Morning, morning. Is the season two weeks old already? Why yes. Most NBA teams have played close to a 10th of their schedule and taken a road trip. It's not quite long enough to draw rock-solid conclusions about the direction the season is heading - not betting on the Celtics going undefeated, or the Bulls winning one game in seven the rest of the way. But here are some random thoughts with 70-odd games left to play.
-- The Celtics are really good. When I saw them play the Raptors in Rome in the pre-season you knew right away they were going to be good - when the Big Three were on the floor together they looked like a cut above, even then in their first minutes together. But you expected a bigger drop when they went to their bench. They are getting the production you would expect from their stars. Garnett's line, in particular, is ridiculous. He's on pace to eclipse his MVP season, and while it's early you know it's not a fluke, so let that drumbeat begin. Ray Allen's scoring (22.6) is taking a dip, but he's on his way to a career-high shooting percentage - he's at 57.8 compared with his previous best of 48 per cent. Pierce's efficiency is up to - 48.2 per cent compared to 43.9 last season. Notably his average number of free throws attempted down, which I read as Pierce not having to force his way offensively as much. What has to be encouraging for Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers is that their bench, while thin, is benefitting from what I call the Devon White effect (the former Blue Jays centre fielder was so good at his job that he made Joe Carter look like a much better right fielder than he was). James Posey, out with back spasms right now, was shooting 57 per cent before he sat down; Kendrick Perkins is shooting 62 per cent on put-backs as defenders lose rebounding position battling Garnett; Rajon Rondo and Eddie House are heading for career-highs in shooting percentage too. Meanwhile the only team that the Celtics haven't blown-out is the Raptors. The only caveat is the Celtics have had a pretty cushy schedule to start the season -they're one of only five teams to have played only five games at this stage and they don't have to make a West Coast trip until after Christmas. Barring injuries they might not have lost five games by then.
-- What to make of the Raptors at 4-3? They've won a few, lost a few, been blown out and done the blowing out. I'm not going to get into a huge breakdown here but there are some points worth noting. One number that stands out to me is their average margin of victory. A lot of stat heads suggest margin of victory is the best predictor of a team's ability. Even with their humiliation in Milwaukee the Raptors number is at +5.6, good for third in the East behind Boston and Detroit and ninth overall. Last season they won 47 games with an average winning margin of +1. It's a number that would be even higher had they not let Philadelphia storm back from a 22-point hole on opening night and had anyone shown up in Milwaukee.
-- The other one that jumps out, Raptors-wise, is 4.3:1 - that's the combined assist-to-turnover ratio of Forderon (and yes, I lifted that nickname from the poster people on Realgm). With point guard play like that you are going to have a chance to win a lot of basketball games. Steve Nash, for example, is at 2.14:1; Deron Williams is at 2.67:1; Chris Paul is at 3.3:1 and Jason Kidd is at 3.32:1. As well, Calderon leads the NBA is assists per 48 minutes at 16.6; while Ford is fifth, at 13.9.
That will get you started. Oh, and then there's this: Has anyone out there sprained their ankle? I'm betting yes. Ankle sprains are come in three grades (you have to trust me on this; I just know). A third degree sprain is a huge trauma, usually requiring a fully grown person coming down on an uneven surface (like another player's foot) after jumping and landing off-balance on one leg. It's the Theisman of ankle injuries, takes months and months to recover from and kind of makes you cover your eyes when you see the replay. You've torn all three of the major ligaments in your joint. The bruising runs up to your knee, usually, surgery is an option. Not fun. Second degree sprains are when your ankle swells pretty nicely and turns all kind of colours. You have partially torn a ligament or two and chances are you're going to be out six weeks or so. You can do this stopping suddenly or stepping on a root while jogging or something. A first degree sprain? While obviously there's a range, but this is the kind of ankle sprain most people get stepping off a curb or something like that. It hurts and it swells, but you can limp on it in a day or two. Jose Calderon probably had a bad first degree sprain in Game Five against the Nets in the playoffs, but it didn't stop him from playing pretty well in Game Six. Vince Carter sprained his ankle the other night. He left the game. He had an MRI. He's been diagnosed with a first degree sprain. He's out indefinitely.
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