NBA Mythbusters: Part 1

(Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

There are quite a few myths & misconceptions about the NBA today, about certain players and teams, and what this upcoming season might look like. In spirit of understanding these, and being able to “bust” the myths, let’s take a look at just a few that seem to have become common narratives.

Myth #1: Jokic is a Defensive Liability:

The casual fan takes a look at Nikola Jokic play, and his awkward and slow defensive play and isn’t impressed, and then proceeds to see his block numbers at 0.7 BPG last season. As a center, they might think that this indicates Jokic as a bad defender at the center position. While it is accurate to say that Jokic isn’t a rim protector, we have to look past the basic BPG stats. Jokic’s impact on the offensive side partially comes from his brilliant court awareness and how easily he sees basket cuts, and how effectively he delivers the ball to the right spots. Defensively, it’s similar. His court awareness and ability to anticipate passing lanes led to 1.4 steals per game, third for centers behind Adams and Drummond. Jokic’s ability to affect the defense in that manner,  to play excellent team defense, as well as still being a large body to shoot over, has led to a very impressive 4.3 Defensive Win Shares, (5th for Centers, 9th in the NBA), and a 3.8 Defensive Box Plus/Minus, (4th for centers, 7th in the NBA). Both of these numbers are higher than other defensively praised centers such as Joel Embiid, or Hassan Whiteside.

Jokic is still not quite the rim protector that these other centers are, but the repeating narrative that he is a bad defender is old and just not true.

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Myth #2: The Knicks Have a Good Young Core

With how much the Knicks struck out this summer with free agents, instead settling for an odd collection of power forwards in Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Julius Randle, Knicks fans have been taking a lot of consolation in their young players. As much as it may hurt for Knicks fans, the belief that the Knicks have a good collection of youth is unfortunately not true. Frank Ntilikina looks like pretty much a bust, with the lowest active career shooting percentage in the league. Kevin Knox, touted after his performance in the summer league last year as a solid prospect, is right behind him with the second worst. In the draft, the Knicks did not land the number one pick, but instead drafted 3rd, picking R.J. Barrett. R.J’s strength in college was as a scorer and shooter type, but it seems like R.J. will become the flea market version of Demar Derozan. In college, R.J. shot 31% from the arc, and 27% from NBA range from three. For someone supposed to be a shooter, it doesn’t seem like his shooting will translate all that well. Even closer to the rim, removing his transition scoring (admittedly, a skill that he’s elite at), he only finishes 51% of the time in half court offense, which is very far below average in his draft class. He’s decent on the catch and shoot, but his aggressive scoring mentality will lead to inefficiency if he doesn’t end up taking a step back at the next level. The most proven of this young core is Mitchell Robinson, proving to be a very effective rim defender, posting the second most blocks per game last year in only 20 minutes per game, as well as posting a 69.4% shooting percentage. He posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 22.0, good for 25th in the league, above studs like Deandre Ayton, Ben Simmons, and teammate Julius Randle.

Overall, the Knicks young core seems to be greatly overrated and there may not be a lot of hope for Knicks fans for a while. At least they have the draft picks they received in return for Kristaps Porzingis.

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Myth #3: The Jazz are Legitimate Title Contenders

The Jazz seemingly stocked up this year, adding Mike Conley, and Bojan Bogdanovic, but do these moves make them contenders? The Jazz lost Ricky Rubio, Kyle Korver, Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder, and Grayson Allen as the more notable pieces. The Jazz very clearly upgraded at Point Guard. Rubio was a good defender, but Conley is a slight upgrade. Offensively, Conley is a significantly better shooter and will add a little more spacing along with Bogdanovic. However, this really isn’t enough to make up for their losses. Derrick Favors was 6th in the NBA in defensive rating, and 15th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus. Another way to compare is by using FiveThirtyEight’s DRAYMOND defensive statistic, (which measures how much a defender affects his assignment’s shots). Both Derrick Favors ranked as very elite, and bench wing defender Jae Crowder was above average. Bogdanovic was below average, as was last year’s starting Small Forward, Joe Ingles. As a team who led the Western Conference in Defensive Rating, with defense being a focal point for them, the only above average defenders on the starting lineup next year will be Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert.

By losing so much defense, and adding, what should be considered only marginal offensive value, the Jazz really aren’t as greatly improved as advertised.

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Myth #4: The Warriors won’t be a threat in the playoffs next year

The Warriors are definitely depleted. They lost Kevin Durant. Klay Thompson tore his ACL. However, with the loss of Kevin Durant, the Warriors gained pieces in a sign and trade. They obtained and signed D’Angelo Russell, as well as signing Willie Cauley-Stein to finally have a true center, which opens up Draymond for other defensive assignments. They brought back Kevin Looney, who was a very underrated and foundational piece for them. This team is still essentially the same team who blew past Portland in the Western Conference Finals last year, but replace Klay with Russell, and add Cauley-Stein. The argument here is that Klay was much better for them than DLo will be, but the difference here might not be very significant. Yes, the two have different styles of play, but D’Angelo is still a very skilled shooter, and actually, referring back to the DRAYMOND statistic, not much of a worse defender than Klay. If he is used in more of an off-ball role at times, he posted a 48% shooting from 3 from corner shots. He shot 44% from three on Pull-up jumpshots, which he would see more of because of the copious amounts of screens that the Warriors use in their system. He could fit in very well, and he should under Coach Kerr. Last season the Warriors were 28-1 when Durant did not play, but Steph did.

There is no reason to think that without Klay or Durant, the Warriors can’t succeed as a team. They aren’t a super team anymore, but they’re competitive in a proven system.

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