People thought Ben Simmons had the Rookie of the Year award locked up after the first month of the season. And while Simmons might still win it, Mitchell is giving him a run for his money. Mitchell is already the first option on offense for the Utah Jazz (albeit a horrible offensive team), and is scoring 19.3 points per game on shockingly good efficiency. Mitchell can hit shots from outside, and is willing to take them from deep, which complicates things for defenders. He still needs work on finishing and drawing contact inside, but that will come with time. There are other weaknesses to his game (defense prime among them), yet he is remarkably advanced for a 21 year old rookie. Mitchell can score in a variety of different ways against all kinds of defenders and defensive schemes, and has displayed potential for truly explosive scoring performances. He was a terrific pick for the Jazz, who desperately needed his blend of scoring, playmaking, and upside. With luck, Donovan will be a key part of the Jazz franchise for the next decade.
Aldridge was snubbed as a starter for the All Star game. He’s been the best and most consistent player on the Spurs, a team that is somehow 30-16 despite seeing only eight subpar games from Kawhi Leonard. Not only that, but the Spurs have suffered injuries to other key players on the roster (Tony Parker, Rudy Gay, Kyle Anderson) as well. A five time All Star and four time All NBA member, Aldridge might be having the best season of his career. He’s taking 1.5 threes a game (tied for a career high), yet is still getting to the free throw line 5.4 times per game (second highest rate). That, and a field goal % of 49.7, has led to one of Aldridge’s most efficient seasons scoring the ball. Putting up nearly 23 points a game on excellent efficiency is no mean feat, and Aldridge’s offensive game is bolstered by his highly underrated defense. He’s been the linchpin on that end for the Spurs, who have the second best defense in the entire NBA even without much from Leonard. LaMarcus doesn’t have a flashy game, and he’s not the most charismatic of personalities, but he’s been fantastic this season, and should be getting more credit for keeping the Spurs afloat in Kawhi’s absence.
The Cavs are struggling. They have the 28th ranked defense in the NBA (just a hair ahead of the Suns for 29th), which is unheard of for an NBA title contender, and a Net Rating of 0.5, 13th in the NBA. The Cavs have lost four games in a row, and are 2-8 in their last 10. That has pushed them well back of the Celtics and Raptors, and they are just barely hanging above the next tier of teams in the Eastern Conference. Jae Crowder is not hitting his threes, and his defense has fallen off considerably in the last couple years. Derrick Rose has played very little this season, and hasn’t been good when he has played. Isaiah Thomas has had some moments in the two weeks since his return, yet his burst is clearly not present, which has taken him off the free throw line. Worse, his defense is horrible, and exactly the wrong thing the Cavs need in an already porous lineup. Jeff Green has predictably tailed off after a strong start. JR Smith looks to have aged significantly over the past year or two. The only constants left are LeBron and Kevin Love, and those two are not enough to carry the Cavs over the Warriors. They might not even be enough to push this team past other Eastern Conference heavyweights in the playoffs. The Cavs are going to make a move to shake things up, and it might be a big one.
The Wizards are 6-4 in their last 10 games, and are only a game and a half behind the Heat for the 4th seed. That doesn’t seem too bad, right? Wrong. Their effort comes and goes on a game to game (even a quarter to quarter) basis, and that’s not the mark of a team that can make a run in the playoffs. Sure, they could be coasting in the regular season, but the Wiz don’t really have the pedigree or the talent to pull that kind of thing off. Otto Porter has fallen off after a hot start, and looks like he might be injured. When he’s not doing Otto Porter things, and not hitting outside shots, the Wizards have to run everything through John Wall and Bradley Beal, and those guys are starting to look frustrated at carrying the load. Markieff Morris is just bad. He’s not good offensively, he loafs on defense, and has a terrible attitude. Marcin Gortat is usable for 25 minutes a night, yet he’s taxed defensively, and is helpless on offense without Wall or Beal setting him up. The Wizards still have hope. They have the right pieces to get things back on track, they just need a bit of a shake up, either through a lineup change or a trade. Moving Kelly Oubre to the starting lineup in place of Morris is the obvious move, and might happen as soon as tonight. A little more athleticism and shooting could be a helpful boost, though deeper issues will still linger beneath the surface. As always, the Wizards remain a puzzle.
The Kings are tied with the Magic for the worst record in the NBA. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: the Kings weren’t supposed to be good this year, and wanted another high lottery pick in the loaded 2018 NBA Draft. The issues lie for the Kings in other areas. They brought in several veterans (George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter) to be positive presences in the locker room, and make the Kings respectable on the court. The good news is that they seem to have fulfilled the first item: after years of drama, the Kings have had no weird on or off the court incidents this season. The problem is that Hill has been mediocre at best, Carter has been ineffective in limited minutes, and Randolph’s snail pace has slowed down the Kings’ youngsters. They are all signed for multiple years, and now the Kings have to get out from under their combined salaries. The veterans have also prevented the Kings’ young players from getting as many minutes as they perhaps should. Georgios Papagiannis has played only 74 minutes on the season, Malachi Richardson is under 300 minutes, and both Justin Jackson and Skal Labisserie are under 700. Considering the Kings’ record, they should really be seeing what their younger players can offer, but are limited by the presence of veterans and their hefty contracts. Meanwhile, while De’Aaron Fox has flashed some promise, he’s also been one of the worst players in the NBA by advanced stats, and his shooting is truly abysmal. The Kings’ best rookie is Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is quite good, but is also already 25. They really need a franchise player in this upcoming draft to turn their franchise around.