March 22, 2023
The Athletic

Cole Huff’s NBA Notebook: Best Teams Against the Spread, Philly’s Depth, Siakam’s Growth

The NBA season is only two weeks old and is already full of surprises. Here are some words about what’s happening in the league that you should know about, including which teams you should bet on, which players are drawing attention and why you shouldn’t give up certain teams already.

Philly’s depth

“Look, I’m totally into the ’76 hype train. I’ve loudly said that this is their best roster during the Joel Embiid era, with more than enough potential to end with the best record in the east. They should rack up 50+ wins like they have over the past three 82-game seasons. Plus, a full year of James Harden should give them another boost in the regular season.”

Do any of you know these words of praise for the Philadelphia 76ers? These are mine from just a few weeks back. And while the Sixers’ start was inconsistent, I stand by what I said before — mostly because I still believe in Philly’s improved depth.

James Harden’s fantastic start to the season and Joel Embiid’s unexpectedly slow start grabbed most of the headlines amid the Sixers’ 3-0 record out of the gates. But lost in discourse was how much Philadelphia’s new figures had fought their way out of the gates to positively impact games. But with the Philly bench a paltry 34 points combined in the first three games of the season, it seems the slow start and ever-popular “it’ll take time” period is beginning to wear off. The Sixers are back on track.

De’Anthony Melton’s rise in the game was the most easily spotted difference. Whether coming off the bench or missing through injury as a part-time starter during Joel Embiid’s games, he has been stable at both ends of the court. Georges Niang’s night-to-night value mostly depends on whether he’s making jump shots or not, and he’s been valuable lately. And while Montrezl Harrell doesn’t look like a former sixth man of the year, he’s done enough in his minutes.

What’s encouraging about each player’s contributions is that everything feels sustainable. And if the Sixers can get that, then health is on their side; Well, just read the quote above again.

When you check Siakam’s yearly stats throughout his seven seasons as a pro, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the significant jump in production from Year 1 to Year 7. Then your closer look will reveal how his points, rebounds and assists averages have steadily increased in all but one of his seven seasons. And that’s all before you learn about Siakam’s stats this year (26.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists) in his best season. And if you’re like me, the passing jumps off the page right away.

It’s hard for me to just gloss over that 7.4 assists per game and treat it like that’s common even for modern NBA forwards — it’s not. The only forwards in recent years to average that many assists per game over an entire season are Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Draymond Green and Ben Simmons. Most would consider all of these players to be elite playmakers. Certainly, after just seven games into the season, Siakam still has a long way to go to join the ranks of these elite playmakers. But even this small sample size of seven games of exceptional passing shows a lot of growth in his approach to the offensive game.

Just turn on the movie and see how diverse Siakam’s gameplay has become.

The easy ones for Siakam are the assists that come in the transition period where he and his Toronto Raptors are the best in the league. The passes that really show his growth come up every night on the semi-court offense. Whether on purpose or because he didn’t hit the defender off the rebound, Siakam often uses the post-up to get the defense’s attention before spotting an open teammate. He’s also constantly touching paint from the dribble drive and spraying it on open shooters camped behind the line. And it even shows a bit of pick-and-roll passing that has made Pascal an exhilarating playmaker.

Pascal Siakam’s playmaking is certainly something we’ve seen time and time again over the years, but now it seems more of a mainstay than a luxury.

Golden State Overs

Here’s a word of advice: if you’re looking for some NBA bets to place, take a look at what’s happening in the Bay Area, where all but one of the defending champion Golden State Warriors’ games have come to an end. They reckon the Stephen Curry-led offense has a lot to do with the high overalls — Golden State’s 118.7 points per game is tied with the Phoenix Suns for most NBA points. But the dubs’ defense is also to blame for all of those overs. They’re not the worst defense in the league (statistically), but they’re allowing opponents more points per game (122.0) than any other team this season. As Steve Kerr said recently, some of the Warriors’ outings are Looks like pickup games.

Milwaukee covers

A season ago, the Milwaukee Bucks had a record loss against the spread. Ultimately, it didn’t affect their wins and losses much, but they often found themselves in games that were closer than they should have been. Now, two weeks into this season, the 2020-21 world champions are the NBA’s only undefeated team and one of four teams with a 5-1 record against the spread. With another ridiculous season from Giannis Antetokounmpo and an NBA-best defense, the Bucks are proving to be trustworthy amid what is now a wildly unpredictable NBA. They do so without their arguably second best player, Khris Middleton.

NBA best records against spread

Entry on November 1st

Portland covers

Portland was also bad against the spread in the 2021-22 season. In fact, they were the worst, and much of that no doubt had to do with their multiple injuries followed by the apparent decision to continue the season through the All-Star break. But the past is the past. Currently, Portland has assembled a good roster that is working early in the season. The Blazers’ 5-1 record aligns with theirs for a number of reasons: 1) Damian Lillard has an MVP start to the season, 2) Anfernee Simons proves his breakthrough in the 2021-22 season was no fluke, and 3) Chauncey Billups was able to squeeze every last drop out of every player who was part of the nightly rotation.

If the Blazers can keep rolling with Lillard on the sidelines with a strained right calf, they could be worth your money.

(Photo by Pascal Siakam) / USA Today

#Cole #Huffs #NBA #Notebook #Teams #Spread #Phillys #Depth #Siakams #Growth

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