A Few Things | 10.25.19

Trae Young’s shot chart: version 1

1. Trae Young made a leap this summer. Look at this goddamned shot chart:

Trae Young’s shot chart: version 2

I’d like to draw your attention to the solid dot inside the fucking center court logo. This dude is pulling up from 40+ feet and splashing 3s. Given that he’s already one of the ten or so best passers in the league (probably that’s selling him short), his ability to stretch the floor this far is deadly. It’s also encouraging that he attempted 12 free-throws. If you’re rooting for the Hawks, this was about as well as a season-opener could have gone.

2. One of the more endlessly fascinating questions in the league this season—especially in terms of possible end-game scenarios for May & June—is which players, exactly, will end up constituting Milwaukee’s best five-man unit. The only locks are Giannis and Middleton. Everyone else has concerns. The Lopez boys lack some foot-speed. Eric Bledsoe sometimes disappears from the action to a degree approaching spectrality. Wes Matthews and Kyle Korver are washed, but Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown might not be ready. D.J. Wilson and Donte DiVincenzo loom as even less ready, but nevertheless possible, answers.

Last night, Ersan Ilyasova reminded us that he might be an answer here too. He had 13 points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes, yes; more importantly, he is a heady, intelligent defender. In trying to stay in front of screaming comets like Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Ilyasova has a great habit of getting into position and holding his ground. He’s so ready to take a charge that it has become an innate part of his defensive behavior—not in a shitty, flopping way, but in a predictive, intuitive way. Ultimately, in most playoff matchups, Ilyasova might end up being the best answer the Bucks have at the 5.

Interestingly, last night served as an important reminder of how good Brook Lopez is, too. He’s become so adept at stretching the floor as a shooter, it’s easy to forget that he’s a skilled post-up option as well. When Giannis fouled out down the stretch, the Bucks were able to play the Rockets even over the last five minutes by going to Lopez in the post and letting the offense swirl around him.

Losing Malcolm Brogdon this summer is certainly a problem for this Bucks team, but last night’s win over the Rockets was a good reminder that this team has solutions to all kinds of problems. As far as I’m concerned, they’re still the favorites in the East.

3. Steve Kerr on the Warriors’ blowout loss to the Clippers: “This is not a one-off, this is the reality.” I have some thoughts about this:

  • The Clippers are going to send a lot of teams into existential tailspins this season. Game one isn’t the worst time to be forced to think hard about your team.
  • The Warriors put up 122 in regulation in a game where Steph Curry was 2-for-11 on 3s. This team is going to score points.
  • The Warriors’ defense was an absolute disaster. One advantage to playing a bunch of guys who aren’t ready heavy minutes early in the season: they’re going to get better sooner. There were tons of mistakes out there last night, but that means there was tons of learning. They’ve got a good coach, and they’ve got a superstar defender in Draymond Green to teach them.
  • During the brief moment in the first half in which the Warriors got cooking, you could start to see the outlines of how this might work. Steph’s gravity is as omnipresent as ever. D’Angelo Russell is a really damn good passer. This team is going to have some great moments this year.

TL;DR: I’ve still got them in the playoffs in the West.

2019-20 Previews: Golden State Warriors

Losses: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Damian Jones, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Bell, Andrew Bogut.

Additions: D’Angelo Russell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Omari Spellman, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, Andrew Harrison, Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Alen Smailagic.

Likely Starters
Guard: D'Angelo Russell, Stephen Curry
Wing: Alfonzo McKinnie
Big: Draymond Green, Kevon Looney

Predicted Record: 50–32 | 7th in NBA | 4th in West

This is wildly ungenerous of me, but it is my firm belief that your feelings about the Warriors acquisition of D’Angelo Russell are an accurate stand-in for your attitude about basketball in general. Somehow, even though D’Angelo Russell just last season—at age 22 for crying out loud—made an enormous leap from underachiever to NBA All-Star, the prevailing narrative around him is that he is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, trade fodder, an acquisition of cold calculation.

And yeah, it’s true that he isn’t your traditional high-efficiency scoring guard. He does not get to the line or the rim at all, and survives on a large diet of floaters and runners on which the degree of difficulty is basically off the charts. If you were teaching someone to play efficient basketball 20 years into the 21st century, you wouldn’t show them tape of D’Angelo Russell. I get it.

On the other hand, he carried an offense last season that wasn’t heavy on great scoring options. He had an enormous usage rate and an enormous assist rate. He was absolutely a go-to guy, and his team, while no great shakes, managed to hover around league average, make the playoffs, and keep everybody happy all year. He’s an imaginative and productive passer. He’s a good teammate. He’s about to start this season at age 23. Are we sure he’s a finished product? He’s about to play alongside Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Not sure you know them; they’re quite good. We’re ready to just assume that he’s a bad fit?

I’m going the other way. I think something is about to get unlocked in D’Angelo Russell, a profoundly unique basketball player who has kinda never had a great teammate before.

Okay, here’s something else:

Remember the Finals? They happened a few months ago? Well, in that series, you may recall that Kevin Durant was injured and barely played, and although the Raptors ended up winning, it definitely seemed like the Warriors might win right up until Klay Thompson got hurt.

Then Durant left, and we all decided the Warriors were done. Why did we decide that again? I don’t want to offend anyone, especially future Hall of Famer Andre Iguodala, but the guys they lost aside from KD were pretty much washed. I know it looks like a shallow roster, and I know that (even though everyone keeps inexplicably saying they’ll be in the market for buyout guys) this team is hard-capped and has no flexibility this season whatsoever. Still, they’re the Warriors, and Klay’s going to be back down the stretch, and they are going to be dangerous as hell.

Frankly, I’m excited to root for them again. The Kevin Durant era: it was rough, emotionally. I love basketball, and I’d love it even if the outcomes were set in advance, but the past few years certainly tested that love. I’m excited to see the creative control ceded back to Steph; I’m looking forward to the rebirth of his particular brand of wild kindness.

Let me return to D’Angelo Russell. I think you either believe that teams equal the sum of their talent, or you understand that talent coheres in ways both mundane and profound. Teams are never exactly what they are. They are always either more or less than they should be. D’Angelo is a weird ingredient; we’ve seen his ability to hold together a more or less average meal. What happens when you drop him into the Dubs’ sublime stew? I think it might be something magical.