Phoenix is an insane 24-3 in “close” games, which are defined as the teams’ scores being within 5 points of each other at any time in the final five minutes of a game. Chris Paul-led teams have historically dominated in close games (at least in the regular season), and CP3 has had another incredible season. Everybody knows what he’s going to do in crunch time, and he’s still able to do it. It’s a right-elbow jumper, every time:
Every single time! Hire me, NBA teams; I can write scouting reports like that for you anytime you like.
The Paul injury (he’s going to miss at least 6-8 weeks, meaning his absence could extend into the playoffs) has put new life into a Western Conference playoff race that seemed inevitable. The Suns have a 6.5 game lead for the first seed with 24 games left, so they are unlikely to drop out of the top spot. But the Suns may not survive even an early playoff series without the Point God.
Draymond Green’s injury uncertainty and Steph and Klay’s respective slumps have the Warriors, the other prohibitive favorite, looking vulnerable. Young teams like Memphis and Dallas, written off before the season began, suddenly look much more capable of a Cinderella run. Downtrodden Utah might have a chance. Heck, do you think the ninth-seeded Lakers, as dysfunctional as they’ve been, would be scared of a rematch with a Paul-less Phoenix team in round 1?
A Phoenix-Golden State Western Conference Finals match felt like a fait accompli for months, but now every Western team can smell blood in the water.
592 players have played in the NBA this season (and counting), ~10% higher than last year’s previous record of 540. COVID protocols and injuries have decimated rosters and shaken up playoff races.
The silver lining: there have never been so many opportunities for has-beens and never-wases to make an impression, and several players have turned 10-day hardship contracts into full-time contracts.
Lance Stephenson, of ear-blowing fame, is back in Indiana for a third stint. Stanley Johnson was close to flaming out of the league, but has become a weirdly indispensable player for the Lakers. Malcolm Hill came from nowhere to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls (meaning he’ll split time between the NBA and the G League).
These players (and others) received a chance they never would have had in a normal year and made the most of it, a rare happy story in COVID times.
Teams are averaging 35.4% shooting from three, the least accurate season in Cleaning the Glass’ database (which goes back to 2003-2004). As three-point attempts continue to climb, it will be interesting to track what happens to accuracy in future seasons. If three-point accuracy declines or holds flat, it could mean that we are approaching the point at which diminishing returns disappear entirely.
It’s a drastic change from the league’s blistering 37.2% shooting from last year. The reason is unclear. Whether it’s because of the new Wilson ball (which reportedly is the exact same as the old Spalding ball), the referees calling fewer perimeter fouls, or just random variance remains to be seen, but the implications could be drastic for the style of the league.
We have seven first-time All-Stars this year, the second-most since 2010 (2020 saw ten players make their debut). Besides Jarret Allen and Andrew Wiggins, five of these players are point guards: Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball, Darius Garland, Dejounte Murray, and Fred VanVleet.
Point guard has been the NBA’s deepest position for a while now, and it’s clear that the NBA’s glut of incredible point guard play will continue for another decade. The days of the submissive, pass-first point guard are over; today’s crop is equally comfortable dropping dimes to teammates, bombing from deep, or even windmilling in traffic.
Get-off-my-lawn types are liable to grumble about today’s point guards having the ball in their hands so much and shooting so many times. But at the end of the day, a point guard’s job isn’t to pass the ball; it’s to set up an offense to get a good shot. Why shouldn’t that mean calling your own number on occasion?
Don’t get it twisted, however. The absolute apex of the league is dominated by big men once again. The three frontrunners for MVP this season weigh a combined 806 pounds! Nikola Jokic (284), Joel Embiid (280), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (242) have each stretched the center position to new heights with their respective unique skill sets.
Today’s elite big men are comfortable shooting deep jumpers, slinging mind-blowing passes, and attacking off the dribble in ways that centers of old can’t even fathom. For years, we’ve heard complaints that the center was dead, but these three men prove that skilled size is back and better than ever.