NBA's Best and Worst Individual Performances of November
Can you believe it? The first month of the 2013-14 NBA season has already come and gone.
Seems like only yesterday that we were all yapping about who would unseat the Miami Heat, how soon Derrick Rose would look like an MVP again and whether anyone would/could/should out-tank the Philadelphia 76ers.
So far, the Heat look like three-peat material (and then some), Rose is on the shelf (again) and the Sixers aren't wallowing in the basement of the Association (yet).
To be sure, there are plenty of other preseason predictions that are holding up just fine and countless others that could veer any and every which way in the months to come.
But we're not here to peer into any crystal balls. I mean, do I look or sound like Miss Cleo to you?
(Don't answer that.)
Rather, let's take this opportunity to look at some of the individual highlights and lowlights that have marked the month of November in pro basketball.
Best: LeBron James
Just when you thought LeBron James couldn't get any better, he went and had a month for the ages.
And not just his double-digit scoring streak that has now eclipsed 500 regular-season games, though that measure of consistency is mighty impressive.
Of greater interest is the efficiency with which LeBron is racking up his baskets these days. So far, the three-time MVP is shooting approximately 60 percent from the field. That's the second-highest mark in the entire league so far, behind only Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and ahead of some of basketball's most efficient big men (i.e., DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard).
Like those giants, James takes the majority of his shots within a few feet of the basket. In some respects, that might make LeBron's astronomical field-goal percentage seem less impressive; after all, if the guy's only taking shots right at the rim, he should be setting the nets on fire, right?
Except James isn't limiting himself to such high-percentage looks. He's also shooting well over 50 percent in the tricky, non-restricted-area portions of the paint and, most impressively, right around 48 percent from three-point range.
Oh, and he's finally hitting better than 80 percent of his free throws.
All of which makes his .565/.406/.753 shooting splits from last season look like child's play by comparison.
In the immortal words of Chazz Michael Michaels, mind-bottling, isn't it?
Worst: Brandon Knight
With all this talk of efficiency, we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge the NBA's least efficient player so far: Brandon Knight.
Prior to Nov. 30's game against the Celtics, Knight wasn't just last in the league in player efficiency rating (PER); he was also the only player in the Association sporting a negative PER.
It's not as though Knight has played all that much either. The 21-year-old guard, who joined the Milwaukee Bucks by way of the trade that sent Brandon Jennings to the Detroit Pistons, has missed eight games so far with a nagging hamstring injury.
It's no wonder, then, that the Bucks have stunk to the extent that they have this season.
The player pegged to be an intriguing part of Milwaukee's future has missed more than half of the team's games and has performed miserably on those occasions when he's been healthy enough to play.
Best: Shane Battier
Shane Battier isn't exactly setting the NBA aflame in any respect. The 35-year-old forward is scoring fewer than five points per game and hitting his threes at a below-average rate.
Which is to say, he's picked up where he left off during most of Miami's last championship run.
And yet, Battier's turnover in the third quarter of the Heat's Friday meeting with the Toronto Raptors is reason enough to include him among the more prestigious members of this list.
Why would a bad pass picked off by Jonas Valanciunas matter? Because that was Battier's first turnover.
Of the season. On Nov. 29.
According to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Battier now owns the NBA record for the longest streak without a turnover, at a whopping 321 minutes. He may not touch the ball much (33.8 times, totaling half a minute of possession time per game, according to NBA.com), but the guy almost always does the right thing with it when it's in his hands.
It's only fitting that this particular piece of NBA history would belong to the No-Stats All-Star.
Worst: Larry Sanders
Brandon Knight is hardly the one most at fault for Milwaukee's early-season struggles. If you're in search of a scapegoat, look no further than Larry Sanders.
The block-happy Bucks big man played limited minutes during the first three games of the season, racking up a total of eight points, 11 rebounds and six blocks therein. Sanders was none too happy with the lack of playing time, telling NBA.com's Steve Aschburner:
I feel like I’m capable of being in the game at the end and helping my team win, coming up with blocks and rebounds. I haven’t been able to get my rhythm out there. I understand foul trouble situations, but tonight I wasn’t in foul trouble.
Last year I finished so many games. I feel like that’s when I lock in the most. But I haven’t been able to get in the game to finish. That carries over to the next game. When you sit the last three quarters of each game, I can’t have no carryover. And it’s hard for me. I’m still a young player. It’s only my eighth year playing basketball.
Sanders has nobody but himself to blame for his lack of action since then. On Nov. 11, Sanders underwent surgery on his right thumb to repair an injury stemming from a bar fight in which he'd been embroiled several days earlier.
The Bucks projected at the time that he'd be out about six weeks, thereby pegging his return for mid-December. Good thing that four-year, $44 million extension Sanders signed during the offseason doesn't kick in until next season...
Best: Anthony Davis
Larry Sanders was one of last season's breakout stars, but even his emergence pales in comparison to that of Anthony Davis in 2013-14.
The second-year stud out of Kentucky has lived up to the hype with which he entered the league as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft—and then some. He's currently 22nd in scoring (19.4), seventh in rebounding (10.6), 18th in steals (1.7) and second in blocks (3.9).
The New Orleans Pelicans still have a ways to go before they're ready to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but with Davis as their centerpiece, their future is as bright as that of any team in the NBA today.
Worst: Anthony Bennett
The same can't quite be said for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose logic in taking Anthony Bennett first overall in this year's draft ("presumably" because his name is Anthony) seems, well, flawed at this point.
Through his first 12 games as a pro, Bennett has tallied totals of 26 points, 34 rebounds and 10 turnovers while hitting just 10 of 46 (21.7 percent) of his attempts from the field, including a paltry 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) shooting from three.
Bennett has been so bad that the Cavs may have entertained sending him down to the D-League, though they eventually ruled that out, per Bob Finnan of The News-Herald.
That would be all well and good if Bennett were, say, a mid-first-rounder or second-rounder struggling to find his footing. But this guy was first off the board this past June!
Of course, it's not his fault Cleveland made him the first Canadian to go No. 1 overall. Still, this guy was projected as a potential top-10 (if not top-five) pick by a number of draftniks when he decided to leave UNLV after his freshman year. General manager Chris Grant had better hope he gets his act together sooner rather than later.
Otherwise, he figures to find himself on the chopping block for the offense of botching three lottery picks in the past three years (Tristan Thompson in 2011, Dion Waiters in 2012, Bennett in 2013).
Best: Kevin Love
You can bet teams across the league would jump at the chance to acquire Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Last season, Love made waves by suggesting the T-Wolves didn't totally believe in or respect his talents and hinting that he might leave Minny if they didn't make the playoffs in relatively short order, per Adrian Wojnarowksi of Yahoo! Sports.
The T-Wolves have some work to do before they're playoff-ready, though it's tough to fault Love too much for the team's "meh" record. The two-time All-Star is currently fourth in the league in scoring (24.3 points) and tops in rebounding (13.9).
If his point production picks up as the season rolls along, Love could conceivably become the first player to lead the league in those two categories since Wilt Chamberlain pulled it off in 1965-66.
Not bad for a guy who missed most of last season with a busted hand.
Worst: Dion Waiters
Speaking of Waiters, the second-year swingman out of Syracuse deserves a spot among the worst of November.
It's bad enough that Waiters' scoring (14.4) and shooting numbers (.398 from the field) are down and that his turnovers (2.6) are up from his rookie season. It also doesn't speak all that well of his play this season that he's been relegated to bench duty in his past five games.
Truth be told, though, that may be the role to which his free-wheeling, poor-shot-shooting game is best suited. He should certainly be comfortable with it, after spending most of his time in college as his squad's sixth man.
But by all accounts, the guy's been a drag on the Cavs' disappointing season, both on and off the court. According to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Waiters was nearly involved in a physical altercation with Tristan Thompson during Cleveland's closed-door meeting on Nov. 13.
Apparently, he was jealous of Thompson's bromance with Kyrie Irving and didn't appreciate the extent to which the organization had overlooked Irving's shortcomings (i.e., lackadaisical defense, tons of turnovers) but chastised Waiters for his.
Predictably enough, this fiasco precipitated a round of trade rumors involving Waiters.
The Cavs have since denied that Waiters was being shopped, per Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico, perhaps because prospective suitors weren't all that interested in corrupting their current locker room cultures.
Best: Paul George
As far as up-and-coming superstars are concerned, none has taken as big a leap this season as has Paul George.
The sensational swingman is averaging 23.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 steals, with excellent shooting splits of .473/.404/.822, for the one-loss Indiana Pacers. Better yet, he's established himself as one of the two to three best wing defenders in the NBA, be it one-on-one or as a helper.
To be sure, George's rise isn't entirely surprising, not after the way he came of age during Indy's run to within a game of the NBA Finals this past spring.
In any case, he's the best player on the team with the best record, which should have folks thinking of him as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Worst: Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose's latest season-ending knee injury all but assures that George's Pacers will capture their second consecutive Central Division title.
Not that the Chicago Bulls were giving Indy too much heat before Rose went down, aside from handing the Pacers their lone loss of the season so far.
Or that Rose was exactly setting the NBA ablaze before he went down. At the time he was injured, Rose was chipping in a relatively meager 15.9 points and 4.3 assists (against 3.4 turnovers) while shooting a league-worst 35.4 percent from the field.
Obviously, the Bulls won't be better off without their former MVP. But let's not kid ourselves here, folks: Even if Rose hadn't gotten hurt again, he still would've needed considerably more time to get himself re-acclimated to the NBA before he could reasonably return to his previous place among the league's elite.
In any case, get well soon, Derrick. Your city needs you.
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