Missed posting last Friday due to a vacation/business trip but I’m back with all that’s caught my attention since the last Friday Five’s post!

Without further adieu, let’s get to it 🏀

1.) Have the Knicks arrived??

I spoke briefly about the Knicks in my previous Friday Five’s post as a team that surprised me. Then, they were 5-3 in Fifth place in the East, then now reside in a tie for Sixth at 8-8.

I predicted that they’d likely regress to their deemed mean “relatively soon.” The relatively soon I had in mind has not come to fruition as they’re still trucking along, with a commendable style of play coupled by receptive response to coach Thibodeau’s schemes. 

Their most recent outing last night saw RJ Barrett posting a career-high 28 points in a 119-104 win on the road over the Warriors. 

Last night’s outing is one in a season long run of impressive play from Barrett, as the new system has seemingly brought more structure and worked in favor of where Barrett is in his career.

Their numbers offensively leave a whole lot more to be desired, but defensively they’ve overachieved. That is also approaching a point where it has to be respected as a consistency as we near the first quarter mark of the season. 

They rank dead last in points per game at 101.8, however they rank first in points allowed. They’re allowing just 102.8 ppg on average, which is unbelievable. They are also currently fourth in defensive rating, at 106.8. 

To boot, 5 of their 11 main rotation pieces own a positive effect on their defense in +/-. 

Their offense will likely be a struggle sans Randle, Barrett, & Burks, but it’s safe to say them banking on defensive efforts will keep them in the loop for a play-in tournament spot at the very least.

Again, lets see if this is indeed sustainable for them as the overall feeling is that some luck is involved with their raw defensive numbers. Nonetheless, as of now it seems as if we may see both New York teams in the playoffs at the same time for the first time in quite a while 👀.

2 “Dominayton” 💪🏾😤

The Suns are 8-5 good for sole possession of fourth in the West, and allowing the fifth least points per game.

Though they have noteworthy contributors on the wings and at the point of attack, Deandre Ayton is the one who is asserting himself, allowing for them to unlock a new level of ascension.

He’s enjoying a career-high in boxscore +/- (0.4) as well as rating (105) on the defensive end.

For Ayton, everything starts on the defensive end. His impact on that end the last three games has, optically, been obvious. He’s also been ending possessions as the rebounder well of late and stayed out of four trouble. 

Offensively, he’s growing in his patience. He’s paying more attention to the nuances within their offense as the center. Setting good screens, finding other ways to score outside of post touches (rim running in transition, offensive rebounds, taking advantage of mismatches).

He’s enjoying a career-high in field goal percentage and is shooting 80% within 3 feet of the basket, as well as 56% from 10-16 feet which is also a career-high.

Currently at 13.9ppg, 12.1rpg (a career-high), 2 asts and 1.3 bog, he’s clearly garnering more trust on a game to game basis from his teammates. These last two dominant performances (18pts and 16rbs Monday @ Memphis, 26pts and 17rebs @ Houston Wednesday) make it seem as if the week hiatus (due to their close contact with the Wizards from last week) has rejuvenated him. He’s finished a few alley oops with furiosity, and had a few other rim rattling dunks to boot. 

Him and CP3 are still establishing their chemistry in the pack and roll game. Though Paul is still going out of his way to feed his big man, they’ve been connecting more since they returned to play Monday.

Coach Williams has deployed a few interesting sets to free Ayton up for easy baskets in the half court, mainly the Spain pick and roll where after he sets the initial ball screen then rolls, there’s a teammate (typically the power forward) who back screens his man, and that action opens up easy alley oops or pocket passes for Paul to hit him on. 

He’s growing into his own as the chemistry builds, and with his growth unlocks a closer to peak level of the Phoenix Suns. Keep an eye on Ayton over the next few games as the Suns look to reestablish themselves in the home court half of the Western Conference ranks.

3.) What to make of the Nets

Brooklyn’s been at the forefront of all conversations since the trade went down last week, with good reasoning. They’ve amassed a roster that has 3 of the 15 guys in the roster, including two MVPs. 

It did cost them a good portion of their depth, however.

The main loss that hurts them, aside from the mortgaging of their future assets and draft picks, was the loss of Jarret Allen. 

They were already closing games with Allen at the 5, and he was vastly outplaying DeAndre Jordan. 

Now, only having Jordan as their featured big man has severely handicapped them. 

In combination with that, Allen was almost their lone semblance of defense. They have Bruce Brown who plays as a nuisance in his role but is a negative on defense at the moment, and they have Durant who suffices as a defender but is their only other positive on the defensive end aside from Jordan. 

So not only do they lack individual defenders, but they also lack those of the team defender variety too. A team this potent needs to be able to compile at the very least stops of the timely variety.

They also only have one game u see their belts as a whole, so this is not to have a knee-jerk response to what we’ve seen, but their early returns play right into what on paper seemed rather obvious could occur on any given night. 

Offensively, they seem to have an understanding of who is doing what. Harden is their play initiator, which makes sense as he’s the best playmaker. Irving does the in-between damage and off the ball movement. Durant serves as their hybrid big, doing work from the low post, high post, and really everywhere on the court. His office is the entire court as we all know. 

What remains to be seen is if they’ll consistently go to Durant to close (as they did in regulation vs Cleveland), or if they’ll go with the “hot hand,” look at matchups on a game to game basis, or take turns in that instance. It’s a luxury to have options, but having too many can lead to complications as time goes on.

Their offense had a good flow to it for the majority of the game, though I did not like discrepancy in shots as Irving took 2 times as many shots as Harden (28 for Irving, 14 for Harden) but it’s understandable in the sense that Irving had the hot hand. 

Where Nash and company will have their hands full is finding a rotation that works best for their superstars, as well as finding a way to keep their ancillary parts like Joe Harris involved as shot attempts and touches across the board take a hit incorporating Harden. Also, how they approach the defensive end and what they add to their roster to support the defense and rebounding. 

I’ll be watching for those instances with them as they build around this juggernaut-like assemblage of talent they’ve compiled.

Nonetheless, they’ll be a menace for the league and even their biggest weakness can be compensated for on any given night. Enjoy these buckets 👀

4.) 20 Games Postponed due to Covid Constraint’s 🤦🏾‍♂️

Whether it be a team directly having an outbreak, individual players which then leave them short in having enough guys to play, or a close contact cancelling out of precation, we’ve now seen 19 games postponed due to the league Covid protocols.

It was well aware that teams would need to plan to operate in uncomfortable ways throughout this weird situation we’re currently living through, but the growing number of games overall is approaching the alarming point. 

In response, the leagues changed some of the protocols. Post game embrace between players is being monitored by security at halfcourt and the league has cutdown on the allowed guests by each player. 

ESPNs Adrian Wojnarowski wrote about it earlier this week.

The most recent test saw 11 new positive tests out of the 502 league-wide tests. That number has fluctuated but as the new protocols resonate, we’ll see the impact it has.

5.) Donovan Mitchell 🕷

Leading the charge of the hottest team in the NBA, Donovan Mitchell has been on a torrid pace.

On this current six-game win streak, he’s averaging 27.9 ppg with a 51.1/51.8/91.4 shooting slash, 4.9 apg, and 4.3 rpg.

He also just became the fastest player to 600 made 3-point field goals in NBA history, an amazing feat!

Spida has been downright ELITE this season and that level of play has permeated throughout the roster there in Utah. 

They’re currently tied for 2nd in the West now, and are getting it done on both ends of the floor.

Bonus 🐍

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make note of the anniversary that today is, being the historic 81 point performance of the late, great, Kobe Bryant.

This is still the most recent standard for prolific scoring in one game, and is the present day reminder still for how great of a scorer Kobe was.

That game, he posted an absurd 81 points on 60.9% from the field (28/46), including 7/13 from three and 18/20 from the stripe. Enjoy the tape below 🤯

Also enjoy this thread of messages where Kobe reminisced on that legendary night via Twitter in 2013.

Credit to BallIsLife for this pic

Miscellaneous Occurrences of Note

Drays Tech Sitchy 🤦🏾‍♂️

The Warriors Forward had appropriate gripes about officials being held accountable for quick trigger techs that weren’t necessary in their game yesterday.

Earlier today the technical foul was rescinded by the league, but the bearings it had on the game will be long lasting. The Warriors lost their second best player and for as contentious as the West is, this 1 loss could very well come into play come later on this season. These instances are the ones players and fans alike have begged the league to hold officials accountable for.

Yes they release the 2 minute reports, but there should be a fine of some sort involved in instances like these as the implication for the teams involved always outweigh the repercussions for a mistaken whistle. Let’s hope this isn’t a situation that resurfaces, especially in a shortened season.

Draymonds reputation may have preceded him here, but technical fouls given to players showing emotion need to be reviewable as many other violations and stoppages of player are eligible for.

It was a very close game at Draymonds departure, had he been allowed to continue to play, the outcome almost surely would’ve been closer.

Sexton’s 42-point career-high 🔥

The Cavs guard put together an unreal outing in the debut of the Nets trio, stinging together defensive stops with timely buckets to put them over the top vs the Nets Wednesday.

Young Bull was just out there hooping and having fun.

What he did in overtime was downright absurd! In a matchup with the Nets again tonight, this time without Durant though, let’s see what he can do.

Stephs Pass 🤯

Not much to say here, just admire this poetry in motion.

Recommended Read of the Week 👓

ESPNs Jorge Sedano wrote a great piece featuring a handful of guys that had first hand chances at guarding prime Kobe. Check it out here 👈🏾.

That’s a wrap for this weeks Friday Five’s, enjoy the weekends games and I will be back with more to share next week! 🏀

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