Sports

Are the Celtics bad? Will the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook experiment work? Asking the NBA’s biggest unanswered questions

[ad_1]

We’re already in the month of November.

Yeah, time is flying in 2021.

While the end of the calendar year is quickly approaching, we’re only in the early stages of the NBA season. Beginning next week, most teams will have played at least 10 games, and while that’s not enough to make grand statements on a team’s fortunes, it’s enough time to see some trends. 

We asked our TSN staff, to give us the questions they most hope get answered in the month of November.

WAY-TOO-EARLY MVP RANKINGS: Steph leads the way

(NBA Getty Images)

Will the Russell Westbrook experiment work out for the Lakers?

Less than 10 games aren’t enough time to make a definitive statement on how the Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers marriage has gone thus far. 

But man it hasn’t started well. 

Westbrook is averaging 19.4 points, 8.5 assists and 8.8 rebounds per game this season. We knew his averages would take a dip playing next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis so there’s no beef there. But the advance numbers, which quite frankly aren’t ever really kind to Westbrook, have been grossly bad through the first couple of weeks. 

MORE: Breaking down Westbrook’s quadruple-double

Westbrook is currently sporting a PER of 15.6 at the time of this writing, which if it stands would be the worst mark since it was a 15.2 in his rookie season. His effective field goal percentage of 46.9 percent is once again well below the league average of 51.5. His free throw rate is down to 21.2 percent, again if it holds would be the lowest mark of his career (which could have something to do with the new rules) and when he gets there he’s shooting a dreadful 58.1 percent from the foul line. 

The Lakers have also just performed better when Westbrook isn’t on the floor. With Westbrook on the floor, the Lakers are getting outscored by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, LA is outscoring teams by 8.0 points per 100. 

The good news is, it’s early. And Westbrook and the Lakers have an entire season to figure this thing out. 

NBA League Pass: Sign up to unlock live out-of-market games (7-day free trial)

The month of November isn’t exactly filled with tough matches either. Outside of games, against the Bucks, Heat, Bulls and Knicks the Lakers have it pretty easy. There is a five-game road trip in the middle of the month but they should get through that relatively unscathed — especially if Boston is still playing as poorly as it is now. (More on that in a bit)

By the end of November, with the easy slate in front of them, the Lakers may be afforded the opportunity to figure this Westbrook thing out. 

The NBA world will be watching closely.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)

Are the Celtics really this bad?

The Boston Celtics looked like they were going to re-route their rough start to the season when they built a 19-point lead at home against the first-place Chicago Bulls. That all came crashing down in a hurry after the Bulls outscored the Celtics 39-11 in the fourth quarter, completing a comeback that set off the panic alarm in Boston.

Marcus Smart, the longest-tenured Celtic, took to the media to talk about the team’s your-turn, my-turn style of offense, stating, “Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson (Tatum) and Jaylen (Brown). Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.”

To provide full context, he continued on to say, “They’re still learning. We’re proud of the progress they’re making, but they’re going to have to take another step and find ways to not only create for themselves but create for others on this team to open up the court for them later down in the game.”

NBA POWER RANKINGS: How far did the Celtics fall?

Tatum and Brown are both still putting up big numbers, averaging 24.3 and 26.9 points, respectively. But the tandem has done so primarily in isolation, and Tatum, in particular, has struggled to score efficiently in the clutch, shooting 28.0 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from 3.

Beyond the slight turmoil with the star duo, new head coach Ime Udoka has stuck to the same rotation since opening night despite the team’s slow start and the Celtics defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone, allowing the second-most points per game in the league at 114.6.

Even with all of these issues, they’ve lost two double-overtime games along with the blown lead against the Bulls. That’s a small margin between being an ugly 3-5 or a manageable 5-3. So that begs the question: what is the true identity of this team?

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)

(NBA Getty Images)

Is the Bulls’ defense for real?

Many expected the Bulls to be one of the better offensive teams this season. Whether or not they could hang defensively was the greatest concern. That’s why it’s encouraging to see them rank sixth in defensive efficiency heading into their matchup with the 76ers on Wednesday, holding opponents to 101.1 points per 100 possessions through seven games. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have been at the forefront of their defensive success so far, but the Bulls have been pretty dang impressive as a whole.

It’s unfortunate that the Bulls could be without Patrick Williams for the rest of the season because they’re a little lighter defensively at the forward positions. A lot is going to be asked of Derrick Jones Jr. now.

Of course, it helps that the Bulls have had a relatively easy schedule to start the season, but they’re about to be put to the test. Following a back-to-back with the 76ers, the Bulls face the Nets, Mavericks, Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Nuggets over the next couple of weeks.

If they can maintain a top 10 defensive rating through this upcoming stretch, we might have to rethink this team’s ceiling.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)

What happens when Pascal Siakam returns to the Raptors?

In theory, this one seems simple, but it’s a question that can be answered in a number of ways.

The Raptors stumbled out of the gate to start the season but quickly figured things out, thanks largely in part to the play of OG Anunoby and rookie Scottie Barnes, who, as the team’s starting forwards, were the team’s top two scorers in October.

Siakam, who is expected to return in mid to late November, is on a max contract, so you can’t expect him to come off of the bench once he returns, so what does that mean for the starting unit?

INJURY UPDATES: Pascal Siakam | Klay Thompson | Kawhi Leonard

Anunoby, a 24-year-old on the fringe of All-Star consideration, is an absolute lock to remain in the lineup and while Barnes is just 20, it’s hard to justify making him come off the bench while he’s a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.

In the era of positionless basketball, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is faced with one of two options: go jumbo and move the 6-foot-7, 232-pound Anunoby to the shooting guard position or go small and start the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Siakam at the center position.

According to Basketball-Reference, Siakam played 18 percent of his minutes during the 2020-21 season at center, proving that he’s capable of doing so, but can he continue to play at a high level at that position?

There’s no doubt that Siakam will help this Raptors team by adding another dynamic to the offense, but how hard will it be for them to adjust after playing without him for a month? Does Siakam immediately become the guy again, or is it a title split multiple ways between him, Anunoby, Barnes and Fred VanVleet.

Don’t get me wrong, these are good problems to have, but the Raptors will need to sort them out in order to reach their ceiling.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)



[ad_2]
Source link