…Utah rookie Enes Kanter? The big man from Turkey barely played organized basketball in the two years leading up to the 2011 draft, but his absolute dominance of Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones, and others at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit (34 points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes with severe back pain) was enough to make him the #3 pick in last summer’s draft. The Jazz already have three bona fide bigs in front of him (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors), so we knew Kanter wouldn’t play heavy minutes and would have to wait his turn. The best case scenario would be that he showed his awesome scoring and rebounding skills in limited minutes while improving. And guess what? Kanter came out flat offensively in his first two games, connecting on only 2 of 12 shots (but also grabbing 16 boards in 35 minutes!). Since then he’s shooting 57% (21-for-37) and is averaging a near league-best 20.7 Rebound% (better than Kevin Love, Kris Humphries, and Blake Griffin) – that’s 5.2 rpg in 14.2 minutes, which is awesome. He has some areas that need improvement—his jumper being the most obvious—but he really is doing pretty much the absolute best that can be expected for someone whose game is really rusty and who is sitting behind a strong group of 4’s and 5’s.
…How much better the Spurs’ defense is than their 21st ranked Defensive Rating of 104.9 that’s getting blasted by some columnists? For starters, fans should have noticed by now that Gregg Popovich will gladly rest his best players if a game appears unlikely to be a win and take a huge beating with young reserves on the court. This causes some severely screwy numbers for the team (although SanAn is currently 3rd in Offensive Rating). Some of the players getting the most rest are the team’s best defenders: Tim Duncan averages 26 minutes per game, Kawhi Leonard 24, Tiago Splitter 20, and Danny Green 17. Those are the team’s 4 most impactful defensive players, and they’re just not playing a lot right now. Look at the impact of sitting someone like Duncan; during the 5 games he’s played more than 30 minutes (which is what you’ll see in the playoffs), the team’s DefRtg was a very strong 100.5. In his only two outings playing less than 20 minutes, the Spurs’ DefRtgs were 121.0 and 124.2. There’s a reason this Pops guy is considered a genius.
…How crazy it is to heap so much praise on one-dimensional rookie MarShon Brooks? Yes, the first-year Net is averaging 15 ppg, has scored in double-digits in every game except two, and is making 47% of his shots including 40% from deep. All good stuff, but we have a good idea based on his college stats (ex: 33% 3-point shooter) and how these things normally work for guys whose NBA careers start hotter than how they were doing in the NCAA that those percentages are going to drop. That could be a bigger problem than it initially appears because he’s a very bad passer for a guard and a rather poor defender. Considering the Nets are the worst defensive team in the league, it’s quite startling that opposing teams score 14.6 more points per 100 possessions when Brooks is on the floor versus sitting, the worst disparity on the team. Looking for rookies beyond Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio who are making some great contributions in a more well-rounded manner? Check out Kawhi Leonard (SA), Markieff Morris (Phx), Nikola Vucevic (Phi), Jon Leuer (Mil), Chandler Parsons (Hou), Charles Jenkins (GS), and Tristan Thompson (Clv).
...How potentially damaging a max-level contract to Russell Westbrook could be for the Thunder? Max deals are intended for elite, face-of-the-franchise type players who without question add a lot of value and wins to a club. Westbrook's qualifications? He's never been a top-10 scorer, his assists per game topped out at 8th best two seasons ago (currently 21st), his turnovers have stayed consistently very high for a PG without elite-level assist numbers (currently 9th), his decision making has taken a beating recently (that's what we call a huge red flag), his shooting numbers (FG%, 3FG%, eFG%) have always been poor, and he bombed in the playoffs last year. For a team that's been so good working the cap to now tie up $80 million over the next 5 years--killing their chances of maintaining the depth of role players they currently enjoy--in a PG that hasn't shown improvement and is selfishly taking away shots from Durant and the many other Thunder who take much smarter shots is bad. If people think Westbrook has the qualifications of a max-level player, then I'm not sure what the hubbub was about Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay.