The NBA season is finally back. We’re only four days into the season and there’s already a lot happening around the league.
So, welcome to Around the Arc — a weekly series where I share my thoughts, highlight some key games, breakdown some film, and whatever I thought was fun, exciting, or interesting.
- James Harden’s defense
- Celtics’ defense against Joel Embiid
- Stephen Curry drawing 2 to the ball
- Luka Doncic hunting Ja Morant in a PnR
- Malcolm Brogdon’s drive and kick
Let’s kick it off with the Boston Celtics vs the Philadelphia 76ers — this was a pretty damn good game for the opening night.
I had high hopes for Harden, Embiid, and the rest of the 76ers and they didn’t start well for me.
Maybe it was because it was the first game of the season, and everyone is just getting off the rust, but my goodness, this was the worst defensive performance I’ve seen from a player.
Harden’s defense was disgusting. His screen navigation was non-existent, poor effort in transition, not engaged, and getting too many blow-bys. Let’s hope this isn’t a trend going forward.
Staying on this game, the Celtics defended Embiid so well. There were times when he did cook anyone in his way around the elbow, but that was an adjustment they had to make. Whenever he got the ball in the post, the Celtics doubled.
In their second game, Harden gave us something we haven’t seen from him in years. So far in three games, he’s 7-for-10 in the mid-range. For comparison, here are his last three seasons in Houston:
2020: 0.1/0.3(10/20, 50.0%)
2019: 0.4/1.0(34/81, 42.0%)
2018: 0.7/1.8(50/128, 39.1%)
His last season in Houston is insane! He attempted only 20 mid-range shots. He’s already halfway there in just three games.
In the game against the Milwaukee Bucks, he was cooking the defense with his stepbacks in the mid-range. With that addition, the PnR game with Embiid makes it even more dangerous if you have two guys that can kill you from those areas.
Though his decision to start taking them is interesting. Is it because he’s losing the juice to get inside the paint? Is it not that confident in his stepback from the 3pt line?
Watching the Miami Heat’s offense and their best players run actions and then watching the Golden State Warriors do the same are two entirely different things.
Watching Curry run a simple PnR or come off a handoff can bend defenses better than almost anyone in the league. And that makes me think, how much easier life is for everyone else and the team’s offense.
Whether it’s coming off a screen, a handoff, or just him running around, he gets 2 on the ball consistently. And you don’t realise how effective that is until those situations are so rare.
Speaking of 2 on the ball and making life easier. Doncic is that guy, too. In their game against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Dallas Mavericks scored 89 points in 61 possessions with Doncic on the floor. That’s a 145 offensive rating!
It’s like he’s a walking top 5 offense. And the way they did it was so simple. Just go set picks for Doncic. Right from the start, the Mavericks were targeting Morant.
Because they don’t want to switch Morant, their defense is going to be show and recover. But before Morant is able to recover, Spencer Dinwiddie is able to get the ball, force rotations, and make a kick out.
This continued to be a thing throughout the entire first quarter. But what makes Doncic so dangerous is he doesn’t need a pick to score. He doesn’t need those actions. He’s HIM in every other way.
Morant does a good job staying there until the defense recovers, but even when they do, Doncic just does Doncic-things and nails a stepback. What else are you meant to do?
I may have underestimated what Brogdon gives the Boston Celtics. The Celtics right now are second in offensive rating with 125.3 — 0.3 behind New Orleans Pelicans. Although it’s only been three games, in 139 possessions, they have a 126.6 offensive rating and shoot 64.8% eFG with Brogdon on the floor.
His ability to get paint touches, get to the rim and finish, force rotations, and make a correct read on a kick out has been a blessing.
This is what he brings. He can get by defenders with ease and then generate open, quality looks.
Same thing here in early offense. He’s able to turn the corner, the help rotation has to come, and he can make these one-handed, live dribble passes for a corner 3.
I wonder how much of their offense is legit and how long they can keep this up.hr>
Play of the Week
This baseline out-of-bounds play is so fun to me. And this perfectly summarises the gravity of the Pelican's two stars.
Firstly, both Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are positioned as one of them is going to screen for one of them. It ends up with Ingram setting a backscreen for Williamson, which causes confusion with both Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons as they switch.
Before Simmons realises, Ingram is already going to come off a screen from Jonas Valanciunas. Simmons is already behind, Nic Claxton switches the action, but Valanciunas is already slipping and that gets him wide open.
Valanciunas has the ball in the paint and can just finish over Durant, as he rotates — this also leaves Williamson wide open too.