I'd like to get a quick thought off my chest.
Why do we dub the post-All-Star break games as the second half
of the NBA season? It's an 82-game season, and every team in the
league has played north of 50 games. That's simply not how math
Anyway, we are ramping up for the postseason push.
As such, most of the storylines will center around the top of each
conference. Contender talk, flaws, favorable matchups, buyout
targets — all that Jazz.
We'll focus in on the Play-In races. As of now, the Washington
WIzards (0.5 games back) and New York Knicks (3.5) are a mini-run
away from overtaking the 10th-seeded Atlanta Hawks (or No. 9
Charlotte Hornets) in the Eastern Conference. The San Antonio Spurs
(2.0), New Orleans Pelicans (2.0) and Sacramento Kings (3.5) are
all within striking distance of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The teams at the bottom — firmly outside of the Play-In race,
likely to jostle for better lottery odds — are going to get lost in
the grand scheme of things. I get it from a "winning matters/is
more fun" perspective, but you'll miss a lot of cool things if you
completely disregard those teams.
Remember, for example, that Darius Garland averaged 18.8 points
and 6.3 assists with a 57.0% True Shooting percentage after the
All-Star break last season before getting shut down. The hints of
his growth — slick interior feeds and a more aggressive trigger
from deep (40.4% on 5.4 attempts vs. 38.4% on 4.5 attempts before
the break) — were present if you peeped those games.
Related: We just watched him in the All-Star
Every team at the bottom doesn't have an All-Star in waiting,
but this is my plea to keep an eye on them. I'm here to give you a
INDIANA PACERS — TYRESE HALIBURTON'S ON-BALL
Haliburton serving as the blue-chipper to bring Domantas Sabonis
to Sacramento wasn't on my bingo card. The early returns have led
to super-charged offenses on both sides, so I'm not sure either
team is too upset right now.
On the Haliburton front, he's enjoyed a near-unquestioned run as
a primary ball-handler. He's averaging 20.8 points (.519/.452/.813
shooting splits) and 11.0 assists (3.5 turnovers) through his first
four games as a Pacer, but even that undersells it a bit.
He has completely transformed how the Pacers play; their pace
with Haliburton on the floor is roughly four possessions faster
than their regular-season mark (97.95, 20th). You have to take that
with a grain of salt — it's been a four-game sample — but watching
this team blaze up the floor after
misses and makes has been a startling shift.
The heightened pace makes it a little easier for Haliburton
create advantages. Against an unset defense, he's able to
manipulate his defender into screens, and reads second- and
third-level defenders with ease. He's a darn good
passer, and his ability to shoot off the dribble — he's converting north of 40% of his pull-up
twos (44.1%) and threes (41.7%) this season — makes
him a pretty dynamic weapon.
There are some areas of growth present though. He's not
particularly bursty, so he does occasionally require a re-screen
(or two, or three) against top-notch defenders. His shooting has
gotten good enough to where ducking under probably isn't a good
idea; he still has some questions to answer against switches
Beyond that, keep an eye on how consistently Haliburton accesses
the paint. His film is (still) littered with reps where he'll come
off the screen and find an outlet once he reaches the free-throw
line, versus taking an extra dribble or two in order to engage the
- Isaiah Jackson seems fun! He's already a dynamic roller and
pairs well with Haliburton; the very, very early returns have been
good — a whopping 1.4 points per possession on direct hookups, per
- Buddy Hield is averaging 5.0 assists (1.8 turnovers) since
becoming a Pacer. And this isn't of the "find a guy in transition"
or "pass it to an open guy as part of a set play" variety. He's
making, like, live-dribble reads. If that proves real, we need to
start rethinking his offensive value (and how he fits a
- As someone who genuinely wasn't familiar of him until a couple
of weeks ago, I want to see more of Terry Taylor. He's 6-foot-5 and
stocky, and has averaged 13.6 points and 9.5 rebounds (!) since
joining the regular rotation nine games ago.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER — TRE MANN'S SHOT
Tre Mann is fun.
No, I mean really fun.
You generally don't get this blend of ball-handling, shooting
touch and footwork from a rookie guard. It's easy to get caught up
in the aesthetic of this kind of shot creation, but I'm keeping an
eye on it.
His shot profile is already wild. To this point, only 69.4% of
his threes and 24.7% of his twos have been assisted on. It makes
his overall three-point percentage (36.5%) a little more
impressive; it also makes his two-point percentage (39.9%) wildly
concerning. But hey, I'm interested in seeing if he can leverage
his pull-up shooting into cleaner driving lanes.
- He's overqualified for the stray thoughts section, but good
lord is Josh Giddey good. Similar to Haliburton, how intentional he
is about generating paint touches vs. early kick-outs is going to
be key to his development as a high-level initiator. The fact
that's been able to create (and rack up triple-doubles) to this
degree with that question mark is a testament to how good he
- Hey, the Thunder have the third best half-court defense in the
NBA in 2022. My pal Mark Schindler recently wrote about it. Let's
see if it holds after the break.
- I just... don't want Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shut down for the
year like he was last season. I hope we see plenty of him, provided
the ankle sprain isn't too severe. Provided he plays, have fun
laughing at his weird drives and hope the jumper comes around. He's
your "Garland to watch for" in this exercise.
HOUSTON ROCKETS — KEVIN PORTER JR.'S PG
Porter's transition to point guard was something I wrote about
as part of my Something To Prove series before
the year. It's worth checking in on that.
First 13 games: 13.2 points (.375/.301/.644 shooting
splits), 5.2 assists (4.4 turnovers)
Next 13 games: 11.6 points (.344/.360/.556), 6.5 assists
Last 13 games: 16.6 points (.481/.477/.600), 6.9 assists
Two quick things on that.
For starters, that second section of games is pretty split up
due to him being in and out of the lineup. A poor roster context,
plus inconsistent burn (in a new role!), is going to lead to some
Second, look at the relationship between assists and turnovers!
The dimes are up, the giveaways are down. Beyond the numbers, you
could see the gradual progression of Porter's processing.
The simpler reads were (and are) being made more quickly. He
isn't as interior-focused, as he's gotten more reps reading the
second level. Nearly 46% of Porter's assists have come via threes
this season, way up from his 35.6% clip last year.
He's finally looking for the corners! About 14% of his assisted
threes came from the corner in his first two seasons; that's up to
22.7% this year.
Hopefully Porter is able to stay healthy so he can continue to
get these reps. Even if he doesn't prove to be point guard
material, this experience should make him deadlier in a secondary
role moving forward.
- Keep an eye on Jalen Green's progress as a downhill threat. A
larger share of his shots have come at the rim since the turn of
the year (34% in 2021, 42% so far in 2022, per Cleaning The Glass).
His turnover rate on drives has been cut in half (14.1% to 7.0%)...
but he's also passing at a less-frequent rate on drives (41.1% to
31%) during the same time period. It's gonna be fun watching him
find that balance.
- Can Stephen Silas find a way to supplement the Christian
Wood/Alperen Sengun frontcourt he's been running with lately? The
early returns haven't been great (minus-12.9 Net Rating in 523
possessions, per Cleaning The Glass). The most used trio around
that pairing — Porter, Green and Jae'Sean Tate — has a pretty solid
defense (108.1 DRTG) and a ghastly offense (96.0 ORTG) in 126
possessions. Keep an eye on this group with Garrison Mathews in
place of Tate; it's only 25 possessions, but there *are* positive
- KJ Martin is fun, man. I'd just like to see him get more burn
so we can see if the jumper is real. If he isn't the best weak-side
rim-protector under 6-6 in the league, he has to be top-five.
DETROIT PISTONS — CADE CUNNINGHAM'S FREE
Stop me if you've seen this scene play out.
Cade Cunningham runs a high ball-screen. His defender either
gets caught on the pick, or tries to duck under, but fails to cut
off the driving angle. Cunningham gains inside leverage, absorbs a
blow, puts up a shot that rolls off the rim, and the play goes the
There are 32 players currently averaging
at least 10 drives and 5 field-goal attempts on drives.
Cunningham's 1.2 free-throw attempts via drive rank 25th; the
players below him on the list:
1) Are point guards, with the exception of Tyler Herro (1.1
2) Average fewer attempts at the rim than Cunningham does.
Cunningham has had to figure out how to win with drives — the
pace + bump + shoulder nudge seems to be his ideal method of
madness. But now he's up against the "rookies don't deserve calls"
thing. It's as hilarious (for non-Piston fans) as it is perplexing
when watching live.
- It should be noted that Saddiq Bey is averaging 18-5-3 while
shooting 37.4% from three on 8.4 attempts in 2022. He's
absolutely flinging it and mixing in post-ups
against smaller guys. Teams are very — almost disrespectfully —
comfortable with switching against the Pistons since they don't
have pure blow-by or deadly pull-up threats right now. That's led
to a lot of mismatch hunting, and thus, Bey getting to put his
shoulder into people. It makes for a rough watch at times, but the
reps should matter down the road
- Will Isaiah Stewart get back to shooting? Please? At least try
it? Me and my homies miss second-half-of-2021 Beef Stew.
- Killian Hayes is a good defender, darn it. Don't sell all your
stock on him yet.
ORLANDO MAGIC — DOUBLE BIG LINEUP
This possession is going to live in my head for a long time.
This is the Magic attempting to use their talented big-man duo
of Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba together. It's a Double Drag
look that flows into another screening action for Bamba to shoot
In theory, opposing bigs should have trouble tracking across
screens. It should be a unique way to stress defenses out. Instead,
we get LUKA DONCIC playing DROP COVERAGE because he is not at all
worried about the initial pop in Double Drag. Even with Doncic
eventually fighting over and contesting the shot, the rest of the
defense stays at home.
And this, my friends, is the center (you laughed, it's fine) of
my intrigue with this group. Defensively, you see the upside. Two
very good rim-protectors with enough mobility (especially in
Carter's case) to switch up your schemes. Want to go back to the
Chicago Bulls/Jim Boylen days trap with Carter? That's cool,
because Bamba and his tree limbs are behind the action. Want to
show Bamba high? That's cool, because Carter can clean up messes
The Magic are holding teams to 94.1 points per 100 half-court
possessions with Carter and Bamba on the floor together, a mark
that ranks in the 56th percentile. Their starting unit — Cole
Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Carter and Bamba — is holding
teams to an 87.3 offensive rating in the half court, a ridiculous
But then there's the half-court offense, which is awful in that
lineup (83.1) and generally awful with those bigs on the floor
together (88.5). While Bamba (34.4% on 3.7 attempts) and Carter
(32.1% from 3.6 attempts) are willing shooters from deep, teams
don't fear them. They're able to shrink the floor, which is a bit
problematic considering Suggs' shooting woes and Anthony's size
I want to see if they can figure the offense out, because they
are a joy to watch defensively.
- On-Ball Franz has arguably been the most surprising development
of this draft class; at the very least, it's the most suprising
among rookies playing in the United States. He's a mean driver with
plus-passing chops to boot.
- You know who's still delightful? Robin Lopez and his array of
sweeping hooks. Perfectly capable third big. I have no clue if he's
going to get bought out, but he'll give you some low-post
- Aside from the shooting, keep an eye on Suggs defensively. I
touched on it in an earlier piece, but he's a
few on-ball tricks-of-the-trade away from being a gnarly
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