What I'm Thankful For
Plus, a programming note!
Ok, so I’ve decided to resume writing original content on here every Tuesday and Friday-ish, as usual (today’s an exception!). I will continue posting different articles on Hoops Habit, so I encourage you all to check that out often, but I will only link to my favorites on this newsletter.
Writing on both platforms will hopefully give me the best of both worlds: I can expand my reach to a bigger audience on Hoops Habit (where I’m reaching thousands of readers), but I have greater editorial control and the ability to provide deeper insights here.
(Side Note: I wrote a much longer piece about something each team should be thankful for on Hoops Habit. Check it out here!)
I am still determined to grow Basketball Poetry, so please, keep sharing them with friends, family, or random strangers. Thank you!
What I’m Thankful For This Thanksgiving Season
1. Kristaps Porzingis is balling out
The Dallas Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis imagining him as the perfect complement to Luka Doncic: a floor-spacing big man with deep range who could also protect the rim behind Luka’s lackadaisical defense.
Outside of a brief glorious stretch in the bubble, that vision has never come into focus. But we’re starting to see it take shape now.
In the last two weeks (seven games), Kristaps has averaged 26 points, nine rebounds, over two assists, and more than two combined steals and blocks per game on beautiful 53/41/94 shooting splits.
Kristaps is playing possibly the best offensive basketball of his life. Coach Jason Kidd has done some funky things to the Mavericks since taking over, but it’s indisputable that he’s built up Kristaps’ confidence in his own game. Kristaps has consistently lauded the way he’s being used this year. Interestingly, his touches and shots per game haven’t changed much, but he has clicked with Kidd in a way that’s been startling to see, given Kidd’s contentious past.
His post-ups have increased from 3.7 last season to 4.2 this year (and more than that in the previous two weeks), but you can watch the Mavericks and see him fighting for position down low much more often than last year.
There’s an argument to be made that this clutters the paint and can mess up the many, many pick-and-rolls that Doncic and Jalen Brunson run, but it also gives the Mavericks a different look to throw at defenses. Elite playoff defenses can shut down even the best plays if they see them too often, so having offensive versatility will be crucial for the Mavericks to finally escape the first round.
Porzingis is noticeably moving better on both sides of the ball and even showing the long-lost ability to react and rise in an instant:
These sort of quick-trigger blocks on jumpers were a hallmark of young New York Knick Porzingis, but they’ve been missing in Dallas as he’s battled a barrage of injuries.
He’ll likely never return to being the defensive stopper he once was. Still, if he can go from being a liability, as in previous seasons, to just being average, the Mavericks will be a deadly playoff opponent.
The key will be in how he’s used. Kristaps at the power forward spot has struggled this season, and pairing him with a traditional big man like Dwight Powell or, egads, Willie Caulie-Stein has not worked. The imminent return of Maxi Kleber from injury will allow Kristaps to play more center, and that duo has been deadly in the past.
Kristaps’ health is always a concern. But if he can make it to the end of the season looking this spry, the Mavericks suddenly look like a much scarier opponent come April.
2. All hail the rookies!
This rookie class is the deepest I can remember in a looooong time. There will be fifteen or more guys that have solid NBA careers, which is a rarity. It’s silly to project out a rookie’s future career, but we’re going to do that anyway! Here are my 17 (!!) favorites in loose order of how I rank them, broken into three tiers.
Evan Mobley, Forward, Cavaliers - I’ve already spoken plenty about Evan, but he looks like a future All-NBA and All-Defensive candidate. He might make an All-Defensive team this year, which is insane for a rookie.
Scottie Barnes, Forward, Raptors - He’s already won over Raptors fans with his positive attitude and huge smile:
I guess averaging 15/8/3 on 48% shooting while showing terrific passing vision and defensive abilities doesn’t hurt, either.
Cade Cunningham, Guard, Pistons - After a slow start, Cunningham has shown the defensive chops and patience as a ballhandler that helped make him the top pick. The shooting will come, and it’s great to see his confidence stay strong despite early struggles.
Starting-caliber, with upside:
Franz Wagner, Forward, Magic - Wagner has been a prototypical 3-and-D player with an encouraging ability to do some stuff off the bounce.
Jalen Green, Guard, Rockets - Electric scorer who doesn’t do much else. These players often struggle as rookies, but Green should improve with reps and, you know, real teammates.
Chris Duarte, Guard, Pacers - Just a deadeye sniper.
Josh Giddey, Forward, Thunder - Point-forward who’s already one of the most fun passers in the league.
Aleperen Sengun, Center, Rockets - I love Sengun more than anyone really should. He throws some horrendously audacious passes that work about half the time:
He’s highly skilled on offense and a mess with positional defense, but he has active hands and gets a ton of deflections, steals, and blocks. Future fantasy superstar.
Davion Mitchell, Guard, Kings - Struggling a bit with his shot, but probably the player you least want defending you in a game this side of Patrick Beverley.
Jalen Suggs, Guard, Magic - Offensive struggles haven’t changed the fact that the Magic, a terrible team, do well whenever he’s on the floor.
Jonathan Kuminga, Forward, Warriors - One of the most polarizing rookies pre-draft, Kuminga is only now starting to get run, but he’s impressed with his defense. Offensive skills are raw, but the talent is undeniable.
Strong role players:
Austin Reaves, Guard, Lakers - Leading the Lakers in on/off point differential by a metric mile! Play Reaves more, you cowards! Plus, his nickname is “Hillbilly Kobe,” so what’s not to love?
Herb Jones, Forward, Pelicans - Classic dirty work player whose stats look terrible until you realize the team is always better when he’s out there.
Bones Hyland, Guard, Nuggets - Playing well now that he’s finally getting some love from coach Mike Malone. Adds a little creative juice to a Nuggets team that’s way too reliant upon Will Barton.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Forward, Thunder - JRE has looked like a veteran in doing all the little things for a shockingly feisty Thunder squad.
Ayo Dosunmu, Forward, Bulls - Ayo runs around like a man on fire on both sides of the ball and is hitting threes at an encouraging rate.
Dalano Banton, Guard (?), Raptors - If you haven’t watched Banton, you should. He’s a 6’9” point guard who never stops sprinting from the moment he steps on the floor.
3. Overblown absences
I have tried hard to avoid discussing the Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons situations because they’re both wildly oversaturated. So it’s been delightful to watch the Nets and 76ers carry on their business without those two players.
The Nets, despite Irving’s absence and Harden’s slow start, have been pretty much dominating for a while now. They sit atop the East and look every bit the contender that we thought they might be before the season. Durant has been otherworldly, Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge have played better than expected, and they seem to get key contributions from a different player every night. Also, Harden is now drawing fouls the old-fashioned way: by getting fouled! He seems to have figured things out.
The 76ers have been a dominant offensive team without Simmons and excellent overall whenever Joel Embiid plays. After a slow start to the year, Tyrese Maxey has found his stroke as a score-first point guard. Heck, they just beat the Sacramento Kangz while missing ALL FIVE STARTERS from last year! (Maybe that says more about Sactown than the 76ers.)
Embiid’s availability will determine how far this team can go, but at least their relative success to start the year has made the Simmons question less prominent.
I don’t really have any deeper analysis to add. I’m just glad we don’t have to talk about these guys as much anymore.
4. You guys
Thanks to everyone reading this post; your support has truly been a blessing. I’m grateful for each and every one of you, and doubly so if you’re a paid subscriber ;). I hope that everyone has a terrific Thanksgiving and holiday season! Until next time, enjoy basketball.
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