The Week That Was covers the previous Monday-Sunday in the NBA.
Team of the Week: Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz were being written off just a few weeks ago. The offense was struggling without Gordon Hayward, the new acquisitions weren’t fitting in, and then Rudy Gobert got hurt. As with almost all things, the Jazz have improved with time. They’ve now won five straight, including going 3-0 last week. They started off by destroying the Nuggets, then they handled the shorthanded Clippers before coming back home to beat the Pelicans. The wins over Denver and New Orleans are particularly notable, as they could matter for tiebreakers down the road in what promises to be a crowded Western Conference.
Others receiving consideration: Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets
A 4-0 week has the Cavs at 11 straight wins and making up ground on the Boston Celtics in the East. Cleveland started the week by rolling the 76ers in Philadelphia. They then survived LeBron James’ first ever ejection in a win over the Heat before finishing the week with workmanlike wins over Atlanta and Memphis. One thing to watch: the defense has been good during the streak, but showed some signs of backsliding against the Hawks and Grizzlies.
It’s seven straight victories for the Rockets now, including 3-0 this week. Houston pulled away from the Nets late to kick off the week, before they hammered the Pacers and Lakers. The Rockets boast the league’s second best offense, but that was expected. Unexpected is Houston having the fifth best defense in the NBA. If the Rockets can keep that up, they’ll make things a lot more interesting for Golden State during the Warriors march to a fourth straight Finals.
Player of the Week: James Harden
James Harden could have won the MVP last year, but voters went with Russell Westbrook’s history-making triple-double season. This year, Harden is playing just as well, yet could lose out to LeBron James, who is making yet another MVP push. For this week though, Harden gets the honors here. Harden averaged 34 points per game on over 53 percent shooting to go with 7.3 rebounds and nine assists a night in a perfect 3-0 week will do that.
Others receiving consideration: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan
Despite a loss on Sunday night, the Spurs are chugging along and are on pace to win in the mid-50s once again. The reason for that? LaMarcus Aldridge. With Kawhi Leonard out all season so far and others in and out, Aldridge has been San Antonio’s constant. He sat Sunday, but averaged 32 points on nearly 62 percent shooting and over seven rebounds per game in the three games he did play.
The Raptors have won three straight to pull in front of Detroit for third place in the East and DeMar DeRozan is a big part of why. He scored 28 points per game in Toronto’s two wins this week, but even more impressive were his 11 assists over the two games. The Raptors are at their best when DeRozan is making plays to not only score, but to get others good looks as well. Toronto is ho-humming their way to home court advantage once again, but don’t sleep on how well DeRozan is playing.
Line of the Week: Andre Drummond at Boston Celtics
Last season, Andre Drummond was looking like the latest player to get a max contract and then flame out after getting paid. This year, with healthy teammates playing well, Drummond looks like the centerpiece of a good team. And he never looked better than he did at the Celtics. Drummond scored 26 points and ripped down 22 rebounds. He hit 10-of-12 shots on his way to the big night, as he owned the paint. But most impressive were his six assists and 6-of-8 from the free throw line. The Pistons are hoping to grab home court advantage and Drummond is a big part of why.
Others receiving consideration: Aaron Gordon vs Oklahoma City, Donovan Mitchell vs New Orleans
The Orlando Magic were reeling with a home date against Oklahoma City looming, but Aaron Gordon got them back on track with a monster night. He knocked down 13-of-23 shots overall, 6-of-12 from behind the arc and 8-of-11 at the free throw line, on his way to 40 points. He also grabbed 15 rebounds, dished our four assists and snagged four steals. Gordon’s shooting and improved all-around play have him in the mix for Most Improved Player.
Utah’s ascension in the West has coincided with the rise of their prized rookie Donovan Mitchell. Against the Pelicans, with Rodney Hood on the bench injured, Mitchell led the Jazz to a big win. He scored 41 points and hit six three-pointers. Most notably, he imposed his will on the game and got to the free throw line for 11 attempts. The Jazz can go stretches where they struggle to score, but Mitchell is figuring out how to make those periods few and far between when he’s on the floor. The outburst made Mitchell the first rookie to score 40 or more points since Blake Griffin achieved the feat in 2011.
Win of the Week: Detroit's win at Boston
The Pistons are trying to be taken serious in the Eastern Conference and knocking off the conference’s top team at home will go a long way towards those goals. Detroit took control of the game late and scored 32 fourth quarter points on their way to 118 overall. And that was on the NBA’s best defense. The Pistons did it by dominating inside, as they shot nearly 52 percent for the game. With everyone healthy, Detroit is poised to make some news in the playoffs.
Others receiving consideration: New Orleans Pelicans win at Portland Trail Blazers
With Anthony Davis on the shelf with a groin injury and on the second night of a back-to-back after traveling from Utah to Portland, no one would have blamed the Pelicans if they lost. Instead DeMarcus Cousins put New Orleans on his back and led them to a much needed road victory. Cousins scored 38 points and the three guard offense of Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore combined for 48 points. This is another game to remember, as tiebreakers could prove crucial in the West this season.
News of the Week: Derrick Rose continues to undergo one of the strangest and saddest careers of any NBA player. The one-time MVP has battled injuries since 2012, the latest a badly sprained ankle. During this time, Rose has stayed away from Cleveland and was said to be contemplating his future. This comes after he went AWOL on the Knicks last year. Rose is said to have remained in contact with the Cavaliers, but this is the latest in a series of odd turns in his star-crossed career. With other injuries and Isaiah Thomas still recovering from his own injured hip, the Cavs could use Rose.
Transactions of Note: As we are still a week and a half away from the “early trade window” opening, as referenced last week, transactions are still relegated to NBAGL assignments and recalls. Some of those transactions have taken on an added importance, one which mirrors that of Major League Baseball. For years, MLB teams have assigned players to their minor league squads for rehab assignments, as the players make their way back from injuries.
We’ve seen NBA teams start taking this approach with their NBAGL teams. The Spurs did this with Tony Parker, as he was playing his way back into shape from his quad injury. And this week featured several “rehab assignments” as Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, and Zach LaVine all spent time with their respective NBAGL affiliate clubs.
Players with three years or more of NBA experience have to agree to an NBAGL assignment, and many have seen the obvious benefit of getting in some practice time and game action. This is just another way NBA teams are using the NBAGL to their advantage.
With the Washington Wizards announcing that their affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, will start play in the 2018-19 season, only the Nuggets and Blazers haven’t finalized plans for their own NBAGL teams. Adam Silver has a stated goal of a full minor league, so expect Denver and Portland to get on board soon. Once this happens, you could see other changes come to the league, such as an expanded NBA Draft, more two-way contracts or even minor league deals that keep players attached to their NBA club, but without taking up roster spots or cap space. The NBAGL is here to stay and NBA teams are just starting to figure out how to take full advantage.