Minnesota @ Oklahoma City, 6 pm. There’s precious little worse about NBA commentary than knee-jerk analysis that writes off super-young players too early (to my friend Matt: Tristan Thompson and Jonas Valanciunas say hi!). Still, the 2013 draft class is shaping up to be an all-time dud. Not even two weeks into their fourth season, the top two picks have each been traded, with the first overall pick Anthony Bennett already on his way out of the league, hanging on by the skin of his teeth with his fourth team. Otto Porter refuses to play well for more than one half at a time, and Nerlens Noel has gone backwards since his rookie year and wants out of Philly (both of those things may be related to the Sixers’ abundant harvest of centers). Ben McLemore has scored 20 or more in just 18 games in his career, and he and the Kings organization quite openly loathe each other.
The Timberwolves and Thunder are two of the precious few teams who actually did help themselves that night, however. Steven Adams pulled in a $100 million contract extension by combining the brain of 31-year-old Andrew Bogut with the body of 23-year-old Andrew Bogut - and the accompanying Australasian meanness. The jury is still out on Victor Oladipo, but at his best, he looks like a capable secondary scorer and potential lockdown defender. He and Adams are core pieces for a likely playoff team in Oklahoma City. Up in Minneapolis, Gorgui Dieng is looking like an absolute steal as the 21st pick, expanding his offensive game every year and forming a terrific partnership with Karl-Anthony Towns.
Cleveland @ Philadelphia, 7 pm. However Sixers fans expected Joel Embiid to look in his first few appearances, well, he’s been better than that. Averaging 17.3 points in just 21 minutes a game, against some strong post defenders on the Thunder, Hawks, and Magic, the way he plays is even more exciting than his production thus far. Embiid is seven feet tall, remarkably strong and athletic, and equally confident shooting the catch and shoot three as he is giving a dropstep on the low block. How awesome is this:
With the two full years missed to injury, it’s easy to forget that the guy is just 22, and we can watch him getting smarter, and getting better, with each game. A black hole in the opener against Oklahoma City, isolating on Adams every time he caught the ball and being trapped by help defenders, Embiid looked like a cagey vet by the time he took the court in Orlando on Tuesday. In the third quarter, he threw a one-handed baseball pass out of a hook shot when TJ McConnell flashed open along the baseline. On the very next trip down the floor, Embiid took the ball with his back to the basket at the right elbow. Feeling the double-team coming from the free throw line, he turned in the other direction and threw an inch-perfect cross-court pass to Gerald Henderson, left open at the three point line by the help defender. Beautiful reading of the court.
Washington @ Orlando, 7 pm. For a team that has built their frontcourt to the exclusion of basically anything else, Orlando has a chronic aversion to shooting anywhere near the basket. The Magic have the ninth-furthest average shot distance in the league, while sporting a three-point rate lower than anyone else in the top twelve. Just two players typically shoot within ten feet, and one of those, starting center Nik Vucevic, is a pick-and-pop specialist who leads the team in deep midrange shots yet has only attempted 26 three-pointers in five-plus seasons. Unsurprisingly, given their inefficient shot selection, the team as a whole is hitting a sorry 41.7 percent of their shots, fourth-worst in the NBA. Even on Thursday, as a red-hot Evan Fournier spurred a Magic victory, Vucevic missed two-point jumpers of 20, 18, 18, 17, and 12 feet, only taking two shots and the rim and three in the paint.
John Wall sits tonight as the Wizards try to turn their first win of the season, last night against Atlanta, into a full-blown streak. At least early on, he’ll sit the second night of back-to-backs, resting his surgically-repaired right knee, so Tomas Satoransky will get his first career start tonight at the Amway Center. The 25-year-old Czech rookie saw limited action in Washington’s first three games, but played nearly 22 against the Hawks as Scott Brooks struggles to find any combination that can conjure up some bench scoring. Better still would be if Bradley Beal can channel his own momentum moving forward: plagued his whole career by injury and inconsistency, Beal played his best game last night, scoring 28 points (20 in the second half) and drawing 14 free throw attempts.
Denver @ Detroit, 7 pm.
Chicago @ Indiana, 7 pm.
Houston @ Atlanta, 7:30 pm.
Sacramento @ Milwaukee, 8 pm.
LA Clippers @ San Antonio, 8:30 pm, NBATV.