Three things to know: Time to take Wizards, Cavaliers seriously
Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.
1) It’s more than just the Westbrook trade, the Wizards are 7-3 after beating Bucks
We’re far enough into the season — around 10 games for teams — that, while the sample size is still small, we can start to draw some conclusions. We begin to get a sense of which teams are, and which teams (that have been healthy) are not for real.
The Washington Wizards are for real.
The Wizards are 7-3 to start the season after beating the Bucks on Sunday. That’s the same record as the Nets and Jazz, and they have done it with the sixth-best defense in the NBA and a lot more depth on the roster thanks to the Russell Westbrook trade. Washington has the seventh-best point differential in the league so far at +4.3, and while maybe that comes back to earth a little, they have done it against a demanding schedule. This looks sustainable.
The Wizards are also off to this start despite Bradley Beal being good — 24.2 points per game — but not his All-NBA, near the league lead in scoring self. Beal is shooting just 25.4% on 3-pointers this season.
The Wizards have been a good defense in part because they defend the arc better than anyone — just 32.8% of opponent shots have come from 3, the lowest percentage in the league. Washington also has been lucky, opponents are shooting just 29.2% on the 3s they do take, a number that will climb over time. The Wizards also have protected the rim will, only 18.9% of opponent shots are come from there, again the lowest in the league. Washington is forcing teams into midrange shots.
That defense held the Bucks to a 94.9 offensive rating for the game, well below a point per possession (via Cleaning the Glass).
The offense comes from everywhere now, although against the Bucks it was Beal breaking out with 30 points (and he hit 2-of-3 from beyond the arc).
Then there are the guys from the Westbrook trade. Montrezl Harrell had 15 points off the bench against the Bucks and is playing like his Sixth Man of the Year self again, averaging 17.7 points a game on 63.6% shooting and adding 9.1 boards a game. Kyle Kuzma added 15 against Milwaukee and has been a solid wing for Washington. The Westbrook trade also allowed Washington to sign-and-trade for Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging 15.9 points a game and is efficiently running the offense.
To be fair, this wasn’t peak Bucks, who are still without Brook Lopez (back) and Khris Middleton (health and safety protocols). The Bucks are not themselves right now, as evidenced by the fact they got a technical for six men on the court Sunday.
That doesn’t take anything away from the Wizards. Washington is a legit playoff team and the East is going to have to adjust.
2) Cleveland has won four straight, including beating the Knicks Sunday
The Cavaliers are good. Not great, but good.
That alone is a bit of a surprise; this was not a team many were high on before the season. However, there is no denying the Cavs have a 7-4 record, a +1.1 net rating, and they have won four straight, including beating the Knicks at Madison Square Garden Sunday 126-109 behind a career-high 37 from the scoring machine that is… Ricky Rubio? He was Sunday, hitting 8-of-9 from 3.
The Cavaliers’ roster construction is odd, starting three bigs in Jarrett Allen, rookie Evan Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen (who is out right now due to health and safety protocols). They start two smaller guards in Darius Garland (who has looked solid scoring and efficient 15.4 points per game) and Collin Sexton (who averages an inefficient 16 points a game and has struggled to find his offensive groove in a different role this season). Off the bench comes Rubio and, when he’s healthy, Kevin Love.
The Cavaliers appear to have something special in Mobley, who is averaging 14.9 points and eight rebounds a game, and showing incredible defensive versatility — he has been one of the most impressive rookies this season (in what has been a deep class). Paired with Garland (who the Cavaliers are very high on), we could be looking at the core of the future in Cleveland.
It will be interesting to see what players will be around them in two years. Sexton comes up in a lot of trade rumors and is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Allen has fit in well, but if Mobley is ultimately a five do they keep a higher-priced, more traditional center on the roster? Love and Rubio are not long-term answers. Markkanen is, well, Markkanen. Isaac Okoro has not found his groove yet.
With all the questions, this was a Cavaliers team few expected to be in the play-in mix, and right now they are firmly looking like that. Staying in the top six all season seems optimistic, but this is still a young Cleveland team taking a step forward this season. They are good. And they are for real.
3) Portland expands, extends investigation into Olshey, which is bad news for the GM
As a general rule of thumb, when the investigator in any case wants to broaden the scope of the investigation and give themselves more time to dig into what they are finding, it’s a bad sign for whoever is being investigated.
Which is where Portland general manager Neil Olshey finds himself.
Last week, Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen opened an investigation into the workplace environment around the Trail Blazers. The complaints that sparked the investigation complained of bullying tactics and intimidation through things such as “profanity-laced tirades.”
Sunday came word that the investigation had been expanded to include people outside just those currently at the Trail Blazers practice facility, and that the law firm doing the investigation needed more time (via Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports).
Just reading the tea leaves from afar, that is not a good sign for Olshey.
If Olshey’s job as GM is threatened — again, we don’t know that for sure, but it has that appearance — it raises a lot of other questions about the future of team roster construction around Damian Lillard (the superstar other teams are still waiting on to ask for a trade, even though he has repeatedly said he would not). What about CJ McCollum and the rest of the roster? What about the job security of just-hired coach Chauncey Billups? New GMs tend to want their own person in the big chair.
All that is getting way ahead of ourselves. The current investigation will last weeks, and the report out of that will guide Allen in deciding the future of the franchise. But Portland remains a franchise to watch as it stumbles through the first part of the season (5-5 record).
Highlights of the night: Buddy Hield’s jumper takes four spins around the rim
No shot in the history of the game has been more in before going out than Buddy Hield’s jumper Sunday night.
Hield had shots that went in, too — he had 17 points on the night in the Kings’ loss to the Pacers — including a spinning half-courter to beat the buzzer.
Last night’s scores:
Brooklyn 116, Toronto 103
Cleveland, 126, New York 109
Orlando 107, Utah 100
Washington 101, Milwaukee 94
Indiana 94, Sacramento 91
Oklahoma City 99, San Antonio 94
Golden State 120, Houston 107
LA Clippers 120, Charlotte 106