And now for a special Thursday edition of 10 Things:
1. The All-Star draft, in jeopardy
As Rachel Nichols reported, the NBA has no plans to televise the ballyhooed All-Star draft or even release the draft order.
This is dumb. Look: I get the fretting from players, the league office, and the players' union. Being publicly ranked is uncomfortable. No one wants to be last pick, even from a player pool that represents the best 5 percent of the world's best basketball league.
But the NBA announced a bold move to juice up a dead exhibition, and they basked in the tittering buzz that followed. Would players feel obligated to pick their teammates? How aggressively would Klay Thompson guard Stephen Curry? How would the captains -- presumably including LeBron, the premier NBA historian among active players -- sort the league's superstar hierarchy?
Fans salivated over the drama, and the NBA welcomed their salivating. The idea worked.
You cannot congratulate yourself on that reception and then walk away from everything behind it a few months later over some vague concern from unnamed players -- or their representatives -- about ego bruising. The NBA conceived the draft precisely to create these dramas. They are the entire purpose of it. If you aren't going to release the draft order -- or televise the selections -- there is almost no point to the draft, aside from the possibility of teammates facing each other. (Also: It will leak anyway.)
The NBA could change course between now and the draft date. This also could be a one-year soft phase-in -- an attempt to ease players into the concept before going full tilt.
There are even wishy-washy workarounds. Perhaps each captain could make eight picks apiece, leaving six unpicked guys the league would then randomly assign -- so that no one suffers the indignity of being last pick. A more extreme step: Prohibit captains from selecting teammates, just as the league's 30 head coaches are banned from voting for their own players when they pick reserves.
I don't like that idea -- again, it undercuts the whole idea of the draft -- but if it nudges stakeholders in the right direction, maybe it could be useful this one time.
Long term, either make this a thing or scrap it.
2. Kris Dunn, doing stuff
Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are getting most of the pub for Chicago's 7-0 run -- a delicious bit of organizational self-sabotage. They deserve it. (Also: DAVID NWABA!) Mirotic is on fire from all over the place, and Portis is playing the best all-around ball of his life. Someone apparently informed him that passing is legal!
But don't overlook Dunn. Since mid-November, Dunn has averaged 15 points and six dimes per game, and hit 44 percent from deep. The numbers are good. The process behind them has been even more encouraging.
Dunn is launching with confidence when defenders give him the Rondo treatment. He's getting better at leading his defenders into picks -- a must-have bit of craft. He fakes away from screens with a cruel shoulder shimmy, gets his defender leaning that way, and then zooms back toward the pick -- with his defender trailing, flat-footed, about to get slammed.
Once he's established the threat of that crisscross, Dunn hits opponents with the opposite counter -- feint toward screens, and then jet away from them:
He's threading nifty pocket passes, and reading defenses with a new sophistication.
He's a problem on the other end already -- long-armed and rude. He guards guys chest-to-chest, and gets into their dribbles. He apparates into passing lanes:
Dunn is so physical, he didn't look out of place defending Ben Simmons this week. He even provides some rim protection when he's in the area.
Dunn has to prove this is real. Some of his overall numbers -- including his turnover rate -- are still ugly, and Chicago's starting lineup remains a disaster. (Dunn, Mirotic, and Portis have logged just 17 minutes together. More, please!) But if this lasts, Chicago may have finally found its point guard of the future after so many doomed-from-the-start experiments.
3. Dwyane Wade, using the ball as a weapon
Is Wade the all-time master of this move-within-a-move?
It's part Eurostep, part running back cutting through a hole, part crossover dribble, only Wade crosses over by swinging the ball near his opponent's face like a cudgel. Monta Ellis was another expert at this. Does it have a name?
P.S. The Cavs' bench remains awesome. Jeff Green has never been this productive. The basketball gods are rewarding Cleveland for being the first team to pay him at the right level.
4. New Orleans, not good enough on defense
The Pelicans are 26th in points allowed per possession, and they should be embarrassed. They are getting mauled in transition, and their offense is hurting their defense; only the Suns have committed more live-ball turnovers, and opponents are turning steals into easy points.
DeMarcus Cousins has been the biggest offender, in every sense. He's coughing up an ungodly 5.1 turnovers per game, on pace to be the third-most in league history, and let's just say he's not exactly hustling back to correct his mistakes. It's tempting to excuse those turnovers as the byproduct of an overburdened creative fulcrum; after all, Steve Nash committed heaps of turnovers.
But some are just silly -- thread-the-needle highlight chasing when an easier pass would do. Some are the result of an offense that looks great for one or two actions, but devolves into Cousins or Anthony Davis bull-rushing one-on-one late in the shot clock. Cousins is prone to losing his balance, and then the ball.
Cousins' effort in the half court has waned. New Orleans has given up an unthinkable 115 points per 100 possessions when he plays without Davis, a full six points worse than Sacramento's dead-last overall mark, per NBA.com. Cousins is back to reaching and lurching instead of moving his feet.
Rajon Rondo has been a minus (shocker!), and New Orleans' collective smallness around the bash brothers hurts on a lot of nights.
The Pelicans are 15-16, lucky that injuries and uninspired play have wrecked the landscape around them. They might eke into the playoffs despite a substandard defense. But their margin for error is nonexistent.
5. Mike Scott, short rollin'
The regional manager might get that job at corporate after all! He's shooting 58 percent, including 42 percent from deep, and I'm not sure he has missed in the past month.
Washington's all-bench units still stink, but Scott has stabilized hybrid lineups and buttressed the front line as Markieff Morris works through some blah post-injury play; Scott Brooks even started Scott over Morris in the second half against Cleveland on Sunday.
Scott isn't just drilling open 3s, either. When teams warp their pick-and-roll defense to vaporize Scott's triples, he's slipping into open spaces for short jumpers, floaters, and even tricky tic-tac-toe interior passes.
When teams switch, Scott is posting up smaller dudes and flipping short shots over them. His post game isn't artful or overpowering, but he has a knack for kind of burrowing his head into a smaller defender's chest, shoving them off-balance, and reaching over them for little push shots. He has even whipped out some Dirk-ish one-leggers. Scott is shooting 59 percent on post-ups, the eighth-best mark among 86 players who have finished at least 25 such plays, per Synergy Sports.
Scott is working on defense; Washington has been better on both ends with him on the floor.
6. Portland bigs, jacking long 2s
Something is wonky in Portland. The Blazers rank 22nd in points per possession, and their shot selection has trended the wrong way -- toward midrangers. There are too many stretches when they trudge through the paces of their motion offense without the vigor that makes it sing. They whiff on picks, or cut at three-quarters speed.
One bugaboo: Portland's big men love barfing up long 2s, even semi-contested ones, early in the shot clock. Even Jusuf Nurkic, usually a bowling ball rampaging toward the rim, is launching too many pick-and-pop jumpers before exploring better options. I know Zach Collins is a shooter, but let's bag this stuff, please:
7. Marquese Chriss, just not getting it
It's too early to give up on Chriss. Let me repeat that for ornery Phoenix fans: It's too early to give up on him.
Still: Chriss' total lack of improvement in Year 2 in almost every facet means his journey to competence will be a long one, and that his peak may not be as high as Phoenix hoped when they coughed up a ton of assets (two first-round picks, plus the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic and a future second-round pick) to move up and draft him.
Chriss has averaged just 19 minutes in his past 17 games, and he's shooting only 37.5 percent in that span -- including 5-of-33 from deep. He is a young and developing player losing minutes on a young and developing team -- not great, Bob (Sarver). At least he's losing some of them to Dragan Bender, the guy Phoenix selected four spots ahead of Chriss. The Suns bet a ton on those two guys. They're babies, but it's hard to find any league executive who would predict either to make an All-Star team. (I'd agree falling short is the most likely outcome right now.)
It's just unclear what Chriss can do -- or will be able to do -- on offense. He's not a 3-point shooter yet. He doesn't post up. He can't pass, or do anything off the dribble when defenders rush out at him. The only thing he can do: set picks and roll down the lane for dunks, usually the province of centers.
But Chriss has told me prefers playing power forward, and he doesn't defend or rebound well enough to anchor a defense. Chriss just hasn't shown much feel on that end. He (usually) tries, but he's a beat late reading the game, and he's in the middle of a lot of Phoenix's worst blunders -- botched switches, miscommunications, and other Keystone Kops moments:
Pairing Chriss and Bender has some potential on offense; Chriss would knife down the interior with Bender spacing the floor around the arc. But when will that duo be playable on defense? (They've logged just 33 minutes together, and the Suns have yielded a ghastly 133 points per 100 possessions in that time.)
8. Elfrid Payton's wild gambles
A frustrating exercise: figuring out why the Magic have sunk like a stone on defense -- even before this recent wave of injuries -- after a promising start. It can't all be the absence (until this week) of Jonathan Isaac. The dude is a rookie who has logged just 255 minutes.
They don't have any blatantly lazy, comatose defenders. Even Nikola Vucevic has improved his rim protection, though only when he plays at top intensity. Vucevic at even 85 percent effort transforms into a liability, fast.
They don't foul, allow an alarming number of offensive boards, or hemorrhage points in transition. Only 29.8 percent of opponent shots have come from deep, second-lowest in the league.
This might be a case of several so-so defenders adding up to something less than so-so -- and something much worse on bad, low-effort nights. Offenses have a foot or so of extra breathing room -- wider openings for pocket passes, longer runways for guards. They are comfortable.
One culprit: Elfrid Payton just kind of roams around doing whatever the hell he wants.
Payton has the length and athleticism to be a help-and-recover menace. Still: It is really hard to play free safety in the NBA. You have to think one step ahead of the offense -- to know playbooks and individual tendencies so well that when you gamble, you are almost counting cards.
Payton isn't doing this. He floats without any clear aim. He chases birds, losing focus on both the ball and his man. He'd be better off staying attached.
9. Bricky Andrew Wiggins
So, this is becoming a problem. Wiggins is down to 29.4 percent from deep, and he has shot just 19-of-74 -- 26 percent -- over his last 17 games. There is almost compound damage, because Wiggins is heaving more 3s even as his total shot attempts have predictably dropped off with the addition of Jimmy Butler -- in full Jimmy Buckets mode after a tepid start.
Wiggins has finished only 23.7 percent of Minnesota's possessions with a shot, drawn foul, or turnover -- down from 29 percent last season. He gets only about 8.8 ball screens per game, half his average from a year ago, per Second Spectrum data. (That isn't a terrible thing; Wiggins is an inefficient pick-and-roll player. He's shooting just 38 percent after using a screen, per Synergy, a below-average figure for a high-volume guy, and he doesn't create enough good looks for teammates. He defaults to long pull-up 2s.)
Wiggins is more finisher than starter on the new Wolves. That was inevitable, and when the ball moves, Wiggins thrives as an explosive, mean-spirited cutter -- even within Minnesota's tight confines.
But he also spends a lot of time beyond the arc, waiting to either catch the ball, cut, or get back on defense. Wiggins chilling out there, hands on hips, is the physical manifestation of diminishing returns. You don't pay Andrew Wiggins $29 million a season for the next five years to stand around while defenses ignore him.
It's dangerous to overanalyze Minnesota's stylistic issues. They are 19-13, firmly in the West playoff picture, fifth in points per possession. After a 13-year playoff drought, that is enough for starved fans. But something feels off.
They have the point differential of a barely-over-.500 team, and they are winning ugly -- through brute force. They still can't guard anyone, and on offense, their players don't add up to more than the sum of their parts. Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are still so young, it may not matter. They will get better at lots of things, and the roster around them will evolve. But this has been a slog.
10. Richaun Holmes, dunk artiste
Philly's forgotten center is low-key one of my favorite dunkers in the league:
He's not a pogo-stick, straight up-and-down jumper -- at least not on his best dunks. Those guys perform a normal physical action with extreme athleticism. We can all jump -- just not that high.
Holmes is a glider, zooming across the horizontal plane. Gliders give off the illusion of flying -- or at least hovering. We can't all glide.
And I love the instant release from the rim, as if it is too hot to hold. There is a certain self-assurance in that: "I don't need to hang on the rim and yell. You all saw what I did." Holmes doesn't sacrifice any violence with those snap releases, either. His dunks are somehow loud and powerful anyway.
One tidbit to monitor: Philly has outscored opponents by almost 18 points per 100 possessions in 54 minutes with both Holmes and Joel Embiid on the floor. I'm not sure that lineup would work over the long haul, or that a healthy Philly team should be all that interested in finding out. But the Sixers have an affinity for playing ginormous five-man groups that offer no safe hiding place for point guards and undersized sorts. If Holmes-Embiid functions, that unlocks another permutation.
Maybe those numbers are just about Embiid. The Sixers are great with him, and lottery fodder without him. Heal fast, big fella!