DA's Morning Tip

Morning Tip Mailbag: Your questions on Philadelphia 76ers, Donovan Mitchell and more

David Aldridge answers reader questions.

David Aldridge

Lost Without U. From William Proctor:

Are the Sixers tanking again or is this recent slump just a result of no Joel Embiid and roster issues?

No, they’re not tanking anymore; this is an old-fashioned slump, brought about chiefly by regression on defense — which has been exacerbated by Embiid’s absences (six of Philly’s last 11 games through Saturday; not surprisingly, Philly is 0-6 in the games he’s missed). Ben Simmons’ defensive rating, for example, has blown up to 103.2 in December after being at 100.5 in November. He hasn’t forgotten how to play defense; when you don’t have that 7-foot equalizer in the back, your overplays and gambles tend to be exposed rather than rewarded. Robert Covington’s shooting has slipped (28.1 percent since coming back Dec. 15).

I don’t think he’s forgotten how to shoot, but it’s a lot harder when defenses don’t have to put two people in Embiid’s lap and can jam the 3-point line. I think coach Brett Brown laid it out plainly last week: “we are third in the NBA defensively and sixth offensively with Joel. We go down to 29th defensively and 21st offensively without him. It’s night and day. He is our crown jewel, that’s the bottom line.”

Handling his solo. From Cole Bertlesen:

Over the last month (and really for the entirety of the season) Donovan Mitchell has been on a tear almost single handedly leading a Jazz team without Rudy Gobert. Despite the small market and the fact that he is not the household name that Ben Simmons is, does he have a chance at being a ROY? For reference, he is averaging 18.2 ppg to Simmons’ 16.6, 3.4 apg to 7.5 by Simmons, 1.5 stl to 1.9 stl.

Under coach Quin Snyder, Utah has been so focused on defense that they are traditionally one of the slowest and lowest scoring teams. But this season has them going at a 100-plus points per 100 possessions clip – which is rare in Utah.

Absolutely, Cole. People around the league know how impressive Mitchell has been and the circumstances under which he’s achieving those numbers. Market size has no impact, as the fact that four of the last five Rookies of the Year played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers should prove. Donovan will get a lot of first-place votes if he keeps this up and I’d be very surprised if he’s not, at worst, in the top three by the end of the season.

Take off the shackles? From Kenn Becker Quiles:

Do you think that it is time to remove the defensive 3 second violation? I am alarmed that a league that once was dominated by big man is becoming a small-ball league. Before we always said that the 3-point shot was a low percentage shot, but now it seems that every team wants to live and die shooting 3s. Isn’t it time we should punish the teams that want to play small by removing the defensive 3 second violation? Let the big man stay in the middle and if another center from the opposing team wants to stay outside and shoot 3s, the center on the defensive end shouldn’t be obliged to follow that big man outside.

That won’t happen, Kenn, because the league has made offensive flow and movement a priority over the last 20 years’ worth of rules changes. The illegal defense adaptation in 1983 was designed specifically to discourage NBA teams from playing zone defenses regularly, since you normally plant a defender in the middle of the paint in most zone coverages and leave him there.

The defensive 3-second violation means the paint will almost always be open for drivers, and that’s what the league wants — talented ballhandlers, in space, playing downhill. There are, simply, more great guards than great big men, and the NBA has believed for some time now that fans want more offense. The advent of the 3-pointer as a primary weapon was the inevitable result of finding more and easier ways to put points on the board. The best way to ensure constant end-to-end action is to give the best players more opportunities to score. Clogging the paint with bigs would reduce those opportunities.

Send your questions, comments and … well, they are on an exercise machine to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it (and peep the lady lamenting that the bear wrasslin’ is going to make her late for work)!

MVP WATCH

(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)

1) James Harden (30.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 9.8 apg, .392 FG, .875 FT): Just 37 assists shy of passing Allen Leavell (3,339) for second place on the franchise’s all-time list, behind Calvin Murphy (4,402).

2) LeBron James (21.7 ppg, 8 rpg, 8.7 apg, .439 FG, .706 FT): Turned 33 on Saturday, at which time he was a) averaging the most points in his career in eight years; b) averaging the most assists per game in his career; c) shooting better than 40 percent on threes for just the second time in his career.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo (24.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 4.3 apg, .604 FG, .800 FT): “Plays like an angel every night” could be one of the best calls for a player ever.

4) Kevin Durant (23.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.4 apg, .500 FG, .957 FT): Kia Defensive Player of the Year chatter building with KD’s spike this season in blocked shots, but let’s keep in mind that Draymond Green (100), Klay Thompson (100.8) and Stephen Curry (102.9) all have defensive ratings higher than Durant’s (103.6) per NBA.com/Stats. That’s not at all meant to denigrate KD’s improved defense, only to point out that Golden State defensive excellence stems from multiple players being able to switch and guard in space.

5) Kyrie Irving (26.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, .461 FG, .938 FT): Career-best efficiency grounded in fewer minutes so far this season — 32.4 compared with 35.1 last year.

BY THE NUMBERS

16 — Consecutive wins by the San Antonio Spurs over the Brooklyn Nets in San Antonio, a streak that continued with last Tuesday’s Spurs win over Brooklyn. The Nets’ last franchise win in San Antonio was on Jan. 22, 2002, when Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin starred, and ultimately led the then-New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals.

40 — Days between wins at Moda Center for the Trail Blazers, which isn’t good, considering it’s their home court. Portland broke a six-game home losing streak there last Thursday, coming back from 18 down in the third quarter to beat Philadelphia; the Blazers’ last home win had come on Nov. 18 over Sacramento.

.578 — Three-point percentage (37 of 64) in December for New Orleans Pelicans’ guard E’Twaun Moore, quietly off to an insanely efficient start for New Orleans — the only holdback is his 61 percent form from the foul line. Otherwise, he’s off the charts offensivelly — 54 percent overall from the floor, 47 percent on threes, .633 Effective Field Goal percentage, .635 True Shooting Percentage — in averaging a career-best 13.3 points per game.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) Happy 2018, everybody. I think we can all agree that while between the lines in the NBA, a lot went right in 2017, outside of many of those arenas, chaos and uncertainty and anger reined. May we all be more comforted, more united, but also more willing to speak up and speak out in the coming 12 months when we see injustice and unfair treatment of those who can’t fight back.

2) I have a sense that the trade deadline, thought by many to likely be dull because so many teams are capped out or close to it, is going to be a little livelier than we all think. With small ball now dominant throughout the league, there are lots of good players who could help teams a player short flourish in the playoffs.

The Bulls will almost certainly deal Nikola Mirotic, who’s flourished in Chicago since his return, with a contract that’s very affordable ($29 million through 2019, if the Bulls pick up the second-year option on his deal before sending him out). Vince Carter is 40, but he just put 24 on the Cavs, and he’s only making $8 million, which is now closer to $4 million for a contending team on a pro-rated basis.

The Lakers won’t re-sign Julius Randle, who’s been great for them off the bench all season, and have to move him by the deadline. With Enes Kanter playing so well, the Knicks will likely move one of their surplus bigs, either one of which is very serviceable: Kyle O’Quinn or Willy Hernangomez. It’s hard to believe Atlanta won’t move Marco Belinelli (39 percent on 3-pointers), and that disappointing Charlotte won’t soon be in selling mode, with vets like Marvin Williams and/or Jeremy Lamb having value.

3) Kudos to Phoenix Coach Jay Triano for knowing the rules and directing Tyson Chandler to redirect a last-second inbounds pass from Dragan Bender into the basket to beat Memphis. Almost no one, starting with me, knew that touching an inbounded pass that goes above the cylinder and putting it in the basket cannot be called offensive goaltending.

That rule certainly will be changed before the start of next season, but Triano won a game for his team by being sharp and on top of his Xs and Os, and good for him.

4) With or (preferably) without profanity, The Science Guy speaks for me. At some point, you either accept that an apple is an apple and not a kumquat, you know what I’m saying? I’m done with too-clever people who think questioning everything shows how evolved they are compared with the rest of us dullards. We can’t all just stick our heads (figuratively) in the sand and say ‘well, how do you know humans didn’t live with dinosaurs?’ We build our base of knowledge on what others before us have taught and come to believe, based on their own learning, and we continue to refine and improve upon what we’ve all come to accept as “fact.” If we don’t agree on certain things, societies cease to exist. We all agree that we stop driving our cars when the light turns red. It’s not something we debate; we don’t accept the opinions of those who might say, ‘well, stopping on red infringes on my freedoms.” We. Don’t. Do. It. We stop on red. And the damn earth is round.

NOT FEELIN’….

1) It’s not Tony Brothers’ or Gediminas Petraitis’ fault that they missed five (!) traveling calls in the last two minutes of Thursday’s wild 99-98 Boston win over Houston, according to the league’s own Last Two Minutes report. That’s why the NBA went to three-referee crews beginning with the 1988-89 season — two-man crews just couldn’t catch everything. As Rod Thorn, then the league’s VP of operations, said at the time: ”the game has become faster and quicker and is being played by bigger people, and it’s our opinion that an extra pair of eyes would aid in covering the entire court more.”

But the last-second injury to referee Mark Lindsay during pregame warmups Thursday, which necessitated Brothers and Petraitis working the game alone, exposed the problem of not having an on-site fourth ref for regular season games, a practice the NBA uses for every postseason game. No, refs almost never get hurt during warmups, and two-man crews because of injuries are very rare. (And, in some cases, in some cities — like Philadelphia, for example, where a lot of referees live — the league can get a replacement ref who’s off that night to a game in time if something odd like Lindsay’s back spasms occurs.)

But it happened Thursday. And that loss for the Rockets could ultimately mean the difference between hosting a Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in Houston against the Golden State Warriors, or having to go to Oakland for that Game 7. The NBA is already committed to hiring more refs — it will increase its pool from the current 64 to 70 by next season and by 25 percent over the next three years, with the additional refs sitting courtside as “game administrators” to help the flow between the on-court refs and the league’s Replay Center. That timetable should be sped up in time to have four refs on site for every regular season game starting next season.

2) Our friend Stu Jackson has a good idea that would alleviate the non-reviewable loophole for plays like Friday’s obvious out of bounds deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s last-second game-winning dunk against Oklahoma City — give a coach one challenge in the last two minutes of regulation. That would push back slightly against the league’s desire to increase the pace of play, but it’s a necessary brake for obvious missed plays like “The Greek Freak’s” dunk.

3) Have one of these in my closet somewhere.

https://twitter.com/NBATV/status/947589502742261762/photo/1

4) Please leave him behind in 2017.

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MORE MORNING TIP: Movie-like storylines marked 2017 | DA’s Top 15 Rankings | Rockets not fretting mini-slump | Q&A: Kris Dunn

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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here andfollow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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