Not that I’m impatient or antsy in any way, but it has now been nine days since the last full night of NBA games. Yes, there have been a couple Thursdays mixed in there, but we are long overdue for a monstrous slate of box scores, which we finally get on Friday (or got, depending on when you read this) with a whopping platter of 14 games.
And even though there hasn’t been much in the way of stats to stare at the last nine days, and even though yesterday’s trade deadline was pretty frustrating in terms of how little actually happened, there is still quite a bit to review. Here are a few things that have caught my attention in recent days:
Four subtle (but important) words about Jusuf Nurkic:
This one actually happened last week. Jusuf Nurkic, as you may know, had a breakout game against the Pistons last Wednesday, with 16 points, 11 boards, a steal and a block in a season-high 24 minutes. And while reading a story in The Denver Post discussing Nurkic’s frustrating season thus far, I saw this:
“Nurkic had been on a playing-time restriction since he made his season debut coming off offseason knee surgery in January. The restriction is over. He played a season-high 24 minutes against the Pistons.”
Four key words: The restriction is over. Keep in mind, when Nurkic has gotten just 15 or more minutes in a game this season (10 games total), he has averaged 8.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 1.2 bpg. This slightly reckless young center can do a lot of damage in very little time, and he could finally be ready to approach 25-plus minutes per game on a consistent basis. There certainly may still be some frustrating low-minute/foul trouble games, but after all his struggles, it looks like some pretty exciting weeks are ahead for Jusuf Nurkic down the stretch.
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Dr. Tobias Funke: no longer Blue
According to my count, the Orlando reunion between Scott Skiles and Tobias Harris lasted for a grand total of 265 days. Granted, it’s not like the Skiles-Harris pairing had been a disaster in terms of production (13.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.6 bpg, 1.0 3s), but a move to Detroit can only be a good thing for Tobias. And there are two main reasons I’m excited:
1) I think Stan Van Gundy knows what he has, and sounds like he’s going to do everything he can to maximize Harris’ game offensively. Remember, this is a coach who has given 36 minutes a game to (and gotten 13.8 ppg out of) Marcus Morris this season. It may take Harris some time — and we already know he’s expected to come off the bench initially for the Pistons — but I have faith that his new coach has a plan, and it should ultimately be a productive one.
2) The last time Harris was traded, he went somewhat berserk. That was back in 2012-13, when he went from Milwaukee to Orlando, and posted 17.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.0 3s in 27 games for his new team. Do I think he’ll replicate that production in Detroit? No, I don’t. For one, Tobias hasn’t shown that kind of defensive upside in a while (0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg the last two-plus seasons). However, I do think the 23-year-old has a good chance to up his current scoring average (13.7 ppg), and recapture some of his lost excitement after posting just six games of 20 or more points all year.
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Meanwhile, back in Orlando…
Is the fun over for Elfrid already?
Of course, the ruthless orbit that surrounds Scott Skiles couldn’t do something good for one player (Harris) without disrupting the good fortunes of another. So, we now have a potential point guard controversy in Orlando, with the arrival of Brandon Jennings coming just when Elfrid Payton was starting to figure things out. Over his last three games before the break, the second-year PG had posted 15.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 8.7 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.7 bpg and 1.3 3s, shooting 50.0 percent from the field in the process. Of course, Orlando’s GM has already told the Orlando Sentinel that the franchise’s faith in Payton “has not wavered”, and maybe that’s the case, but it’s hard to see Jennings’ arrival as anything other than a major threat to Payton’s momentum.
It certainly is possible that Payton will still get 30-plus minutes going forward — and he can maintain pretty good value if that’s the case — but considering the circumstances, I’m pretty discouraged. Another viable option for Skiles to hurl into his backcourt rotation simply can’t be viewed as a good thing for Payton, especially considering that the player in this case (Jennings) is one Skiles already knows well. Ultimately, the only player who really gains upside here is Jennings, who at least has a chance to vault into a 28-30 minute role. I’m not writing Payton off just yet, but his best-case scenario is holding steady. And more realistically, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t lose a decent amount of his momentum just as he was getting started.
A subtle red flag from Melo
Earlier this week, Carmelo Anthony said something that concerned me. Well, it wasn’t exactly what he said, but the way he said it. Here’s what he told the New York Daily News regarding his efforts to play in the Knicks’ final 27 games: "That’s a goal. I’m going through it now. I’m pushing. … I’m still going to take it game-by-game, but my goal is to play all of them."
I’m not sure how you read that quote, but when I look at it, I see a bunch of worrisome language. He did not say I’m planning to play in all 27 games — you can bet on that. In fact, he didn’t say anything close to that. All he really said is that he’s going to try, but he also gave himself a huge out when he said he’s going to take it “game-by-game.”
Am I reading too much into this one quote? Maybe. However, taking the whole situation into account — his ongoing knee troubles, the Knicks having lost 10 of their last 11 to fall five games out of a playoff spot — to me there are major red flags here. Ultimately, you can spin Melo’s words any way you want, but what I see is a player talking like he has good intentions — which he actually may — but in reality, it sure looks like he’s laying the foundation for an early exit.
New life for Lance?
It’s been a long time since Lance Stephenson was putting up exciting fantasy numbers — he was, after all, a bust as a free agent signing in Charlotte last year, and an afterthought for the Clippers this year. So, here’s a reminder of what he did when he was last consistently operating at a high level, for 78 games in 2013-14 with the Pacers: 13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.6 apg, 0.7 spg and 1.1 3s (49.1 FG / 71.1 FT). Do I think he can suddenly recapture that magic with the Grizzlies? Probably not. But with Marc Gasol out, and another void created by Jeff Green’s production (last 13 games: 17.6 ppg), I do think there’s at least a chance for Lance to carve out an intriguing role for a Memphis team that does need another playmaker. If you have an open roster spot, grab him and see how it plays out. He certainly may end up being irrelevant, but it’s a zero cost move that does actually have some potential upside.
Other Random Thoughts: In his last 10 games before the break, Jeff Teague averaged 18.3 ppg, 5.6 apg, 1.8 spg and 1.8 3s on 50.8 percent from the field. This may fall directly under the category of “blatantly obvious”, but with trade rumors now behind him, and some time to rest his troublesome ankle, I expect that Teague’s best weeks of the season are just ahead. … With Cody Zeller back healthy and playing decently well (last five games: 7.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 0.8 spg and 0.8 bpg), I don’t have high hopes for Al Jefferson to come back and make a major impact. I’m pretty sure Jefferson could still put up solid numbers if he was getting 30-35 minutes a night, but Steve Clifford hasn’t seemed inclined at any point this year to give him big minutes. We don’t have a huge sample size because he’s been hurt, but Jefferson hasn’t played more than 31 minutes in any of his 19 games this year.
Random Thoughts, Part Two: It’s hard to see any logic in Sam Mitchell’s plan to alternate starts between Tayshaun Prince and Zach LaVine. It’s also a little worrisome that LaVine’s recent production (17.6 ppg, 3.6 apg and 1.7 3s in 31 minutes per game over his last nine) has come in the absence of Kevin Martin. I expect LaVine’s ability to win out in the long run — and hopefully sooner rather than later — but with Martin apparently set to return, we may not have quite seen the last of LaVine-related frustration. … Shelvin Mack is not a player I’d be running to add in standard leagues, but given the lack of PG competition in Utah (Raul Neto and Trey Burke), crazier things have happened than Mack playing his way into a decent-sized role. He doesn’t have a lot in the way of statistical upside, but at least has a chance to become a useful option in deeper formats. To give you an idea, the last time he was a starter — 11 games for the Hawks in 2013-14 — he posted 10.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.7 apg and 1.4 3s in 30 minutes per game. … A sure sign that it’s time to end this week’s column? When you’ve just written 100-plus words about Shelvin Mack.