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Bjelica's Hot Start, Some Surprises & The Greek Freak's Big Step
It’s November. We skipped over fall, you’ve gained seven pounds from Halloween candy and Thanksgiving will be here faster than you can say “dear goodness, no more mashed potatoes!”
As I write this on Nov. 3 at 10:26 a.m., the Wolves are 5-3, tied for fourth in the West with two winnable games at Target Center on the horizon. This could be fun!
Let the column begin!
This Bjelica Is The Best Bjelica
After missing the end of last season with a broken foot, there were questions on whether Wolves third-year forward Nemanja Bjelica would be fully healthy entering the season. Bjelica has answered those questions. Not only is Bjelica healthy, he’s playing the best basketball of his career through eight games in 2017-18.
Bjelica is averaging a career-high 8.9 points per game to go with 2.5 rebounds while shooting a scorching 62.5 percent from the field and a hotter than Tabasco, league-leading 59.1 percent from the 3-point line. It's a small sample size, sure, Bjelica is still 13-for-22 from deep. It might not be much, but it’s something.
This is even more remarkable considering Bjelica is playing 15.1 minutes per game, three less than last season. He’s averaging 21.1 points and six rebounds per 36 minutes.
Bjelica’s not going to shoot 60 percent from the 3-point line all season. But if he can get back to the 38.4 percent he shot in his rookie season, that’d be a huge boost for the team’s second unit.
The stretch-four has two chances to prove himself in front of the home crowd this weekend, Saturday against the Mavericks and Sunday against the Hornets. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. both nights.
We are less than a month into the season, but we all love to overreact.
Here’s a look at four teams who have, for better or worse, surprised us a bit.
The Grizzlies got off to a hot start, winning five of their first six games, but have dropped their last two. Looking at Memphis’s roster, it looks kind of stuck, but that might not be a horrible thing. They have plenty of guys, like Dillon Brooks, Jarell Martin and Andrew Harrison, trying to prove they deserve minutes. Don't underestimate how dangerous those guys can be. The key player here will be Chandler Parsons. Can he stay healthy? He’s only playing 17 minutes per game, but he’s shown the ability to play defense and he’s drilling 50 percent of his threes. I don’t think the Grizzlies will be a top-6 seed in the West, but I wouldn’t rule them out of the playoff discussion.
The Magic are 6-2, tied for first in the East.
We did not see this coming. What’s the reason for this emergence?
Well, Aaron Gordon is averaging 20.7 points while shooting 57.7 percent from the 3-point line. Evan Fournier is shooting 55.8 percent from deep. Heck, even Nikola Vucevic is getting in on the action launching 4.4 threes per game while hitting 40 percent of them. Even Ned O'Flattery is shooting 39 percent from deep!
(Ned O'Flattery is not a real person.)
These numbers aren’t sustainable, but there’s a good chance Vucevic could have a Brook Lopez career detour while Gordon is finally making some sort of leap.
Looking at the roster, I’m not sure if the Magic can keep it up as a top-four seed in the East, but I don’t have any clue what’s happening in the East right now, so who knows?
The Pacers traded Paul George this offseason. They shouldn’t be 5-3. And the team they traded him to, the Thunder, shouldn’t be 4-3. How does this make sense?
It makes sense because the Pacers are just playing. Six guys are scoring 13 or more points per game, led by Victor Oladipo’s 23.8 reminding us why he was drafted second overall in 2013.
The part that makes this all crazy is that Myles Turner, probably Indiana’s best player, has only played one game!
Like the Magic, I’m not quite sold, but again. The East is weird, and I don’t understand what’s happening anymore.
The defending Eastern Conference champions are off to a horrendous 3-5 start.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that gelling after trading a guy like Kyrie Irving is hard, especially when the main piece back in the trade (Isiah Thomas) isn’t healthy. But this team still has LeBron James and Kevin Love. They shouldn’t be this bad, right?
It’s early November and chances are they aren’t pressing the panic button yet, but their defensive rating of 113.6 is dead last in the NBA. Love, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose aren’t going to just be suddenly good defensively overnight. The Cavaliers are probably still the favorites in the East, but it’s not going to be as easy as they thought.
The Greek Freak Has Emerged
Through eight games, your 2017-18 NBA MVP is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is averaging a league-best 31.3 points per game to go with 10.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He has a PER (player efficiency rating) of 33.7 (the league average is 15). Since 2012-13, only LeBron James and Steph Curry have finished with a higher PER.
Antetokounpo was never supposed to be this good, but here we are. And the scariest part is that he’s only 22 years old. Most players hit their prime around 27 years old. What in the world is he going to look like in five years?
The real kicker here is Antetokounmpo’s three-point shooting. Last year, he shot 27.2 percent on 2.3 attempts per game. This year, he has that up to 35.3 percent. If he can continue to grow that number, the guy is going to be a consensus top-5 player before we know it.
I predicted two out of three last week. I got the World Series wrong. But the Browns lost, and I felt horrible after my friend’s two-day Bachelor party in Iowa.
This week’s predictions: Jamal Crawford hits another half-court shot. The Packers lose to the Lions. I get all of my laundry done (fingers crossed).
That’s all I’ve got. As always, thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend.