via The Players Tribune

Welcome to a brand new (hopefully) weekly post at DCIAB called The Stretch Four. Longtime friend of the blog Nik Valdiserri has joined me to offer our NBA expertise in a variety of fun fashions every Friday. There are four regular segments to the post, along with other optional segments we’ll integrate as they become relevant.

Regular features of the post will include a short column on a league trend or event, some of our power rankings, the best NBA video we watched this week, and the Friday Spotlight, a picks competition for Friday night games with a similar structure to DCIAPC. Enjoy!

I LOVE ROOKIES

Two weeks of the NBA season are in the books and I have already watched too much basketball. Do I ever get burnt out? Not really. Instead, I crave more. This year however, I have even found myself watching games with twenty point margins with less than a quarter left to go. Why, you ask? One word. Rookies.

It may be because of the poor showing from the class a year ago, which was ailed with injuries and mediocrity, or because Jerian Grant is finally in the NBA, but this year’s class has been really exciting to watch. As one of the better rookie classes in the last decade, we are seeing many of them play early and log major minutes every night.

In fact, five out of the top ten picks recorded a start in their first NBA game (Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay) compared to three rookies who did so last season (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Elfrid Payton). All five of those players, barring any injuries, will start for the rest of the season in hopes of developing their games quicker; none of them being older than 20.

The hype has been warranted thus far. Towns recorded two double-doubles in his first two games and I still get chills every time I see him play alongside Kevin Garnett. Mudiay, who has been handed the keys to the offense already, recorded his first double-double against the guy who got drafted ahead of him, Russell. Porzingis may not be strong yet, but he’s already putting his body on the line and recorded a double-double as well. Oh, and Okafor has scored 21+ points in three of his first four games. Wow.

While the other rookies have not had the chance to stuff the stat sheet yet, they’ve still made an impact early. Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky banked in a three against Chicago, Miami’s Justise Winslow not only dunked all over the team that should have drafted him (hint, hint Charlotte), but was asked to guard LeBron James during important possessions.

Mario Hezonja and Stanley Johnson have provided great energy off the bench for their spread-the-floor teams, and Willie Trill scored 17 points in his second game, which he only surpassed four times during his three-year career at Kentucky. I’ve liked Myles Turner’s output in his first four games as a pro, but he falls short to George Hill for the funniest hairdo on the Pacers.

And then of course, there’s Jerian Grant. I will make sure he gets at least three columns to himself during the year, but so far his mentions have been backed up by his play. The Knicks want to keep a fast pace on offense, yet they start Jose Calderon and Sasha Vujacic. Grant and Langston Galloway have worked really well together on the second unit and have created a great balance between the starters and bench players. Keep it up.

Did you notice I forgot to mention someone? If so, you are correct. The only real problem I have had with the rookie class so far (other than Grant not starting yet) has been the play of the number two overall pick D’Angelo Russell. I know, it’s early and he’s playing with seventy ball hogs, but he’s been too tentative. He hasn’t attacked the basket, he hasn’t demanded the ball and he hasn’t made D’Angelo-like plays that we were so accustomed to last season at Ohio State. I could break down his stats, but it’s too early for that. He’ll be fine.

I could keep going. I wouldn’t mind breaking down Devin Booker’s ever-so beautiful jumper, Terry Rozier’s eight minutes played, 0/6 shooting and two-turnover start to the season. Or how Montrezl Harrell enjoys rebounding. But I’ll let the kids play.

All I can say is, the new crunch-time is when the Utah Jazz are beating the Lakers by 45 and D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance and Trey Lyles are all playing. Love it.

-Nik

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

This season, Brad Beal became the first Washington Wizard to score 20-plus points in his first four games since Earl Monroe in the early 1970s. He’s looked incredible in the early season, firing off threes at a career-high rate and playing like a bona fide second star. Still taking a few too many midrange jumpers for my taste, but old habits die hard.

So, if you’ve been following the NBA on any more than a cursory level thus far, and you know where my fandom lies, then you know what video we have lined up for you today. – Matt

POWER RANKINGS

A weekly update on the teams we believe are at the top of the ranks in the NBA. Two things: First off, instead of giving you all 30 teams at once, we list a weekly top 10 and conclude each month with the full 30. Secondly, instead of a list from each of us, we average our rankings to compile one list.

Week 2

1. Golden State Warriors (5-0) | LW: 1

T-2. Los Angeles Clippers (4-1) | LW: 2

T-2. Toronto Raptors (5-0) | LW: T-10

T-2. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-1) | LW: 4

5. Atlanta Hawks (5-1) | LW: T-10

T-6. San Antonio Spurs (3-2) | LW: 6

T-6. Washington Wizards (3-1) | LW: 8

T-8. Detroit Pistons (3-1) | LW: 9

T-8. Portland Trailblazers (4-2) | LW: NR

T-10. Utah Jazz (3-2) | LW: NR

T-10. Chicago Bulls (4-2) | LW: 4

The power rankings are starting to shape up a bit at the top. The Warriors remain the best team in the league, and look good enough to challenge the 96-97 Bulls for the best record in league history. Injuries happen, but a relatively young team like Golden State has as good as chance of any at staying healthy all year. Right now, an injury seems just about like the only thing that could derail this train.

The Clippers, Raptors, and Cavaliers are all tied up at the number two spot in our rankings. Toronto looks great so far, led by fantastic ball handlers and stout defense, and the Clips and Cavs have been great as well. The Hawks take up our number five spot, as the only team in the league with a 5-1 record.

The Spurs and Wizards are tied for the next spot in our rankings. I put the Wizards a bit lower than Nik, because they’ve had a bit of trouble with some mediocre teams on their schedule such as the Knicks.

The upstart Pistons and Trailblazers are tied for eighth in the rankings now. Both teams have moved up almost by default, as few teams outside the top five are dominating thus far.

Last, we have the Jazz and Bulls. The Jazz have a great point differential because of the bad teams they’ve beaten down this season, but have certainly looked good enough to be a playoff team. And the Bulls have struggled a bit on defense thus far, but have put together a couple nice wins over OKC and Cleveland.

Teams Trending Up:  The Portland Trailblazers are the only team from last week to remain in this space again. Keep an eye out for the Phoenix Suns, who are just 3-2 but look much better than other fringe playoff teams in the West like the Pelicans. The Charlotte Hornets had a huge win over the Bulls this week, added a road victory over the Mavericks, and look like they may be able to challenge for the eight-seed, even with the loss of star wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Teams Trending Down: The New Orleans Pelicans are back again this week as they’ve continued to struggle against everybody. The Sacramento Kings are stumbling through the beginning of their season because of a hard schedule. The loss of DeMarcus Cousins certainly doesn’t make the future look bright. The Denver Nuggets suffered a brutal loss at home against Utah, who was on the second half of a back-to-back. This team certainly doesn’t look like it’ll reach the roughly 35 wins it was projected.

– Matt

FRIDAY SPOTLIGHT

Last week, things didn’t go too well.

  • Toronto (+2.5) put a whupping on the Celtics and have continued their hot start. The Raps are one of two teams undefeated at 5-0 remaining in the league after their narrow win over Oklahoma City Wednesday night.
  • Detroit (+2.5) kept their hot start going against the Bulls behind a dominant starting unit that’s been good enough to offset one of the worst benches in the league thus far.
  • Golden State (-1.5) handed Houston an embarrassing loss on their home court. Houston would later rebound with a win over OKC, but they’ve had a rough start. Golden State has just done inexcusable things to everyone.

First, here are our picks:

Season Last Week
Nik 1-2 1-2
Matt 1-2 1-2

And here’s the peanut gallery. Last week, we had four pickers, all of whom will receive a free candy bar at Nik’s expense within two weeks (you must pay for shipping and handling). You’ll never guess what everybody’s record was.

Winning Percentage Season Record Last Week
Creed Tucker .333 1-2 1-2
Sheen aka Sean .333 1-2 1-2
Harry Kroll .333 1-2 1-2
Osgood .333 1-2 1-2

As it shall always be, game times are eastern and all occur Friday night. This number could change over time, but for now, picking three games seems like a good number. Be sure to let us know if there’s any way we could improve this section.

If you pick on a relatively consistent basis, we will keep track of your scores week to week and include your record in a separate compilation from our own. Frequent contributors will be lauded or ripped to pieces pending performance, so enter at your own risk (please do though, it’s fun). LEAVE YOUR PICKS FOR THESE THREE GAMES EITHER IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW OR ON FACEBOOK.

0-4 Los Angeles Lakers at 0-5 Brooklyn Nets (-3.5), 7:30

It was impossible to resist picking a game like this between two complete catastrophes. Each of these teams is going to have to grind pretty hard to get up to 25 wins this season. FEEL THE EXCITEMENT.

Matt: Kobe is absolutely terrible this season. That’s all I really have to say about these two teams. #FreeJordanClarkson Nets -3.5

Nik: You are probably asking yourself three questions right now: Why did they pick this game? Who in the right mind cares about these two teams? Will anyone actually watch this game? Well. Um. The answer to all three is an emphatic ‘WE CARE’ from Matt and I. Expect 40+ turnovers and some late-game heroics from either Joe Johnson or Kobe Bryant. I’m going to take the Lakers tonight because they can guard Brook Lopez. Lakers +3.5

3-2 Miami Heat (-1) at 2-3 Indiana Pacers, 8:00, ESPN

Two East teams looking to get into the playoffs after missing out last season combine for an early season ESPN game that’s missing some of the star-power it had a couple years ago (LeBron James and Roy Hibbert, among others). 

Matt: The Pacers are somehow playing one of the few teams in the league they actually have an advantage over on the bench. Still, I’m not a fan of how Indiana has constructed its roster. Paul George is the best player on the floor tonight, but the Heat will pull out a W. Heat -1

Nik: Tough game. I’m still trying to figure both teams out. While the caliber of this matchup isn’t of those from to years ago, expect the physicality to still be there. I’m riding with the Heat tonight because the Pacers will struggle to defend the Heat’s frontcourt. Heat -1

3-1 Detroit Pistons at 3-2 Phoenix Suns (-5.5), 9:35

Two teams with young backcourts hoping to squeeze into the playoffs meet up here in a late one. The Suns have put together a solid defense to begin the season on the back of new center Tyson Chandler, while the Pistons boast a young Dwight Howard clone in big man Andre Drummond.

Matt: Andre Drummond is absolutely terrifying. His athleticism is enough to overwhelm even some the best defensive big men in the league, such as his match-up tonight, Tyson Chandler. Still, I think the Suns have a huge advantage in this game. Their bench will blow out the Pistons and Markieff Morris will have no excuse for sucking since his brother will actually be on the court. Suns -5.5

Nik: After getting blown out at home against Dallas in their first game, the Suns have beaten the Trail Blazers twice, the Kings by 21 and lost by 6 on the road to the Clippers. I love the Pistons just as much as Matt does, but I like the Suns tonight. Tyson Chandler will be able to slow Drummond down… a tad, and Eric Bledsoe is playing as well as any guard in the league right now not named Steph Curry. Suns -5.5

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