Boot Up: Derrick Rose – The story of the night in the NBA was the 30-year-old Derrick Rose, seven years removed from his MVP season in Chicago. Starting in place of the injured Jeff Teague for Minnesota, Rose scored a career-high 50 in Wednesday’s home victory over the Utah Jazz.
Rose had not scored even 35-plus points in a game since March 2012. Overall, he participated in only 255 out of a possible 558 games in the seven NBA seasons since his MVP award. That’s less than 50 percent of games. He missed all of 2012-13, played only 10 games in 2013-14, then only played in 25 games last season in 2017-18 as his career seemed to be winding down.
But after his brief and tumultuous stint in Cleveland, he seemed to hit a stride reuniting with Tom Thibodeau late in the year. He averaged 14.2 points in 23.8 minutes per game off the bench in the team’s five-game playoff series loss to Houston. There were signs that he was becoming an oddly important part of Minnesota’s offensive success. Initially, that was ridiculed. Yet he proved on Wednesday that he’s pretty much back to as good as ever.
The Rose story is pretty impressive. There were many, many surgeries and countless times where everyone was counting him out of being an above-average player ever again. Last night was a very neat way for the spotlight to be back on Rose in an extremely positive fashion. LeBron James even gave him a shoutout on Instagram, too.
Note: It does remain hard to cheer for Rose given the sexual assault allegations, yes. I did not want him to be on the Cavaliers roster last season. It’s certainly jarring to see this most recent accolade and all the shoutouts league-wide and very few people still recognizing the horrendous crime that he was accused of. Sports are really depressing and tough to wrestle with, at times. It’s not really fair to write about Rose ever without also acknowledging this dichotomy.
Boot Down: Houston Rockets – There are four one-win teams in the early going of the NBA season: Phoenix (predictable), Cleveland (somewhat predictable), Washington (surprising, but notably combustible), and Houston (um, what?). The Rockets have faced a somewhat tough schedule, with the losses coming to the Pelicans, Clippers (x2), Jazz and Trail Blazers. But their early-season malaise has become the talk of the league.
Last season, the Rockets went 65-17 en route to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and a seven-game classic with the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets finished the regular season with a 114.7 Offensive Rating (No. 1) and 106.1 Defensive Rating (No. 6), according to Basketball-Reference.
Many were dismayed by how the team let go of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute for no return. There were expectations that the defense would suffer, especially with the arrival of noted modern defensive sieve Carmelo Anthony. But the struggles have actually appeared on both sides of the basketball.
Houston is 1-5 with a 105.2 Offensive Rating (No. 25) and 115.6 Defensive Rating (No. 25). Note: League-wide offense is on a surge thus far in 2018-19 and the NBA average Offensive Rating is 110.0. Last season, that average mark was 108.6. So, while many are rightly pointing out the drop in defensive rating (from -2.5 better than average to +5.6 worse than average) the offense has actually dropped off relatively worse, respectively (from +6.1 better than average to -4.8 worse than average).
I’d expect the Rockets to climb mostly back up to normal throughout November. Their next five games should present some victories as they have a road trip through Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. By the end of the month, they’ll play Sacramento, Detroit (twice), Cleveland, struggling Washington and Dallas. They should get back into a groove soon. It’s a bit too early to go too crazy.
Boot Up: Milwaukee Bucks – I was optimistic myself before the season about the impact that Mike Budenholzer, Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova would have on the Bucks offense. But I don’t think anyone could have predicted this hot start: Milwaukee is the only remaining unbeaten team at 7-0. They rank No. 6 in Offensive Rating (113.7) and No. 2 in Defensive Rating (98.7).
Last season, the Bucks under Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty managed to win 44 games but ranked No. 25 in the league in three-point attempt rate (29.7 percent, compared to the league average of 33.7). There was not enough of a concerted effort to space the floor for the blossoming mega-star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Rumblings of discontent were starting to emerge.
Enter Budenholzer, of the Spurs pass-happy coaching tree and formerly of the Atlanta Hawks. Milwaukee is now second in the league in three-point attempt rate (44.4 percent, compared to the league average of 34.8). Lopez is attempting 6.3 threes per game. He’s one of seven players on the team with at least 22 three-point attempts already this season. Everyone is spacing the floor. Everyone is serving a clear purpose.
The team already has statement victories over Indiana (home by 17), Minnesota (on the road by 30!), and Toronto (home by 15). Yes, some of those games featured a bevy of missing stars on both ends. But it leads to tonight’s much-anticipated showdown at Boston on TNT. If the Bucks can improve to 8-0, it certainly sets the stage for a mighty Giannis-for-MVP campaign and likely Budenholzer’s second career Coach of the Year award.
Boot Down: Lakers schadenfreude – It’s actually pretty funny when you Google this phrase. There’s an entire internet search history of people taking joy in the struggles of the purple & gold! As much as some people love cheering against Duke, the Yankees, New England, etc., the Lakers might take the cake. Especially now that LeBron James is on the scene.
I greatly enjoyed watching some of the early-season losses that this team encountered. Certainly, not with the same energy and fervor that I hate-watched the 2010-11 Miami Heat. It’s way different this time around. I have a much deeper appreciation for everything associated with LeBron James and oh yeah, that 2016 title really did happen.
But, it’s not like I really, really want the Lakers to do that well, ya know? Even the 2014-15 Cavs got off to a slow start at 5-7 and 19-20. At the very least, it would seem moderately satisfying to know that the 2018-19 Lakers aren’t significantly better from the start, especially given the more difficult Western Conference schedule.
LA is now 3-5 with narrow victories over moribund Phoenix, Denver (OK, a good win) and Dallas (by just one point). The schedule leaves little room for extended lollygagging, as LeBron is infamous for doing in the regular season. The next six games: at Portland, versus Toronto, versus Minnesota, at Sacramento, versus Atlanta, versus Portland. Then, a three-game road trip to Orlando, Miami, and Cleveland (gulp).
There should be plenty of wins in this stretch! The Lakers should hover around that .500 mark for at least the first quarter of the season or so. The defense is certainly not good, but neither was the Cavs. Nothing really matters unless LA makes the playoffs (which they certainly will) and can give LeBron a first-round chance against anyone not named Golden State. As long as they can end up with a top-seven seed, then the odds should remain high for another special playoff run, as always.