The Inbounds is a look into what's going on with various teams around the NBA, including quotes, plays, stats, and more. We're still early, so everything here should be taken with a huge sample size warning in big, bold, red letters.
Everyone loves a Celtics story; they led my . But this might actually be the best story going in the NBA. It is impossible to overstate the level of criticism that GM Kevin Pritchard received for his return in the Paul George trade this summer. He was absolutely annihilated over it; every league executive I spoke with was baffled at only getting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis back in a trade for Indiana's best player.
But the basketball gods are both funny, cruel and giving, and as Oklahoma sinks to 8-12 with the ninth-best point differential per 100 possessions in the league, Indiana is 12-10 with the 12th-best point differential mark. Go figure.
Here's the thing, though. Remove OKC and George from the picture, and you still have a great story. This mix of youngsters and veteran journeymen still is in the top 15 in point differential despite the sixth-toughest schedule so far in the NBA. It's still super early, but there's a real case to be made this team is legit.
Darren Collison probably needs to be getting more credit for this. Collison has bounced around the league for years as your standard backup, and last season plead guilty on misdemeanor domestic violence charges. Collison's current season doesn't change a thing about his career or what happened in his personal life last year, but it's simply not accurate to discuss the Pacers' surge without mentioning Collison. The Pacers are 13.2 points better in point differential when he's on the floor vs. when he's off, nearly twice as many points better in differential than when Oladipo -- who has gotten the lion's share of the credit -- has been on the floor.
Collison's quick decision making is benefitted by how good the Pacers are at both rolling and shooting off screens. Indiana is fourth in pick and roll offense this season via Synergy Sports. Myles Turner's resurgence after getting over an early-season concussion helps a lot. Collison makes instant reads if the defense attempts to hedge on him, and is quick enough to pressure them away to give Turner space. He's shooting 53 percent (59 percent eFG) on pick and pop jumpers this season.
Oladipo's scoring has picked up again after a lull many saw as the inevitable drop-off, Sabonis is a smart and willing passer, Thad Young is giving meaningful contributions and Lance Stephenson is still a wild card. This team plays fast and loose, and is a blast to watch. Here's to hoping this keeps up for the best story in the league, the Pacers post-PG.
Kristaps Porzingis is the toast of the town in New York, and for good reason. But under the radar, a big key for New York's resurgence? How Tim Hardaway Jr. fits next to him. With Porzingis on the court, THJ, he of the $70 million universally-panned contract, is, of course, shooting nine percentage points better from 3-point range. But Porzingis himself is shooting eight percentage points better.
To simplify: Hardaway Jr. is spacing the floor, and that matters for Porzingis. You have to punish teams for how they are currently freaking out about his presence. Watch the Hawks defense shrink in against Porzingis on the roll, and watch how fast Hardaway shoots off the extra pass. This is punishing the defense for gravity:
Winning combinations involve stars and the right players around them. That goes for every team, from Golden State all the way to the surprisingly decent Knicks.
Harris has been a regular in The Inbounds this season, because Detroit's one of the most surprising teams in the league, and yet the focus has been on Andre Drummond and, to a degree, Reggie Jackson. However, Harris has been their metronome -- the guy keeping tempo for them offensively -- as he continues to score game after game.
The big key is that only two players this season are scoring 19 points per game with five boards with usage rate under 25 percent and fewer than 17 shots per game: Harris and Karl-Anthony Towns. Harris has been terrific in a role that hasn't required him to dominate the ball. That kind of play is incredibly valuable in today's NBA.
On the surface, Markieff Morris is a crucial part of the Wizards. He's their starting power forward, a tough big who can score and defend the versatile stretch fours in today's NBA. He's important to what they do, that cannot be questioned.
However, every now and again, he'll make a mistake, and anecdotally, it always seems crucial. He'll miss a key shot when they're trying to stem a run. He'll lose the ball on a rebound. He'll take an ill-advised shot when they need a quality possession. That could just be my perception, though. Sometimes you just catch the wrong things and miss the good things.
The Wizards' starters -- John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat -- outscore their opponents by 1.2 points per 100 possessions with Morris on the floor in 169 minutes. That's an OK mark. Not great, but it's a positive vs. other starters.
Those four, specifically, together without Morris outscore their opponent by 21.1 points per 100 possessions in even more minutes.
Morris is the only starter with a negative net rating, and is tied for the worst on the team with backup point guard Tim Frazier. The offense is better and the defense is worse with Morris on the floor.
This is not to say Morris is a bad player, or even that he's playing badly. He's shooting 34 percent from deep, which isn't great but isn't awful, either. It would be one thing if the Wizards were just better with their small-ball lineup. They are, outscoring their opponents by a stunning 22.5 points per 100 possessions with the frontcourt of Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat along with the House of Guards. But they are also legitimately not good when Morris is on the court, unless he's simply surrounded by such a good starting core.
I'm not trying to scapegoat Morris for any and all struggles the Wizards experience; they're 11-10 despite Wall being out, for crying out loud. However, it's a trend worth noticing that a unit that works so well ... doesn't work so well with Morris, and whether that's just noise or reason to keep an eye on it if Washington wants to try and make a jump.
Two coaches axed; who's next?
Last season, no coaches were fired. It was shocking, and a little refreshing, to go through a full season without a replacement. So far, this season, Earl Watson and David Fizdale were both fired within six weeks of the season opening. This was predictable; teams that may have said "let's give him one more year/summer" find themselves in a different place to start, and that was the last straw. Fizdale was. (My short take on a long answer: firing Fizdale wasn't smart because he's a beloved and smart coach, but it was predictable because he feuded with -- and didn't speak with for 10 months -- his star player, and also struggled with the same things first-time head coaches do in their first two years. It can be a bad move by Memphis and the only thing Memphis could do at the same time.)
We have probably not seen the last of these firings, either. There have been no rumblings I have heard about any coaches being on the hot seat, this is just deductive logic. There are too may teams with too high expectations on them. New Orleans is playing really well right now but always feels like one Boogie blowup away from Alvin Gentry running out of time. Oklahoma City flat-out cannot lose this many games with that roster, no matter how good its point differential is.
Michael Malone has had a roller coaster season. The Nuggets lost Paul Millsap for two months and the team is waiting on a diagnosis on how long Nikola Jokic will be out after a bad ankle sprain Thursday. Then Denver begin an absolutely brutal road trip on Sunday that lasts the better part of the month for a team that has been horrific on the road. Malone has kept the team above water, and injuries shouldn't sink his job, but guess what? That happens all the time in the NBA; ask Fizdale who was fired after an eight-game losing streak with Mike Conley out. Malone himself was fired in Sacramento when DeMarcus Cousins was out with a freak ailment.
The Clippers are unraveling amid (you guessed it) injuries, and Doc Rivers had his front-office power limited this summer. The Bulls have the worst roster in the league, but if questions start being asked, they'll start with Fred Hoiberg even though he's making bad-tasting lemonade out of lemons right now. The Magic have imploded after another good start. And in Charlotte, despite everyone in the league knowing how good of a coach Steve Clifford is, the Hornets are 8-12, and since the start of last season are 0-12 in games decided by three points or less.
I legitimately cannot name you a bad coach among any of the names listed above. Hoiberg's resume is the worst, but he's dealt with a lot of locker room politics and his offensive system intuitively makes sense. Malone turned a franchise that was lost in the woods around by instilling a better culture and unlocked what Nikola Jokic is capable of. Jason Kidd has been targeted by a fiery and loud section of Milwaukee fans as a coach holding the team back, but Milwaukee's 11-9 after a big win on the road in Portland Thursday.
My point is that it's not as simple as "bad coach gets fired." Coaching is not only more complicated, but held to a higher bar than ever before. Everyone comments on how strong the league is, how competitive it is despite Golden State's dominance at the top, but then coaches are held to demands that their super-talented team creates separation from the other super-talented teams.
We're likely to see more coaches fired this season, if only because we saw none fired last season and there's always a balance. Don't let the fact that a coach couldn't get a roster over the top convince you that guy can't coach in the NBA. Most times, just like it is for so many players, it's not about talent, but the situation you're placed in and how the basketball gods treat you amid the winds of fate.