hasn’t captured last season’s form.
Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevon Looney have done their parts to a T; the rest of the team has left something to be desired.
I still have faith; water pistol to my head, I’m picking Golden State to get out of the West. Draymond and Klay have earned the benefit of the doubt from me come playoff time, and Kerr has the rest of the season to figure out what he wants his bench to look like. But this team’s margin for error diminishes with every loss. Home-court advantage matters; the Warriors are 11-2 at home and 2-11 on the road.
Similarly, while the Timberwolves expected growing pains after trading nearly every future asset they had for Rudy Gobert, nobody thought they’d look so joyless. Anthony Edwards has looked sad and confused, Karl-Anthony Towns has been sniping at teammates, Gobert has looked frustrated on the court at his teammates’ inability to get him the ball while his teammates have looked frustrated with Gobert’s ferruginous hands. After a promising first season as head coach, Chris Finch hasn’t been able to get his team to stick to a few fundamental principles on defense — they constantly miscommunicate and blow easy rotations, let alone handle the hard stuff.
They also, weirdly, can’t rebound at all. A team that starts one of the league’s best rebounders in Gobert and another big in KAT can’t clean the glass on either end. Outside of Edwards, the supporting cast has offered zero help, and the team has a bottom-ten box-out and defensive rebounding rate. Too many players are content to sit and watch Gobert try to rebound against a gang of opponents.
I was optimistic about Minnesota before the season, and it’s pretty clear I was wrong about this team. Towns’ injury will keep him out for at least a month, which further muddles the future for a team still searching for consistency and camaraderie. There’s a dangerous possibility this team misses the play-in entirely, which would be an unmitigated disaster after last season’s feel-good story and the massive trade.
New minority owner Alex Rodriguez’s difficulties coming up with enough money after his split with J-Lo to finalize his share of the team isn’t a great look, either, particularly since he was reportedly a driving force behind the Gobert trade.
16 teams are within three games of .500, speaking to the parity in the league. A few days ago, Howard Beck at Sports Illustrated published a piece with data from the league itself saying this is the most competitive the NBA has been in over three decades. Despite the presence of generational prospect Victor Wembanyama looming (literally; it’s hard not to loom when you’re 7’4”) over the draft, few teams seem ready to start tanking.
In the West, four losses separate the #1 seed Pelicans from the #11 seed Timberwolves. In the East, it’s just two losses from #4 Brooklyn to #12 Chicago.
The condensed standings are a blessing to teams struggling through injuries, like the Clippers and 76ers, who have tried to ride out the storm while their stars heal. It even gives hope to disappointing teams like the Lakers and Bulls, who only need one hot stretch to find themselves in the thick of the playoff race.
Here is a volcanic take: competition is good. It’s more fun when every game matters for almost every team. Only five teams are already looking to the draft, and at least two of those (Detroit and Charlotte) didn’t want to be in this position and may scrabble for wins a bit longer.
Despite the early-season dominance of Boston and Milwaukee, the league feels more open than ever before (particularly the West). From a day-to-day standpoint, covering the league is much easier when every team has fun players to watch and exciting storylines to follow (and write about). Let’s hope this is the new normal.
The Mavericks are running 14.8 isolation possessions per game, three more than second-place Philadelphia (whose number figures to rise with James Harden back in the fold). That’s the most since 2019-2020 saw Harden’s Rockets averaging more than 22 per game.
Dallas’ offense has been good, statistically. They have the sixth-best offensive rating in the league. But the lack of another dynamic ballhandler behind Luka (Spencer Dinwiddie has been fine, but he’s a little overtaxed in that role) leaves them highly vulnerable to injury, and there is increasing evidence that a heliocentric playstyle is a regular-season mirage that doesn’t work in the playoffs.
I don’t think the offensive system is truly the issue here; it’s merely a symptom. Heliocentric offenses develop when you have one incredible player surrounded by role players. The best way to score is to give it to the main guy and tell him to make stuff happen.
Teams with multiple great players don’t have to rely upon that sort of offense. The Celtics have Tatum, but Jaylen Brown is putting up an All-NBA-caliber season in his own right, and the supporting characters are capable of much more than just spot-up shooting. The Bucks have Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday to take pressure off Giannis. The Pelicans have CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram flanking Zion, etc., etc.
The key is to have a secondary ballhandler to initiate offense. I’m increasingly of the opinion that while your best player doesn’t necessarily have to be a guard or ball-handling wing, your second-best player pretty much has to be one. The alpha can’t do everything, all the time, especially in the playoffs when he’ll have to expend more energy on defense.
Heliocentrism is an offense of necessity. With Jalen Brunson’s absence, the Mavericks have to give it to Luka and tell him to make magic happen. But when the playoffs come, teams are going to load up on Luka to an outrageous extent, and the inconsistent play of his supporting cast limits how far Dallas can go.
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