Baker's Dozen - Thoughts from Around the Association

Welcome to the premier edition of Baker’s Dozen, where Mr. Baker provides his thoughts on the week that was in the NBA. We’ll go over a handful of stories that impacted the Association, as well as some miscellaneous views and opinions. Without further adieu, let's dive right in with the biggest stories this week... 

James Harden Orchestrates Trade from Houston

The biggest story in the league this week was the end of the James Harden era in Houston. It didn’t end well (but really, when does it?). When the dust settled, the Nets got the most dynamic scorer in the league that isn’t named Kevin Durant – and he’s already in Brooklyn. Houston brought in Victor Oladipo to compliment John Wall as well as a plethora of draft picks (EIGHT!) and both Cleveland and Indiana added young pieces to their teams. It feels like the rare win-win-win-win 4-team trade. Who knew!?

Looking to Brooklyn, they now have the deadliest scoring combo in the league with Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving. Durant and Harden are both historically great scorers: 

  • Durant – 4th overall in NBA history/1st overall in active scoring: 27.05 ppg
  • Harden – 10th overall in NBA history/3rd overall in active scoring: 25.16 ppg

Of course, don’t forget about Kyrie, who has a career scoring average of 22.49 ppg (9th place amongst all active players) which isn't too shabby either. How will the Nets share the ball between the three superstar players? Durant has already shown the ability to defer when necessary, as evidenced by his time in Golden State. The same cannot be said of either Harden or Irving - both of whom are ball-dominant guards that love to pound the rock into the pavement and isolate. 

Perhaps more concerning - will the Nets be able to defend? Can they create a cohesive unit? Do they have the character to win in the playoffs? How will Steve Nash handle 3 superstar egos on his team? 

Picking up James Harden is certainly a risky move, but one that could end up with the Nets hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of the year. Of course, they could completely fall apart, but I'm willing to bet on the former rather than the latter. 

What’s Up With the Toronto Raptors?

Through the first 10 games of the season, the Raptors (one of the NBA’s most consistent teams since 2013-14) have found themselves in unfamiliar position – the bottom of the Eastern Conference. At 2-8, the Raptors have a long way to go to get back to their customary playoff spot, and while their record may indicate serious issues, the opinion doesn’t pass the eye test. They are a better-than-.500% team – more than good enough to at least get into the play-in tournament in the East. 
Pascal Siakam certainly had his struggles during the Raptors first 5 games, which included a team imposed one-game suspension. However, in his last 7 games, the Cameroonian has averaged 20.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 5.6 apg, including his first career triple double in a loss to Portland. He has certainly turned the corner from the beginning of the season and will likely continue to improve moving forward. 

Fred VanVleet has been excellent this year - averaging 20.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 6.3 apg on a career best 3.6 3-point makes - and Kyle Lowry has been his usual self. Siakam, VanVleet & Lowry are the 3 most important players for the Raptors, followed closely by Chris Boucher, who has been a revelation for Toronto. The young Montreal native is putting career best numbers up across the board and is an early candidate for the NBA's Most Improved Player

Will the Raptors figure it out and get back into playoff contention? Yes. They have now won their last 2 games (and 3 of 5) to get to 4-8 - the comeback is on. 

Is Blake Griffin Done?

The six-time All-Star is having the worst season of his career – 13.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.7 apg, on a horrid 39.3% FG and an even worse 32.% shooting from 3-point land. Heading into the season, Griffin was said to have “felt great”. It certainly hasn’t showed this season – Griffin hasn’t dunked in a game this year, which is disappointing for anyone tuning in expecting to see the Blake Griffin of old. The only silver lining is that people aren’t paying exorbitant ticket prices to see a once great athlete fade. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I can remember a time when I purchased Clippers tickets when they came to town just so I could see Griffin and Lob City do their thing. Unfortunately, that Blake Griffin doesn’t exist anymore. 
In a perfect example of how far Griffin has fallen, the Celtics drew up an end-of-game play on January 2nd to have Jayson Tatum specifically attack Blake Griffin which led to the game winning basket. After the game, Marcus Smart said the Celtics "got exactly what we wanted. We got Jayson going downhill on Blake." It’s unfortunate, but at 31 years of age, Griffin appears to be on his last legs (literally and figuratively) in the NBA. His salary$36.5M this year and $38.9M for next - renders him untradeable, and Detroit is looking to the future with a youth movement; only Griffin and Derrick Rose are north of 30 years of age. The Pistons are in a pickle due to the size of Griffin's contract and lack of production. 

Father time gets us all, but it comes at some of us a little harder. Ask Blake Griffin, he understands. 

Rookie Rankings

1. LaMelo Ball

Ball made NBA history by becoming the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double and has been the most impressive rookie thus far. While he was expected to be flashy, there has actually been substance to his style as he is making winning plays for Charlotte. Ball currently sits 2nd in assists (6.1 apg), 3rd in rebounding (6.8 rpg) and 2nd in PER (17.8) while averaging a modest 25.2 minutes per game for a Hornets team that has gotten off to a respectable 6-8 start. There is no doubt that he has had the best start of any rookie thus far – look for more triple-doubles and winning plays from LaMelo this year. 

2. Tyrese Haliburton

We highlighted Haliburton as an underrated player prior to the draft, and he has shown NBA executives why. He looks polished, has been consistent and is fitting in quite nicely in Sacramento. Other than two poor outings, he has scored between 11-17 points in every game this year, shooting a ridiculous 52.0% from 3-point land while handing out 5.6 apg. Haliburton has been a hawk on defense, averaging 1.3 spg and 2.3 deflections per game. 

3. James Wiseman

The #2 overall pick has been solid, but not spectacular. He has shown the ability to finish at the rim as well as protect it - averaging 1.6 blocks per game. He has shot 48.3% FG and even made 6/15 (40.0%) from 3-point land. It's only a matter before we see his first 20/10 game with 4 blocks on 8/11 shooting. 

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Maxey, Patrick Williams 

Miscellaneous Thoughts

LeBron's Off Court Earnings: In an interesting business decision, it has been rumored that LBJ is going to sign with Pepsi as a brand ambassador. Along with Nike and Upper Deck, Coca-Cola had been one of LBJ's biggest marketing gigs, as he had been aligned with Coke since 2003. Coca-Cola even created a limited edition Sprite flavor, to go along with one of the most entertaining commercials of all time. However, the two sides couldn't reach a contract extension last year and Pepsi has reportedly swooped to scoop up LeBron's star power. 

Line of the Week: Joel Embiid went off in the 76ers OT win versus Miami on January 12th. The big man had 45 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, 1 block, while shooting a perfect 13/13 from the free throw line and 16/23 from the field, while hitting the game-tying shot late in the 4th quarter. 

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Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports