NBA Four Quarters (01/13/17)

By Sean Pyritz

Division Check-In | Central Division

The Cavaliers have reached the point in the season where the most interesting story is players asking for more practice time. Integrating Kyle Korver has not been as seamless as anticipated so some good old fashioned practice time might just be what the doctor ordered. Since the calendar year turned over, the Cavaliers are 3-3 including two double-digit losses. Their offense has cratered in 2017 – only Miami, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn have been worse. What gives? Kyrie Irving claims they don't live or die by the three-point shot, but this recent stretch suggests otherwise. In these six games, the Cavs have shot just 30.4 % from three-point range. It's hard to imagine that, once they've gotten some of their long awaited practice, this trend will continue, especially considering what Kyle Korver has done throughout his career. It's going to be a long six months keeping things interesting before their inevitable third consecutive Finals appearance.

No team has benefitted from the schedule in the first half of the season like the Indiana Pacers. Through 38 games, before today's blowout loss to Denver in London, the average winning percentage of Pacers opponents is 0.464, the lowest in the league. What should concern Pacers fans is that Indiana has a negative point differential and is barely over 0.500 with that schedule. While no major structural advantages or disadvantages emerge in the second half of the season, the Pacers remaining schedule is stacked with tough matchups. Out West, Indiana has yet to play Houston, Memphis, San Antonio, or Utah – owing two matchups to each. In the East, Indiana has three games left versus each of Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Toronto. The Pacers will have to prove their mettle against the best in the league if they hope to avoid a very disappointing trip to the lottery this offseason.

At this point, there is no doubt Giannis Antetokounmpo is a superstar and the face of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. He's on the cover of Sports Illustrated and fifth in All-Star fan voting through January 12 for crying out loud. Lost in the shade beneath Giannis' solar eclipse is the emergence of former number two overall pick Jabari Parker. Before the season I picked Parker as my player to watch in this division and boy has he delivered. He has improved his scoring and playmaking to new heights while also upping his efficiency. In fact, Parker has elevated his offensive game beyond what many thought possible from him this early, if at all, in his career. Not only is Parker taking 3.5 three-pointers per game after attempting just 51 total threes in his first two seasons, but he is also knocking them down at 41.4 %. If Parker is going to shoot the ball like this he becomes nearly unguardable and more than deserving of a maximum contract extension. Prosperity awaits the fans in Milwaukee.

Early in the season we examined the Bulls extraordinary offensive rebounding. Their efforts continue to be extraordinary and as it turns out absolutely necessary. The Chicago Bulls happen to be the worst shooting team in the league. Their effective field goal percentage is dead last in the league along with their three-point percentage. They are only slightly better from two-point range, second to last in front of Memphis. For as fantastic as Jimmy Butler is playing (excluding his ill-advised, no pun intended, flu-game attempt against the Thunder), even he is struggling to shoot the ball efficiently, posting a below average 48.5 eFG%. If it were not for the activity of the frontcourt on the glass and the ability of Butler and Dwyane Wade to get to the free throw line, the Bulls would certainly be near the bottom of the league offensively instead of simply average. In order for the Bulls to put their season back together they will need to finagle even simply below average shooting from this roster or make moves to acquire some semblance of a shooting threat.

The Detroit Pistons season can be grouped into two distinct periods: pre- and post-Reggie Jackson injury. In the 21 games without Reggie Jackson to start the season, the Pistons went 11-10 and had the 10th best net rating. Since Jackson returned, the Pistons are 7-13 and in the bottom five in net rating. In terms of competition, the Pistons faced a stiffer schedule without Jackson than they have since his return. For all the talk earlier in the season about Jackson's negative impact on the offense and ball movement, the Pistons have been a stable below average offense for essentially the entire season. It has been the defense that has capsized over the last 20 games. Detroit went from 5th in defense without Jackson, to 24th since Jackson entered the lineup. Looking at the season as a whole, the Pistons defense is in line with where they finished last season, but trending in the wrong direction with no signs of correction in sight. Hopes were high for this Pistons team to potentially grab home court advantage in the playoffs. Now, they are going to need to correct their defensive woes before they take a step back and miss the playoffs entirely.

It is almost cheating to select Zach Randolph as the 6th Man of the Week given his illustrious career starting in this league but I harken back to the fact that I am the writer and thus I make the rules. Not that I need to justify his eligibility but his willingness to accept a lesser bench role only furthers his candidacy in my eyes, because he can still play. His shooting percentages and raw numbers may have dipped, but he is without a doubt flourishing in his new role. Per 36 minutes, Randolph is averaging 21.2 points and 12.1 rebounds, his highest such figures since the 2011 season. Look no further than the Grizzlies incredible comeback victory over the Warriors last Friday where Z-Bo finished with a monstrous 27 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, and two steals, leading the charge that ended in victory. For his continued brilliance against the best Zach Randolph is our latest 6th Man of the Week, may he bully those smaller than him forever.

Crazy Stat of the Week

Despite the best effort of the Cavaliers, the Central Division shoots the fewest three-point shots of any division – Chicago, Detroit, and Indiana round out the bottom three in three-point shooting rate in the entire league. However, their aversion to three-point shooting is relative.
The standards for three-point shooting have not always been so high. In fact, in the early days of the the three-point line, the shooting numbers are comically low. Since the introduction of the arc, nine teams have attempted fewer than 100 threes in a season. It took the Bulls less than five full games this season to reach 100 attempted threes. The Bulls are currently shooting league worst 31.5 % from deep on the season, a mark that would have lead the league in 1983, the same season the Lakers posted the lowest ever three-point percentage – 10.4%. My how the standards have changed.

End Game Slowdown

While holding a press conference in London on Thursday, Commissioner Adam Silver alluded to the idea of speeding up the NBA game, particularly the last two minutes, citing the short attention spans of millennials. I may be a millennial, but I am certainly not wrong or alone in observing that NBA games drag down the stretch, when both teams have an arsenal of timeouts saved to burn, often unnecessarily. I have two simple ideas to help fix this problem. I hope the NBA League Office heeds my advice. First, teams should be unable to call consecutive timeouts without time running off the clock, just as in the NFL. So often teams come out of a timeout and call another timeout when they can't get the ball inbounds – no more. Second, teams should be to call timeout just to advance the ball to the frontcourt. Most teams call timeout just to do this anyway. There is no need for a full huddle every timeout so coach can draw up another play. Teams should come prepared and be able to execute without a huddle. Maybe timeouts could be converted to advances in the last minute or teams could be afforded a limited number of advances, something can be worked out. In any fashion, the excessive huddles kill the flow of tight games and they must go.