Sacramento @ Orlando, 7 pm. Orlando finally cleared the zero from their win column Tuesday night, erasing a poor first half to pull out a 103-101 victory in Philadelphia. New coach Frank Vogel still needs to figure out his frontcourt rotations: forwards Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green, forward/centers Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, and center Nik Vucevic, are all averaging between 21 and 31 minutes per game, with almost every 2- and 3-man lineup combination among them getting killed. The Magic have been outscored by 39 points in the 119 minutes that Ibaka has been on the court, Gordon sits at -31 in his 121 minutes, and in just 84 minutes of playing time, Green is -38.
Gordon is barely 21, so it’s still way too early to make any sweeping proclamations about his career, but he’s now in his third year, and has to start converting his athleticism, and versatility into positive production. His shot distribution has barely changed since his rookie season, inching slightly further to the perimeter as he’s mostly entrenched at small forward, and his accuracy hasn’t evolved much either. Unlikely to ever settle in as a plus scorer, Gordon is going to need to create some free points by playing smarter and working harder than everyone else. He was projected as a Shawn Marion type coming out of Arizona, but Marion had to be respected on and off the ball. Developing a crafty cutting game (though I’m not sure Orlando has the passers to take full advantage) would do wonders for his efficiency and the Magic offense, as would looking for as many transition attempts as possible. Here, he notices Richaun Holmes lazily catching an entry pass, pounces, and turns it into an easy two points:
Indiana @ Milwaukee, 8 pm. Though second-year center Myles Turner had his worst game of the young season on Tuesday, Indiana’s win over the Lakers highlighted the fits that a player like him can give opponents.
Here, Turner stuffs Los Angeles’ Tarik Black, but the fun starts once he tosses the rebound to Paul George and starts the break. As Los Angeles sprints back in semi-transition, Larry Nance, Jr. picks up the ballhandler, while Black puts his head down and runs into the paint to meet Turner, his matchup at center. When the Pacer stops at the top of the key and receives the ball, the Lakers’ defense is out of position and left scrambling. Respecting the near-seven-footer’s shooting range and ball fake, Jordan Clarkson has to commit to guarding Turner. Black can’t rotate quickly enough, and Clarkson’s man, Monta Ellis, is wide open for a swing pass and a made three. This is the power of stretch bigs: even when they’re not shooting, the threat itself is enough to send defenses scrambling and losing their structure.
Denver @ Minnesota, 8 pm. In his first career start Tuesday, point guard Kris Dunn flashed the potential that made him the fifth overall pick in July’s draft. Helming a starting lineup that featured four players aged 22 or younger, Dunn scored ten points, adding six assists, four rebounds, and five steals in Minnesota’s 36-point blowout win over Memphis. Shooting was Dunn’s biggest question mark coming out of Providence, and in what is admittedly an atomically-small sample, he’s made 8-of-15 from the floor, and knocked down three of his five three-point attempts. Learning to keep the ball moving and avoid mid-range pullups is often one of the toughest tasks for young point guards to acclimate themselves to at the NBA level, yet Dunn has taken just three attempts from between ten feet and the three-point line. One game does not a career portend, but Tom Thibodeau has to be a bit more comfortable about exploring possible trade returns for Ricky Rubio.
His stiffest competition for that draft slot was Nuggets combo guard Jamal Murray, coming off of a starring freshman season at Kentucky. The seventh-youngest player in the league, Murray has yet to hit a field goal in his three games and 37 minutes; he’s 0-8 from the field and has missed both of his threes. At 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds, the Canadian import has grabbed seven boards and handed out five assists, so at least he’s staying aggressive and trying to make plays even without scoring. But even his relatively stellar 2/3 performance from the free throw line raises his true shooting percentage to a double-take-inducing .107, and he currently sports a Player Efficiency Rating of negative-3.2, fourth-worst in the league among players with as many minutes as Murray.
Boston @ Cleveland, 8 pm, TNT. Boston appears in a nationally-televised game for the second night in a row; for all intents and purposes, the Cavaliers are as well. The defending champs, breakers of Cleveland’s 52-year title drought, watched World Series Game 7 from a box high above Progressive Field as their Indians (can we just change the fucking name already? It makes me feel weird even writing it) blew a 3-1 series lead in excruciating fashion. Congratulations to the Cubs, and what a game, but four and a half months after the Cavs completed their own miracle 3-1 comeback, is Cleveland already back to being the most tortured city in American sports? Draymond Green sure thinks so:
The Celtics knocked off previously-undefeated Chicago last night, eking out a 107-100 victory that the Bulls clawed back in, then tried their hardest to throw away. Shorthanded, with center Al Horford in street clothes after a concussion and Jae Crowder lost to a first-half ankle sprain, Boston couldn’t do anything for much of the fourth quarter: a 16-point lead with ten and a half minutes remaining was whittled down to nothing, and the teams sat tied at 100 with under two minutes to play. From there, the Bulls’ shooting woes crept back at the worst possible time — in no small part due to ace defenders Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart — while Isiah Thomas and Smart each hit twisting layups to pull away at the end.
Oklahoma City @ Golden State, 10:30 pm, TNT. In a league that’s asking its big men to move ever-further from the basket and shoot as well as prior generations’ guards, Oklahoma City shipped out their premier floor-spacer, Ersan Ilyasova, for Jerami Grant, a springy combo forward who can’t be trusted to perform any offensive maneuver more complex than a dunk. Grant is just 6-foot-8, and blocks shots at a rate that would make most centers envious. But even with his length and athleticism, Grant is surprisingly steal-averse, and it’s hard to overstate just how terrible a scorer he is. Last year, by taking over 49 percent of his shots within two feet, yet still shot just 41.9 percent — borderline unplayable for any team other than Philadelphia. As if on cue, in his Thunder debut last night, Grant connected on a dunk and a layup, both assisted, but missed all four of his attempts away from the rim.
Moving Ilyasova (the Turk is a well-traveled veteran, but won’t turn 30 until after the season) opens up some space on Oklahoma City’s salary ledger, and the newly-created $7+ million trade exception could give Sam Presti another outlet with which to add talent to his cap-strapped team. And even with incumbent bigs Steven Adams and Enes Kanter both groundbound and decidedly not shot-blockers, the Thunder don’t really have a need for rim protection - they’re currently allowing opponents to take just 25.6 of their field goals at the rim, tied for the sixth-stingiest interior defense in the league. And while they’re already leading the league in dunk rate, Oklahoma City craves three-point shooting: they sit in the bottom five in both volume and accuracy.