B/R NBA Friday Digest: Curry Goes Down, Embiid and KAT Throwdown
The NBA tends to pack a year's worth of storylines, highlights and historic stats into every week. It's impossible to keep up with all of it.
In an effort to track the big narratives while also celebrating a few niche observations that might have slipped through the cracks, we'll run through the need-to-know information from the week that was.
This edition covers games played since Oct. 25 (with a notable exception) and, hopefully, will give you a good sense of what went down. If you spent the last seven days hibernating or somehow managed to miss the Memphis Grizzlies play the Brooklyn Nets, you're covered.
The Big News: Stephen Curry, Injury and Clarity
Losing one of the league's true superstars to a broken left hand is, objectively, a bummer. Curry suffered a fracture to his second metacarpal when Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes attempted to take a charge on the two-time MVP Wednesday night. Jeff Stotts of InStreetClothes.com noted that all injuries of this nature are different, but that the average time missed is 16 games.
Considering the Golden State Warriors started the year looking like a lottery team, we should assume they'll err on the side of extreme caution with Curry's injury. There's no incentive to hasten his recovery. This is now officially a lost season for the Dubs.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob isn't open to the idea of tanking, and he told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic as much on Wednesday night. But what's he supposed to say? Something like the following?
"Oh yes, we're hosed! We all knew the playoffs were a pipe dream before Steph went down, but now, we're really going to pack it in. Remember the 1997 San Antonio Spurs? The only thing we care about now is tanking for our best shot at the 2020 version of Tim Duncan."
The Warriors can now focus on developing the youth on the roster, hopefully finding one or two players worthy of rotation roles when the games matter again in 2020-21. Rookies Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole have shown enough so far to warrant much longer looks. The losses will mount. But then again, they already were.
Curry's injury, though a brutal blow, at least provides some clarity.
And finally, the NBA has to address the plague of defenders who are incentivized to step in front of (and often underneath) opponents. The charge rule is broken, and while Curry's injury was something of a fluke, it's hard to get past the idea that it wouldn't have happened if defenders were required to make a basketball play rather than purposely cause a collision in search of an offensive foul.
The Big News, Part 2: KAT and Embiid in the Octagon
Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid got into it Wednesday, earning matching ejections for a fight that started, as best as anyone can determine, on social media. There are papers to be written and studies to be done on the unsettling idea that two people with no real reason to dislike one another came to blows because of digital interactions. But this probably isn't the place for that.
The fallout is more interesting anyway.
Now, if you're Mike Scott or almost any Philadelphia 76ers fan, Embiid's role as provocateur-turned-pugilist is a delight. It's what Philadelphia's about, I guess. But isn't this incident a little alarming for Embiid, a player whose diet, conditioning and obsession with playing mental games against opponents have all gotten in the way of fulfilling his immense potential?
There must be some quiet minority of concerned Sixers fans who'd rather Embiid just knock off the extracurriculars, get off Instagram and focus. Obviously, that's not the fun take. But it'll probably be less fun if Embiid's approach results in future fines and suspensions (he and Towns both drew two-game suspensions for the Wednesday fracas).
Though its social-media origins make it seem a little cheap and contrived, we've got a real rivalry between two of the NBA's best bigs now. That's exciting. Mark your calendars for March 24, when the Wolves and Sixers next meet.
Or, wait a few days and see who Embiid starts his next blood feud with on Instagram.
The Houston Rockets (159) and Washington Wizards (158) combined for 317 points Wednesday night, the third-highest regulation total in NBA history.
Houston, down by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter, engineered its comeback on the defensive end. Kidding! The Rockets scored 48 points in the final frame while "limiting" the Wizards to 41.
Fun was had by all, but the takeaway from a game with this much scoring is different for each team. Washington is going nowhere, so the outburst, even in defeat, was pure entertainment. A bright spot in what'll be a dark season.
The Rockets, though, looked shaky on defense before surrendering 158 points to a team that might not crack the 30-win mark this year. Only the broken Warriors have been worse defensively than Houston this season.
Can the Rockets figure out how to get enough stops for their potent offense to matter? Or are we in for a season's worth of eye-popping point totals?
Giannis Antetokounmpo air-balled back-to-back free throws against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, missing the second even worse than the first. A career 73.9 percent shooter from the stripe, the reigning MVP is all the way down to 55.3 percent this season.
If you've been paying attention, this isn't new. Giannis shot 63.7 percent from the foul line (with some noticeable yips) in last year's playoffs.
Everyone is fixated on Antetokounmpo adding a three-point shot, and though his stroke has looked smoother, he's still only 2-of-14 from deep so far. The bigger issue is at the stripe. Giannis is a premier foul-drawer, but if he can't sort out his stroke from the free-throw line, maybe it will cut into his aggressiveness attacking the rim. That's good news for 29 other teams, but it's bad news for the Milwaukee Bucks.
An encouraging sign: After whiffing egregiously on those two foul shots, Antetokounmpo hit his next three in a row after drawing a whistle on a three-point attempt.
Northern California basketball is hurting, as the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings are a combined 1-8 on the year.
Golden State's downside was always foreseeable. It entered the season with four rotation-caliber NBA players on its roster, the worst wing depth in the league and the potential for a massive letdown in its first season without championship stakes in a half-decade.
The Kings might actually be the bigger disappointment. At 0-5, they rank 30th in net rating and have shown an alarming lack of fight on both ends. Disconnected and half-interested on D and completely stagnant on O, Sacramento looks nothing like the pesky, high-velocity outfit it was a year ago.
Head coach Luke Walton hasn't had any answers, and whatever playoff hopes might have been awakening before the season are dormant now.
Ricky Rubio Scooping
We're going back to the season opener, which was more than a week ago, but that's a detail we have to fudge in order to get Ricky Rubio's one-handed scoops the love they deserve.
Rubio converted five layups against the Sacramento Kings back on Oct. 23, and all of them were one-handed underhand scoops. It's a style reminiscent of Steve Nash, though Donovan Mitchell turns to it often as well. The tactic just fits Rubio best, though. He's a player reliant on deception, angles and speed, and this particular move leverages all those characteristics.
It's kind of like the basketball equivalent of a changeup. If you know it's coming, a Rubio scoop is easily sent into the 15th row. But that's just it: Nobody ever seems to expect it.
Ja Morant Swooping
Ja Morant dropped 30 points on the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, helping secure the Memphis Grizzlies their first win of the season. Though Jae Crowder's game-winner in overtime (assisted by Morant, of course) got most of the highlight attention, Morant's relentless assault on the basket was the most significant element in the win.
To be specific, the rookie has an incredible knack for taking off a looooooong way from the bucket, often off a two-foot plant, and gliding over or around defenders unprepared to elevate so early. Often, young players have to learn how to delay their takeoffs; Kevin Knox struggled badly with this exact issue as a rookie, and his field-goal percentage at the rim suffered because he lacked Morant's bounce.
Morant's athleticism is striking. He's exceptionally fast in a straight line, shifty from side to side, gifted with incredible ball control and, most importantly, bold enough to hunt for highlights regardless of the situation.
Peter Edmiston of The Athletic compiled all of Morant's late-game buckets in the Brooklyn win, and they're loaded with long-distance glides and graceful finishes.
Herro Ball, No Paul?
Nineteen-year-old rookie Tyler Herro scored 19 of his 29 points in the second quarter of the Miami Heat's 112-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. No Heat rookie has ever scored more points off the bench.
The Kentucky product's outburst can't really even go down as a surprise; the hype has been building since summer league. With Herro and fellow first-year guard Kendrick Nunn playing so well, the Heat's incentive to trade for Chris Paul has all but disappeared.
Domantas Sabonis punished the Brooklyn Nets with 29 bruising points in Wednesday's 118-108 win, playing center in mostly four-out lineups that didn't feature Myles Turner, who sprained his ankle and was of action after just 10 minutes.
It's intriguing that the Pacers' first win of the season came without one of its two high-profile big men. All last year and throughout the summer, one of the key questions facing Indiana was the future of the Turner-Sabonis pairing. Conventional wisdom and the bear market for centers suggested it didn't make sense for Indy to extend Sabonis after already committing to Turner on a hefty deal in 2018.
The Pacers extended Sabonis anyway, and though there's some data from last year suggesting the two can at least work well together defensively, it's always felt like keeping both was a misallocation of resources.
It'd be a mistake to overreact to Sabonis playing well in a Pacers win without Turner. But Indy's lineup splits—Turner and Sabonis together, Turner without Sabonis, Sabonis without Turner—will warrant watching all year.