Hot or Not? The Hardest Teams to Figure Out This Season
Bad Men, Bad Takes – Season 1
It’s a word which is defined as ‘a person or thing which is difficult to understand’. While ,by definition, it offers no insight into the reasoning why said person or thing is difficult to understand specifically, it perfectly sums up some of the teams in the NBA so far this season.
From teams who have delivered in games where fans have been in consensus that they are no chance, to teams who have players who can individually carry or sink the whole squad based on their play, these are the hardest teams to figure out a month into the 2021-2022 NBA season – the biggest enigmas.
The Wolves have been one of the hardest teams to figure out so far in the young season. Despite starting positively with a 3-1 record, they have since fallen to 8-9 to sit 10th in the Western Conference.
As has been the case for a number of years, the talent appears to be there on paper. Karl-Anthony Towns has the potential to be a dominant big and carry the team on any given night. D’Angelo Russell has been an All-Star in the past and, despite having had injury issues since arriving in the Twin Cities, has proven he can be a key piece in helping guide a team into the post-season.
The final piece, and arguably the most talented, is former #1 draft pick Anthony Edwards. A player whose freakish athleticism and at times effortless-looking game has lead some, including BMBT’s own Hunter, to call for the franchise to hand the keys over to him. So why is this team so hard to get a read on?
Minnesota’s ‘Big Three’ has more than enough talent, but struggle to maintain mental focus and energy during games. Credit: Canis Hoopus
Well, the Wolves are the prototype for an inconsistent team – giving effort on some nights, and not on others. This inconsistency even manifests itself on a possession-by-possession basis as seen on this play against the LA Clippers earlier this month. Towns literally starts walking back to defend despite time being left on the shot-clock and knowing the Wolves have no player ready to hit the glass if Edwards’ shot misses.
It’s this type of attitude that has seen the team lose to the Clippers three times in 10-days, as well as to bottom-feeders New Orleans and Orlando over the first month of the season. These losses based on a lack of effort are unforgivable given the fact the franchise has shown they have the talent to beat more fancied opponents, as seen by wins against defending Champions Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers and, more recently, blowing out 8th seed Memphis Grizzlies 138-95.
The Timberwolves genuinely have enough talent on their roster to compete with any team on any given night. It must be infuriating for Minnesotan’s, however, to have to watch a group of players who appear to just not bother some nights.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are hard to figure out primarily for two reasons: LeBron James injuries and Russell Westbrook.
I said in our season preview for the Lakers that I had no faith in James to stay healthy for the majority of the season, and that I thought he would ultimately miss a large amount of time as he continues to age. Already this season, he has played just eight of a possible eighteen games for the Lakers, and the team has struggled mightily at times during his absence.
The best example of this is their consecutive losses to Oklahoma City within a week on October 28th and November 5th. LeBron missed both games, and both times the Lakers were in winning positions and failed to capitalise against one of the league’s worst teams. On October 28th, the Lakers held a 26-point lead and ultimately let that slip behind the heroics of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, while on November 5th, the script was almost a copy-and-paste affair as SGA lead the Thunder back from a 19-point deficit to embarrass LA again.
The Lakers’ inconsistency is down to LeBron James missing games through injury, and Russell Westbrook’s decision making. Credit: Silver Screen and Roll.
Part of the reason the Lakers struggle so much without LeBron is because the ball spends an increasing amount of time in the hands of Russell Westbrook. One of the most hot-and-cold players in the association, Westbrook is extremely talented when playing to his strengths, but at times, he refuses to do so and actually hurts his team.
His break-neck speed allow him to get to the rim with ease and his physicality is nearly unmatched at the point-guard position, yet he continues to settle for deep-three point shots late in games (28.8% 3FG this season). He also refuses to defer to Anthony Davis down the stretch, and when he does try to find Davis or other teammates, is prone to turning the ball over so much that fans have started making super cuts of his turnovers post-game.
When James, Davis and Westbrook are all playing well, the Lakers can be an amazing team, but when the ball spends the majority of time in Westbrook’s hands, the team looks one-dimensional and his questionable decision making allows even the NBA’s worst teams to be able to defeat them.
Any team with two All-NBA level players should be easy to get a read on – and the read should be ‘home-court’. That’s not the case so far this season for the Celtics, however.
Jaylen Brown appears to have taken the leap we discussed on our season preview podcast, but he has also missed 10 games which has left the Celtics searching for options to support Jayson Tatum. Tatum, meanwhile, has been struggling to find his rhythm, shooting less than 40% from the field in eight of his 17 outings.
It’s worth noting that Tatum has started to turn his form around in Brown’s absence recently and it’s leading to wins for Boston. Since November 3rd, the Celtics are 7-3 and have rocketed up the standings to sit 6th in the Eastern Conference – an unthinkable result for a team that started 2-5. There are some lingering concerns around the Celtics which make them hard to get an accurate read on, however.
Al Horford appears to be a key to the Celtics in their wins, while Jaylen Brown (7) has been phenomenal but unable to stay on the court. Credit: Celtics Wire – USA Today.
Veteran Al Horford appears to be a somewhat unexpected key to the Celtics success, with the team 7-3 in games where he plays over 26.5 minutes with an average winning margin of twelve points. Compare this to the impact Robert Williams has when he plays over 26.5 minutes, where the team has a similar average winning margin, but is just 5-5. Boston simply can’t rely on a near 36-year old Horford to help the team get wins consistently, and will likely be let down if they do.
While the Celtics have picked up four wins in their last five games, none have been against teams with better than .500 records. In fact, they have only beaten three teams with positive records so far this season – Charlotte in overtime on October 26th, Miami on November 5th and Milwaukee without Lopez, Middleton and Giannis on November 13th.
The Celtics appear to be turning things around following a players-only meeting after a loss to the Bulls at the start of the month but with their star players struggling and being unavailable, it remains hard to get a read on them. Combine this with their apparent reliance on Al Horford playing major minutes to win games, and this will likely continue as the season moves into December and beyond.
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