Our weekly look at four topics — players, issues, numbers, trends — that are impacting and, in some cases, changing the game.
First Quarter: Scoring in bunches and bunches and bunches
How much is too much?
Unless we’re talking Girl Scout cookies, Al Pacino movies or Stevie Wonder albums, everything has a saturation limit, or at least it should.
Is scoring in the NBA reaching that point?
For a league that was desperate to see scoring reach the 100s when games were slow marches to 90, the rules were opened up to increase scoring, limit overly physical play and display the athletes at their best.
That has had the desired effect — almost too well.
Every team is averaging well over 100 points per game (league average 111.4), with the Charlotte Hornets bringing up the rear at a measly 102 per night — the same production as the Miami Heat back in 2010-11.
Yes, that’s the first year of the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh partnership.
The game we’re watching nightly is so drastically different from the contests we saw even five years ago.
Remember that Stephen Curry bomb on Feb. 27, 2016, against the Oklahoma City Thunder in one of the greatest regular-season games of the decade? The 40-ish footer from barely a step inside of half-court that caught everyone off-guard, especially Anthony Roberson?
Well, LeBron James has hit shots from that zip code twice in the last week. The first was the “not yet, kid” triple Sunday that quieted the frenzied New Orleans crowd after Zion Williamson brought the house down with a dynamite dunk on a nationally televised game.
The second was a calm, walk-up triple Tuesday from the Los Angeles Lakers logo a couple nights ago.
The skill levels of the incumbent players as well as the young stars entering the league have been aided by the rules being so loose.
According to basketball-reference.com creator Justin Kubatko, February was the second month in league history in which six players — Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Trae Young, Jayson Tatum and Damian Lillard — averaged 30 points or more.
The first month that occurred?
January 2020, with Kawhi Leonard and Devin Booker joining Lillard, Westbrook, Young and Beal.
Notice the names that haven’t been mentioned? Luminaries like James, Curry, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Curry has been out most of the year, but he could wind up on that list next year, and with Durant recovering from an Achilles injury, he could return to elite status next season.
For all we know, we could be in the most golden of golden eras of scoring, with talent like Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic ready to do more damage as time goes on.
But if these explosions are so commonplace, does it diminish how special it feels, especially with defenses not having much of a chance to earn the benefit of the doubt?
Whether it’s the “gather and two steps” rule or no more hand-checking or mere evolution, it feels like we’re in a juiced-ball era that would make the slow-down coaches of the ’90s cringe.
This isn’t opining to go back there, not by a long shot.
But maybe, just maybe, we can play some games on All-Madden once in a while?
OK, old man no longer yelling at cloud.
Second Quarter: Caris LeVert getting it done
Speaking of scoring in bunches, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert claimed best performance of the week with his 51-point showing (the 20th time a player has dropped 50 this year) against the Celtics on Tuesday night, with 37 coming in the fourth quarter and overtime in a comeback win.
He’s an intriguing piece for the future as the Nets will have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving presumably back in the fold next season. He can play both swing positions and his three-year, $52 million extension kicks in next season as the Nets expect to contend.
He’s had freakish injuries in college at Michigan and with the Nets — the scariest one last year when he injured his foot on an awkward fall in Minnesota that many feared could cost him his potential. He missed eight weeks this season following surgery on his right thumb, but made the turn following the All-Star break, averaging 21 before the 51-point explosion.
“Health is a big part of that,” LeVert, 25, told Yahoo Sports. “Confidence and mental approach has been the same throughout but injuries are a big thing. Most of the time, they’re unpredictable. It’s tough coming back from those, for sure. From the outside looking in, it doesn’t look that way. It’s like, you had a finger injury, you should be back to yourself within a week.
“It’s not always like that. Minute restrictions, different role. Getting that stuff behind me, that’s big for sure.”
Especially with Irving’s injuries being more frequent and the star guard having a third season-ending injury, getting the supporting pieces right could be the difference in their franchise being a true contender or being a tier below it.
Identifying the right role for LeVert could be priority No. 1. Is he a second option or a third one? Assuming his health, the rest of the season could be an audition for LeVert to establish his value on this team or around the league.
“I don’t look at it like that,” LeVert told Yahoo Sports. “We have 21 games left. So for me, that’s 21 opportunities to get better. Everyone wants to be that guy. Nobody’s coming in here this year. Ky just had surgery. Kevin’s probably not coming back this year. So it’s just fun. Living in the moment, trying to win games.”
LeVert calls Durant a “big brother”-like figure, someone whose voice resonates because he speaks up so rarely. And if nothing else, the two can bond over shared experiences of the dreadful days of rehab.
But LeVert’s a curious piece moving forward, and should the Nets want fewer ball-handlers around Durant and Irving, plenty of teams will line up to take a player who hasn’t yet reached his potential.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” LeVert told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t put limits on myself. It’s exciting to go out there and try to reach what that is. [Tuesday] was a huge milestone for my confidence, but I don’t put limits on it. I don’t feel like that’s the last time I’ll do that. It’s more opportunity for me to do that and more.”
Third Quarter: The NBA and the coronavirus
The NBA isn’t in panic mode over the coronavirus — yet.
Across the world, other leagues are taking precautions, even having games without fans.
That’s not where the NBA is, and it isn’t known how bad things would have to get domestically for it to take that road.
The league postponed the inaugural Basketball Africa League on Tuesday after escalating concerns and sent out memos to teams about how players should physically interact with others, regarding high-fives, autograph signings with fans and jersey exchanges.
One owner who spoke with Yahoo Sports called the daily memos “more informational than directional,” with the NBA taking the lead from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and making suggestions on keeping arenas as sanitized as possible, with more hand-washing stations around concourses and concession stands.
There isn’t a sense anything drastic will happen, but the NBA is closely monitoring the situation.
Fourth Quarter: Steph is back!
This will be short and sweet.
Welcome back, Stephen Curry.
While it would've been understandable if Curry chose to sit the rest of the season because of his left hand injury — saving his body after five long playoff runs and giving the Golden State Warriors the best odds at a top pick in this summer's draft — he's returning to play out the season, beginning Thursday night at home against the Raptors.
Don’t forget: There are fans who've paid top dollar to fill that new arena across the Bay Bridge, too.
As far as NBA ambassadors with accomplishments and equity with the fans, there's LeBron James and Curry — and Curry is building up even more currency by playing the rest of the year.
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