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Good, Bad, and Ugly: Nearing the Midpoint of the Season

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Some teams are closing in on 40 games played, and this NBA season is almost half over. Here are a couple stories that are really exciting... and a few that aren’t.

Chicago Bulls v Indiana Pacers Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Good:

Myles Turner: For the number of words being spilled about Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Karl-Anthony Towns (all for good reason), there are comparatively few for Turner, who is not much (if at all) below those players as future NBA-shifting stars. He’s already a better defender than all of them, or a far superior deterrent at the rim, anyway. Turner can’t shoot quite as well Porzingis or Towns, but he can hit threes on a semi-regular basis, and his range will only keep extending as time goes on. Averaging 15.6 points and 7.3 rebounds as a second-year player with terrific efficiency and solid defense (for a young guy) is no joke. Turner will probably compete for an All-Star spot as soon as next year, and is the future of the Pacers franchise.

Jimmy Butler: Jimmy Butler has undergone one of the more remarkable progressions in NBA history. Drafted 30th overall back in 2011, Butler has seen his scoring increase every single season… for six seasons now. He went from little-used rookie to defensive-oriented starter to All Star and is in the middle of a jump to full-fledged superstar. Butler is currently averaging 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game: similar to numbers that Dwyane Wade put up in his prime. His scoring efficiency is peaking at the same time as his usage rate, which is not how efficiency usually works. While his defense isn’t quite as phenomenal as it was a few years ago, he’s still well above average on that end, and can turn it up even higher for big games. Simply put, he has been a top 10 NBA player this year, and that estimate might honestly be a bit low.

Bad:

Devin Booker: Booker is a promising young player. He had a very nice rookie season, and has all the tools to eventually make the leap to stardom. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s not a good NBA player at the moment. Shooting just 40% from the field and 32.6% from three (both worse than the much-maligned Jamal Crawford), Booker is an incredibly inefficient scorer. His assist to turnover ratio is barely over 1, signifying the steps he needs to take as a playmaker and ballhandler. Worst of all, however, is his defense. There are times when I think a pylon really might offer better resistance to opposing guards than Booker does. Look, all of these things can be worked on. Defense, passing, and shooting are fundamental skills that a lot of players improve on exponentially throughout their NBA careers. But calling him a “star”, or “one of the best young players in the NBA” (as I believe Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith did a few days ago) is disingenuous. He just isn’t on that level yet.

Ugly:

The New York Knicks: At one point, the Knicks were four games over .500. Their fans were partying like it was 2013, and you couldn’t get anywhere near a basketball conversation without Kristaps Porzingis being brought up. The Knicks are 2-8 in their last 10 games, and their play reflects that record perfectly. Even when they were winning, there were warning signs everywhere, mostly relating to their awful defense. Well, that defense (26th ranked) is now costing them. Carmelo Anthony can no longer defend small forwards, Porzingis is still learning NBA defense, and Derrick Rose is one of the worst players on that end in the entire NBA. As long as those three guys keep getting big minutes, the Knicks’ defense will remain awful. The only potentially replaceable player of those three is Rose, but that would require the Knicks to make a trade, and they have very few assets of note. Basically, I don’t think they have the tools to improve substantially on the defensive end. Therefore, it will be very tough for them to make the playoffs.

The “Race” for the Western Conference 8th Seed: It’s just getting embarrassing at this point. Right now, the miserable Sacramento Kings hold the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoffs… with a pitiful record of 15-20. Portland and Denver are nipping at their heels, but none of those teams have been good this season—they wouldn’t even be 12th in the supposed “weaker” Eastern Conference. The New Orleans Pelicans, who started the season with eight consecutive losses, are somehow only 1.5 games out of the 8th spot. They started 0-8!!!!! Portland probably has the most talent overall (with a healthy New Orleans close behind), and I guess that they finish out in that final playoff spot. It doesn’t really matter. These four teams are locked into the 8th seed barring a catastrophic fall from one of the Memphis/OKC duo, and are going to be nothing more than cannon fodder for the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. It’s good for young teams to get playoff experience, but acquring a better draft pick is much more valuable, and at least one or two of these teams might give up on the playoffs in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. Actually, don’t, and watch better basketball elsewhere.