12月 2, 2023

admiral casino best slots This week’s eight things I liked and disliked include Anthony Edwards showing signs that the Minnesota Timberwolves’ bet is paying off, how the Chicago Bulls’ three All-Stars have no identity on offense and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander having the sport’s most precious thing.

The Wolves trading Walker Kessler and four first-round picks to the Utah Jazz for Rudy Gobert in 2022 was one of the most audacious wagers in NBA history. It was a massive bet on Gobert, and on the enduring power of size, but it was almost as big a bet on Anthony Edwards developing into a championship centerpiece before his 23rd birthday.

The Gobert megadeal hung a financial sword of Damocles over the Timberwolves — it imposed a compressed timeline in which they had to win big. The Wolves understood that barring luxury tax outlays unprecedented for a small-market team, it could be unfeasible to keep their core together long. They have since re-signed Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid to hefty deals. In July, they inked Edwards to the inevitable maximum contract extension. The combined salaries of five players — Gobert, Edwards, Reid, McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns — will have Minnesota approaching next season’s tax line.

Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson could be unrestricted free agents this summer. The second apron looms. Time will tell how much the Wolves’ new ownership group might spend, and for how long, but at some point a cost-cutting move could siphon away at least one key player.

The Wolves need to win big, now. Every team that approaches title contention has an alpha ball handler. The Wolves need that player to be Edwards, and they might not be able to wait for his traditional prime seasons. They knew all this when they made the trade.

And Edwards, remarkably, is showing signs he might pay that bet off.

Last season, Edwards averaged 4.4 assists and 3.3 turnovers. He was and is a scorer first. He jacked lots of long 2s and missed some passing reads. Even in starring for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup this past summer, Edwards played with occasional tunnel vision.

In over 1,600 minutes across 67 games last season, there were 15 possessions on which Edwards passed to Gobert on the pick-and-roll and Gobert then attempted a shot, per Second Spectrum. That is fewer than one possession every four games.

“We were just never able to establish that chemistry between Ant and Rudy,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch told ESPN.

Gobert left the U.S. early last offseason to work with the French national team, but Edwards stayed longer in Minnesota. Every day, the Wolves picked one player who happened to be around — Reid, Josh Minott, Leonard Miller — to mimic Gobert and run pick-and-rolls with Edwards. They practiced pocket passes, skips to the corner, thread-the-needle slips against blitzes, even lobs — though they had no target nearly as tall as Gobert.

“Rudy,” Finch said, “is kind of hard to replicate.”

Before games now, Edwards huddles with Conley to discuss schemes they might see and passes that might be available.

“Every single game,” Edwards told ESPN. “That’s basically all Mike and I talk about.”

Edwards is up to 5.2 assists. He has already found Gobert for seven shots directly out of the pick-and-roll — almost half their number from last season, per Second Spectrum. They are collaborating on six more pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions.

When defenders pressure Edwards, he is more attentive getting rid of the ball early, finding Gobert on slips:

He understands the threat Gobert poses rolling to the rim, and the passes that open in his wake. Edwards has been hitting Minnesota’s spot-up guys earlier, with their defenders still leaning toward Gobert in the paint, making them easy prey for blow-bys:

“He has a much better understanding of where his passes are going to be before he attacks,” Finch said. “That pattern recognition is huge.”

McDaniels is shooting well from everywhere and more at ease attacking closeouts. Gobert is himself again. Towns has caught a rhythm after a slow start. Anderson ties everything together. Minnesota is 8-3 with the league’s No. 4 scoring margin and resounding wins over both the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics.

There is far to go on a timeline that affords no patience. Edwards still misses passes. He’s taking even more long 2s. He shoots on 58% of his pick-and-rolls that result in the end of Minnesota possessions — the sixth-highest shot rate among 155 ball handlers who have run at least 50 such plays, per Second Spectrum.

The Wolves are 18th in points per possession despite ranking 11th in 3-point accuracy (37.5%) and No. 1 in midrange shooting (49%).

“It’s a work in progress,” Finch said.

Minnesota’s top-ranked defense is real. The West is muddled below the Denver Nuggets, against whom the Wolves match up well. If Minnesota can approach the top 10 in points per possession — and the talent and will are there — this team can make the conference finals. Once there, you have a shot at everything.

In the growth of great scorers who don’t enter the league as great scorers, there is a final phase where discovery gives way to mastery — and finally to a calm bravado.

Early on, they test the boundaries of their skills and hone new ones. As they shoulder more responsibility, each game brings new pressures — a brighter spotlight, more targeted schemes from defenses. They react on the fly, and find they can handle and do more — more moves, more shots, more variety and poise.

Then, they manipulate. “Oh, I can do this!” becomes “Watch me do this, on my terms.”

For Gilgeous-Alexander, that transition happened last season. He became unconcerned with whatever defenses were doing. He had counters for everything. That self-assuredness radiated in the FIBA World Cup and is in full bloom now. You can tell when Gilgeous-Alexander has a matchup he likes, or knows he has his defender in the bag. He almost seems to grow taller and broader.

Context for the below piece of meanness: Oklahoma City was in the bonus, and Caris LeVert had just committed a touch foul trying to corral Gilgeous-Alexander:

That’s not even fair. LeVert yields an extra foot of airspace and pulls his hands away. He might as well go order a beer in the concourse.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s points are down — from 31 to 29 — but his field-goal percentage, assists, rebounds and steals (No. 1 in the league!) are up. Even his turnovers are down a tick. (As with Jimmy Butler, Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability to combine ultra-high usage with minimal turnovers is a vastly underrated skill.) He has exchanged a few shots at the rim for midrangers and more 3s, but that’s OK when you shoot 50% on 2s outside the restricted area.

The Thunder are plus-10.3 per 100 possessions when Gilgeous-Alexander plays, and minus-2.8 when he sits. Their turnover rate balloons when he rests; the resulting fast breaks are a big reason their defense has slid in Gilgeous-Alexander’s rest stints. (Their rebounding is crisis-level bad overall.)

Everyone is obsessed with the Thunder trading a pile of picks for a star, but in the short term they could easily make a smaller trade for one more dependable reserve. They are not far away. Oklahoma City is 8-4, in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And in Gilgeous-Alexander, they have the sport’s most precious thing: a superstar who can get a good shot whenever he wants.

The Bulls are minus-77 in 242 minutes with Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan on the floor. They were minus-13 in 1,642 such minutes last season, and minus-7 in 1,206 minutes in 2021-22 — the trio’s first full season together after Chicago paid a heavy price concocting an experiment that was doomed to fail.

All three are offense-first players, but the defining trend of their union is an offense both antiquated and bad. The Bulls rank 25th in points per possession after finishing 24th and 13th in the prior two seasons. They hoist a number of long 2s that is untenable in 2023. They have been unable to duplicate whatever witchcraft lifted them to No. 5 in defensive efficiency last season. No team has allowed more 3-point attempts. Only three teams have allowed more shots at the rim. The Bulls are a two-way math disaster.

The three All-Stars diminish each other. Perhaps it’s that all are score-first types — that both DeRozan and LaVine envision themselves as lead ball handlers. Perhaps it’s a collective deficit in passing — LaVine has averaged 3.9 assists and 2.6 turnovers for his career — exacerbated by the absence of a true point guard.

The Bulls’ brass will always look back on the team’s 26-10 start in 2021-22 with Lonzo Ball and wonder what might have been. Ball would organize possessions and give Chicago a fast-breaking alter ego it doesn’t have access to without him.

But, come on. Ball has made zero All-Star teams and did not appear on pace to crack that conversation. DeRozan, Vucevic and LaVine have made 10 total. It is not unreasonable to expect a slightly positive scoring margin with all three playing.

The Bulls have no identity — no tentpole ethos or style to lean upon when things get tight. Every game is littered with possessions like this:

The Bulls run one perfunctory action and then … nothing. Time stops as if Zach LaVine is Zack Morris and wants to break the fourth wall. Nobody moves. LaVine shrugs and heaves a standstill contested 3.

Coby White has made meaningful strides, but he’s not the skeleton key. Absent that point guard type, perhaps the Bulls should just go all-in on defense, feel and toughness — and start plus-minus machine Alex Caruso.

But that doesn’t really matter beyond salvaging something from this mini-era. It’s hard to find a franchise in a more depressing long-term situation. The Bulls traded Vucevic for Wendell Carter Jr. and picks that became Franz Wagner and Jett Howard. They owe the San Antonio Spurs a first-rounder via the DeRozan deal, which cancels out the lottery-protected pick they have coming (in theory) from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Patrick Williams, the highest pick of the Arturas Karnisovas/Marc Eversley era, is coming off the bench in Year 4 behind Torrey Craig. admiral casino Dalen Terry, last year’s first-round pick, doesn’t play.

The Bulls extended Vucevic, which was fine, but if they aren’t going to extend or re-sign DeRozan, it would border on mismanagement not to trade him for whatever they can get. Chicago’s best path at this point might be to unload everything and tank either this season or next (what’s up, Cooper Flagg!).

The Magic are 6-5 behind the league’s No. 3 defense, with size, speed and tenacity at every position. Jonathan Isaac — he exists! — is reasserting himself as an all-court dementor. (He’s also shooting 32% with an uncertain handle, and his offense will dictate whether Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley feels comfortable deploying Isaac in more lineups alongside Orlando’s starters.)

The statistical fundamentals are mostly solid. If Orlando can sniff league average on offense, it will (at least) hang in the play-in race.

Alas, the Magic are down to 26th in points per possession. They have ranked 20th or worse in 11 straight seasons. It is hard to be this bad at offense for this long.

Shockingly, their offense has been at its worst with both Banchero and Franz Wagner on the floor. In their shared minutes, the Magic have scored an unthinkable 97 points per 100 possessions — seven points below Portland’s 30th-ranked offense.

That is somewhat fluky. Orlando is a bricky jump-shooting team, but it has been almost implausibly icy in the Banchero-Wagner minutes: 30% on both 3s and midrangers. Banchero and Wagner are culprits. Both guys are experiencing the growing pains of being asked to do more against defenses focused on them.

The Magic are leaning into Banchero’s playmaking. He’s averaging 5.2 assists, up from 3.7 last year, but his turnovers have jumped in almost the same proportion.

He has had issues reading layers of help defense tilted toward him:

Banchero is trying passes that aren’t there — either failing to anticipate how defenses will rotate or underestimating how much ground they can cover.

This is all normal. I am already on record predicting at least one of Banchero and Wagner makes his first All-Star team by the 2025 edition. The Magic have to lean hard on both because their guards are the weakest part of their offense. (Jalen Suggs does so much so well, but he’s still shooting 39% overall and 33% on 3s. He always appears so close to turning that corner.) It’s easier for defenses to load toward Banchero when they aren’t worried about any of Orlando’s shooters.

But the Magic would love to break their four-year playoff drought, and the margin for error is slim.

Until last season’s playoffs, every Robinson 2-point attempt was an event. Between 80% and 90% of his shots were 3s. Seeing Robinson bob and weave for a 2 within the half court was like spotting a bald eagle in your backyard.

But in the Miami Heat’s improbable run to the NBA Finals last season, almost 30% of Robinson’s shots were 2s. He was more confident slicing inside when defenses ran him off the arc — the improvement Robinson needed to maintain a role on good teams.

That has accelerated this season. One-third of his shots have been 2s, and he’s hitting 61.4% of them.

(Robinson likes that reverse layup on the right side of the rim.)

Most of those shots are coming when Robinson attacks hard closeouts. That is the superpower of shooting. It is a discrete skill, but it is also a floating meta-skill that lifts every subset of individual offense. Robinson is not a dangerous ball handler, but his shooting effectively makes him one in certain situations.

Robinson is averaging nine drives per 100 possessions — easily a career high, and up from 3.5 two seasons ago, per Second Spectrum. If helpers converge, Robinson can make the next pass; he’s dishing a career-high 3.0 dimes per 36 minutes.

With Tyler Herro injured and Max Strus gone, the Heat need all they can get from Robinson — just as they did after Herro broke his hand in the playoff opener last season.

This is a nice story of perseverance. The Heat re-signed Robinson to a five-year, $90 million contract in 2021, only for Erik Spoelstra to bench him much of last season. The size of Robinson’s contract made him a natural ingredient in trade talks (and still does). The relationship between team and player could have fractured.

After a slow start, the Heat are Heating around — grinding out clutch wins. Butler has surged into form, and Miami has won seven straight after a 1-4 start.

The Mavs could have a top-five offense with Luka Doncic walking the ball up every possession, and running endless pick-and-roll with shooters around him. Doncic is that good, and in Dereck Lively II, he finally has a lob-catcher with touch. But that would sap Doncic’s energy, render Kyrie Irving a distant second banana and marginalize everyone else — the same guys the Mavs count on to defend hard.

Doncic is still playing slow-down chessmaster a lot. That’s his comfort zone. But in snippets, he’s giving himself over to a faster, more flowing style:

The Mavs were 28th in pace last season. Only one team averaged more time between grabbing a defensive rebound on one end and shooting on the other, per Inpredictable.

The Mavs are now fifth in pace and 11th fastest shooting after snaring defensive boards. They are operating at around league-average pace even in Doncic’s solo time. (They are absolutely flying in Irving’s solo time.)

Playing faster is an organic way to share the ball and spread shots. It can also generate more attempts at the rim, and the Mavs are starved for those. Doncic is a very good rebounder and hit-ahead passer.

The verve extends — now and then — into the half court:

Doncic turns the offense over to Irving and then ambles over to Tim Hardaway Jr. (averaging 19 points off the bench!) for some screening action. Doncic aborts it early and slips to the rim. Doncic is a good and active cutter when he decides to be.

The true test is maintaining this kind of effort and trust all season, and when things get sticky in the playoffs. For now, this is healthy.

Johnson was the San Antonio Spurs’ leading scorer last season at 22 points per game — a hunched blur of shoulder-checking drives. He’s averaging 15 points now, behind Victor Wembanyama and Devin Vassell, and shooting 31% from deep after hitting just 32% last season. That skill might make or break Johnson’s long-term fit on a Wembanyama-centric team, and it has never been Johnson’s strong suit.

Last season’s Spurs fit around Johnson. Now Johnson has to figure where he fits — where his touches come, when and where it makes sense for him to take the reins. San Antonio’s giant Point [Jeremy] Sochan lineup, with no spacing and no point guard, muddies that process. For long stretches, Johnson subsists on transition chances and semi-random moments when the ball finds him in position to attack.

This is all fine. A team with Johnson as a No. 1 or No. 2 option was never going anywhere serious; at some point, he would transition into being more of a role player. Wembanyama accelerated that point to now.

In some ways, Johnson is making the most of it. He’s averaging 4.3 dimes, double his career rate. He’s pinging extra passes and snapping some mean dishes in the pick-and-roll, often running into those plays as trail man:

That’s a spicy pocket bouncer.

Johnson is a good player with long-term security; he has four years and $74 million left on his deal. As everyone in San Antonio reorients around Wembanyama, there will be nights when Johnson feels adrift. Other teams are keeping an eye on him.

I get why some people dislike the in-season courts, but this is a masterpiece:

The soft purple and turquoise go nicely, and the Suns nailed the trimmings — the script in the new “El Valle” wordmark, and the understated yet sharp graphics lining the near sideline. Even the stanchions are turquoise!

One success like this justifies a big artistic swing. If among 30 new courts, you get five great ones and five eye-searing abominations — with the middle 20 running the gamut from good to “meh” to acceptably bad — the risk is worth it. Try again next season, and don’t feel wedded to the runway template.

Too much of one bright color — red, orange, yellow — is disorienting. It took half of the Miami Heat’s tournament opener for me to adjust to the blaring court and focus on the action.

Perhaps this is why so many of the new courts are heavy on gray. I like gray! A lot of people find it boring. Maybe muted shades like gray work on these all-color, no-wood-stain courts — with brighter colors amplifying the edges.

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