As we quickly approach Christmas Day and the two-month mark of the NBA season, what felt like a brand new 2019-20 campaign is already nearing its halfway point.
While there is still plenty of time left and plenty of basketball to be played, some teams and players around the league are already giving concrete answers to some of the more curious questions that were asked before the season.
With the abundance of surprises that took place over the summer by way of roster shakeups, it was only natural to ask how certain situations would work for players choosing new homes. Could those superstars jell? Could that superstar do it on his own? And many more.
Let’s check in on some of those preseason questions as we turn our attention to the biggest winners and losers over the last week in the NBA.
Winner: Davis Bertans
All hail the greatest 3-point shooter the sports of basketball has ever seen: Davis Bertans.
The 6-foot-10 Latvian power forward is the only redeeming quality about the Washington Wizards so far this season, and his hot streak from beyond the arc has been profound. Over the last week, Bertans averaged 10 attempts per game from 3-point territory and connected on 50 percent of them. Washington didn’t win a single game, but at this point the show Bertans is putting on might be worth the price of admission over a Wizards victory anyway.
What’s most impressive about Bertans’ white hot shooting stretch is how he got the opportunity to display this ability while playing under Gregg Popovich In San Antonio.
So far this season, Bertans has drained 93 3-pointers in 24 games. Just two seasons ago it took him 77 games to hit 93 shots from deep. Last season, as his playing time increased and Popovich carved out a bigger role for the stretch four, Bertans hit a career-high 146 3s. Still it took him 76 games to hit that mark.
With an offense set up to let Bertans roam freely from beyond the arc and fire at will, the big man is doing himself all the favors in the world as the trade deadline inches closer. Contending teams will be calling Washington relentlessly to try and add the sweet-shooting Latvian to their bench rotation.
After another hot week, Bertans just keeps raising his value on the trade market and once he hits the free market this summer.
Winner: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
The Los Angeles Clippers power duo had themselves quite a week.
It wasn’t perfect as the Clippers lost to the Bulls (though Leonard and Lou Williams did not suit up), but the week as a whole was microcosm of reassurance that both two-way superstars are exactly where they are supposed to be.
First, George led the Clippers to a rout of his former team, the Indiana Pacers, last Monday. Now obviously he’s played for another team in between his time in Indiana and Los Angeles, but nevertheless the Pacers are still the team that drafted George and made him the face of their franchise. Beating that team and scoring 36 points in the process is not insignificant.
Next up was the more anticipated return of the week, Leonard’s first time back in Toronto after winning a championship with the Raptors and signing with the Clippers a month later in free agency. Leonard went on to lead the Clippers in scoring with 23 points while adding six assists, five boards, and two steals to his stat sheet to sink the Raptors and secure a win with his new teammates.
While victorious returns to old places are comforting for players after they have made the types of decisions Leonard and George have, Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves was a culmination of confirmation.
George scored 46 points while Leonard added 42. Both players looked like the best versions of themselves, simply unstoppable and even more terrifying as they traded possessions imposing their will on the defense.
For the first time in Clippers history, a pair of teammates topped 40 points in the same game. When George and Leonard shocked the NBA landscape to join forces with Los Angeles’ other franchise, these were the types of nights the players had in mind.
As the season rolls on and chemistry builds between the two superstars, nights like those should happen more often. With the week George and Leonard just had, it should be safe to say they made the right choice last summer.
Loser: Dallas Mavericks‘ fans
In all honesty, it would probably be fair to extend this group to basketball fans in general. But Mavs fans are probably particularly hurt by the news that MVP contender Luka Doncic with a sprained ankle.
Early in the first quarter of Dallas’ loss Saturday against the Miami Heat, Doncic rolled his ankle while driving to the lane and stepping on Kendrick Nunn’s foot. Shortly thereafter, the Slovenian superstar made his way to the locker room and did not return for the rest of the game.
At 17-8, the Mavericks are currently third in the Western Conference in large part because 20-year-old Doncic is in the middle of putting together a season for the ages. He’s averaging 29.3 points, 8.9 assists and 9.6 rebounds per game while also producing an incredibly efficient 61.8 true shooting percentage. In every sense of the word, Doncic is Dallas’ most valuable player.
Luckily, X-rays on Doncic’s ankle came back negative. Despite no break or structural damage, a lingering ankle sprain could prove to be annoying for Dallas’ star player. Even more so for the team, who will now be without him as they embark on an East Coast swing that features the likes of the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers and Raptors on their schedule.
Watching a player go down with an injury is the most unfortunate aspect of sports fandom, especially when that player was producing at the level Doncic was. For Mavericks’ fans and basketball fans alike, let’s hope Doncic has a speedy and successful recovery to rejoin the MVP race in a few short weeks.
Winner: Miami Heat
When the Miami Heat found a way to get around its lack of cap space and land Jimmy Butler on a max contract this past summer, questions immediately arose at just how good this team would be.
In a conference that sports reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Philadelphia 76ers’ collection of talent, the preseason conversation focused more around those teams at the top of East, leaving Miami out of the contending picture.
Nearly two months into the season, that notion was clearly misguided.
Butler and his crew put together an impressive week, and while they did wind up losing to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Heat proved that what they lack in star power they make up for in versatile depth.
Both of Miami’s victories last week came in overtime, pushing the team’s record to a perfect 5-0 in those scenarios. As they continue to jostle this season for playoff position, and with the inevitable arrival of postseason play, Miami will have plenty of experience getting young players like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn acclimated to crunch time basketball.
Currently in second place in the Eastern Conference, the Heat (19-7) have proven that Butler made the right decision when he chose to move on from Philadelphia after last year’s second-round playoff exit to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors. Butler has his Heat team and the role players around him outperforming expectations, fitting for a player like Butler who has displayed the underdog mentality for the majority of his career.
Another strong week in the books that provided proof the Heat could hang with the elite contenders of the NBA can be considered a major win, even if the actual result was a loss.
Loser: Minnesota Timberwolves
Losers of seven straight games, Minnesota is currently 10-15 and out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
This past week featured losses to the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. While the Clippers obviously have championship pedigree and expectations, the other two clubs haven’t exactly played world-beater basketball yet this season. For Minnesota to continuously find ways to lose to teams that it at least matches up with on paper in terms of talent is certainly troubling for head coach Ryan Saunders.
Wiggins and Towns are both averaging over 25 points per game, giving the Timberwolves a one-two scoring punch that in theory should be able to hang around with just about any team in the league. The issue for Minnesota comes on the defensive side of the ball where it sports a 112.6 defensive rating, good for 23rd in the NBA.
The continued tumble for Minnesota, emphasized again with another winless week, begs the question of what direction the franchise is heading. With no cap space, money tied into Wiggins and Towns and a roster that clearly can’t compete with the league’s elite, Scott Layden and the front office are going to have to take a long look in the mirror soon when it comes to long-term decisions for this iteration of the Timberwolves.