Miami @ Philadelphia, 7 pm. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Hassan Whiteside has had nine games of at least 18 points and 18 rebounds - second in the league to Andre Drummond. Whiteside is averaging a league-leading 16.2 boards per game, which would be the highest season-ending total since Dennis Rodman’s 16.8 in 1994-95. He’s got the second-lowest defensive rating in the league, behind only Dwight Howard, as the Heat allow just 91.9 points per 100 possessions with their star center on the floor; largely due the 7-foot Whiteside and his pterodactyl arms, opponents are shooting a league-worst 49.2 percent within five feet against Miami.
Lost while everyone has been hopping about the Joel Embiid Hype Train is the career-saving resurgence of Nik Stauskas. The 6-foot-6 Canadian guard was on the precipice of becoming the Sixers’ final cut in preseason, but has made the most of his opportunities of late. Sauce Castillo (for the uninitiated) has scored in double figures in his past six games, averaging 14.5 on 66 percent shooting (54 percent from downtown) over that stretch as Philadelphia picked up their first three wins of the season. Those percentages will come down significantly, but Stauskas is starting to firmly establish himself as an NBA player, getting to the rim a bit more to create offense, able to show off his impressive athleticism rather than being shoehorned into the spot-up shooter role:
Phoenix @ Washington, 7 pm. Okay, at 3-9 it’s officially time to talk about the Wizards’ bench. Washington’s reserves are second-to-last in scoring among NBA benches, and bring up the rear in rebounds and assists. They’re a bottom-three group in shooting percentage, and worst in the league behind the arc and at the line. The Wizards are not a good team by any means - their starting lineup gets outscored by a few points per 100 possessions, too. But Scott Brooks can’t keep getting annihilated every time he turns to his bench. Ian Mahinmi is set to return to practice soon, and will allow Marcin Gortat to spend some time adding some post presence to the second unit, though what they really need is to not employ Marcus Thornton or Trey Burke.
It’s been over a week since Gortat made those comments, but I just don’t see where the improvement can come from. Thornton was a decent scorer earlier in his career, and can still hit a shot every once in a while (somehow a compliment compared to the rest of the Wizards bench), but could not do literally anything else back then, and somehow does even less now. Kelly Oubre Jr. is still a few weeks away from his 21st birthday, but that doesn’t help Washington now, when he often looks like he’s never seen a basketball court before in his life. Saturday night, Bradley Beal and John Wall scored 34 points apiece, but the bench put up a combined 21, in 82 player-minutes, as the Wizards fell to a bad Miami team by three and sunk to the bottom of the Southeast Division.
Memphis @ Charlotte, 7 pm. Invited to play some free basketball Saturday night in New Orleans, the Hornets’ offense completely fell apart in overtime. Kemba Walker and crew abandoned the crisp ball movement they’d flashed for much of the game, instead settling for shots that let the Pelicans’ defense off the hook. Charlotte missed all five of its three-pointers in the extra period, along with a pair of long twos; their only buckets in the frame were a short Marvin Williams jumper from the left block and a Frank Kaminsky layup. One of just six teams to take more than 30 threes per game, the Hornets are the only team among that group to fall outside the top ten in True Shooting percentage, sitting at a league-average .539.
That uptempo revolution didn’t last long in Memphis, did it? The Grizzlies are back to their gritting and grinding best, having won four games in a row. The other six teams scoring under 100 a game are a combined 28-51 entering tonight’s games, yet Memphis sits at 8-5 with the third-slowest pace in the NBA. David Fizdale’s first incarnation of the Grizz is even a hair worse offensively than predecessor Dave Joerger’s bunch had been the past few years, as veteran mainstays Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph are the only guys averaging even ten points. Vince Carter is fourth on this team in scoring. Oh, I forgot to mention, Vince Carter is still in the league, raining threes and playing surprisingly good defense as he approaches 40. Now, Carter can’t catch an alley-oop that hits the roof or put his arm inside the rim, like he did 15 years ago, but he’s got a great, old-man knack for finding space where the defense isn’t:
Golden State @ Indiana, 7 pm. Steve Kerr has dealt with so many blowouts this year - just four of 13 games have been within ten points, and even their two losses were by at least 20 — that he’s been able to keep the Death Lineup under wraps. When the Warriors scrap Zaza Pachulia for Andre Iguodala, bumping Draymond Green up to center, they’re still blitzing teams by 26 points per 100 possessions, but that quintet has been deployed for just 63 minutes so far. That’s still a far cry from the mind-melting plus-44.4 net rating those guys (with Harrison Barnes in Kevin Durant’s stead) put up last year, but they’re still one of the top six this season in overall plus/minus, behind the preferred starting fives of the Clippers, Rockets, Hornets, and Cavaliers, and the funky Raptors lineup with Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, and Bebe Noguiera.
Meanwhile, Indiana has built their miraculous top ten scoring unit out of a funhouse chimney’s worth of smoke and mirrors. Looking deeper into the numbers, they’re not particularly good at offense, they just do a lot of it. The Pacers take the third-most field goal attempts in the league, but don’t shoot many threes or free throws (furthermore, their two biggest threats from deep, Paul George and CJ Miles, are sitting out tonight). What they are truly great at, however, is turning defense into offense — paced by young Myles Turner, Indiana is second in the league in blocked shots and first in points off turnovers. Those points are coming in the half-court offense, though, not on fast breaks, so that number will likely regress towards their offensive mean as the season goes on.
Houston @ Detroit, 7:30 pm.
Orlando @ Milwaukee, 8 pm.
Boston @ Minnesota, 8 pm.
Dallas @ San Antonio, 8:30 pm, NBATV.
Toronto @ LA Clippers, 10:30 pm.